Canada Amid Chaos: Quo Vadis?

Policy - - Contents - Jeremy Kins­man

Amid a level of ex­is­ten­tial churn in Western democ­ra­cies un­seen since the Sec­ond World War, Canada— whose com­mit­ment to mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, hu­man rights and democ­racy has been a defin­ing na­tional char­ac­ter­is­tic—can turn cri­sis to op­por­tu­nity by lead­ing the global fight against au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. That be­gins with an in­vest­ment in our re­la­tion­ship with the United States that looks be­yond Don­ald Trump.

Novem­ber 11, 2018: 70 world lead­ers walked shoul­der to shoul­der in the pour­ing rain up the Champs-Elysées, to­ward the Arc de Tri­om­phe and the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier, a clump of black um­brel­las, clus­tered around the pres­i­dent of France. They came to hon­our and re­flect upon the 1914-18 “War to End All Wars” that, in Win­ston Churchill’s words, left “a crip­pled, bro­ken world.” How­ever—omi­nously—two neo-na­tion­al­ist lead­ers, the pres­i­dents of the United States and of Rus­sia, didn’t walk the rainy walk but stepped out of their limos at l’Étoile, and only af­ter the oth­ers were in their seats. Had China been present, there would prob­a­bly have been a third ego-limo at the Arc. They sat stone-faced as French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron warned that “old demons” were re-sur­fac­ing, es­pe­cially na­tion­al­ist pop­ulism. Justin

Trudeau knows na­tion­al­ism con­sti­tutes a wrench­ing chal­lenge to Canada’s in­ter­ests and val­ues. As would re-kin­dling the nu­clear arms race be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia.

His­tory shows that the puni­tive terms of the 1918 armistice, ag­gra­vated by a crip­pling world de­pres­sion, spawned com­pet­i­tive eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism, and the rise of pop­ulist, na­tivist regimes, no­to­ri­ously in Ger­many, where a short-lived democ­racy died.

His­tory shows that the puni­tive terms of the 1918 armistice, ag­gra­vated by a crip­pling world de­pres­sion, spawned com­pet­i­tive eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism, and the rise of pop­ulist, na­tivist regimes, no­to­ri­ously in Ger­many, where a short-lived democ­racy died.

The en­su­ing catas­tro­phe of the Sec­ond World War forced vic­tors and losers alike to con­struct, at last, a co­op­er­a­tive global sys­tem that might truly pre­vent war by mit­i­gat­ing de­struc­tive na­tion­al­ist am­bi­tion. This time, in­stead of stay­ing aloof, an en­light­ened Amer­ica led the way. Canada made mul­ti­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion its for­eign pol­icy mantra.

Of course, not all wars were ended. Global power align­ments played out in proxy con­flicts for the Cold War that held a di­vided world hostage to the shadow of mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion.

But in 1989, the Cold War’s col­lapse made it easy to be­lieve co­op­er­a­tive lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism was the tri­umphant new norm. Over the next decades, “glob­al­iza­tion,” driven by a ubiq­ui­tous dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion, lifted more than a bil­lion peo­ple out of poverty.

The de­monic at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001 pole-axed our com­pla­cent pri­or­i­ties. The dis­as­trous U.S./U.K. war of ar­bi­trary reprisal against Iraq com­bined with what re­mains a per­pet­ual war in Afghanistan turned the Mid­dle East into the first failed re­gion, whose refugees de-sta­bi­lized the iconic post-war project for a Euro­pean Union that would end Europe’s mur­der­ous wars for­ever.

The 2008-09 fi­nan­cial cri­sis that ru­ined mid­dle class lives with barely any retribution or sys­temic re­form left a bit­ter im­pres­sion that greedy in­ter­ests kept the sys­tem fixed so that, as Leonard Co­hen put it, “The poor stay poor, the rich get rich, that’s how it goes. Ev­ery­body knows.” As change ac­cel­er­ated, dis­rupt­ing old cer­tain­ties of iden­tity, pop­ulist na­tion­al­ist lead­ers stoked the cyn­i­cism, sense of vic­tim­iza­tion by the po­lit­i­cal caste, and fear and dis­trust—of mi­grants, of “glob­al­ism”, of ex­per­tise, and even of democ­racy—all fired up by dis­tort­ing and ir­re­spon­si­ble so­cial me­dia. The New York Times la­belled Twit­ter as “a su­per high­way of ha­tred.”

In 2016, fear and re­ac­tive na­tion­al­ism prompted the U.K.’s nar­row but cat­alytic Brexit ref­er­en­dum re­sult, send­ing the coun­try into its gravest—and still un­re­solved—cri­sis since the Blitz. Months later, an­gry Amer­i­cans elected Don­ald Trump, whose pop­ulist and na­tion­al­ist mantra of “Amer­ica first, al­ways Amer­ica first” made it “a new ball game” for the world, and ra­tio­nal­ized an oth­er­wise un­think­able with­drawal of U.S. lead­er­ship.

