Thursday, March 17, 2005

"More coherence, less pretence"

Babble on.

I have flown a multi-engine military aircraft. Oh, I didn't get it into the air or land it - I just held it straight and level at 8,000 ft. An actual pilot did the rest. You see, anyone can hold an aircraft straight and level in clear and calm skies if they have enough distance between them and the hard and unforgiving earth below.

Which brings me to our Liberal overlords: since gaining power in 1993, the Grits have occupied Canada's pilot's seat, smiling and mugging for the cameras, making sure everyone sees what a fantastic job they're doing 'flying' the aircraft of state through the clear blue yonder. They've done such a fantastic job of looking the part of a pilot that nobody in the back of the plane has noticed they don't actually know where they're going, and what's more, the plane's altitude is gently declining.

Derek Burney's not fooled, though. He recently gave this year's Simon Reisman Lecture at Carleton University, entitled Foreign Policy: More Coherence, Less Pretence, and it hit the mark.

We seem to prefer a role in world affairs that is long on good intentions but short on substance, confusing activity or attendance with results and photo-opportunities with achievement; putting process above purpose and being more concerned about how we are perceived rather than by what we actually do.

While the entire speech is well worth your time to read, a number of passages jumped out at me:

What the Third Option and Diefenbaker's 15 percent diversion reflected, however, was what might be called the Canadian conundrum on foreign policy. Having evolved slowly from colony to independence, Canada has tried, over the years, to straddle first the nostalgic pull of Empire and, ultimately, the proximate advantage of the U.S. while, at the same time, painstakingly asserting a course of greater independence.
Defining Canada's place in the world can be a difficult balancing act particularly when notions of "independence" assume a virtue in themselves. It does not need to be that complicated. After all, the primary objective for Canadian foreign policy should be to ensure a prosperous and safe Canada within a stable, more humane world. The real test of Canadian foreign policy should be its effectiveness in advancing these fundamental objectives..."Independence" is not a legitimate objective for foreign policy. It is an illusion especially in an increasingly interdependent world.
Be wary of nostrums on the virtues of multilateralism. Canada is staunchly in favour of all forms of multilateralism as if the process was an end in itself rather than the means to an end. We can pretend that multilateralism will offset excessive dependence on the United States but history has demonstrated that, without U.S. commitment and involvement, multilateralism has limited effect. That is why, in years past, a major foreign policy objective for Canada has been to try to keep the United States actively engaged in the multilateral system.

Burney's cogent ideas on trade policy also serve to highlight the paucity of Liberal strategy in this vital area:

Our objectives in trade policy need to reflect genuine Canadian aspirations and not be manufactured, like instant meals, to provide a convenient press release for a sudden Prime Ministerial or Ministerial visit...Over the past five or six years we have initiated a flurry of free trade negotiations, but concluded none. What are our priorities and why are there no results? Regrettably, our trade policy actions have become as obscure as our foreign policy objectives.
...we need to shake off the last vestiges of a colonial mentality that have us perennially seeking a deeper relationship with Europe, one for which the Europeans generally, and the EU in particular, repeatedly demonstrate is of no interest to them. As others push to integrate more within their regions we should accept and work with the reality and the opportunities of our own hemisphere.
Since 1990, China's economy has grown four fold. But, in the past three years, Canada's exports have increased by only 17 percent, whereas those from the U.S. are up 53 percent and Australia's - our natural competitor - are up 58 percent. The fact that we are steadily falling behind Australia and others in exploiting export opportunities in China is proof positive that the spasmodic lunges of high level trade missions are no substitute for strategic thinking, careful analysis and targeted resources.

Burney concludes with the following sentence:

Instead of offering a "model" to the world infused with sentiment, let's make a real contribution anchored by a coherent assessment of our interests and a practical view of what we can achieve along with resources that will allow us to make a contribution in kind.

Hear, hear.

Babble off.


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