Tag Archives: Suez

G&M Op-Ed: Conservatives' misunderstand Canada's Foreign Policy History

Taylor Owen and I published this Op-ed in the online edition of the Globe & Mail today. It argues that the Conservative government’s intention to ignore the 50th anniversary of the Peace Prize is not only poor politics, it’s an indication that they don’t get Canada’s foreign policy history. If they did, they’d know that the principles of our foreign policy represented by Vimy and the Peace Prize may be very different, but they are very much dependent on one another.

Attached below is the original text… which includes a reference to the PM’s upcoming trip to the United Nations for the General Assembly (around the time of the Peace Prize anniversary) which could be a great opportunity to celebrate the achievement. But then… what is the plan?

We’ve celebrated Vimy’s 75th, but let’s not forget the Peace Prize’s 50th

2007 is a hallmark year for Canadian foreign policy. It marks the anniversaries of two events through which Canada contributed significantly on the international stage: the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Pearson Peace Prize. This is a wonderful coincidence. These two moments, and the values they imbue, are defining pillars that have guided our foreign policy.

Sadly, the principles these events represent are frequently held up as opposing ideologically doctrines between which an absolute policy choice must be made. In reality, the very opposite is true. Not only are Vimy Ridge and the Peace Prize both real and important achievements, but the policies and values they embody function far better in collaboration than in isolation.

The first pillar, Vimy Ridge, is a defining moment in Canadian foreign policy. It compels us to remember, and give thanks to, those Canadians whose sense of duty and sacrifice contributed to a greater cause. Equally important, Vimy personifies a Canada that stood by its allies and contributed more than its share. It created a lasting legacy of values that continue to serve us well: courage, allegiance to allies, steadfastness, valour, bravery, principle.

However, we must also remember that the First World War reflects an enormous breakdown in political leadership. It is an example of what happens when Great Powers allow their rivalries to run unchecked. Wonderfully, Canadian foreign policy responded to this deficiency, and evolved to include a second foundational principle: Pearsonian diplomacy.

By providing an innovative solution to the Suez Crisis and preventing its allies from stumbling into a global conflict, Pearson’s prize reflects a different set of values than those of World War 1: honesty, integrity, leadership, principle, and a willingness to question and check our allies. The Peace Prize honours a tradition of diplomacy that prevents us from having to commemorate another Vimy.

While both pillars are critical to an effective Canadian foreign policy, many on both the left and right would prefer to celebrate only one of these great events. Each claims that either Vimy or the Peace Prize imbue ‘true Canadian values’. Both are mistaken. It is the interplay between them that makes Canada a credible and recognized actor in global politics. Notably, this is accomplished by being neither militaristic hawk, nor unwavering peacenik.

There is no doubt that diplomacy was ultimately what prevailed in the Suez crisis, yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was backed up by a credible military presence. An idealistic dependency on diplomacy has limits, as Romeo Dallaire is quick to point out. Sometimes it is the threat of force that is required to keep, and increasingly to build, the peace.

Likewise, the use of military force also has its limits. America’s predisposition to rely on force often taints the legitimacy of their military interventions. In contrast, countries respect Canadian interventions because they know of our diplomatic history and leadership in avoiding unnecessary conflicts.

Recent achievements continue to demonstrate the value of carefully weaving together these two pillars. For example, Canada did not participate in the second Iraq war because we rightfully believed diplomacy had not run its course. Ambassador Paul Heinbecker’s Pearsonian UN resolution, proposed on the eve of war, assuaged legitimate international concerns by balancing credible weapons inspections with the threat of force. Had it been adopted, and no weapons found, a disastrous war might have been avoided. As a result countless lives might have been saved and possibly another Peace Prize sent Canada’s way.

Contrast this to the First Gulf war, where diplomacy was allowed to take its course. An important norm of the international system – the unsanctioned use of force – was defended. Canadians fought valiantly not only alongside our Anglo-American allies, but with the legitimacy of a broad 30 nation coalition.

In both of these cases, the Vimy and Pearson pillars worked in tandem and resulted in principled international action.

Sadly, we may be drifting towards an over-emphasis on the Vimy pillar of Canadian foreign policy. The Harper government appears overly romanced by our military tradition, and negligent of our diplomatic history. The UN Peace University in Toronto has recently been closed down and funding for the Canadian International Model United Nations has been cut. More telling and in sharp contrast to the months of time, energy and money that were appropriately dedicated to the Vimy celebrations, the Conservative government’s plan for the Peace Prize anniversary are unclear.

The Prime Minister’s treatment of Peace Prize’s milestone will be telling. If he believes that the second pillar of Canadian foreign policy is indeed symbiotic with the first, the same priority will surely be placed on celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall.

David Eaves is public policy and negotiation consultant who served as lead author of Canada25’s Middle to Model Power. Taylor Owen, is a Doctoral student and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford.

[tags]Vimy Ridge, Pearson, Peace Prize, Suez[/tags]

Op-Ed in Toronto Star

Given we are hovering around the 50th anniversary of peacekeeping I wrote this op-ed for the Toronto Star. Of course, as I’m in Vancouver I can’t actually see said piece in print but remain hopeful a newsstand here that carries the star.

That might sound easy but you’d be surprised how little actually makes it over the rockies.

The Toronto Star link no longer works so I’ve copied the op-ed into this post.

