4 Foreign Policy Debates Canada Needs before the Next Election: ISIS, Palestine, First Nations and Canadian Investment Abroad

March 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

In his nine years as our leader, Prime Minister Harper has transformed Canadian foreign policy. These eventful years contain three combat missions, a Middle East policy sharply to the right of the international mainstream and free trade deals or negotiations from Honduras to Ukraine.  Whether you agree or not, Stephen Harper has made a deep historic impact on Canada’s place in the world. Our next election will determine if we deepen this direction, or set a different international course for Canada.

These are the four topics I want to hear about before I vote. Please comment with what you think.

What else can we do about the Islamic State: A Canadian general told me in 2010 that killing more Taliban would not solve Afghanistan’s problem. The same goes for the Islamic State. We are at the beginning of a long campaign in a long war that does not have a military solution. The solution is for Syrians and Iraqis to responsibly and democratically govern themselves. Seeds of democracy can be planted in the midst of conflict. Training the next generation of political leaders in democratic practice will help them be successful and have positive views of Canada. Cross-border training in municipal governance would speed post-conflict recovery. University classes for refugees preserves human capital and keeps hope in the future alive. We could go big, especially on human rights and help build case files for human rights prosecutions when that time comes. Canada is doing a small amount in these areas, but nowhere near what the military mission costs. Leaders should have a long term civ-mil strategy and tell us what it is.

 The State of Palestine: The two state solution for Middle East peace needs another state. We have the State of Israel. We don’t have the State of Palestine – yet. Most Canadians probably don’t realise that almost two thirds of UN members representing most of the world’s population already recognise the State of Palestine. Sweden did it last October.

The Oslo agreements are twenty years old. I don’t think it’s smart to keep expecting negotiations between Palestine and Israel to produce a workable deal. Why not recognize the Palestinian State now and work with others to help it progressively assume its security, democratic and environmental duties over its territory and people? The next Canadian government will need a policy on this, and we deserve a debate about it.

Global Indigenous Rights: First Nations have lived in harmony with their environment for countless generations. Our country has a lot to learn about respecting First Nations rights in this land. Not only the rights granted by the Crown, but also those set out for all Indigenous Peoples by the UN. The fact that Canada is before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women should compel serious action. Canada is one of the few countries that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, but then we turned around and endorsed it in 2010. It’s a confusing picture. At the same time as (I hope) we move urgently on Indigenous rights in Canada, I think that we deserve a debate on how Canada’s foreign and investment policy can help protect the rights of all Indigenous People across the world.

Investment and Human Rights: After 24 Sussex Drive, the address of the most powerful source of Canadian international influence is 130 King Street West. The Toronto Stock Exchange is a huge source of capital for the global mining and energy sector and deeply affects environments, economies and societies around the world. There is polarized debate about whether this investment is creating growth and opportunity, or inequality and conflict. If you trade in New York, you have to report your use of conflict minerals, but not in Toronto. I want to hear what the leaders say about their policies for Canadian mining and energy investment abroad and how the Canadian capital market can best support peace and development the world.

What debates do you want to see?

Final Post in the Series Six Things I Learned after Thirty Years in the Foreign Service: People Remember you more by how you say Goodbye than how you said Hello

November 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

We are so often told – and it is true – that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. It is equally true that last impressions are those that endure in the memory of others when we are absent. In our rotational lives as diplomats, the way we take our leave is how we truly convey that we will continue to care about our friends, even after we have left.

In 1996 I was preparing to leave from my second posting which was in Addis Ababa. It was an exhilarating and exhausting assignment.  As a junior diplomat I was responsible for Canada’s political, trade and consular affairs in Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti. It had been a rewarding three years, but it was time for me and my family to start a new chapter. I had been diligent in my professional and official work. However, it wasn’t until I was in the airport ready to depart the country that I was able to recognize an error I committed on the human side.  A man I had worked with saw me at the airport and asked me a question that I was unable to properly answer.

“Why didn’t you say good-bye to me?”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had insulted him by failing to pay him the courtesy of a respectful farewell. In my mind, I had been a responsible bureaucrat, focusing on the work I did for my country instead of myself as an individual. I thought it was better to stick to my work right to the end and avoid the expense and effort of a good-bye reception.  My behaviour sent the signal that I placed a low value on my relationships.

The final thing I learned after 30 years is that people remember you more by how you said goodbye, than how you said hello.

