Friday, February 22, 2008

We Hold the Answer

Ordinary Canadians need to become more involved with foreign policy

In the third and final installment of the What is Canada's Place in the World? series, blogger David Eaves stresses the importance of Canadian citizens becoming engaged abroad.

"For two decades, pundits have argued that Canada has lost its way in the world, that it no longer articulates a clear role for itself. But, in our search for answers, perhaps we've asked the wrong question. Rather than "what is our role," maybe we need to reaffirm "what is our goal?"

To this question, the answer is remarkably consistent. Canada's foreign policy has sought to model and advance the ideals of our national experiment: peace, order and good government. In a world too often governed by realpolitik, Canadians have worked tirelessly to preserve and promote an international system that, grounded in international law, allows peaceful people everywhere — including in Canada — to select their governments, to trade and to move about safely.
Of course, Canada's government hasn't always done the same. During his first encounter with then-Chinese premier Jiang Zemin then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien gently tried to drill him about "good governance and the rule of law". He couldn't even bring himself to say the words "human rights".

When now-Prime Minister Stephen Harper conjured the "audacity" to address human rights with China and Iran Michael Byers -- one of Canada's self-styled "top foreign policy 'experts'" -- indulged himself in a temper tantrum.

Canadians do believe in human rights -- intensively and passionately. Unfortunately, not all of those who claim to speak for us legitimately share those beliefs.

"For almost two centuries, we've pursued this objective. And yet, we've repeatedly redefined our role. In our efforts to improve and defend this system Canadians have, among other things: served as allies and fierce warriors, fighting in two world wars and one Cold one; operated as diplomatic honest brokers, inventing peacekeeping and preventing war between superpowers; and organized as human rights and human security activists, extending the benefits of stability and justice to those who've known little of either.

And yet the pundits and politicians want us to choose just one — we may yet have an election over this. But Canadians know better. We've been all these things, and are proud of them not for what they were, but for what they were in service of.
To this end, Eaves is certainly right. To pretend that we can either engage in peacekeeping or fight in wars is a false choice.

In fact, at this very moment, Canada has soldiers battling the Taliban in Afghanistan and peacekeepers in Haiti, Kosovo, and several other areas around the world. And when one considers the intensifying nature of foreign conflicts -- such as in Darfur and Kenya -- the ideal separation of peacekeeping from combat has faded more and more into the idyllic days of the Pearsonian era.

Canada can -- and should -- act as all of these things, as often as circumstance allows.

"More importantly, this diversity, and continuity, has never been more important. The challenges of the 21st century — international terrorism, global warming, ethnic conflict, weapons of mass destruction and collapsing eco-systems — are markedly different from those of the 20th century. Their dispersed and complex nature means no single actor — not even governments — can address them alone."
These very issues have made internationalism a vital issue. Global issues require global solutions. It's as simple as that.

But Eaves makes his greatest point when he considers the increasing role of Canadian citizens abroad.

"In the face of these challenges, Canada has, quietly, carved out a new role. As a country we may appear adrift, but, as individuals, Canadians are more effectively and successfully engaged than ever. Quietly, we've transitioned from a middle power — a plucky country whose government prevented conflicts and ensured stability — to a model power — a country whose plucky citizens innovate solutions to new global challenges.

In an era where technology enables individuals to self-organize, deploy resources, or simply get involved, Canadians have jumped at the opportunity. New groups such as Engineers Without Borders, Peace Dividend Trust, Journalists for Human Rights, help people channel their energy and focus on results. Broader still, the recent Canada's World poll suggests that Canadians gave $7.3-billion to internationally focused non-profits over the past year. This is more than twice CIDA's budget of $3-billion, and equivalent to 0.6 per cent of our GDP. And this doesn't even include the $20-billion in remittances sent abroad annually or the hundreds of thousands of hours in international volunteer work donated by everyday citizens.
This should serve as food for thought for individuals like Jeffrey Sachs who decry the Canadian government's failure to meet the 0.7% of GDP figure outlined by Lester Pearson.

In fact, Canadians far more than pull their weight in terms of foreign aid -- at least in terms of raw cash. 0.7% of GDP seems all and good. Canadians, between government and citizenry, have contributed 0.9% of our GDP to the cause of foreign aid -- effectively doing Mike Pearson one better.

Furthermore, the citizens who donate their money directly toward NGOs (Non Government Organizations) are certainly getting far more bang for their buck than under Sachs' model, which advocates heavily for direct transfers between governments.

All too often, dollars transferred between governments have had a tendency to disappear. At least when someone writes a check to the Foster Parents Plan or the International Red Cross they can expect that there will be some services remitted on the ground. It's proven to be a far safer investment than depositing cash that far too often has wound up lining the pockets of military dictators.

And this is all before we consider the Canadian volunteer manpower employed abroad.

We are truly leading the world in terms of meeting our obligation to help the poorest and most destitute people in the world -- Romeo Dallaire's "80% living in the mud and blood of human indignity".

"As a model power, Canadians enjoy their ability to strike out and serve as global citizens. Those I speak with are looking for — but not willing to wait for — leaders who will draw on our multiple identities."

Indeed. And one wonders what Canadians could accomplish using a peace corps-styled approach to conflicts such as Darfur -- although we would still expect the Canadian government to account for the safety of such a peace corps.

"Canadians want leaders who will be warriors when confronting those who would use violence to remake our world, diplomats when addressing the threats and opportunities in our global commons, and activists against anyone — even our allies — who would use their power to impinge on the rights and opportunities of others."
Certainly true. Canadians do want these things.

But to simply wait for such a leader to emerge from the fog will be too long a time coming. More Canadians need to step up and be these leaders. Canada is disturbingly short of Kennedyesque foreign policy leaders with the courage of their convictions.

Far too many Canadians appear eager to embrace Clintonesque foreign policy leaders -- not the direction many Canadians want this country to be moving in.

"Most of all, Canadians are looking for leaders who will empower each of us. As employees, consumers, business owners, investors, aid workers and, above all, citizens, the decisions we each make increasingly shape Canada's reputation and impact. The modern world is one in which the capacity to affect international affairs is shared among organizations and, indeed, among all citizens. A foreign policy that enables each of us to make better choices in pursuit of our common goal will create a role in which Canada and Canadians will thrive."
Eaves makes a solid point with all of this, but there is still more that needs to be said.

First off, more Canadians need to get involved with the debate over what Canada's role in the world should be. It's one thing to insist that Canadians become more engaged abroad. We also need to become more engaged at home.

Canadians need to become more active in influencing Canada's foreign policy. In a recent speech at the University of Alberta, Senator and retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire went so far as to suggest the audience "harass" their MPs into supporting the kind of foreign policy they want. You want Canada to become more involved in Darfur? Email your MP every day, and get your friends and neighbours to email your MP every day -- make your voices so loud they cannot be ignored.

While allowing politicians the freedom to decide how they would implement such an agenda is all part of the political game, Dallaire's -- and Eaves' -- message is clear: Canadians need to start setting Canada's foreign policy agenda.

If we don't, we'll have little leeway to complain if our politicians promote foreign policy that we don't like.

We, as Canadians, hold the answer to the question of "what is Canada's role in the world?"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post your comments, and join the discussion!

Be aware that spam posts and purile nonsense will not be tolerated, although purility within constructive commentary is encouraged.

All comments made by Kevron are deleted without being read. Also, if you begin your comment by saying "I know you'll just delete this", it will be deleted. Guaranteed. So don't be a dumbass.