Trump be­gan to trash in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and long­stand­ing part­ner­ships. He with­drew the U.S. from crit­i­cal co­op­er­a­tive pacts, such as the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change and the Iran nu­clear deal, while weaponiz­ing uni­lat­eral tar­iffs against U.S. al­lies, even dis­rupt­ing in­ter­na­tional Sum­mits—the G7, NATO—with egre­gious per­sonal hos­til­ity.

No won­der Macron asked rhetor­i­cally whether the group photo from Novem­ber 11, 2018 will be viewed years hence as the last mo­ment be­fore things to­tally fell apart. In­deed, French ri­ot­ers took to the streets shortly af­ter­ward. As the ab­sence of in­ter­na­tional lead­er­ship be­came top of mind, Richard Haass of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions Tweeted: “The Merkel era is close to end­ing, leav­ing the West and the post-WW2 in­ter­na­tional or­der with­out a leader. The U.S. of @re­alDon­aldTrump has ab­di­cated. The U.K. is dis­tracted. Canada lacks means. Macron is too weak. Bodes poorly for sta­bil­ity, pros­per­ity, free­dom.”

His ob­ser­va­tion about Canada is re­veal­ing—that we are seen as a leader; but that we lack the means. In this crit­i­cal year ahead, Canada needs to ac­quire the means we need to de­fend our in­ter­ests; democ­racy, hu­man rights, and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism.

Our con­tex­tual sta­tus quo is gone. We need to work hard to put sub­stance into our am­bi­tious goals of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion to­ward the EU, and with China, Ja­pan, In­dia, and Asia.

Canada has so far es­caped dis­rup­tion by pow­er­ful forces of dis­af­fec­tion. But, as John Manley re­cently said, “Canada has never been so alone in the world.” Our con­tex­tual sta­tus quo is gone. We need to work hard to put sub­stance into our am­bi­tious goals of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion to­ward the EU, and with China, Ja­pan, In­dia, and Asia. Yet, our pri­mary out­ward chal­lenge is our re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. It is com­pli­cated by the stark Trudeau-Trump com­par­i­son: Trudeau had cam­paigned on a mes­sage of free trade, and get­ting Canada back in the fore­front of lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. Trump cam­paigned op­pos­ing free trade and on pulling the U.S. away from lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism.

How do we rec­on­cile our de fin­ing com­mit­ment to co­op­er­a­tive mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism with our econ­omy’s de­pen­dence on ac­cess to the U.S. mar­ket, given that the su­per­power neigh­bour with which we lived in an easy-go­ing ex­tended fam­ily setting has gone rogue in­ter­na­tion­ally, and es­chewed old friend­ships? Uni­lat­eral U.S. threats to Canada’s eco­nomic se­cu­rity and the re­peated as­saults against truth make it un­likely any­one now in high of­fice in Ot­tawa will trust this U.S. pres­i­dent again.

We need to be in per­ma­nent cam­paign mode to remain en­gaged with Amer­ica. Most Cana­di­ans are re­pelled by the re­lent­lessly di­vi­sive ag­gres­sive­ness Trump shares with his iden­tity-driven na­tion­al­ist base. But the U.S. nar­ra­tive is not one-di­men­sional. Cana­di­ans need to chan­nel to the to­tal­ity of Amer­i­cans our trust in them and their his­tory to help di­vert the U.S. from its cur­rent tra­jec­tory of in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal hos­til­i­ties, in­ter­na­tional dis­rup­tion, and pos­si­ble na­tional fail­ure. Mean­while, we must work pro­fes­sion­ally with U.S. of­fi­cials on an ev­ery­day ba­sis to op­ti­mize as much op­er­a­tional co­op­er­a­tion as pos­si­ble be­tween the two economies and so­ci­eties.

Work­ing now to sal­vage the ma­chin­ery and mo­tifs of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion could fa­cil­i­tate U.S. re-en­try in time, pro­vided in­creas­ingly hos­tile U.S.-China re­la­tions don’t again split the world in two.

Canada has the means to help lead. Only weeks be­fore the re­cent con­tentious APEC Sum­mit (which Trump skipped), Canada con­vened an in­for­mal meet­ing of Trade Min­is­ters of in­ter­na­tion­al­ist democ­ra­cies and the EU (not the U.S., China, Rus­sia, or In­dia) to strate­gize on de­fend­ing the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion by re­form­ing it and thereby en­cour­ag­ing the U.S. to stay in as a co­op­er­a­tive mem­ber. At the sub­se­quent Buenos Aires G-20 Sum­mit, the U.S. wel­comed the ef­fort to re­form the WTO, al­beit tru­cu­lently. But the meet­ing oth­er­wise achieved lit­tle, as the U.S. re­sisted a joint dec­la­ra­tion con­demn­ing pro­tec­tion­ism and re­it­er­ated its re­fusal to take cli­mate change se­ri­ously. As the China-U.S. ri­valry be­comes the dom­i­nant U.S. for­eign pol­icy pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, China-pho­bia is a rare is­sue that is shared by both U.S. po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Canada must suc­ceed with China, in­deed with the whole Pa­cific re­gion (which now ac­counts for 20 per cent more trade for Canada than does Europe). There had been con­cern that the re-ne­go­ti­ated NAFTA agree­ment (the USMCA in Trumpese) con­tained clauses con­strain­ing Canada’s free­dom to ne­go­ti­ate a trade agree­ment with China. It seemed over-blown.

