Vision and Values in Canadian Foreign Policy


28 March 2006

President Riley, Senator MacEachen, Professor Holloway, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Standing before you tonight is a great privilege – not only because of the wonderful company I have been placed in, but also because of the legacy of previous lecturers in this series, such as the former premiers of Ontario and New Brunswick. The person at the podium tonight cannot claim to have served her country in as dramatic and lasting a way as Monsieurs MacEachen, Rae, or McKenna. Nor am I from that generation of liberals that did so much to build the social fabric of Canada or endow it with the crucial foundations of a liberal society, such as the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.

Instead, I can claim to have really only three things in common with the honoured namesake of this lecture series, Allan MacEachen. The first is that I too hail from one of Canada’s hinterlands, Saskatchewan – a fact which has profoundly shaped how I view both the history and promise of this great country. Second, I share his great admiration for the former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Indeed, I was recently reminded by Donald Savoie (who is visiting us in Oxford this year) of the passionate and compelling speech Allan MacEachen gave to his caucus colleagues in 1979, urging the continuation of Trudeau’s leadership. I am grateful to him for giving what by all accounts was among the finest speeches in Canadian political history. Seen from the perspective of a pre-teen, growing up on the prairies, Trudeau’s tenure as Prime Minister was not only action packed, but endless. In fact, I had developed one of those curious beliefs that children seem to land upon: that Trudeau was the ‘permanent Prime Minister’. That was his ‘job’ in the world, I had concluded, since I really couldn’t remember anyone else in the role. So I was surprised, and a little disappointed, when I realized that you actually have to compete for that position, and that you can be turfed out.

The third - and I admit weak - element of commonality is that I began to study the subject of International Relations just when Allan J. MacEachen was Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs (this was his second period in this Ministry, from 1982 to 1984). At the moment when I was becoming academically informed about Canada’s role in the world, he was very much the face of that role. Minister MacEachen took on this portfolio just before the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and the period of uncertainty that would grip Soviet politics until Gorbachev’s rise to power in 1985. This was also the era of Ronald Reagan, and the so-called ‘Second Cold War’ - with its rhetorical flourishes about the ‘evil empire’, the Polish crisis, the deployment of Cruise-Pershing missiles in Western Europe, and the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.

Yet behind the East-West drama was a more subtle story: the development of a North-South dialogue. This sub-plot was one that Allan MacEachen did much to author as a man who, in Frank MacKenna’s words, was ruled by the philosophy that “we truly are our brothers’ keeper”. When asked a few years ago to describe a ‘MacEachen Liberal’, Senator Grafstein replied: one who never gave up his belief in reform at a time when reform was not fashionable. This aptly describes the current of the early 1980s, when MacEachen and Trudeau were swimming against the tide in their efforts to make global justice a priority for the developed world. The late 1970s was an era in which Asian, African, and Latin American countries were making a plea for just change in the international system, for the removal of discrimination, unequal and unfair treatment, and the according to them of the rights and benefits that were their due. Their proposed ‘New International Economic Order’ was a call for wealth redistribution, new deals on trade, and a new plan for accessing and sharing the world’s resources. The spirit of this time was captured by the Brandt Report, an independent commission which recommended (among other things) large-scale transfers of wealth to developing countries, an international energy strategy, a global food programme, and reform of international institutions of economic governance.

But in Washington, where Reagan was very much in charge, the Third World mattered not because of the challenge of underdevelopment, but because of its place in larger Cold War rivalries – particularly in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Afghanistan. The Iran-Iraq war – the longest running conventional conflict since 1945 – was treated by the superpowers as a sideshow, and Latin America, along with Africa, was left to sink in debt, with little effort made to ameliorate the horrible conditions under which ordinary citizens lived. Instead, President Reagan was persuaded by the arguments of Jeanne Kirkpatrick and other neoconservatives who continued to put their trust in authoritarian dictatorships to lead less developed countries, since they seemed more palatable than totalitarian ideologues.

The second half of the 1980s saw academic and political interest in North-South issues decline, with the erosion of the Third World coalition, dramatic changes in the foreign policy alignments of many leading Third World states (due to the pressures of economic liberalization) and the shift toward a narrow focus on poverty reduction and away from the broader theme of justice. Inequality was largely pushed off both the domestic and international agendas, as leaders such as Thatcher, Kohl, and Reagan put the notion of self-help at the centre of political discourse. Individuals and poor countries, it was argued, had to take responsibility for their own choices and actions. And so underdevelopment in the South was chalked up to policy failure in developing countries. Neo-liberals pointed to the newly industrialising countries of East Asia (the so-called NICs) to prove that there was no structural bias in the world economy: developing countries could succeed if only they relied on markets. Aid flows were restricted, and development assistance became conditional on curbing the role of the state in the economy.[1]

As we know, today this ‘Washington consensus’ about development has been called into question. Broader ideas about justice and structural barriers to development are very much back on the table. As Allan MacEachen himself once put it: “The question is: who puts bread on the table when private markets fail to do so?” The query is as relevant to international politics as it is to domestic politics. 2005 was a year in which the so-called North-South dialogue was revived and invigorated, whether through the G8 Summit at Glen Eagles (where debt relief was debated and agreed upon), the UK’s Commission for Africa, which called for – among other things – a reduction in trade barriers for the agricultural products of developing countries, or the September Summit called by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review the international community’s progress on the Millennium Development goals. The conversation is no longer restricted to ‘poverty alleviation’ (as it was for so much of the 1980s and 1990s), but has expanded to acknowledge that developing and industrialized countries still do not compete on a level playing field. In other words, the global economy does not offer its members equality of opportunity. This uncomfortable fact sits at odds with the predictions of the ‘pro-globalizers’ that globalization would open up new opportunities if developing countries could simply make better policy choices.

