Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A good start that comes too late

Babble on.

Under the heading of 'better late than never', I've finally been able to finish reading the overview of Canada's brand spanking new International Policy Statement (IPS) released last week. I haven't even touched the four component reviews yet - Diplomacy, Defence, Development, and Commerce - although I will be digging into at least the Defence element this week.

So what's my verdict so far? While I have a few nits to pick, I think this document charts a prudent course for Canada in the international arena. I'm quite impressed, in fact.

As Paul Wells stated recently:

Besides, what's so striking about the international policy statement...is how relatively clear-eyed it is about the formidable gap between Canada's self-image and its recent performance in the world. It contains what is so rare in Paul Martin's Ottawa: a determination to favour modest progress over self-congratulation.

"I was surprised, actually, by the reality check in it," one European diplomat told me. "There was no -- how shall I put it? -- smugness in it."

Well, there was a tiny little bit of smugness. But not nearly the 'look at us, we're the model for the world' sort of smugness we've come to expect from Liberal Canada in recent years.

From Paul Martin's preamble:

For decades, there was a slow erosion in Canada’s commitment to its military, to international assistance and to our diplomatic presence around the world. Then, during the nineties, there were more cutbacks as our government made tough decisions to save the country from financial calamity. As a result, our international presence has suffered. But thanks to the sacrifice and resolve of Canadians, we have restored our fiscal sovereignty and have spent the past year renewing our investments in domestic priorities, such as health care. Now is the time to rebuild for Canada an independent voice of pride and influence in the world. It won’t be easy. We will have to earn our way in defence and security. We will have to earn our way in international assistance and global commerce. And we will have to understand that we can’t simply recreate what we once had. Instead, we must build today for the world of tomorrow. That is what we are dedicated to doing.

Humility, an understanding of actions and consequences, and an admission of at least partial responsibility for a failure: coming from a Liberal, this represents progress.

Putting aside my genuine surprise, here are the highlights of the IPS, as I see them:

  • There seems to be an understanding thoughout this document that policy should derive from both 'interests' and 'values' - neither in isolation. This is a far cry from the wishy-washy "The world needs more Canada" sort of directionless bumf we've been hearing for years.
  • Here's a refreshing statement from a Liberal government: "...there can be no greater role, no more important obligation for a government, than the protection and safety of its citizens." It's nice to see that in print. It would be nicer to see some deeds *cough KAZEMI cough* to back up those fine words, but a Policy Statement isn't about deeds.

  • Someone in government has finally come to understand that multilateralism isn't a foreign policy, it's one of a number of means to pursue a foreign policy: "...while we value multilateralism and know the great good that international cooperation can achieve, we must ultimately be committed to playing a lead role in specific initiatives and, on occasion, to resolving to go it alone." (Babbler's scrape-the-jaw-off-the-desk emphasis) This is a huge admission from a government that has regularly abdicated its foreign policy to international bodies in the past, and castigated other countries (notably the U.S.) for 'going it alone', using multilateralism as an excuse.

  • Our government has also openly admitted that if we "put outcomes ahead of process" as the IPS states, existing multilateral arrangements aren't up to the task in the 21st century. UN reform, an increased use of bilateral arrangements with key regional players, an understanding of the role of civil society in international affairs, a new L20 concept based on the G20, an acknowledgement that "our most influential membership" is in the G8 (not the UN) - these concepts, proposed to strengthen a 'rules-based' international system and Canada's role within it, are a good starting point to pursue our goals through multilateralist means.

  • The IPS renews Canada's commitment to continental security and prosperity, citing terrorism and sovereignty threats in the Arctic as key issues. It sensibly recognizes the enormous impact of U.S. policies on our own. It proposes a stronger consular presence in both the U.S. and Mexico. But interestingly, it raises the possibility of negotiations on security outside of NORAD and on trade outside of NAFTA "since not all problems are equally important to all three countries." That's outside-the-box thinking, folks, and it has been formally endorsed by DFAIT and the Liberal party.

  • Regarding foreign intervention, Canada will be employing a 3D approach: Defence, Diplomacy, and Development. It remains to be seen whether the appropriate level of coordination and cooperation across government departments will materialize, but the integrated approach is a sound one.