Trust, if You can Earn It, is our most Precious Asset (Six Things part 3)

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

The stereotype image of diplomacy is cold and calculating men in suits projecting national interests in the lofty heights of global power. I think this is wrong. Like all meaningful human endeavor, diplomacy requires personal relationships between people and we are emotional beings. Trust is our most precious asset and trust is about feelings and personal conduct. Nothing good can be achieved without it.

When we opened Canada’s Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Palestine in 1998, there was an overarching economic priority. This was our promise that, following the signature of the 1997 Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement, Canada would secure an agreement with the Palestinians that provided them the same market access benefits. Prior to the opening of our Representative Office in Ramallah in 1998 we tried and tried but couldn’t close the deal. We were under pressure to conclude the agreement in a hurry. This was because the plan was to combine inauguration of the office with a signature of the trade deal.

We wondered: “What could the problem be? This is a good deal.” Then out of the blue, the Palestinians gave us the thumbs up.

In the corridor I asked a young Palestinian negotiator: “What happened?”

She told me: “We met after the negotiations and we talked about your team, and then we decided that you understood our aspirations. After that, we decided that we could make an agreement with you.”

Ultimately, the issue was trust – trust that we would not exploit their vulnerabilities and that we personally cared about the success of the fledgling Palestinian government. Of course, this is not necessarily the case for all trade negotiations. But when there are asymmetric power relations, trust among the players is an essential underpinning for lasting agreements.

Trust is difficult to define, and represents a very high order of human relationship. 
In my experience it needs direct and repeated human contact, in multiple settings over time. Meetings and memos are inadequate. Sharing a meal in the home is an ancient practice for building trust that enjoys universal recognition and for which there is no substitute.

In our work we often talk about people as “contacts” and ascribe high or low value to them. I think it is important to step beyond this reductive approach and consider systematically who are the people with whom we need to have relationships of trust, how to achieve that trust, nurture and build it. Developing this diplomatic asset requires time and sincere emotional investment. We have to give of ourselves for our job.

In the end, a trust based approach to key relationships leads to more rewarding international policy work, and friendships that can last a lifetime.

RoCK Thoughts on Canada Leaving Afghanistan

March 20, 2014 § 12 Comments

I was the last Representative of Canada in Kandahar (RoCK), and worked with an outstanding team of Canadian civilian professionals to deliver development, humanitarian assistance, human rights and governance right through to the end of our combat mission in July 2011. This was followed by a non-combat, military training mission that ended yesterday, when the last troops came home.

General Dean Milner was the Commander who came home with the troops. He led the Canadian task force in its last combat rotation in Kandahar, and also brought our training mission to its correct completion and will be remembered by Canadian history as one of our great generals. It’s important that our troops have been properly honoured, but in this post I want to talk about the civilian work we did in Kandahar.

In 2011 when Canada completed its Kandahar military and civilian mission, PM Harper said that Afghanistan is no longer a threat to international peace and security. That remains true. It took a long time, a lot of learning and great sacrifice.  But reconstructing the Afghan state after its defeat and disastrous collapse, to where it is no longer an international security liability and can defend itself is no mean feat. Significantly, the international effort brought with it great achievements in the civilian domains of humanitarian conditions, social development, economic prospects, human rights and governance.  We can debate around the edges, but the historical fact of progress is plain. What’s more, when Canada found itself at the epicenter of the first geopolitical crisis of the twenty-first century, we performed with courage, proficiency and full depth of commitment.

To recap what happened after 9/11 – within 24 hours, NATO invoked the collective defense clause if it was determined that the attack originated outside the US. As we know, it originated in Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden planned and executed the World Trade Center atrocity. As a matter of fact, Mohamed Atta, pilot of one of the planes, delivered his last will and testament to Bin Laden at Tarnak Farms, the Al Quaeda stronghold in Kandahar. It did not take long for the United States with its allies to utterly defeat the Taliban government in their homeland, which is Kandahar.

But the very difficult part was reconstruction. And then, this difficulty was compounded in the extreme with the surprising emergence of the determined and elusive Taliban insurgency. However, there is no military solution to the problems of reconstruction and development.

In the distribution by NATO of reconstruction responsibilities across the country, and the establishment of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Canada received the province of Kandahar. Canada learned fast and adapted to put together a remarkably effective combined military/civilian response to the challenges of our area of operations. You will remember that in 2006 Prime Minister Harper tasked John Manley to prepare recommendations on Canada’s future role in Afghanistan for consideration of Parliament.