Thus, in their efforts to turn the East-West dialogue into a North-South dialogue, and to speak frankly about injustice, MacEachen and Trudeau were before their time. They were living, breathing examples of vision in international politics. They were also daring to put values - in this case, values of equality and dignity – at the centre of foreign policy. And it is these two things, vision and values, that I want to speak to you about tonight. For the last few years, these two V’s have become the target of criticism in Canada’s foreign policy circles, labelled as unwelcome and unhelpful distractions to a pursuit of the national interest. But what exactly is that national interest? What is, and should be, Canada’s global role?

Many are giving us unsolicited advice. Bob Geldof - the rock singer turned advocate for Africa – argued that Canada, as one of the only G8 countries with a budget surplus, can and should be a key part of the campaign to bring the peoples of Africa into the 21st century. The writer Jeremy Rifkin believes Canada’s role is to be the bridge between Europe and the U.S., encapsulating the best of the European and American dreams. Alternatively, the former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, has counselled us to reinvest in our military – particularly in the area of strategic lift – so that we can deploy our troops in combat and peacekeeping missions that complement the objectives of U.S. foreign policy.

I share the view, expressed most elegantly by Andrew Cohen,[2] that Canada is not playing the global role it once did. Part of this decline is due to changes beyond our control, most obviously the fact that we now live in a world of over 190 states, far more than existed during the heyday of our middle power years. But part of this stems from decisions that our political leaders and elites have made, allowing our core assets to atrophy. We are still resting on our past laurels, but only just. The cracks are beginning to show - whether literally, in the condition of our military equipment, or figuratively, in terms of our diplomatic influence. More troubling, those outside of Canada are starting to notice. When Canadian political leaders emphasize (rightly) the responsibilities of Western countries to protect civilians from violence and mass violations of their human rights – otherwise known as the ‘responsibility to protect’ - they also face questions about what Canada will do, beyond words, to meet that responsibility. In the words of one external observer: “Canada will continue to be irrelevant unless there is a political will to change. Today it adopts high moral standards from a safe distance”.[3]

Canada’s current economic and political standing still gives it the freedom to make choices about how it will contribute globally. But the landscape is shifting before our very eyes. There are new threats to our security, new competition for markets, new challenges facing the international institutions that have governed us for the past half century, and a changing configuration of power. If we stand idle while our world changes, our voice in international affairs will (continue to) diminish.

What will we do? In asking this question, I refer not only to the federal government, but to each and every Canadian. Globally, our country is embodied not just by Canada with a capital C – the corporate entity represented by government officials – but also by Canadians. In short, foreign policy is no longer something others do, ‘out there’; many private actors, whether individuals or organizations, make a vital contribution to it.

For the remainder of my remarks, however, I want to focus on foreign policy in its more traditional sense, as the policies set out by our federal government.[4] In particular, I address the ‘two V’s’ that so often form part of the debate about foreign policy in Canada: Vision and Values. In so doing, I want to challenge the prevailing wisdom – expressed by a number of distinguished Canadians – that our foreign policy needs to steer away from squishy concepts such as values or ideals and get back to “practical interests.” I also want to make the case that foreign policy can be strategic; it is not merely the sum total of what a country has done in any given year. A country’s foreign policy is a reflection of who its people are: what they value, what they seek to change, and what they are willing to stand up for.

That Vision Thing

This brings me squarely to the first V – vision. Why have it? Many would argue that foreign policy should avoid broad objectives that inevitably bring with them inconsistency and poor implementation – or the kind of missionary zeal we have at various times in the foreign policy of our neighbours to the south. How can a country as diverse as Canada come together around a common purpose with respect to its international role?

The goal, according to this logic, should be much more modest: “good policy on a case-by-case basis”.[5]

Good policy is most certainly the goal. The question is whether reactive and incremental decision-making is the way to achieve it. Witness the United States and the European Union in the wake of 9/11: both engaged in a process of analysis and priority setting which resulted in a strategic vision for responding to a changed global landscape.[6] I hasten to add that I am not advocating that Canada adopt the substance of either the US or EU strategic document – only the discipline of identifying challenges and opportunities, assessing our strengths, and elevating a particular set of objectives.[7]

Good strategies emerge from hardheaded diagnoses of the contexts within which an organization, or a country, is operating. And while there will always be a need to respond to unforeseen developments (who, for example, could have predicted a tsunami?), there remains a sphere of activity which can be driven by conscious planning. Without an overarching objective, and a set of specific priorities to support it, policy-making becomes fragmented and ineffective. Indeed, this has been Canada’s problem.

Take one example: Canada’s international development policy. Canada’s bilateral development programs in 2005 were more widely dispersed around the world than those of any other donor. Of the 155 countries that received development assistance from Canada, only 18 received assistance valued at more than $10 million annually and 54 received less than $1 million annually. If this a recipe for impact? The wide dispersion of Canada’s aid program is problematic for a number of reasons. To begin, it makes it more difficult to develop the local knowledge and contacts that can ensure that Canadian aid dollars are used effectively. In addition, the proliferation of small-scale programming on the part of donors like the Canadian government places a heavy coordination and cost burden on those we are trying to help – the recipient countries. Finally, and most obviously, the fragmentation of the aid programs increases the management and costs for the Government of Canada itself.

To achieve greater impact, Canada must set priorities and make tough choices. In other words, it must be more strategic. By refocusing Canada’s strategy for bilateral assistance, and moving away from a thin but global presence, our financial commitment could make a much greater difference – even if in fewer places. The political pressures on Members of Parliament to continue ‘doing a little bit everywhere’ are no doubt fierce. But they must be resisted. A more focused development strategy would further everyone’s interests: our development partners, the international community at large, and Canada itself.

