Are We Ready To Walk a More Independent Path?

  • National Newswatch

“When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction.  The key is not how many enemies do I kill, but how many allies do I grow.”  The observation by Joseph Nye Jr. applies more to Canada now than at any time since the Second World War.We have always been a good ally, a soft and smart power that somehow had great friends.  Our historical partnerships with Britain, France, and, perhaps especially, the United States went a great way not only to enhancing our reputation but also to providing security at relatively low costs for the second largest country in the world.  We nourished and participated in great alliances like NATO, the United Nations, the G7, and the International Criminal Court, to name a few.  Occasionally we shone, but most often we just performed consistently, and with nuance.  In the process, Canada became one of the most secure nations on the global stage.But how do we maintain that balance when our key historical partners are beset, not by military challenges but democratic ones?  In its torturous but gradual decline, Britain's governing class has compounded its ineptitude with a radical idealism that sees it increasingly isolated each successive year.  France's flirtation with the extreme right-wing fervour of Marine La Pen's National Rally coalition threatened a similar reaction on the European continent.And what to make of America's deepening political divisions that threaten to undermine not only its global leadership but its relationship with its staunchest allies, like Canada.  Though always laden with threats, some of Canada's greatest challenges come from within its alliances, not just outside of them.The four largest countries in the world by land mass are 1: Russia; 2) Canada; 3) China; and 4) United States.  Of these, Canada and its neighbour to the south are the most natural allies and require one another to defend against incursions (military, economic, cyber) of the other two nations.  Any dysfunction in the Canada/U.S. relationship introduces this country to rising global threats and will eventually force it to start making its own way in the world.Are we ready for that role?  It's unlikely, given that much of our present security and presence in the world has been aided by the resources of places like America and Britain.  Without them, the costs for military, diplomatic and economic membership in the club of world nations would be far more expensive.Testifying before the Senate's Committee on  Foreign Affairs and International Trade last month, Adam Chapnick, deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College and professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada put it in plain terms:'The cultural problems facing Global Affairs Canada today are real. Canadian representatives abroad lack the tools they need to advance the national interest, and the morale problem among foreign service officials in Ottawa is undeniable. But tactical efforts to strengthen the institution and restore pride among its people are unlikely to resolve a more fundamental problem: too many of Canada's political leaders no longer revere diplomacy as critical to the promotion, advancement and defence of Canada's interests on the world stage.”As Canada begins the venture of moving out more independently into an increasingly disconnected world, it will be essential to re-examine our capacities in the four broad streams of global engagement: military, diplomacy, foreign aid, and economic trade.  These regularly fall under various forms of review during each administration.  But they have always been placed within the context of strong alliances with partners whose level of resources exceeds our own and thereby benefit us greatly.  As democracy stumbles for some of these allies, our investments in global engagement will require upgrading.  As Senator Peter Harder observed: “Diplomacy is the glue that joins the capacity across a range of international instruments.”Things might democratically stabilize for our allies, but this country can't afford to lose the ability to go it alone should that be required.  It's a huge file to consider, but with the presence of veterans like Bob Rae, our ambassador to the United Nations, the experience and insights are there to develop our diplomatic skills for a new age.  The only question now is: will Canada up its diplomatic investments.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.