In his report, Manley said “The essential questions for Canada are: how do we move from a military role to a civilian one, and how do we oversee a shift in responsibility for Afghanistan’s security from the international community to Afghans themselves?”

The operational response on the civilian side was to create a large integrated team of some 80 civilians composed of brave and skilled professionals from across the federal government. Large scale project funding from CIDA and Foreign Affairs was key to support that effort. The RCMP trained Afghan policemen and policewomen. CIDA delivered schools, irrigation canals, vaccination programs and economic development. Corrections Canada brought the notorious Sarpoza prison up to international standards. Foreign Affairs advanced governance, democracy and monitored human rights in Afghan prisons. My American colleague, Bill Harris, described the Canadian reconstruction model as “wildly successful”. (Let me express here my thanks to our US friends and colleagues for their great partnership and the surge, which came to Southern Afghanistan when we needed it.)

It is utterly clear that the courage, skill and resolve of the Canadian Forces were absolutely a necessary condition for a civilian role. Without minimum conditions of territorial control and security, no development can take place and governance can never be more than tenuous. At the same time, once this minimum threshold is achieved, we discovered that security operations, development and governance can take place simultaneously and be mutually reinforcing.

Perhaps the most interesting innovation was in our own Canadian governance. Canada did away with the traditional departmental stovepipes and barriers between organizations to mobilize the assets of the public service to deliver a whole of government effort and an integrated reconstruction package in an active war zone. This is a great but hidden capability of the Canadian public service.

Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, and Afghanistan. The last generation of Canadian diplomacy has also been the story of states that catastrophically crash, catch public opinion by surprise and demand a complex international response. In many ways, Canada’s defense, diplomatic and humanitarian policies have been influenced by the tragedy of state failure.

I remember saying to myself in Kandahar that nobody, and certainly not the long-suffering Afghans, deserve the tragedy, pain, poverty and violence that attends state failure. Ultimately, we learned that it’s all about governance. If there was a civ/mil consensus on the challenge in Afghanistan, this is it. But sadly, when we look around, there are new candidates. Divided countries with predatory or incompetent governments end up in crises they cannot resolve without external intervention.

It’s all about governance because a state needs a certain level of legitimacy to defeat an insurgency.

As we look around, there will be other states that fail, and some we won’t be able to ignore.  In the meantime, I believe there are four core questions that international policy professionals should be working on so we are prepared when the time comes.

1. How to establish local governance in the absence of state legitimacy?

2. How to pivot from military counter insurgency to civilian peace building and reconciliation?

3. How to create justice before there is a functioning judicial branch?

4. How to combine the resources of traditional tribal community governance with the establishment of a basic national public service.

But really, Canada has not left Afghanistan. We are where Manley and Parliament wanted us to be. We have completely transitioned to a civilian mission under the leadership of Ambassador Deborah Lyons at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. Afghans can take responsibility for their own security and a new chapter is unfolding. Bin Ladin’s old Kandahar HQ is now an agricultural research farm, thanks to Canadian civilian efforts.

Six Things I Learned after Thirty Years in the Foreign Service (Part 1)

January 5, 2014 § 20 Comments

Diplomats have the honour of representing their country, and the privilege of getting close enough to international affairs to touch them, and be touched by them.  When I completed thirty years and contemplated my retirement from the foreign service, I reflected on what I had learned along the way. This in turn led me to identify some general principles to guide diplomatic conduct.  I hope that they may also be helpful to others who work in this tough, but rewarding practice of international relations.

Looking back over the seven countries and 13 positions I have held since I joined the Foreign Service on September 6, 1983 I have drawn six conclusions.

  1. Be careful, because the world is more dangerous than it used to be.
  2. Trust is the most valuable diplomatic asset.
  3. It is fatal to let the prestige of your job contaminate your ego.
  4. When it comes to development, peace and security, it’s really all about governance.
  5. When tough choices are required, you have to do the right thing, because that’s what people remember about you and your country.
  6. The way you say good-bye is more important than how you said hello.

Despatches is a blog of reflection and analysis on diplomacy and international policy subjects. In the next six posts I will write about my personal take on these six critical issues.

I hope you enjoy it and look forward to your comments.


sudan, aid, tim martin, consultant

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