Sunday, October 13, 2019

Election 2019: Foreign Policy and Defence Priorities

I tweeted my thoughts this morning about the Conservative platform's pieces on foreign policy and defence policy.  There was some good, some bad, and much that was annoying.  What annoyed me most was the focus on Iran and Israel.  An then I opened up the latest Diplomat and International Canada which has each party listing its top five foreign policy priorities (the Liberals sent along a few paragraphs).  And, yes, I found much fault with the Conservatives again, but let me run through the entire piece and then suggest what Canada's real foreign policy priorities are. Yeah, I don't discuss the PPC--it ain't a real party until it wins something.  Plus the xenophobes get enough attention.

  1. China.  Not really number one, but definitely a major priority even if China and Canada were not embroiled in a dispute over extradition of a Huawei executive.  Major potential trade partner and rising power that might seek to undermine the rules of the system that have been so beneficial to Canada.
  2. Russia and the Arctic.  Not really number two, and Russia is not as much of a threat to Canada's Arctic as people suggest.  Why?  Because it is damned hard to maintain a presence all the way up there, not to mention all the way on the other side.  Russia's Arctic investments are not about the Northwest passage but the Northern passage.  
  3. Israel.  FFS. I hate to break it to folks, but (a) Israel can take care of itself without Canadian help and (b) Israel does not really help/hurt Canada's security or economy.  Last I checked, Canada is an Atlantic country and a Pacific country, but it isn't a Mideast country.
  4. Iran.  FFS 2.  Ditto.  Remember, Canada was not a member of the party of six negotiating the JCPOA.  Nobody sees Canada as a major influence on Iranian behavior. 
  5. Religious Freedom.  Really?  As you will see below, I will find a bunch of stuff that is more important to the security and welfare of Canadians than promoting Christianity (which is what this office did and would do again).  If the Conservatives really cared about religious freedom so much, their stance on Quebec's laws against (certain) religious garb would be a wee bit more declarative.
 New Democratic Party:
  1. Climate change. Here's a major priority.  The only way to address climate change is via international cooperation.  And climate change is a major threat to Canada--it will change where the maples can grow, for instance, and it will likely lead to more immigration conflicts, and on and on.  Well done, NDP.
  2. Disarmament.  Um, good luck with that.  Not sure pipe dreams should be the 2nd priority.  Given the state of the world these days with Trump undermining or leaving various agreements, Russia cheating on agreements, and so on, this is not a time to invest major resources or attention to something that is not going to pan out.  Maybe later.  Or, well, start at home--stop the sale of arms to hotspots, even if it costs you votes.  Right?
  3. International development.  This makes a great deal of sense, although one needs to have some humility about the effectiveness of aid.  Or even that aid can be problematic.
  4. Human rights respect and enforcement.  Sure, fits the party ideology and Canada has done good stuff in the past promoting human rights.  But the Saudi response should be kept in mind--these ideals have a price.  
  5. Multilateralism and peacekeeping.  Again, makes sense, but this is risky stuff.
Liberals (taking their paras and turning into a list):
  1.  Support international order via insttutions
  2.  Fight climate change
  3.  Support free/fair trade
  4.  Stuff
Not great--just vague stuff. No points for blowing off the homework they were given

  1.  Climate emergency.  Sure
  2.  Global migration.  That conflict and climate change will create much migration and we need to prepare.  Good.
  3.  Fight erosion of human rights.  Like for the NDP, this will come at a cost.  How will this work?
  4. Achiving UN Sustainable Development Goals.  Sure.
  5. Ban on nuclear weapons.  What I said above about pipe dreams for the NDP.
Bloc Québécois
  1. Climate change.  Wow, the separatists can be reasonable.
  2. Reset button trade.  Never mind.
  3. Multilateralism.  Woot.
  4. Tax base erosion.  Interesting.  
  5. Give Quebec access to the world.  Ok but oy.

Steve's priorities
  1. Funny how all of these folks dodge the number one priority: relations with the US.  It only appeared on the xenophobic sect's list.  Given how dependent Canada is on the US for trade, investment, and defence, the US-Canada relationship is always the most important priority.  Especially now when it is hard.
  2. Climate change.  It is a clear and present danger AND it requires international cooperation.
  3. China.  It is an economic opportunity, but one with tremendous downsides that can threaten Canadian values (what do we sell out to get into that market); it is threat to peace (ask the Japanese and those near the South China Sea, not to mention Tawain); it is a threat to the multilateral order that has been so fundamental to Canada's success the past 75 years.
  4. India.  Just because it is hard does not mean it is not important.  India presents incredible opportunities--the market, to balance China, etc--but is also very likely to cause problems for Canada.  Canadian leaders need to stop thinking about how best to pander to some communities in Canada as they visit foreign countries (that would be Trudeau...), and focus on the larger interests such as trade and defence.
  5. NATO.  Sure, my self-interest, but it is also the case that Canada gets involved in high risk, high cost endeavors thanks to its role in NATO.  So, managing NATO is important because NATO has been setting Canada's security agenda for a long, long time.  
And, yes, my list of priorities focuses on Canada's interests, not the interests of other people.  Canada should do more peacekeeping, more development assistance, and the like, but such "oughts" come after "musts" such as getting the relationship with the US right, addressing climate change, managing China and India, and influencing the next set of military obligations.

Oh, and maybe the next government should do a foreign policy review to set priorities and put up signposts for the civil servants.  The Defence Policy Review (a.k.a. SSE) worked really well doing that.


Jim Parker said...

Not sure why you and other Canadian media insist on using the term 'peacekeeping' and 'peacekeepers'. Doesn't exist. Never has existed. CAF/DND exist to fight battles and wars. This despite how hard Canadian people and media wish to see it otherwise.

Steve Saideman said...

Peacekeeping is very objectively a thing. It can be more or less violent, but the UN exists, and peacekeeping forces continue to do something distinct from conquest or defense of one's own country.

Sure, there is lots of mythology about the Canadian Forces, but doing peacekeeping remains a policy choice.

Mad Padre said...


I thought putting the US as #1 in your own list was astute. Late at night, when the craziness and polarization of the US preys on my mind, I wonder if anyone in Ottawa thinks about how prolonged instability and unrest in the US might forces us to think about our own security. Or would that be crazy talk for anyone in government to say aloud?

Steve Saideman said...

It is not crazy talk. If Trump wins re-election, then more talk of it will be out in the open.

And, remember, Freeland spent her entire Minister of Foreign Affairs time on pretty much one issue--the US. Because Trudeau had the right priorities.