What, in this instance, would be the strategic vision driving Canadian policy? Quite simply, to bring a core set of development partners up to the health and education targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The targets have already been identified and have garnered a high degree of consensus in both the developed and developing world. The question now is whether donor countries such as Canada can assist developing countries as they seek to implement their own national strategies for poverty reduction and economic growth. To be sure, there remain significant obstacles to success. There is a long and checkered history of failed attempts to use foreign aid dollars to bring about progress in the developing world. It is also true that non-aid policies, such as further trade liberalization and debt relief, have an equally important part to play (some would say the greater part) in improving developing country prospects. But the fact remains that a more strategic approach to Canadian development assistance is both possible and necessary.

A strategic vision serves many purposes. It provides direction to a disparate set of actors, giving them a sense of what matters most. It also informs the choice of specific spending priorities. Taking the development example again, I would argue that ‘country concentration’ – to use the current buzzword – is only the first step to greater impact for Canadian development policy. Where more focus needs to occur, and where the potential for greater payoff lies, is in the particular sectors that Canada chooses to support. As set out in the 2005 International Policy Statement, sector focus should be informed by an assessment of three things: what our development partners tell us they need most; which sectors are likely to facilitate achievement of the largest number of MDGs; and what Canada is best placed to provide, drawing on its skills and expertise.[8]

Finally, a strategic vision provides a touchstone for Canadians. It helps them to interpret the global changes occurring around them. It is also a statement of where their government intends to lead them, and how it intends to spend their tax dollars. Since the end of the Cold War, Canada has spent over $240 billion on diplomacy, defence, and development. This alone requires a rationale, and a statement of what kind of impact our resources are seeking to have. Above all, a strategic vision for Canada’s role in the world can serve as a reference point for Canadian citizens as they engage in their own day-to-day lives – lives which in so many cases involve a significant global component.

Values or Interests

Let me now turn to my second V– values. In the contemporary debate about Canada’s role in the world, there is a chorus of voices proclaiming we have paid too much attention to cosmopolitan values (the ‘other’) in our foreign policy, and not enough to the national interest (the ‘self’).

It is true that the word ‘interest’ doesn’t roll off the Canadian tongue very easily. Our foreign policy statements often give the impression that Canada floats above the grubby and corrupt world of power politics. While other countries have interests, we have values. There are echoes here of Woodrow Wilson’s disdain for the ‘old diplomacy’ of the European great powers. It is also true that the moralistic streak in Canadian foreign policy has irritated our southern neighbour, leading one former U.S. secretary of state to refer to Canada as the “Stern Daughter of the Voice of God”.[9] Canada’s policy differences with the U.S., whether over Vietnam or the International Criminal Court, has been described, at best, as self-righteous and insufficiently appreciative of the complexities and burdens faced by a great military power, and, at worst, as armchair criticism by a country that can afford a values-based foreign agenda because the U.S. effectively underwrites Canadian security.

Since 9/11, a number of Canadian commentators have called for a softening of this stern voice. Thomas Axworthy argues that Canada is damaging its all-important relationship with the United States through its ‘all talk no action’ approach to foreign policy. We might feel virtuous, Axworthy claims, but – in a nice twist on Ralph Emerson – “virtue is not reward enough.”[10] We need to get back to basics, and reinvest in the things that serve Canadian interests. Allan Gotlieb decries the tendency of Canadian foreign policy to oscillate between realism and romanticism. In Gotlieb’s view, Canadian policymakers must break away from the romantic utopianism that puts the United Nations, rule-making, and the promotion of the country’s values at the top of the foreign policy agenda. In today’s world of uncertainty and turmoil, he argues, “Canada must adopt a reality-based foreign policy by responding to the imperatives of geography, history and economics”.[11] Jack Granatstein’s line is even tougher. His target is the Lloyd Axworthy era in Canadian foreign policy, which was marked by its pursuit of a human security agenda. During this period, Granatstein suggests, we allowed our ‘hard’ foreign policy assets, particularly the Canadian military, to decline. According to Granatstein, Canada must not mistake “its loudly professed values” for its national interests. “Moral earnestness and the loud preaching of our values .... will not suffice to protect us in this new century”.[12] Add to this the head of the Harper government’s transition team, Derek Burney, and you have a powerful caucus of national interest promoters. In his Simon Reisman Lecture last year, Burney warns that if we indulge fancifully about bringing our values to the world, Canadians will be “confined more permanently to the periphery as a dilettante, not to be taken seriously”.[13] We must deal with the world as it is, he opines, not as we may wish it to be.

The debate between realism and romanticism is in many ways reminiscent of the interwar period, when the discipline of International Relations itself developed. At that time, the ‘realist school’ of international relations appeared – largely in contrast to the ‘idealists’, such as Woodrow Wilson, who dared to believe that the world needed more law and institutions if it was to avoid the kind of carnage wreaked upon Europe between 1914 and 1918. E.H. Carr, the most eloquent of the opponents of inter-war utopianism, penned a masterful critique of the illusions of that age in his book The Twenty Years Crisis. But he also wisely reminded us to be wary of so-called realism. “In politics”, he wrote, “the belief that certain facts are unalterable or certain trends irresistible commonly reflects a lack of desire or lack of interest to change or resist them.”[14] For Carr, it was always dangerous to assume that whatever succeeds is necessarily right.

There are four main points I want to make about the call for greater realism and attention to the national interest in Canadian foreign policy. The first involves a closer inspection of what we mean by ‘reality’, while the second and third challenge the juxtaposition of values and interests, and call for a new and more expansive notion of the ‘national interest’. Finally, I suggest that a key driver of a strategic foreign policy is identity: who, and what, Canada is, and will become, in the 21st century.

