Is Canada isolated on the international stage? Last week in Ottawa, a group of experts and politicians discussed Canada’s role in the world and tried to draw some lessons from the war in Ukraine and the deterioration in relations between the great powers. The observation about Canada quickly surfaced, confirming what many researchers have been observing for several years: Less and less counts.
Canada is not lacking in assets at the economic, human, military and natural levels, said former ambassador to Washington Franck McKenna, “but seems unable to mobilize them.” The problem, as former Prime Minister Joe Clark observed, is that Justin Trudeau “leads a remarkably inward-looking government. We don’t commit enough. Some ministers are of high quality, but they don’t push themselves enough, he says. They go to events to be in the know and then they leave the stage.”
This passivity prompted John Manley, deputy prime minister and foreign secretary under Jean Chrétien, to say that “we are more isolated from the world than ever before”.
I asked Manley to elaborate on this observation, which was pessimistic to say the least. He cited the relationship with the United States as an example. “The Trump years have shown that there is no ‘special relationship’ so special that it trumps national interests,” he wrote in an email. In fact, the relationship with the United States is far from stable, and Biden is defending the “Buy America” law tooth and nail. The height of absurdity, Manley points out, the United States is even considering buying oil from Venezuela instead of Canada to replace its Russian supplies.
But what shocks Manley most is the government’s tendency to lecture the world without benefiting. “Our values-based foreign policy has morphed into a litany of constant complaints and virtuous attitudes that have made us an irrelevant country that no one listens to anymore,” he writes.
Recent statements by Secretary of State Mélanie Joly and Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, tend to confirm John Manley’s worst fears.
A diplomacy of poses
Asked a few weeks ago why Canada is asking Russia to be excluded from the G20, Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly replied: “My goal is to make sure I’m not sitting at the table with either Lavrov or the prime minister [avec Poutine] “. This statement is incompatible with diplomatic work, the endeavor of which is to discuss with all parties.
If Joly’s position had been established as a doctrine by Westerners for decades, nothing concrete would have been achieved on the international stage to warm relations between countries or settle conflicts. The behavior of the Americans in the Afghan file is a good example of this. For a long time, they thought the Taliban were terrorists. Then they suddenly sat down with these terrorists, signed a peace treaty with them and left Afghanistan.
Diplomacy must often be exercised discreetly, particularly within large international organizations where backroom talks often yield results. Anyway, Bob Rae preferred to make a show of an issue that hasn’t and won’t find a solution: the future of the veto power of the five great powers, permanent members of the Security Council. Last month the General Assembly adopted a resolution asking them to justify their use of the veto.
Rae took the opportunity to broaden the debate and launch a sweeping attack on a veto that is “as anachronistic as it is undemocratic,” pretending to forget that the Security Council, whose powers are enshrined in the United Nations Charter are not designed to be democratic, but efficient and representative of the hierarchy of power in international society. The veto, writes the French lawyer Serge Sur, has its uses: during a conflict, it calms the situation in the Council and avoids an institutional crisis, it keeps the peace by preventing the situation from deteriorating, and it prevents withdrawal from the UN one or more major powers whose interests would be harmed. All this has been evident since 1945.
Something tells me that the representatives of the five great powers, who once all agreed on one thing, must have sneered as they listened to the Canadian Ambassador play the modern day Don Quixote. The Security Council is an impressive machine for resolving certain conflicts when member states, and in particular the Big Five, decide to do so. But when a state like Canada intends to strip the five of their privileges, it can only provoke rejection and disqualification. This wishful thinking resolution, loved by Canadian diplomacy, will not change the behavior of the major powers.
The rambling speeches and virtuous attitudes belie the impotence of Canadian diplomacy on the international stage. Can Ottawa change the software? Still, Canadian leaders would have to proceed logically. We are soon being promised a defense policy without even having defined the foreign policy framework in which it will fit. Understand who can.
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