We need a Canada-China set of trade and in­vest­ment agree­ments. They will take years to fi­nal­ize. We can­not con­done China not play­ing by in­ter­na­tional trade rules. But the Van­cou­ver ar­rest of Huawei’s Meng Manzhou to ac­com­mo­date a du­bi­ous U.S. ex­tra­di­tion re­quest cost us cred­i­bil­ity. We can’t go along with U.S. mus­cle plays meant to hob­ble China’s rise to global ri­valry.

Life will prob­a­bly be com­pli­cated by a global eco­nomic turn-down. Canada has spe­cific eco­nomic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, es­pe­cially from the low price of Al­berta oil, hemmed in by lack of pipe­line ca­pac­ity to bring it to mar­ket.

Given other re-defin­ing up­heavals such as the U.K.’s Brexit mess and France’s tur­moil, the temp­ta­tion—par­tic­u­larly in an elec­tion year—will be just to steer the ship, limit the dam­age, stay trans­ac­tional, and, in Trump’s pet phrase, “see what hap­pens.”

But higher lev­els of am­bi­tion are called for. Oth­ers see us as the “other North Amer­ica.” Play­ing that role wisely will be a chal­lenge.

Canada’s pro­file has ar­guably not been higher since Lester Pear­son’s role in re­solv­ing the Suez cri­sis in 1956, nor its rep­u­ta­tion more en­vi­able—be­cause of rare sta­bil­ity, in­clu­siv­ity, self-con­fi­dence, and our val­ues, when “val­ues” are top of mind in other democ­ra­cies un­der stress. Few coun­tries were as le­git­i­mately forth­right in con­demn­ing re­cent hu­man rights out­rages in Saudi Ara­bia,

That won’t get Canada elected to the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil against two worthy con­tenders, Ire­land and Nor­way. It was a rookie PMO mis­take to in­flate that sec­ondary con­test into a ma­jor event years be­fore the ac­tual UN elec­tion, just to show that “Canada’s back.”

Canada is, in fact, sub­stan­tively ‘back’ as one of a group of key lib­eral democ­ra­cies de­ter­mined to de­fend the mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem and rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der. Pub­lic in­ter­est and sup­port for that ef­fort are es­sen­tial. There will be Cana­di­ans who ad­mire Trump’s “Amer­ica first” an­tipa­thy to shar­ing sovereignty, who be­lieve we should mimic it, and con­fine our­selves to mer­can­tile self-in­ter­est.

The counter-case of a deeper na­tional in­ter­est in con­struc­tive in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment and de­fend­ing democ­racy needs to be made, and not just by our gov­ern­ment, but by civil so­ci­ety. A com­mit­ted coali­tion of schol­ars and ad­vo­cates is mo­bi­liz­ing out­ward from the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa as an op­ti­mistic and solidly grounded sign of Cana­dian con­fi­dence in our creative po­ten­tial in a chaotic world.

Re­la­tion­ships mat­ter. Ours are en­vi­able, on ev­ery con­ti­nent. Trudeau’s and those of For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land are wide-rang­ing and valu­able. They are sup­ported by mul­ti­ple re­la­tion­ships of Cana­di­ans across the world. But China’s re­tal­ia­tory grab of two Cana­di­ans dark­ens the Canada-China at­mos­phere, mak­ing our ob­jec­tives harder to reach. Free­land will now have a new pri­or­ity for 2019—try­ing to re-set our un­der­stand­ings with China go­ing for­ward.

We have vi­tal in­ter­ests to de­fend and pur­sue, in­clud­ing pos­i­tive in­clu­sive democ­racy it­self. We have sol­i­dar­ity al­lies, in­clud­ing among like-minded Amer­i­cans. We need to be care­ful and com­pre­hen­sive, but we should not feel we are vul­ner­a­ble be­cause we are alone. We are many.

Con­tribut­ing writer Jeremy Kins­man is a for­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Rus­sia, the U.K. and the EU. He is af­fil­i­ated with Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

Adam Scotti photo

African singer Angélique Kidjo per­forms at the cen­te­nary of the 1918 World War One armistice in Paris on Novem­ber 11, 2018, where the ex­ist­ing rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der was rep­re­sented, as were the au­thor­i­tar­i­ans.

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