Whose reality?

To begin, let me state my agreement with the ‘wisemen’: we need a reality-based foreign policy. But does acknowledgement of this premise require us to accept the version of reality being offered? Realism, Carr argues, turns out in practice to be just as influenced by particular views and preferences as any other mode of analysis: “even if it uses realist weapons to dissolve other values, it still believes in the absolute character of its own”.[15] We must remember that we live in a social world. While there are certain unalterable facts, the ‘rubber hits the road’ when we begin to interpret them and tease out the implications for foreign policy. So what, exactly, is the global reality of the 21st century?

There is first, and foremost, the reality of power. Call the United States whatever you like – a hyperpower, a hegemon, an empire – but there is little doubt that we are living in a unipolar world, particularly when measured in military terms. Yet, it is also clear that there are other emerging powers, such as China, India, and Brazil, who are already exerting their influence in ways that affect Canadians. This, too, is reality. Countries like China and India aren’t just markets to tap into; they are the potential leaders of a future multilateral system. As such, we have an interest in ensuring that in the decades ahead, they are embedded into a global governance structure that continues to reflect Canadian interests.

In addition, there are significant limits to American power. Financially, the size of the U.S. economy still allows it to dominate global investment flows and to sustain a large current account deficit. But the degree of freedom the U.S. has enjoyed is shrinking, thanks to its excessive spending. Each day, the U.S. needs to attract approximately US$2 billion in capital to finance its current account deficit; its sources are private investors and foreign governments – particularly in Asia. It is the decisions of key central bankers in Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and India about their U.S. reserve holdings - perhaps even more than the statements of the Federal Reserve Chairman - that have the greatest effect on U.S. interest rates. In November of 2004, when Mr. Greenspan intimated that the U.S. trade deficit was looking “increasingly less tenable”, the Dow Jones fell 115 points and the dollar lost 0.4% of its value against the Euro. In February 2005, when a Bank of Korea spokesman hinted that his country might want to diversify its exchange reserves away from dollars, the effect on markets was much more dramatic: a 174 point plunge for the Dow and a 1.4% decrease in the dollar’s value against the Euro. This is a vivid illustration of how the balance of power in the global economy has shifted.[16]

Politically, the same point can be made. The 9/11 attacks were swiftly followed by an awesome display of American military power against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. While the U.S. military had held back some of its war-fighting potential in the 1999 Kosovo War, in December 2001 it left nothing to chance. But did the application of military prowess translate into a political solution that the U.S. preferred? According to the first finance minister of post-Taliban Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, U.S. power proved necessary but insufficient. A much more intangible phenomenon, legitimacy, was needed to bring about a political settlement. It was only the United Nations - in the form of the Secretary General’s Special Representative – that could create the conditions for political stability. This, too, is reality.

Even in the realm where the U.S. seems unrivalled, military power, there are small but significant signs of weakness. At the end of 2005, the U.S. had approximately 135,000 troops in Iraq, but almost half of these were drawn from the reserves or National Guard. As Niall Ferguson has argued, today the United States “suffers from a personnel deficit”: the 500,000 troops that it can deploy overseas are not enough to win all of the conflicts the U.S. has to, or in future might have to fight.[17] More significantly, the military resources of the U.S. cannot be used in a vacuum: they often require the support, or at least tacit consent, of others. During the 2003 military action against Iraq, the Turkish parliament’s refusal to allow transport of U.S. ground troops across its soil, and Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to give Washington permission to use it air bases, greatly affected the conduct and cost of the war to the United States. This is an interesting example of where “soft balancing can have real effects on hard power”.[18]

The second ‘reality’ to explore is the U.S.-Canada relationship. The proponents of realism, as suggested above, believe that Canada must put the United States front and centre in its foreign policy. For both Gotlieb and Burney, Canada’s best foreign policy years were those in which our officials enjoyed a close relationship with government officials in Washington. Yet what is the state of that relationship today? Looking at the facts, it’s hard to argue for a ‘special relationship’ – at least in the way the discipline of international relations conceives of the term.

It is also debatable whether Canada could restore to itself the role of bridge to, or interpreter of, the United States for the rest of the world. This is a vocation the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, tried to appropriate to himself, with limited success, during the first term of the George W. Bush Presidency. But the competition for the part of bridge builder goes even further. In this first decade of the 21st century, when the U.S. stands as the world’s only superpower, countries everywhere are scrambling to understand and influence what is happening in Washington. One need only consider the foreign coverage of the 2004 U.S. Presidential election: foreign journalists traveled to every nook and cranny of the American heartland. Such an important task – understanding the United States – cannot be left to an interlocutor, like Canada. Foreign governments are intent upon establishing their own channels of knowledge and influence.

Let me be clear: Canada and the United States have a deep partnership, built on more than two centuries of close economic, political, and personal ties. Canadians and Americans intermingle constantly, both professionally and personally, and we have together built a regional economy that has outstripped all expectations in terms of trade expansion and economic growth. This is a substantial achievement, and something Canadians can take great pride in. Moreover, Canada and the U.S. can and should continue to pursue economic, security, and political cooperation where it enhances the safety and well-being of citizens in both countries. Canada should also continue to collaborate with the U.S. globally on issues of joint concern. The use of the word ‘continue’ is deliberate: too many Canadians overlook the reality of our past collaboration with the U.S. (whether historically, in the building of post-1945 international institutions, or more recently, in missions to countries such as Haiti and Afghanistan). There is also a tendency to deny that many of the values that Canada promotes internationally are values that we share with the United States: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and an enhanced role for the private sector in development. The values and priorities of the U.S. and Canada are not identical; nor are our means of pursuing them. But why is it considered heresy to admit some overlap? While Michael Adams’ research shows that the socio-cultural values of Canadians and Americans are diverging,[19] the same cannot be said for political values – such as the commitment to individual freedom, the degree of confidence in government institutions, and levels of national pride.[20]

Yet, does any of this mean that Canada and the United States have a ‘special relationship’, or that Canada is America’s best friend? I would suggest not. This isn’t a normative statement; it says nothing about what kind of relationship Canada might want to have with its southern neighbour. I’m only questioning whether ‘best friend’ is the phrase that Americans would use to describe Canada (and Canadians) today.

