Geopolitical Policy Challenges on a New Canadian Path, Part 1: New Disrupting Forces

Geopolitical Policy Challenges on a New Canadian Path, Part 1: New Disrupting Forces
Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump -- a now iconic image of their first official meeting.Pool/Getty Images

Canada needs to move beyond a policy perspective largely shaped by relations with the US and EU and build upon partnerships with the Global South.

The future is always hard to predict, but we already know that there is a new human disrupter at work on Planet Earth. Unfortunately for Canada, he lives just to our south. Any optimistic dreams that he might sober up after a few months on the job have been dispelled. He shows no signs of pulling back even as he is politically humiliated by his failure to end Obamacare or by finding that his Islamophobia is not widely shared by the US judicial system.

Applauded by his many loyalists, Trump makes macho claims of “taking care of” semi-nuclear North Korea if China won’t. Tough news for South Korea as instant collateral damage. Its capital, Seoul, with its 10 million people, is in easy missile reach just across the border. A million Korean children could be victims of sarin gas shells.

Back home, as major storms and floods intensify across the planet, President Trump remains a committed denier on climate change, including issuing a directive ending Obama’s restrictions on burning coal. These are not moves that Canada wants to see from its neighbour.

Meanwhile, other changes in the global sphere are shaping the world and Canadians’ path within it. Some are relatively benign, such as advances in technology and access to knowledge. Some are new uncertainties, notably a stumbling Europe adjusting to social change as populations age and new immigration disturbs social conservatives. If the EU starts to lose its cohesion because of Trump-like populist politics, then our new trade deal with Europe, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, could be at real risk. A major uncertainty has been created by the Brexit folly. Just under 52 percent of the UK population, mainly the older generation, chose the “Leave” path, one strewn with likely major economic costs for themselves and even more so their own children, who voted “Remain” by a large margin.

The most radical change for Canada’s worldview is the emergence of the Global South as a major driver, probably soon the most powerful, of global economic development. Many of these countries are also significant military powers as well as beneficial (to us) sources of social and cultural diversity. Some, notably India and China, were global trading leaders as well as military and seafaring powers a millennium ago, at a time when Europe was just finding its feudal feet.

This global transformation, a new geopolitical order, is getting under way slowly and unevenly. It will likely take many years to come to fruition. But in a resource-scarce world, one driven by new communication modes and marketing-induced consumption “needs,” the South will not be able to replicate the features of a North besotted by consumption and enthralled by globalization, despite its adverse impact on societal equity.  Canadian geopolitical strategies will need to be shaped around new players from the Global South as producers, customers, and investors, as well as future major markets for our raw materials and industrial products.

Of course, not everyone will benefit. Trump’s electoral upset, rooted in the fears of displaced white male industrial workers, shows that even in the nominally richest of nations, inequality and exclusion remain widespread. For the Global South, even with its macro-success stories like China and India, poverty in all its dimensions will remain a harsh reality.

Ending persistent extreme poverty is the central goal of the UN’s Agenda 2030, and Canada subscribed fully to this initiative in 2015. However, that commitment has so far not translated well into public policy. Recent years have indeed seen a declining share of our budget and GDP devoted to “development cooperation” (the new partnership-spirit term for foreign aid), first under Stephen Harper and now, seemingly still, under a smiling, “We are back” Trudeau government.

A new global order will shape 2030 and beyond. It was triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008–09, rooted in bankers’ greed and failed financial regulation in New York and London. The South, in the shape of China and what we call the emerging economies, substantially saved that day by keeping its economies rolling, as both producers and consumers. The mechanism used, massive coordinated financial stimulus, was implemented by global leaders from both North and South, working within the Leaders’ G20, an enhanced and enlarged version of a diminished G7. As we know, to our regret, the crisis action may have saved the day but has still left millions jobless.

Many observers regard the continuing impact of the financial crisis as proof that the old economic order, what we call “globalization,” is no longer adequate, either economically or politically. It is leaving political leaders insecure. Meanwhile whole populations, both those Trump-supporting white males and the refugee waves crossing into Europe for the past two years, remain angry and desperate.

For Part 2 of this post, click here.

This article was first published by Policy Options on 1 May 2017.

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