Trump forcing old allies into new alliances
In the spring of 1985, as a young staffer, I accompanied former West German chancellor Willy Brandt to Moscow. He led the first delegation of foreign leaders to meet with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
As soon as our days of negotiation on disarmament and security issues wound up, we headed to Washington to meet vice-president George Bush, and his national security team. That was routine in those years. Foreign leaders always included both Moscow and Washington in any high-level talks.
Today, Moscow rarely gets that level of priority. Tomorrow, I wonder whether visits to Washington will decline in importance as well.
If a delegation such as that in 1985 — made up of European party leaders and heads of government — were to undertake a similar mission today, Beijing would head the list of stops, probably followed by Brussels and perhaps Berlin and Paris. We may be about to witness a shakeup of global alliances, thanks to Donald Trump.
Already we have seen both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron publicly signal that an EU-centric foreign policy, not one led by the U.S., is their vision of the future.
China, less adroitly, continues to attempt to build an Asian sphere of influence. Their military advances in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean have stimulated a budding South Asian strategic partnership. Nominally led by India, it is an attempting to unite all the nations of the region from Malaysia to Sri Lanka, in response to Chinese ambition. The old club of “likeminded nations” in Northern Europe are reviving their common cause on issues from climate change to the refugee crisis.
This places Canada in a new and possibly important new place. Managing the relationship with the United States will always be a priority, but unlike the past two years, it should not be the foreign policy priority.
We are alone among the advanced Western democracies not to carry any colonial baggage in our relations with China, Japan and Korea. As members of the Commonwealth, the Francophonie, the OAS and NATO, we have an uniquely wide array of organizations and alliances through which to advance Canadian interests and policy goals.
NAFTA deepened and enriched our relationships in North America for the past two decades. However the fiasco of Trump’s neurotic negotiating strategy ends, NAFTA will no longer play such a central role. In its place, TPP to the East and CETA across Europe are sure to rise in economic and political impact. Our commercial and political engagement with China seems certain to keep growing.
The Trump soap opera will enter its, hopefully, final act after November. Having likely lost control of one or both houses of Congress, his ability to wreck the existing international order will be weakened. Together, with a carefully selected group of partners, it might be wise for Canada to set out an agenda that encompasses a new 21st-century set of shared policy goals, early in the New Year.
Canada is well-equipped to play a role in United Nations and global finance reform, unfreezing the paralyzed WTO and giving the G20 a new injection of political energy.
Many laughed at Paul Martin’s vision of a more representative global form than the Group of Seven, but he left an important legacy in the creation of the G20.
As Fen Hampson’s new examination of the foreign policy legacy of Brian Mulroney, Master of Persuasion makes clear, when a Canadian prime minister has a focused agenda and supportive partners we can make a big impact on the global stage.
Two achievements of those years little known to most Canadians may point a path for another internationally engaged prime minister. Mulroney played an important role in helping Helmut Kohl to overcome French and British resistance to German unification at a very delicate moment.
He was also one of the pivotal players in imposing the sanctions on South Africa that led to the release and election of Nelson Mandela. We are perhaps at a moment where Canada can once again play a broader strategic role on today’s global crises.
Robin V. Sears, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, was an NDP strategist for 20 years.