What will Canadian Foreign Policy Look Like in 2012?
That, essentially, is the important question that Doug Saunders recently asked in the Globe. In 2011, Canada’s deployment in Afghanistan ends, and with it, the central plank or foundation to the Harper Government’s foreign policy.
That foreign policy, as Saunders aptly points out, was one based primarily on image. By taking on a more muscular role in fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, Canada would project an image of strength internationally, and its standing in the world would likewise grow. But with that strategy faltering, and our role in Afghanistan already diminished with the arrival of 30,000 U.S. soldiers as part of an American troop “surge” strategy, Saunders predicts an international focus for Canada centered less on muscle, and more on other priorities, like the G20 forum or financial regulation, in 2012 and beyond.
Saunders, I think, is largely right, though I do part company with him on one key point. In a world where climate change and financial management are priorities in the world community and the emergence of new economic powers like India and China pose important new challenges for promoting Canadian initiatives, a focus on bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral engagement on all of these fronts, and exporting other elements of Canada’s successful model for “peace, order and good governance” abroad, will be essential to strengthening Canada’s standing in the world. In this regard, Saunders is right on the money.
But where I disagree slightly — though he might not even disagree with this point given the direction of his article– is the conclusion that after Afghanistan, neither Harper or any other Prime Minister, would attempt a “muscular” approach to foreign policy again. I don’t think the problem under Harper was that he took a “muscular” approach; but that all the “muscle” was centered on one lone priority: the Afghanistan mission.
Under a human security paradigm of foreign policy, on which I have recently blogged, a “muscular” foreign policy would not only ensure some military capability so that Canada could meet its international responsibilities (like deploying troops internationally to protect vulnerable populations or help defuse internal conflicts under the requirements of the Responsibility to Protect), but also focus on other initiatives– be it climate change, poverty, or financial stability– with an understanding that general human welfare is tied to more traditional concerns of national interest and security. To me, a muscular foreign policy is an active one, which engages on several fronts, not just militarily. In a post-Afghan mission world, such an approach is not dead. It just needs to be redefined.
But all this returns us to Saunders’ important initial question about foreign policy in 2012. Would Harper ever embrace such an expanse of international initiatives?
The answer is not entirely clear, and not just because, as James Travers notes, given the government’s past tendency to calibrate foreign policy around domestic partisan politics, when it starts talking about things like world poverty and women’s health at the G8, it seems more like rhetoric than anything substantial. Rather, because all evidence indicates that Harper simply does not believe in this kind of foreign policy. As Saunders notes, each of the “high quality goods” he thinks Canada can deliver to the world, were all “cooked up” by past Liberal Governments. No Conservative initiatives on this point. And with the quiet disappearance of certain words and references to such human security-focused projects from DFAIT’s lexicon, which I recently discussed, it is hard to envision the Harper Government embracing the kind of internationalism Saunders suggests.
I may be wrong about that. But the evidence justifies a healthy skepticism.