In a post 9/11 world, in which the U.S. feels under siege, its greatest priority is to secure the American people and the American way of life. The Al Q’aeda attacks, in the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “crystallized America’s vulnerability” and put the idea of threat – even more than power – at the forefront of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy. The strategies to secure America are new; they are in many ways departing from the traditional alliances that defined our world in the past. On the eve of his first official trip to Europe, in the summer of 2001, newly elected George W. Bush dared to ask his foreign policy advisors: “Do we want the European Union to succeed?”.[21] Such a question looks remarkable when compared with the substantial U.S. commitment to Europe during the Cold War. But the sentiment revealed a shift in America’s conception of its strategic priorities – a shift that intensified after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Bush Administration’s so-called war on terror is reaching out to new “friends” around the world, who share the same assessment of the threat and have particular assets at a particularly opportune moment. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once put it: “the mission determines the coalition, rather than the other way around”. And what does the U.S. need from others to further its security agenda? Intelligence. Airports. Transport routes. Political support. Many states can and will offer these things. (Certainly John Howard’s Australia has been at the top of the list.) But Canada will not always be among them.

Rejecting the mantra of America’s best friend is not to deny the very real links that exist between the U.S. and Canada. As I argued above, our interdependence is substantial, and growing. But it does mean that Canada should stop trying to claim, or to prove, that it has a special relationship. The very idea, in today’s context, is unhelpful. The Bush Administration’s preference is to “cherry pick” its allies, according to specific issues and challenges. We must also remember that our status will largely be a function of “what we have done for the U.S. lately.” When asked in June 2003 who was their best friend, the American public chose Britain, due to the substantial diplomatic and military commitment shown by Prime Minister Blair during the campaign to unseat Saddam Hussein.[22] But new challenges, and new “coalitions of the willing,” may change this assessment.

The third ‘reality’ to consider is the different ways of affecting change, and spreading democracy, in contemporary international relations. The U.S. is demonstrating one, very bold strategy, in its use of force to promote regime change in the Middle East. But there are others. Indeed, an interesting example derives from the period of Allan MacEachen’s first term as Secretary of State for External Affairs from 1974-1976. I am thinking here of the Helsinki Final Act, signed in 1975, which concluded the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Soviets had long wanted such a conference as a means of achieving what had eluded statesmen in 1945: namely, an agreement on post-Second World War boundaries. And it is true that Helsinki did produce a statement that European borders were inviolable (so-called basket one). But, in the end, this recognition did not mean permanent acceptance of the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, or the assignment of East Germans to another thirty years of life under a repressive regime. In short, the option of peaceful change remained open. While Brezhnev won on issues in so-called basket one (security and borders) he made concessions on issues in ‘basket three’: respect for human rights, freer movement of Europeans across borders, and the free flow of information and ideas. For West Europeans, and for the dissidents in Eastern Europe this opened the door to the possibility that sovereignty might not be absolute. In the historian John Gaddis’ words, Helsinki marked “the first official recognition by the Soviet Union that the manner in which a state treats its own citizens was a legitimate matter for international concern.” The Final Act encouraged East European anti-communists who set up monitoring groups to test how far they could push their authorities to acknowledge human rights. And even when détente broke down between the two superpowers in 1979, it continued – slowly and quietly – in Europe, where the increased personal contacts, cultural exchanges, trade, and tourism that Helsinki produced gradually chipped away at the confidence of those in the Eastern bloc about the merits of their system. Accounts of the end of the Cold War are still being written, but it is becoming fashionable now to look less at individual personalities (such as Gorbachev) and more at some of the deeper causes. And here, the ‘Helsinki process’ that MacEachen and Trudeau helped to launch plays a pivotal role in undermining the legitimacy of communist regimes.

In today’s international system, Europe – in the form of the EU – is again offering us an alternative model of change. I would argue that Europe’s greatest foreign policy success (despite the challenges of referring to a coherent ‘European foreign policy’) is EU enlargement. The success began with Spain and Portugal, who joined the community in the 1980s, but it has continued with the latest round of new EU member states. Europe has engaged in peaceful and progressive democratization through the shrewd use of diplomacy and accession criteria. This, too, is reality. Before we accept the all-too-easy generalizations about Europe, let’s look more carefully at the ‘zone of peace’ they have maintained, and extended, on a continent that only 60 years ago was wracked by a conflict that took the lives of so many young men, including Canadians. The process could even end up with Turkey as part of the EU – which would mean that Europe would border Iraq.

Finally, the reality of contemporary international relations includes institutions. These are not only ‘bricks and mortar’ organizations, such as the UN and WTO, but also looser rules and forms of collaboration, such as the G20 meeting of finance ministers. To be sure, these institutions exist alongside power, and particular relationships, but they continue to serve functions and purposes that are vital to state interests. However much the traditional institutions (such as the UN) require reform, their capacity to confer legitimacy on state action matters even to the most powerful members of the international community. We need only consider the challenges faced by the U.S. and the U.K., as occupying powers, in reconstructing Iraq after the conclusion of military hostilities.