  • Arguably the most exciting changes to foreign policy outlined in the IPS concern Canada's Foreign Aid:
    • focus our aid on 25 development partners

    • concentrate our spending on the key sectors that drive development—health, education, governance, indigenous private sector development and the environment

    • bring new and effective delivery mechanisms to bear, such as Canada Corps

    • continue to increase official development assistance and other forms of foreign aid by 8 percent each year, resulting in a doubling of assistance between 2001 and 2010

    • maintain increases beyond 2010, and accelerate the projected rate of growth in international assistance as our fiscal position continues to improve

    Focus and generosity, two qualities lacking for so long, have been reintroduced into Canada's aid policy, and it's a very pleasant surprise indeed.

Now, before one of my fellow Blogging Tories hacks my site and paints it Liberal red, I do have some reservations about the IPS.

First things first: the gap - the chasm - between Liberal words and Liberal actions is both infamous and notorious. Luckily for us, it doesn't look like they'll be in office long enough to screw up a fairly decent policy statement in the application.

Secondly, enshrining Martin's Five Responsibilities (to Protect, to Deny, to Respect, to Build, and to the Future) before meaningful structural changes have occurred at the United Nations is either a licence for chaos, or a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic - in no case will it be a catalyst for positive change.

Thirdly, the document veers into self-contradictory or self-congratulatory territory a number of times:

  • Canada will "go it alone" if necessary, and we believe strongly in the "Responsibility to Protect", but "in no circumstances is violence an acceptable means for seeking to effect political change, either from within or without." Hence, a diplomatic and ethical position on Darfur that most closely resembles a ball of yarn after the kittens have gotten at it.

  • We mention BMD, but give no reasons for our rejection of that policy. If our foreign policy is governed by values and interests, and not by poll-driven anti-Americanism, wouldn't the IPS have given Canada an opportunity to explain how BMD wasn't in line with either?

  • We boast of our expertise in cultural and political compromise, and offer to export it: "Our system of governance represents a laboratory full of intriguing experiments that can assist others engaged in the complex task of institution building. This understanding of the 'DNA' of governance is an important resource Canada can use to make a difference." So the ongoing triple-threat of Quebec separatism, Western alienation, and Maritime dependency, combined with a severe fiscal imbalance between all three levels of government in our country is a system we want to spread around the world? I'll admit it's better than civil war, but a little more humility might be in order.

My final comment is this: the devil is in the details. The IPS can be a launching pad for a reinvigorated Canadian presence on the international scene, or it can be a dusty sheaf of paper sitting on a shelf, bearing no resemblance to reality. It all depends on how the policy is implemented.

And in case you hadn't figured it out yet, that's another good reason to vote Conservative when the time comes.

Babble off.


At 12:09 p.m., Blogger Prolix said...


I enjoyed reading your post on the IPS and am looking forward to your comments on the other sections.

I too was impressed by the direction that Martin/Graham was setting and the clarity that it presented as opposed to the sheer "chutzpa", for lack of a better (polite) term, that Chretien's era resorted to in this area.

A few questions (I know you have a day job so feel free to be selective on which ones you respond to):

Would you agree that the Martin Liberals have made progress and are at least heading in the right direction? Could you have seen the IPS come out under Chretien? Is this one more piece of evidence that Martin's style of governing is different and may appeal to a broad cross-section of society (i.e. governing from the centre).

Do you really see the Conservatives being able to govern more effectively than the Liberals in a minority government situation? Do their policies really appeal to the Bloc, Liberal, or NDP base?

At 3:40 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Prolix, thanks for some good questions.

First of all, while I applaud the policy statement, I have no confidence a Martin government will adhere to the policy when push comes to shove. Look at BMD. There's a good case against it, but Martin sure didn't make it. Look at Darfur. Look at Iran and the Kazemi affair. Look at Maher Arar.

And that's just within the sphere of foreign affairs - the list grows longer if you delve into domestic policy. Heck, what's Martin's position on corporate taxes right now? Anyone know? Has he informed Jack Layton yet?

As for your question about a CPC minority government, I have my concerns as well. But I'd rather have the CPC driving the agenda from the government side of the house than I the current cluster-f*** in parliament. Of course, that's why I'm hoping for a CPC majority, against all odds.

Feel free to disagree - I've been wrong before, or so I'm told. Although I can't remember when... ;)

At 8:58 a.m., Blogger Prolix said...

You're right, it is all in the execution, although it helps the bureaucrats to have some clarity of the objective... I just wonder how long a Conservative government will last in this same situation? I guess the other political parties will likely be reluctant to force an election just as this one was until they have an overriding "issue". Frankly, I'm surprised the Liberals didn't try to force an election before this, knowing what we now know.


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