Suez at Fifty: (Mis)understanding Pearson

On a small non-descript pillar in the lobby of Foreign Affairs Canada hangs Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize — a reminder of Canada’s high-water mark on the international stage.Pearson received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his and Canada’s suggestion and deployment of a peacekeeping force that would separate opposing forces in the Suez while a peace plan was implemented. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the UN General Assembly vote to send that police force into Egypt. It was the birth of peacekeeping. For many Canadians, even 50 years later, the crisis remains the defining moment of Canadian foreign policy, symbolizing Canada’s international role as a pacifist intervener that puts global interests before national self-interest.

But where has this ideal led us? Canada’s foreign policy, with its emphasis on multilateralism and the export of Canadian values, has become ever more focused on the goal of improving the world. And yet, despite these efforts, we have never been weaker or more marginal. Even the recent Conservative counterreaction — with its less critical support of America’s unilateral world view — has failed to provide a viable alternative.

What happened? Did Pearson’s success steer Canada in the wrong direction? Are the Suez Crisis and Peace Prize the bane of our foreign policy?

Sadly, the answer is yes. The blame lies not with Pearson but with us and our collective misunderstanding of the man, his ideas and his legacy. Much of the popular imagery surrounding him is myth, a national exercise in selective memory.

If we are serious about building an effective foreign policy for the 21st century, we must confront the central myth of Canadian diplomacy. Contrary to everything you learned, Pearson was neither a Boy Scout nor a dove. He was so much more: a creative problem solver who respected great-power politics and was unafraid to champion Canada’s national interests.

The 50th anniversary of the Suez Crisis and the invention of peacekeeping is the perfect starting point for such a critical reassessment. Contrary to the mythology, Pearson did not advocate peacekeeping out of a humanitarian desire to prevent some far-off war. Rather, he recognized that unlike other conflicts of the time, the Suez Crisis threatened to draw the United States and Soviet Union into direct confrontation. Consequently, it posed a real and direct threat to Canada.

In 1956, intercontinental ballistic missiles were not a significant part of the world’s nuclear arsenal. Consequently, any war between the superpowers would have been fought in the skies over Canada as American and Soviet strategic bombers raced overhead to deliver their nuclear payloads. Pearson’s peacekeeping was not designed to stop a Middle East war but to prevent nuclear bombs from falling out of the sky over Toronto. Self-interested problem solving, not altruism or idealism, launched the peacekeeping project.

Nor was Pearson a dove. Yes, he recognized the essential role played by economic and social resources in improving society and proposed 0.7 per cent as the benchmark for foreign aid. However, he was equally aware of the critical role played by military power in international relations.

Canadians rarely discuss Pearson’s role as key architect, negotiator and signatory of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As he noted of the Soviet threat: “Our defence in this conflict must be one of increasing and then maintaining our strength, while always keeping open the channels of negotiation and diplomacy. Arms must go hand in hand with diplomacy.” This was a man who, when necessary, was unafraid to confront those whose goals were antithetical to Canadian values.

Pearson was a multilateralist, but he was first and foremost a pragmatist. He understood the importance of great-power politics and the limits of treaties. In his own negotiations, he noted that “… if the great powers have the will and desire to co-operate, even if the machine isn’t perfect, it won’t matter very much. It will work. Therefore, Canada’s preoccupation … is based on the hard realities of the existing international situation.” Recent Canadian foreign policy could not be further from this position. From the Land Mines Treaty to UN reform, Canadian efforts to improve the international system invariably focus on perfecting the machinery irrespective of the interests or participation of the great powers.

Unfortunately, we pay a significant penalty for the Liberals’ and Conservatives’ failure to grasp Pearson’s lessons. The Liberals have been more concerned with getting the principles right regardless of superpower interests. This approach feels good, but it erodes Canada’s influence. In contrast, the Conservatives simply substitute American for Canadian interests. Thus, in places like Afghanistan we adopt American strategies and tactics that alienate the local population and put the mission at risk. As a result, this approach may yield the (occasional) American photo op, but it generates neither influence nor results.

It is at home, however, that the real cost of misunderstanding Pearson is felt. Pearson was a Canadian success because he was pragmatic, creative and solved the problems that challenged Canada. The Department of Foreign Affairs remains a creative problem-solver, but it is rarely allowed to be either pragmatic or self-interested. It is no wonder that Canadians have acquiesced to declining defence, aid and foreign policy budgets.

By transforming our foreign policy into at times, a luxury item, a charitable endeavour focused on “raising our profile” or a poor extension of American foreign policy, our leaders have removed foreign policy from the public’s imagination and made it an easy target for budget cutters.

If our foreign policy is to experience another golden age, it must regain its relevance to Canadians. Our leaders need to understand Canada’s interests, articulate them clearly and find a means to advance them in a manner consistent with our internationalist values. Pearson understood this. It also explains why his legacy has been so difficult to grasp. He defies labelling. He was neither a hawk nor a dove, neither pro- nor anti-American. He simply solved Canadian problems in a way that made the world better for everyone.

If we are willing to shed the mythology surrounding the man, we might once again grasp his nuanced view of the world and Canada’s place in it. Then, maybe, the Suez Crisis and the Peace Prize will cease to be a reminder of what we once were and instead serve as a guide for what we can once again become.

[tags]foreign policy, public policy, canadian politics[/tags]