Thursday, January 26, 2012

Canada and Its Interests: Max or Min?

Yesterday, I responded to a Roland Paris question about Canada losing or gaining influence under Harper by first pondering what Canada's interests are.  Why? Because influence is about getting what you want/need, and if you don't know what you want/need, then it is pretty hard to say that influence went up or down.  To summarize, I basically said that Canada has a few key interests: security, free trade, multilateralism and promoting Canadian values. 

Before Canadians start to swagger, Roland's question should be answered--is Canada improving its position in these areas?  It would easy to say yes or no, but the academic in me has to say: well, it depends.  It depends on whether the question is about Harper's entire term as Prime Minister or just the time since he had a majority government.  It depends on which area.

On security, is Canada better off now than it was a year ago?  Five years ago?  Probably.  There are still few direct threats to Canada, although the Russian noises about the Arctic can be worrying.  Canada is perhaps a more visible target of international terrorism due to its role in Afghanistan, but international terrorist movements (Al Qaeda) have taken significant losses over the past few years.  Canadian contributions to NATO in Afghanistan and Libya have certainly improved Canada's standing with the allies that are committed to Canada's defense. 

In terms of influence, Canada certainly has had more influence over how it operates in various expeditions.  It used to be the case that Canada had forty of its flags on UN maps, with small contingents around the world.  By focusing its effort on one spot, Kandahar, Canada got leadership posts in Kandahar and in Kabul, so that Canadians could decide how the Canadians would operate (and also command Americans and others).  So, this effort did increase Canadian influence.  Ah, but this was started by Paul Martin (despite his regrets), so Harper can only take limited credit.

In 2011, when the air operations were turned over to NATO, the organization needed a senior officer who was neither British nor French since the two countries had antagonized much of the alliance with their enthusiasm for the mission.  The natural move was to turn to the Canadians since the CF had performed well in Afghanistan, and were respected by both the more and less enthused.  So, LtG Bouchard got to be the commander of the effort, again giving a Canadian significant influence over how NATO would operate, including the planes Canada committed to the effort.

Of course, this all supports that other Canadian interest--multilateralism.  Supporting NATO is in Canada's national interest.  However, if one surveys the rest of Canadian moves of late, multilateralism has taken some big hits.  Canada has not been supporting recent efforts to deal with climate change.* Efforts to negotiate a trade deal across the Pacific were stymied by Canadian protection of its agriculture: the policy of supply management.  As a result, Canada is being the Rudolph of various multilateral games--not playing at all.  This would be a decrease in Canadian influence.
* I still think of it as global warming, but I am getting old. 
I am not an IPE expert, so I can only guess at Canada's trade standing.  Its dollar is stronger than before, thanks partly to the collapse of the US dollar and partly due to demand for Canadian resources.  And that really is something giving Canada heaps of potential influence--having resources to export.  The question here, of course, is whether that means Canada is getting influence, reaching other goals, in addition to the $$ it is being paid.  Oh, unless the potential influence turns into real influence, this has little to do the government of the day.

So, my quick tally suggests that the Harper government has had a mixed record on extending Canadian influence.  Libya?  Yes.  Environment/non-military multilateralism?  No.

What say you?

No comments: