We are entering a time of foreign policy review. It is entirely understandable that a new prime minister and a new government would want to assess where we are and where we need to be. This is not really new: Pierre Trudeau started his prime minister- ship with a much ballyhooed review. The end result was hardly revolutionary. Canada’s UN, NATO and NORAD commitments were all renewed, and apart from a flirta- tion with an effort to increase European trade to offset the continental embrace, life went on. There is a reason for this.

Canada’s foreign policy, however much we review it and renew it, can’t be crafted out of thin air. It will inevitably reflect our interests and our values. It has to start from certain key premises. We are a liberal democracy. We are a federation, whose founding was based on the premise that different lan- guage groups had to be accommodated in a single country. We were present at the founding of the UN, NATO, the GATT, NORAD, the Commonwealth and la Francophonie, and have been in the Organization of American States since 1989.

It would be difficult to make the case for a withdrawal from any of these organizations. The NDP continues to have a formal policy of withdrawing from NATO. But it is hard to make much of a case for a unilateral withdrawal from an organization that is now expanding to include most of Eastern Europe, and whose purpose is now changing from being a Cold War institution to yet another body committed to promot- ing better governance and the protec- tion of democratic institutions.

The decision to commit to free trade with the US and Mexico is now irrevocable. There was a profound and healthy debate about the potential benefits and consequences of the com- mitment to the Free Trade Agreement, and NAFTA, but even a federal NDP government would not tear them up. The Canadian economy is more close- ly integrated with the United States than ever before, and this trend is deepening. These are not trends that can be reversed without enacting a set of measures that clearly run counter to the prevailing forces of economics. I don’t say this with any great ideologi- cal enthusiasm, but rather in the spirit of John Kenneth Galbraith, who has written: ”œThe move to a closer associa- tion between the peoples and the insti- tutions of the advanced countries cannot be resisted. It is on the great current of history; the social forces involved are beyond the influence of national legislatures, parliaments and politicians. The oratory may oppose it; the tide still will run. Nor should one wish otherwise.”

Canada’s prosperity, how individ- ual Canadians live, is irretrievably connected to this fact of integration. There may be a number of ways we don’t like it, but it defines the world in which we live.

This in turn means that the American relationship is an unavoidable focus of our foreign policy, as it is of our public policy generally. This does not mean a slavish acceptance of every White House utterance, or every salvo from Paul Wolfowitz. But it does mean that we have to be prepared to spend a lot more time and money explaining to Americans who we are and what we do.

Washington is a very public bazaar, with congressmen, lobbyists, and an extraordinary range of interests and office seekers attempting to wield influence. That is the game, and we must be prepared to play it. If we are to be punished for our views, let it not be because we failed to explain.

Tony Blair has made the calcula- tion that the American relationship is so fundamental that nothing can get in its way. Jean Chrétien came to a differ- ent conclusion about Iraq, and his was a legitimate choice. It has certainly had the strong support of public opinion.

Our deep connection with America poses a profound challenge to us, because while we are economically inte- grated, the United States is clearly deter- mined to flex its protectionist muscles. Canadian farmers, lumber producers and countless others know only too well what this means. And while Canada remains profoundly multilater- alist in its thinking, this is much less true of the United States. From land mines to the International Criminal Court to Iraq, the US has shown a deter- mination to go its own way. Canada has chosen a different path, and this in turn poses a serious challenge to our rela- tionship with the Americans.

The underlying strength of our American connection will get us through the differences, but at every step of the way we have to realize the stakes.

Much was made in the early days after the collapse of the Berlin Wall about the role of ”œsoft power.” There is clear strength and validity in stressing the importance of values in public pol- icy, including foreign policy. But it is wrong to suggest as a corollary that with the end of the Cold War that Canada had no need to worry about its military capability, or that ”œhard power” is either irrelevant or evil.

In many respects the world is an even more dangerous and violent place than it was in the 1950’s. Peacekeeping is expensive, and the continued price of our commitment to it is going to be higher than we realize. How much higher? That is not easy to determine. Military spending, like health care spending, is never enough, and the demands of the world around us are apparently inexhaustible. But the theory that the end of the Cold War meant that we would be able to rely on a never ending ”œpeace dividend” is illusory.

There is also a growing realization that the rule of law and governance matter in the world. The collapse of state communism should have ended, where it still existed, the illusion that the path to successful development lies through an ever expanding public sec- tor. The profound shift in thinking and practice in both China and India is a reflection of the growing sense that successful development requires a com- mitment to innovation, enterprise, effective markets and a set of rules and laws to ensure that there is some con- nection between effort and reward.

There has also been a profound resurgence in interest in the federal idea in the last decade. What is hap- pening today in South Africa, Spain, Mexico, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Russia, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka, to mention just a few countries, are a reflection of some important common tendencies that need to be understood.

The resurgence of the federal idea has at its core many different causes. The vitality of the values of democra- cy, the revolutions in the politics of identity and human rights, the twin collapse of apartheid and bureaucratic communism, the impact of the tech- nological revolution, the economic changes we associate with the word ”œglobalization,” all these have made their contribution. In Mexico, for example, one party rule for most of the twentieth century meant that while the constitution spoke of the federal nature of the country, the reality was quite different. The same was even more true for the Soviet Union. The man on horseback had an equally bru- tal effect in Brazil and Nigeria: the fed- eral idea is quite incompatible with the command control mentality of the military hierarchy.

This renewal is not at all confined to countries that have a federalist tradition. Countries have long had to struggle with the simple truth that geography is rarely synonymous with automatic homogeneity. Ethnic, lin- guistic, racial and religious conflicts have become the dominant issue fac- ing the world order today. Wars after 1945 have been as much within coun- tries as between them, with disastrous consequences for peace and security. It is no longer soldiers dying in the millions, but civilians. From Rwanda to Cambodia, from the Balkans to East Timor, the battleg round is with in countries that are unable to resolve the conflicts of what Michael Ignatieff has called ”œblood and belonging.”

Canada dealt with ethnic, linguistic and religious conflict long before it was fashionable. Our love affair with the federal conversation is no longer a pure- ly domestic affair. The collapse of one party states, the demands of identity, the urge to local empowerment, the insistence on greater openness and transparency in government, and the recognition that in a smaller and much more interdependent world ”œsovereign- ty” is no longer an absolute, has brought the federal idea to the fore again.

At the conclusion of the Mont Tremblant Conference on federalism in 1999, Bill Clinton remarked that ”œmaybe the federal idea isn’t such a bad idea after all.” He was right.

This reality also breaks down the old walls between values and inter- ests. Afghanistan seemed a little country ”œ of which we know little” to borrow Neville Chamberlain’s unfor- tunate phrase. Yet its Taliban regime became a training ground for those responsible for 9/11. Canada was right to support the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban regime. But we have to accept that these interventions are expen- sive, and will require the deployment of substantial resources over a sub- stantial period of time.

These two requirements, a will- ingness to devote resources, and a capacity to do so on a sustained basis, will require greater co-ordination and leadership than we have seen for some time. The work of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Defence, and the Canadian Interna- tional Development Agency have to be brought together. Silos have to be broken down. Policy coherence needs to be matched by organizational change. Review must be followed by leadership and decision.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License