Canada’s politicians and best-known commentators on international affairs

n the period since the September 11 terrorist attacks on
the United States, some of Canada’s politicians and
best-known commentators on international affairs
have called on this country to make a choice. Canada, we
are told, can no longer walk its historic “middle line”
between the United States and the rest of the world. Standing apart from the US, and focusing on the societies and
institutions that populate broader international community, is a luxury we can no longer afford. Henceforth, our foreign policy must be based on what former Canadian
Ambassador to the United States Allan Gotlieb calls “the
paramountcy of Canada-US relations,” and all initiatives
examined within that framework.
This view rests on two premises: first, that Canada will
not be able to contribute significantly to international peace
and greater justice without being able to influence the United States; and second, that our influence with countries and
organizations beyond North America is directly correlated
with how much we have the ear of Washington. This
approach — what I call “Foreign Policy as Canada-US Relations” — is also based on a hardheaded calculation of financial flows. According to former international trade official
Michael Hart, Canada’s heavy dependence on foreign trade
for its national prosperity means that foreign policy should
effectively be about trade relations. Given that the US is by
far Canada’s largest trading partner, it logically follows that
our foreign policy can be reduced to our relationship with
the United States.
F or analysts like Gotlieb and Hart, the key issue that will
determine the Canada-US agenda going forward is security. In a post 9/11 world, Canada must prove that it poses
no threat to the safety of Americans by making its territory
secure from terrorists who could make their way across the
border. The immediate aftermath of September 11, when
the border was closed, demonstrated just how vulnerable
Canada is to the disruption of commercial traffic. The 49th
parallel runs right through the middle of a “just in time”
assembly line, making the ability of businesses to move
goods and people across the border easily a key factor for
investment decisions involving Canada. If the risk of disruption to that flow becomes too high, risk-averse investors
might choose to go elsewhere (most notably south of the
border). Canada needs to move aggressively to address US
concerns, so the argument goes, but also to ward off potential closures.
Jennifer M. Welsh
In the post-September 11 world, Jennifer Welsh asks the provocative question, “If
the US is the main object of our external relations, does Canada even need a foreign
policy at all?” This is not a rhetorical question, she writes, but one that “demands
an answer.” While Canada could become a country like Switzerland, focused on a
domestic agenda to the virtual exclusion of foreign affairs, other factors require
Canada “to be and do much more.” Geography, history, international trade,
immigration and identity all point to a Canadian role of engagement, not just with
its North American partners, but in the larger world. Canada needs to define its
goals, within its means, and then pursue them.
Dans le monde de l’après-11 septembre, Jennifer Welsh s’interroge : « Si les ÉtatsUnis constituent la principale cible de nos relations internationales, avons-nous
réellement besoin d’une politique étrangère ? » La question n’a rien de rhétorique,
ajoute-t-elle, et mérite une vraie réponse. À l’exemple de la Suisse, le Canada
pourrait privilégier sa politique intérieure au détriment des affaires étrangères, mais
d’autres facteurs lui imposent « d’être et de faire beaucoup plus ». Géographie,
histoire, commerce international, immigration, identité : tous ces facteurs réclament
qu’il s’engage pleinement tant auprès de ses partenaires nord-américains
qu’internationaux. Le Canada doit ainsi définir des objectifs correspondant à ses
moyens, puis tout mettre en œuvre pour les réaliser.
If the US is the main object of
our external relations, and security
their main subject, does Canada
even need a foreign policy at all?
This isn’t a rhetorical question.
Given the limited room for manœuvre in a US-dominated world, and
the pressure on our public funds to
sustain important social programs
like health care and education, it
demands an answer.
We could, for example, be
Switzerland — a country that
places emphasis on being a great place
to live, rather than engaging in international activism. Though it recently
joined the United Nations, the Swiss
have a reputation for neutrality and
opting out of arrangements for interstate cooperation, most notably the
common European currency. Swiss
military expenditures are a third of
Canada’s (US$ 2.55 billion compared
with US$ 7.86 billion). After all, governing is all about making choices and
Switzerland’s choices have focused on
a social safety net that is broad and
deep. Canada could also choose to
focus its efforts on maintaining and
improving its domestic model.
But as appealing as the Swiss
approach may seem, there are five
factors that require Canada to be
and do more. The first and very
basic one is geography. Because of its
location and massive coastline,
Canada is both isolated and
exposed. When you combine these
facts with the existence of only one
and very powerful neighbour, you
have an argument for developing a
wide set of international relationships. The second factor relates to
the size and nature of our economy.
