Canadian Foreign Policy Going Astray? Fall Highlights from the CIPS Blog

Many sustained themes in the CIPS Blog this term concerned the Harper government’s foreign policy in the Mid-East, at the UN and in its larger vision of Canada’s place among nations.

The semester started off with a critique by CIPS Visiting Associate John Mundy of the Harper government’s decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Iran. Barring any secret knowledge of imminent danger to Canadians, he wrote, the decision imposes unwarranted costs to diplomatic knowledge and possibilities for action. Over the term, Mundy followed up this critique with others about the impacts of Canada’s pullout on locally-engaged Iranian staff, and about the horrific costs and unclear benefits of a potential war with Iran.

The fall started off on a rather better note for Foreign Minister John Baird, who was commended by David Petrasek for giving a speech that represented a departure from unfortunate trends in his foreign policy rhetoric. If Baird followed through on his suggestions of working multilaterally to support local change, embracing a more holistic understanding of human rights, and de-linking the defence of human rights abroad from domestic partisanship, Petrasek suggested, Canadian foreign policy would be taking a better course. (That said, Dan Livermore was rather more critical of the gap between the speech’s messages and the current state of Canada’s diplomatic influence.)

However, CIPS assessments of the government’s foreign policy vision nosedived with Baird’s address to the UN in October, which Justin Massie denounced as having little to do with the reality of the United Nations (or world conflicts), and much more to do with pleasing the Conservative party’s constituency in Canada. Dan Livermore followed up by arguing that Baird’s speech didn’t just misdiagnose the UN’s weaknesses, but entailed the greater error of taking “Canada out of the game of working towards a more effective UN organization”.

The critique continued with David Petrasek’s contention that Canada’s vote against Palestine’s bid for statehood at the UN represented not principle (as the government claimed) but stark prejudice instead. And on a more low-key domestic level, Roland Paris noted that while the government’s leaked foreign policy review contained little new or surprising, it would be better if the secrecy were lifted and Canadian policy directions explained to the public.

On other foreign policy fronts as well, CIPS bloggers urged changes in the government’s approaches. Stephen Brown held out little hope for Julian Fantino, Bev Oda’s replacement at CIDA, to focus the agency more constructively on its primary mission of fighting poverty.  CIPS guest speaker Elizabeth Shakman Hurd argued against the mandate of the not-yet-launched Office for Religious Freedom at DFAIT. And Philippe Lagassé noted that the government’s military procurement problems, amply highlighted with the F-35 debacle, in fact extend much deeper into DND’s systems.

Stay tuned to the CIPS Blog for more constructive criticism of Canadian foreign policy—and sharp analysis of other international issues—in the term ahead.


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