The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that we are living through a period of existential and ongoing threats that put our national interests at risk more than any time since World War II.[1] This means that the world outside matters to us more than ever. We are not isolationists – we do not retreat in times of challenges. In Foreign Policy for Canadians (1970), we assert that Canada is internationalist[2]and we stay the same today[3]. In contrast, we see challenges as opportunities. Canada does not sit on the sidelines as the world moves on.

It is time we rethink Canada’s foreign policy objectives, which must be rooted in our national interests as a sovereign, secure, prosperous, liberal democratic nation with core interests in North America, the Asia-Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic. These goals give our vision, a secure and liberal democratic nation, and provide the directions to the Asia-Pacific, North America, Arctic, and Atlantic regions. Canada cares about the middle-class, its Indigenous peoples, students who are the future workers of Canada, and the interests of our provinces and our territories. Achieving these foreign policy objectives start at home, done through full cooperation of provinces and territories to embrace a vision of open and global Canada. This vision represents an open country amidst the chaotic world, even during a pandemic — open to ideas, to other countries, to newcomers, to investment, to trade and technology, and to international partnerships, for the pursuit of serving and protecting Canadians, their well-being, prosperity, and security. Canada needs to cut inter-provincial and territorial barriers to international competitiveness. “We need to make a strong, credible, and consistent case for the Canada we strive to be; otherwise, we will allow others to define us.”[4]

DISRUPTIVE GLOBAL CONTEXT: OPPORTUNITIES FOR CANADA

United States: declining economic power yet a lasting friend, regardless

Despite Trump’s previous presidency, Canada needs to acknowledge the priority our country has in its relationship with the United States (U.S.). We have an imperative to preserve our market access to the U.S. even when it is becoming much less reliable as our principal trading partner and economic power. Our trade with the U.S. is generating diminishing returns. From the start of the free trade agreement in 1988 until 2000, our exports to the U.S. market multiplied 3.5 times from $100 billion to $360 billion. After 9/11 until 2008, our exports declined by 20 per cent – dropping from $300 billion to $250 billion[5]. If the Canada – U.S. border closes even for a brief period due to a response to a terrorist attack with a perceived or real Canadian connection, we will experience chaos and crisis and will devastatingly lose 20 percent of our economic activity.[6] With the new Biden administration, Canada must sustain existing structures, rebuild, and re-strengthen our relationship with the U.S. as best as we can to protect our sovereignty and our security. To insulate ourselves from any border hardening, we need to become the indispensable ally of the U.S. by proving ourselves as a useful player that is worthy of serious treatment.[7]

China and the Asia-Pacific: the future growth of the century

China has risen from an emerging market to a major driver of the world economy, contributing fully one-third of the world’s annual incremental GDP growth.[8] The joint population of the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is equal to half of China. China is increasingly also taking steps to augment its leadership role in international affairs and governance in the region.  Under President Xi Jinping, China is becoming more aggressive without using the overt threat of conventional military force. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and initiatives like the “One Belt One Road” speak to China’s strategic use of its financial power and its non-confrontational approach to commercial interests and expansion in South East Asia and in Africa. Many of the countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, which were behind during the early economic success in East Asia are now emerging economies in the region. It is said that we enter into an “Asian Century,” which is a significant opportunity for Canada to fully embrace its Pacific nation identity for economic and trade diversification and pragmatic preparation of the future that helps Canadian provinces and territories. Canada needs to strengthen the existing people-to-people ties[9] in the region to support mutually beneficial cooperation.[10]

The Arctic: imperative for nation-building

As an Arctic and Atlantic nation, the Arctic region is imperative for our nation-building, particularly for the empowerment of our Indigenous peoples. Beyond reducing our carbon emissions, Canada needs to prioritize the circumpolar Arctic because it is warming more than twice the world average.[11] While the Arctic is still covered in ice, it is receding and breaking apart, making it more accessible and gaining strategic importance to countries that have claims on it. In fact, eight states – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States have territory north of the 60 degrees and five of these states border the Arctic Ocean.[12] In the coming future, this region is turning into a centre of economic activity, investment, a shipping hub, a transit point between areas of strategic interests, and a military choke point for the eight states. “The Arctic connects Russia’s oil and gas industries to Asian markets; China’s manufactured goods to European markets; and Russia’s Northern Fleet to the Atlantic sea lanes, and, further south, the Mediterranean.”[13] Hence, Canada’s position as an Arctic state rests on the assertion of its Arctic sovereignty and on the strength of its Northern communities – thus, inherently on domestic policy or national interests projected in the international arena.

Multilateral Institutions: a pillar for peace and order

The world is becoming more complex and the rules-based international order is in question. Approaches and decision-making practices in global governance are also converging. We are seeing an emergence of polycentric governance where non-state actors and private sector actors, including philanthropic organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are playing a key role in deciding on global governance issues such as global health, technology, and innovation.[14] This emerging polycentric and unruly world is an opportunity for Canada to play a significant role in reimagining and keeping features of multilateral institutions that make sense for the 21st century. As a middle power, Canada can help meet other middle powers and liberal democratic nations in reforming and retransforming our institutions to fit the 21st-century challenges we all face – these institutions keep a stable and secure world order where predictability and rules-based reign to check the balance of power of powerful countries.

It is time we rethink Canada’s foreign policy objectives, which must be rooted in our national interests as a sovereign, secure, prosperous, liberal democratic nation with core interests in North America, the Asia-Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic.

WHY THESE THREE FOREIGN POLICY OBJECTIVES?

The assumption that Canada is naturally secure due to its proximity to a superpower is no longer valid in our unruly world.[15] In fact, “we have never been this alone … we do not have any serious allies,” as the historian Robert Bothwell says in our dispute with Saudi Arabia and China.[16] Hence, it stays fundamental for our foreign policy to be interests and reality-based driven. We need to protect our sovereignty and our security to endure as a secure, liberal democratic nation in the 21st century. We can no longer play the great Canadian game of relying on the U.S that is becoming hostile to its allies. Thus, the first foreign policy goal of protecting our sovereignty and security is the fundamental idea that underlies our national interest.

We need to promote the well-being and middle-class prosperity in our country by diversifying our trade and expanding our market beyond our single reliance on the U.S. market to the Asia-Pacific because this is the way we can ensure greater control over our economic destiny. It is our way of protecting ourselves from a possible economic crisis that involves the U.S.[17]  Thus, as a Pacific nation, we need to embrace the ‘Asian century’ and commit to mutually beneficial relations with East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and emerging economies such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

We need to support the international liberal world order for a stable and peaceful world. Pandemics, conflicts, crises, and other disruptions to our sovereignty and prosperity can easily reach our borders if we do not have rules-based institutions that set agendas, norms, and regulations for countries to follow. Maintaining the liberal world order also advances Canada’s foreign policy goals in international development, including the Canada Feminist International Assistance Policy. In addition, Canada must continue to keep its ‘multilateral entrepreneurship.’ We need to uphold our voice in international forums where we are a member such as the G7, G20, WTO, UN, NATO, and NORAD. We need a more stable, predictable policy environment and enforcement of collective rules in our chaotic world today.

Marko de Guzman is a graduate of uOttawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). He now works as Policy Analyst on International Relations for the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and was the president of the GPSIA Student Association.

Banner image by mwangi gatheca, courtesy of Unsplash.


[1] Ibbitson, John. 2019. “Trudeau’s Foreign Policy Must Focus on Containing Threats from Friends

Foes.” The Globe and Mail. P. 1.

[2] Department of External Affairs. 1991. “Foreign Policy for Canadians.” http://aix1.uottawa.ca/~rparis/ForeignPolicyforCanadians_1970_Intro.pdf.

[3] Paris, Roland. 2014. “Are Canadians still liberal internationalists?” https://opencanada.org/are-canadians-still-liberal-internationalists/

[4] Canadian International Council (CIC). 2012. “Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age.” P. 15.

[5] Ibid., p. 18.

[6] Ibid., p. 18.

[7] Ibid., p. 21.

[8] House of Commons of Canada. Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. 2018. “Canada’s Engagement with East Asia: Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.” P. 6.

[9] Within Canada, the largest growing visible minority communities according to the 2016 census are South Asian (East Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan), Chinese, Black, and Filipino.Three of the ethnic groups are of Asian origin (South Asian, Chinese, and Filipino); that is 3.7 million Canadians of Asian origin or the size of Alberta. Statistics Canada. 2016. “Immigration and Ethnocultural diversity: key results from the 2016 Census.” https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025b-eng.htm.

[10] House of Commons of Canada. Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. 2018. “Canada’s Engagement with East Asia: Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.” P. 46.

[11] House of Commons of Canada. Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. 2019. “Nation-Building at Home, Vigilance Beyond: Preparing for the Coming Decades in the Arctic.” Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. P. 15.

[12] Ibid., P. 1.

[13] Pezard, Stephanie. 2018. “The New Geopolitics of the Arctic: Russia’s and China’s Evolving Role in the Region.” Testimony of Stephanie Pezard, The Rand Corporation, before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Canadian House of Commons. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/FAAE/Brief/BR10261131/br-external/RandCorporationPezardStephanie-e.pdf. P. 8.

[14] Harman, Sophie. 2016. “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Legitimacy in Global Health Governance.” Global Governance. P. 357.

[15] Gotlieb, Alan. 2005. “Romanticism and Realism in Canada’s Foreign Policy.” Policy Options. P. 17.

[16] Gilles, Rob, and Paul Wiseman. 2018. “We’ve never been this alone: Canada finds itself caught between two powers, without any serious allies.” The National Post. https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/weve-never-been-this-alone-canada-finds-itself-caught-between-two-powers-without-any-serious-allies.

[17] House of Commons of Canada. Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. 2018. “Canada’s Engagement with East Asia: Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.” P. 14.

6 Shares:
You May Also Like