Canada’s GDP is four times that of
Switzerland’s, and our impressive
rates of growth and budget surpluses
during these first years of the 21st
century have made us a valued
member of the G8 and an obvious
place to look for financial leadership
on issues like global poverty and
infectious disease. As the old saying
goes: To whom much is given, much
is expected.
In short, Canada does not exist
only to buy and sell goods and services with other countries. Its national
purpose is not all about getting rich. If
that were so, we would have become
the 51st state a long time ago. Indeed,
the very existence of Canada, as a
political entity that runs east-west,
defies the cool rationality of the economists. It stands as a testament to a
broader set of political and social
objectives. And a Canadian foreign
policy must continue to reflect those.
T hus, a third factor pushing Canada to have a robust foreign policy
is the nature of our 21st century
world. Focusing only on the United
States might have made some sense
during the 1990s, when the West had
won the Cold War and was enjoying
an unprecedented level of security.
But the post-Cold War era presents a
host of new threats to international
peace and security (such as transnational organized crime, poverty, environmental degradation, and
terrorism), and to the safety and prosperity of Canadians. According to the
recent report of the UN’s high level
panel on collective security, today’s
threats know no boundaries and must
be addressed at the global and regional levels — not only at the national
level. Canadian foreign policy must
actively address these threats, in collaboration with other actors on the
international stage. We must contribute to the reform of existing institutions, and to the creation of new
rules and structures to manage global
problems. We must also build capacity
in other members of the
international community
so that they too can contribute — economically and
In so doing, Canadian
policy-makers must dare to
entertain the notion that
the United States will not
be the world’s only superpower forever. This is not to invite
decline or ruin for the US. Rather, it is
to do some prudent long-term planning. Canada’s interests are best served
if future superpowers are firmly
embedded in international institutions
and have been “socialized” to cooperate with others in the management of
common problems. This will require
us to remain engaged in the world
beyond North America’s shores and to
monitor the development and policy
direction of other rising powers.
T here are two more significant reasons that Canada has aspired —
and should continue to aspire — to act
beyond the North American continent. Our immigration and refugee
policy, combined with our changing
ethnic make-up, constitutes one of
these key drivers. Canada has quite literally opened itself to the world, and
many parts of the world live within
our borders. Hence, Canada’s net
migration rate is 6.0 migrants per
1,000 population, compared with 1.37
migrants per 1,000 population for
Switzerland. A gap also exists between
Canada’s rate and that of the US (3.5
migrants/1,000 population). Thus,
while 10 percent of the US population
is foreign born, that figure is 18 percent for Canada.
The final factor is our history and
national identity. Though the story of
Canada’s presence as an independent
Fulfilling Canada’s global promise
If the US is the main object of our external relations, and
security their main subject, does Canada even need a foreign
policy at all? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Given the limited
room for manœuvre in a US-dominated world, and the pressure
on our public funds to sustain important social programs like
health care and education, it demands an answer.
actor on the international stage is relatively short, it is a compelling tale of
contribution. Vimy Ridge stands as a
testament to Canadian sacrifice in
World War I. Only decades later, we
“invaded” the United Kingdom with
almost half a million of our young
men to train and prepare for the military campaign to hold back Hitler’s
advance. But Canada’s experience on
the international stage hasn’t been
limited to warfighting. It also includes
the creation of NATO and the GATT,
the development of UN peacekeeping,
and the establishment of the International Criminal Court. In short, we
were a global “player,” and Canadians
continue to believe that we should be.
P ublic opinion research reveals that
Canada is a country deeply interested in foreign policy, whose citizens
are strongly oriented toward taking an
active role on the world stage and willing to commit Canadian troops in a
wide array of scenarios.
As a consequence, Canadians — to
a greater degree than Americans —
want more spending on overseas development assistance, more engagement
with the UN, and more involvement in
trade agreements. The problem, however, is that Canadians are rarely asked
to make difficult trade-offs in spending: if more money is to be given to
these externally focused policy areas,
what are we willing to spend less on?
An additional problem is that the
degree of support demonstrated for
internationalism is way out of proportion with the facts on the ground.
“While Canada slept” — to borrow the
title of Andrew Cohen’s recent book —
Canada’s military capability has deteriorated rapidly (its ranks near the bottom of the NATO roster in terms of
percentage of GDP devoted to
defence), its policy leadership on key
issues like the environment has evaporated, and its international aid budget
has dwindled from a high of 0.53 percent of GDP in 1975 to 0.28 percent
today. Even Canada’s much-heralded
reputation as the world’s peacekeeper
has been damaged by its traumatic
experience in Somalia and prolonged
under-investment in the armed forces.