Canadians are often accused of ‘fetishizing’ the United Nations. While there is some validity in this criticism, there is a strong pragmatic case for multilateralism that Canada (alongside other states) can and should be making. First, as the U.S. found in both Afghanistan and Iraq, multilateralism can be an excellent way of sharing financial and military burdens and risks. Second, multilateral fora like the UN Security Council provide a means for legitimising action through collective deliberation, justification, and substantive assessment. These processes help to ensure that narrow interests or particular ideological concerns are filtered out of an action. And states will continue to value that legitimacy as a way of improving the way their actions are perceived (both by those affected and by the broader international community). Finally, multilateralism is actually the only means for tackling some of the global problems we face in this new century: infectious disease, global finance, the environment, and global terrorism. These kinds of issues do not yield easily to national action alone, or narrow coalitions of the willing. Arguably, this is the most significant reality that Canadian foreign policymakers must face.

Values and Interests: a false dichotomy

My second main point concerns the tendency of many recent critics of Canadian foreign policy to champion interests over values. As tempting as the interests-before-values mantra is, it is futile to think we can abandon a values-based agenda. We live in a democratic society, where the values and principles we stand for will inevitably form part of our activities on the international stage. To return to Carr’s insights: “It is noteworthy that the attempt to deny the relevance of ethical standards to international relations has been made almost exclusively by the philosopher, not by the statesman or the man in the street”.[23]

Values help to forge cohesion across a huge territorial mass and diverse population. They help to make both collective action, and collective judgment, possible. Furthermore, the values Canada projects globally help to define who we are. Foreign policy is partly an exercise in forging national identity. Rather than trying to deny or hide this fact, we should recognize this as part and parcel of our contemporary world. Consider the United States, which portrays itself as the leader of the free world, or China, which defines itself as the guardian of the developing world. It is artificial to juxtapose interests and values, as if the former were selfish and narrow, and the latter ethical and internationalist. In reality, values and interests work much more in tandem.

It is curious that commentators such as Gotlieb think that Canada is unique in swinging between realism and idealism, or that the concern with values is somehow a peculiarly Canadian problem. Countless books and articles have been written over the course of the last century on precisely the same oscillation in U.S. foreign policy. And there are well-known commentators, such as Henry Kissinger, who continue to lament the American proclivity for moralism. In a recent article, he complains that “the United States is probably the only country in which the term ‘realist’ can be used as a pejorative epithet”. Continuing on, in the vein of Carr, Kissinger argues that the debate between realism and idealism often misses the point: “The real issue is to establish a sense of proportion between these two essential elements of foreign policy”.[24]

The nexus between values and interests is something that the United States instinctively understands and employs in its own foreign policy. Despite the widely held view that President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy was a defense of ‘realism’ and unilateralism, the document actually lacked any careful and coherent articulation of U.S. national interests. Instead, it is dominated by the notions of freedom and democracy, and links these historical themes of U.S. foreign policy with a new willingness to use power to project them. The inaugural speech of Bush’s second term was even more lyrical in its freedom agenda. Indeed, Canada is living next to a colossus which has today – perhaps more so than in three decades – a profoundly values-based foreign policy. Is this the time to become silent about values? Or do we too have something to say about freedom, democracy, pluralism, and equity? Is the agenda for change in international relations to be left entirely to George W. Bush and his advisers?

Far from being an irritant to Washington, as those like Granatstein suggest, values-based perspectives can make an impact, even in the Canada-U.S. relationship. The defining factor will be whether such views are merely rhetorical jibes, or whether they backed up by concrete ideas and policy commitments. During Canada’s latest term on the UN Security Council, in 1999-2000, our representatives pursued policies that were grounded in Canadian values, such as the creation of the International Criminal Court and the Kimberley Process on conflict diamonds. While our perspective sometimes clashed with that of the U.S., our two governments ‘agreed to disagree’ and did not allow these differences to overshadow the larger set of issues on which Canada and the U.S. do agree.

The widening of the national interest

My third point probes deeper into what we mean by the ‘national interest’. The arguments of those such as Granatstein and Burney tend to assume that national interests are obvious and objective: if only we would recognize them, we would have a coherent foreign policy. But just as values can conflict, so too can interests: for example, protecting Canadian farmers versus lowering tariff barriers globally to bring about greater prosperity. We need only look at French President Jacques Chirac’s statement after the referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty to understand the challenges of articulating one, single national interest.

National interests don’t fall from the sky. They are constructed by particular processes, people, and institutions.[25] It is analytically problematic to assume that this is a neutral and straightforward exercise. The ‘realists’ may believe that Canada’s national interests are practical and self-evident. But beyond the dictum to pursue prosperity and security - which seems pretty uncontroversial - what are the particular interests of Canada in an interdependent world? Those who dare to suggest that Canada might have an interest in pursuing trade and investment opportunities outside of the United States are instantly branded as promoters of the Trudeau-era ‘third option’. But aren’t such considerations also part of a prudent calculation of the long-term national interest? We are, after all, no longer the number one supplier of goods and services to the United States (the European Union and China have surpassed us). Nor is it clear that the marginal benefit of increased efforts to promote trade and investment in the U.S. is greater than it would be for similar efforts in a major developing-country market.

The other ‘reality’ to acknowledge is that countries find themselves sharing mutual interests more often than ever before. This is especially true for our commercial interests. As one scholar of international relations, Stanley Hoffmann, has put it: “We live in a world economy made of boomerangs, in which states are tied both by their mutual needs – or fears – and by the unforeseen effects of their own domestic decisions or external entanglements.” In such an environment, purely national solutions become impossible.

