By Irvin Studin, Globe and Mail, January 4, 2012
Irvin Studin is editor-in-chief and publisher of Global Brief magazine. He is also program director and assistant professor in the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.
The core of the foreign policy and larger international affairs debate in Canada should not be about the ends we may wish to pursue as a collective, but rather about the means necessary to advance the ends legitimately chosen by any elected government. The desired ends will clearly change according to the times and government, but the means to success for Canada are stable and undifferentiated, and they need to be built up.
Without this reversal of strategic logic (means before ends, rather than ends dictating means), we Canadians are left talking to ourselves about problems in the world we’re interested in but typically incapable of solving – for lack of the requisite means to do so.
One is reminded of the 2007 speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper about Canada’s intending to become a leader in the Americas (a perfectly legitimate “end” goal for a wealthy, reputable country such as Canada). Some years from now, historians in Latin America may wonder just how Canada planned to achieve its stated end of regional leadership. Answer: With no Spanish speakers! Or Portuguese speakers, for that matter. (By the time Australia had determined it wished to be a player in Asia, future prime minister Kevin Rudd – then chief of staff to the premier of Queensland – had already convinced the federal and state governments that the country needed a national Asian languages strategy.)
So what’s the nature of the “means” debate that Canada needs to have to be a major (and credible) global player this century? Two interrelated “means” levers need to be addressed: national culture and national capabilities. A country that’s serious about advancing ambitious ends in the world – defending minority religions or, say, brokering peace and transforming impoverished countries, or even fighting a just war – requires a public culture that can properly assess happenings beyond North America, and can support sustained engagement by Canada beyond our borders. More concretely, it needs the practical capabilities to advance these ends: talent (in key positions), assets (intelligence, military, diplomatic), money and, to be sure, differentiated relationships with players in the world.
To be a leader not only in the Americas but also in the world, Canada needs more foreign affairs culture, and certainly more capabilities. We might start by creating that army of Spanish and Portuguese speakers that the federal government surely requires to advance its stated ends. Let’s add some Mandarin and Arabic speakers for good measure.
None of this is possible without a brave political leadership that applies pressure over time to build the culture and capabilities today that will allow us to score major foreign policy achievements in the long term. But we can be confident that transformation of the Canadian means to regularly realize great projects in the world will make small potatoes of the current argument over the Office of Religious Freedom.
Thanks to Mr. Studin for this insightful brief about the need to look at how we achieve some legitimate foreign policy goals...if we could ever have the kind of national debate about those goals in the first place.
Flexing our muscle in foreign affairs, while "going through" literally an auditorium of ministers of foreign affairs in a revolving door reality check is certainly one way to preclude such a national debate. This revolving door has been a staple of Canadian governments for decades.
Another is for Canadian newspapers and televisions stations not to devote specific and sizeable time blocks for foreign affairs exclusively. While reporters like former CBC foreign affairs reporter Joe Schlesinger brought the world to Canadian viewers with frequency, regularity, detachment and insight, we need a cadre of such reporters in the ilk of Nahlah Ayed, Adrienne Arsenault, Peter Armstrong (now on CBC Radio). And we need foreign affairs to be moved from radio, where only a miniscule audience finds it, to primetime television, and even internet streaming.
Not only would these chanages in our media "leadership" help to focus on the means, it would bring about a much more healthy debate about the goals themselves.
However, in a more general perspective, we need a culture that is not focused on the next stock market quote, or the next disaster, whose individual "media" lifespan might run to 5 or 6 days, and certainly not the required 5 to 6 months or even years that are required for any story to develop an audience, a cadre of active learners and an informed body of opinion among Canadian observers.
And such a culture would require all governments to focus on something seemingly alien to their psyches: the long-term interests, values and legitimate goals of Canada on the world stage. Given the maximum length of governmental perceptions at the next election, (and we have had far too many over the last decade-plus) and the need to manage the next headline in the next edition of the daily "media cycle," we are a long way from achieving such a perspective.
And then there is always that inevitable comparison with our U.S. neighbours, whose media's foreign desks have been gutted by recent staff cut-backs and whose parochialism in the hinterland far exceeds that of Canada, thanks mostly to the CBC (just another important reason not to see the CBC budget gutted as part of the "manage the message" campaign of the current government.
We can hope that as mega-corporations find new markets in new countries, they will demand that the CBC, CTV and Gobal Television, along with The Globe and Mail, The National Post, the Montreal Gazette and the Vancouver Sun will establish strong vibrant and intellectually rigorous foreign bureaus in several significant cities, so that globalization can in fact be democratized into every Canadian living room, and so that while bloggers are leading the way, formally trained and disciplined reporters can provide the kind of insight and documentation needed for a healthy national debate on foreign affairs.
It is not merely a "means vs ends" debate, especially made exclusive to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It is a national culture and perspective to suppport an intelligent and intelligible conversation as the norm, not the "fringe" of Canadian political discussions.