The gap between the expectation of
what Canada should do, and the reality
of what it is doing, is growing wider
and wider.
T his suggests that we may need
to rethink the very nature of
foreign policy, and diplomacy, in the
21st century. Professional diplomacy
— the institution that once acted as
the valued intermediary for states
and societies separated by law, culture, and language — now competes
with a host of other organizations
and individuals that must, and can,
interact on the global stage without
Jennifer M. Welsh
“Canadians are doing fantastic things in the world,” writes Jennifer Welsh, noting
Stephen Lewis’s role as the UN’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, as well as former
Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour’s recent appointment as UN high
commissioner for human rights.
The Gazette, Montreal
such intermediation. Ironically, it is
Western governments themselves
who were the architects of their own
decline. Globalization isn’t something that happened to us. Rather, as
our Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs Peter Harder explains, it is
“something we did to ourselves, as a
matter of explicit national policy.”
And so today, when we speak of
Canada’s relationship with other
countries, especially the US,
we are using a convenient
form of shorthand. The vast
majority of the transactions
that make up those relationships occur with no reference
to government at all.
T o put it another way, we
need to conceive of our
country not just as Canada
with a capital “C” — the corporate entity represented by the
flag or government officials —
but also as Canadians. Canada
is ultimately a network of people and values, which extends
beyond the geographical hub
north of the 49th parallel.
While it may be true, as Andrew
Cohen has argued, that Canada’s influence in the world is
declining in terms the traditional categories of federal
spending on defence, diplomacy and development, this does
not necessarily mean that
Canadians are staying at home.
In fact, Canadians are
doing fantastic things in the
world. Many of us are aware of
the more high profile examples: Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for
HIV/Aids Stephen Lewis; UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights
Louise Arbour, or the former president of Medecins Sans Frontieres,
James Orbinski. But other “ordinary”
Canadians, especially from a new
generation, are building upon the
Canadian legacy for global engagement and taking it even one step further. All of their activities are part of
what Canada does in the world.
Some lament this as “brain drain.”
How do we get these talented Canadians back home? But they are missing
the point. In a globalized world, with
mobile citizens and problems and
opportunities that transcend frontiers,
this isn’t brain drain. Instead, as the
non-governmental organization Canada25 has argued, it is more like “brain
circulation.” Expatriates should be
viewed as an asset, rather than a problem, whose knowledge and insights
can be circulated back to policymakers in Canada.
This isn’t a veiled attempt to let
our government off the hook. Viewing
Canada as Canadians cannot become
an excuse for not financing the traditional tools of foreign policy. New
investments to retool our armed
forces, to develop a robust intelligence
capability, and to promote a good governance agenda, remain crucial pieces
of the puzzle. What I am suggesting is
that foreign policy is not something
others do “out there.” It is the responsibility of all of us, as part of the global commons.
I n sum, while many Canadians are
content to delegate foreign policy to
the diplomatic arm of government,
there is a large segment of the population that believes it can and should
take part in defining and
implementing the country’s
international agenda. More
importantly, a new generation
of Canadians sees itself as part
of a networked world, where
activity “beyond the border”
isn’t viewed as foreign at all,
but part of everyday life.
According to Canada25, its
members “thrive in this new
networked structure, not only
because it rewards creative and
engaged individuals, but
because successful participation requires many of the skills
Canadians possess as members
of a multicultural society.”
Indeed, that growing confidence about who we are has
led some to wonder aloud
about whether “Canadians are
the new Americans.”
But this raises a question:
Does it matter whether the
Canadians making a difference
in the global arena are positively identified as Canadian? My
hunch is no. If we really believe
in a networked world, and
global citizenship, it shouldn’t
matter who is doing the work
— only that the work gets done.
Jennifer M. Welsh, who holds a doctorate in international relations from
Oxford University and lectures in her
specialty there, is the author of At
Home in the World: Canada’s Global
Vision for the 21st Century. Formerly a
Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, she is a fellow
of Somerville College. Previously, in the
private sector, she was a consultant with
McKinsey & Co.
Fulfilling Canada’s global promise
But as appealing as the Swiss
approach may seem, there are five
factors that require Canada to be
and do more. The first and very
basic one is geography. Because of
its location and massive coastline,
Canada is both isolated and
exposed. When you combine these
facts with the existence of only one
and very powerful neighbour, you
have an argument for developing a
wide set of international
relationships. The second factor
relates to the size and nature of our
economy. Canada’s GDP is four
times that of Switzerland’s, and our
impressive rates of growth and
budget surpluses during these first
years of the 21st century have made
us a valued member of the G8 and
an obvious place to look for financial
leadership on issues like global
poverty and infectious disease.

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