In the end, old parochial conceptions of the national interest are difficult to maintain when the challenges we face are interrelated, and when no one state – acting on its own – can make itself invulnerable. A key strength of Tony Blair’s tenure as Prime Minister has been his ability to communicate to the British people about the challenges and opportunities of an interdependent world. One of his strategies has been to expand and deepen the traditional notion of the ‘national interest’, and to demonstrate how values and interests work together. For example, during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Blair contended that a response to ethnic cleansing could be compatible with the national interest once the notion of ‘nation’ was widened to include the principles that Britain stood for. Britain, as a ‘civilised nation’, had an obligation to respond and demonstrate horror in the face of ‘uncivilised’ action. In a similar way, Blair’s New Labour Government has argued that changes in the international system, driven by the forces of globalisation, have necessitated a wider conception of the national interest.

There are two implications of this logic: first, transnational forces (such as crime, the drugs trade, or weapons proliferation) become part of the national security agenda; and second, pursuit of the national interest requires steps to minimise the causes and effects of political and economic instability around the globe. This is why, for example, providing assistance to failed or failing states should not be seen as a squishy foreign policy ideal. It is firmly in the Canadian national interest to contribute to the creation of stronger and more capable states. As 9/11 showed us, weak states have as great a capacity to hurt us as strong states. Prime Minister Harper made this point strongly when speaking to Canadian troops in Afghanistan. “The reality hit home with brutal force”, he claimed, “when two dozen Canadians lost their lives, suddenly and senselessly, in the destruction of the World Trade Center.”

Yet more leadership, and more communication, will be required if Canadians are to fully embrace a 21st century conception of the national interest. The night of his election victory, Stephen Harper proclaimed: “We will continue to help defend our values and democratic ideals around the globe – as so courageously demonstrated by those young Canadian soldiers who are serving, and who have sacrificed, in Afghanistan.” But what exactly are those values, and how is our expanded presence in the more dangerous zones of southern Afghanistan promoting them? Similarly, in the same speech that he gave to our troops two weeks ago, Prime Minister Harper talked about Canadian soldiers delivering ‘humanitarian assistance.’ But this could play into the myth that we are merely do-gooders in the world. Will it make us ready for more of the casualties we have experienced so far? A nation-wide poll taken in late February of this year showed that while 90% of Canadians are aware of our Afghan mission and 73% said they had a “strong emotional connection” with the troops in Kandahar, most Canadians still appear to be confused about the nature of the deployment. Roughly 70% of respondents said they think the troops’ main role is peacekeeping, while only 26% said they think their primary role is combat. (And on every question in the survey, support was softest in Quebec).

The reality is somewhere in the middle. The Afghan mission combines reconstruction work with combat in a highly novel way for the Canadian military. Ultimately, the mission is about supporting the growth and stability of Afghanistan’s institutions, but ‘on the ground’ this means battling a determined and ruthless insurgency. Far from engaging in Pearsonian peacekeeping, our soldiers in Afghanistan are warding off attacks by members of the Taliban, who, having regrouped in Pakistan, are continuing to challenge Afghan leader Hamid Karzai’s hold on power. In order to sustain the necessary public support for such missions, our government must be clear about why we should assume those risks.

Identity first

The fourth and final point I want to make about the values-interests debate is that it starts the discussion about Canadian foreign policy in the wrong place. Before interests and values comes identity: who we are. For many decades, the notion of ‘middle power’ served as the shorthand for our global role and potential. But as I have argued, there are serious limits, both conceptual and practical, to the continuation of the middle power mantra.[26] Instead, three facets of the Canadian identity have become particularly salient for shaping foreign policy.

First, Canada is (relatively speaking) a highly successful liberal democracy. But it is also a liberal democracy of a special kind. In the words of the 2005 International Policy Statement:

Canada’s continued success depends on the joint pursuit of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Though many countries share these values, we have moulded them into a particular constellation that reflects our historical experience and our current aspirations. Our overarching vision is an inclusive society, where the will of the majority is balanced by a commitment to minority rights. That vision unifies Canadians but also celebrates difference manifest in our official policy ob bilingualism, our two legal systems, and our open immigration and refugee policy. Above all, it is a distinctly federal model, incorporating vast differences in size, population and resources between our provinces and territories …. This experience also underpins Canada’s economic model. By wedding free market principles to a commitment to shared risk and equality of opportunity, we have produced both prosperity and equity.[27]

While managing the partnership that is Canada has been a complex task, it also has developed the country’s capacity to accommodate power and inequality – the very realities that we confront today in the international system. The features of the Canadian liberal democratic experiment also help to determine our objectives with respect to the promotion of global prosperity and security.

Second, Canada is a North American country. No matter how strong the affiliation with some aspects of Europe’s economic model, or foreign policy, it is vital to remember our distinctiveness as part of a ‘new world’. The spectre of the EU referendum campaign, and its scape-goating of immigrants, is a vivid reminder that diversity on this side of the Atlantic is much more deep-seated than in other parts of industrialized world. Our North American destiny is shared with the United States and Mexico: it is not in Canada’s long term interests to ring-fence the Canada-U.S. relationship and minimize opportunities for trilateral cooperation.

The future agenda for that collaboration is not a mystery. It is laid out in the November 2004 Joint Statement on Common Security, Common Prosperity: A New Partnership in North America, which was issued by former Prime Minister Paul Martin and the President of the United States during George Bush’s official visit to Canada. In the domain of security, key initiatives include: enhanced critical infrastructure protection, increased collaboration on aviation and maritime surveillance, and implementation of new border security and bioprotection measures. In the economic sphere, the core priorities are: increased regulatory cooperation; the development of new sectoral strategies for energy, transportation, and financial services; the removal of ‘rules of origin’ costs on key categories of goods; and freer movement of highly skilled labour across the continent.

Despite the ambitious nature North American agenda, there is a third feature of Canada’s identity that cannot be denied: our global concerns and responsibilities. Proximity to the U.S. is a huge advantage to Canada, and one source of our national power.[28] But it is not – contra Gotlieb – Canada’s greatest asset. And while the relationship with the U.S. is Canada’s most important foreign relationship, it is not and should not be the sole focus of our foreign policy. In short, Canada cannot choose between the United States and the rest of the world. To do so would be to deny the kind of country we have become. Our country’s commitment to the shape of today’s world, as Canadian historians remind us, was not a mere token. It was real.

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. 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. It must contribute to the reform of existing institutions, and to the creation of new rules and structures to manage global problems. Canadian foreign policy must also build capacity in other members of the international community so that they too can contribute, both economically and politically.

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 U.S. Rather, it is to do some prudent long-term planning. Canada’s interests are best served if future superpower(s) 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 engage politically and diplomatically – not just commercially – with rising giants in other parts of the world.


So let me conclude. A foreign policy that engages with vision and values will not doom Canada to irrelevance, or lead it into a utopian sunset. The world of international relations is not, and cannot be, devoid of power considerations. In fact, many commentators on the Iraq crisis during the spring of 2003 seemed to forget that the United Nations Security Council itself, though an important normative feature of international society, is rooted in power politics. The vision of the Founding Fathers of the UN in 1945 was to bring together the world’s greatest powers to manage threats to the international system – by making the prospect of their collective response a deterrent to those who sought to destabilize the post-war order. So, in proclaiming that “the international system must be ruled by law not power”, the drafters of the 1995 foreign policy review, Canada in the World, were painting a false picture. Norms and values work together with power and interests in the world of 2005, just as they have done in the past.

Second, Canada does need a vision for its role in the world. Why? Because Canada must think more strategically about its role internationally. And a strategy, as I’ve defined it, requires choice. It also requires wise investment. A strategic vision will languish on the desktops of politicians and civil servants unless the resources to implement it are mobilized. This is the challenge now facing Canada – to stop talking about foreign policy, and to start doing it.

As a final note, I’ll return to E.H. Carr. His wisdom, it seems to me, was in setting up a dialectic between realism and idealism – not championing one against the other. “All healthy human action, and therefore all healthy thought,” he wrote, “must establish a balance between utopia and reality ... The characteristic vice of the utopian is naivety; of the realist, sterility.”[29] The MacEachen Liberal, I would submit, understands this recipe for successful reform all too well.


[1] Ngaire Woods, ‘Order, Globalization, and Inequality in World Politics’, in Andrew Hurrell and Ngaire Woods (eds.), Inequality, Globalization, and World Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[2] Andrew Cohen, While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World (Toronot: McLelland and Stewart, 2003).

[3] Robert Greenhill, Making a Difference? External Views on Canada’s International Impact (Toronto: Canadian Institute for International Affairs, 2005), p. 17

[4] This is not to deny the increasingly important role being played by provinces and municipalities in Canadian diplomacy and commercial policy.

Reed Scowen, ‘Re-inventing Foreign Policy’, Literary Review of Canada, vol. 12, no. 10 (December, 2004), p. 23.

[6] See The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, September 2002), available at <;; and A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy (Brussels, December 2003), available at <;.


[8] Canada’s International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World (Ottawa: Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, April 2005).

[9] Cohen, op.cit., p. 158.

[10] Thomas Axworthy, ‘On Being An Ally: Why Virtue Is Not Reward Enough’, Address to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Ottawa, 1 April 2004.

[11] Allan Gotlieb, ‘Romanticism and Realism in Canada’s Foreign Policy’, C.D.Howe Institute Benefactors Lecture, Toronto, 3 November 2004.

[12] J. L. Granatstein, ‘The Importance of Being Less Earnest’, C. D. Howe Institute Benefactors Lecture, Toronto, 21
October, 2003.

[13] Derek Burney, ‘Foreign Policy: More Coherence, Less Pretence’, Simon Reisman Lecture in International Trade Policy, Carleton University, Ottawa, 14 March 2005.

[14] E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis: 1919-1939, 2nd edition (Macmillan, London, 1984), p. 89

[15] Ibid., p. 92.

[16] In the short term, Asian central banks have an incentive not to engage in dramatic action (given the effect a significant revaluation would have on their countries’ public finances), but many analysts agree that the current relationship between the Asian lender and American borrower is unsustainable. See Chris Giles, ‘Why George Bush should heed Asia’s central bankers’, Financial Times, 26-27 February 2005.

[17] Niall Ferguson, ‘Sinking Globalization’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 84, no. 2 (March/April, 2005), p. 73.

[18] Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), p. 27.

[19] Michael Adams, Fire and Ice (Toronto: Penguin, 2003).

[20] Christian Boucher, ‘Economic Integration Without Value Convergence’, paper presented to the Policy Research
Initiative Conference on North American Integration, Ottawa, 21-22 June 2004.

[21] Cited in Timothy Garton Ash, Free World (London: Penguin, 2004), p. 102.

[22] Pew Global Attitude Project, Views of a Changing World 2003 (Washington, DC: The Pew Research Centre, 3 June

[23] Carr, op.cit., p. 154.

[24] Henry Kissinger, ‘Realists vs. Idealists’, International Herald Tribune, 12 May 2005.

[25] For more on the process of defining the national interest, see Martha Finnemore, National Interests in International Society (Cornell University Press, 1996).

[26]For an elaboration on this argument, see Jennifer Welsh, At Home in the World: Canada’s Global Vision for the 21st Century (Toronto: Harper Collins, 2004), Chapter 6.

[27] Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, op.cit.

[28] Susan E. Rice, ‘Canada’s Relationship with the US: Turning Proximity into Power’, in Graham F. Walker (ed.), Independence in an Age of Empire: Assessing Unilateralism and Multilateralism (Halifax, NS: Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, 2004), p. 124-5.

[29] Carr, ibid., p. 89.


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