Copeland: What is Canada's biggest international opportunity in 2012?

By: /
January 9, 2012

With the end of a decade of American global dominance, Canada's over-arching international policy objective should be to accelerate the diversification of our dependence on the USA. This will mean reaching out to alternative players in an increasingly heteropolar world. In that respect, tremendous opportunities exist to deepen and strengthen our relationships with Asia, Europe and Latin America, and to begin rebuilding our ties to Africa. But it is a complex and competitive environment in which to navigate, and the challenges are daunting.

Where, then, to begin? Canada and Canadians would benefit from the launch a national dialogue on grand strategy - where to go internationally over the next decade, and how best to get there. By engaging our diverse population, and tapping into civil society's formidable intellectual and institutional resources - in the universities, think tanks and NGOs - much could be achieved. A well-spring of creative and analytical capacity is out there, awaiting the call.

The devil, of course, will reside in the detail. In pursuing this kind of agenda, the government would be well advised to call upon the policy development and  advisory services of DFAIT. To be sure, in tandem with diplomatic initiative per se, Canada's foreign ministry has suffered from serious neglect in recent years as the focus has shifted to the military. But things change, and armed force cannot address the most vexing problems which imperil the planet - finding alternatives to the carbon economy, preventing environmental collapse, managing the global commons, and so forth. In the second half of the 1990's, at another time of severe public sector cost cutting, Canada's foreign ministry was able to make a virtue of necessity by re-inventing itself and using soft power and public diplomacy to deliver what came to be known as the Human Security Agenda. Through radical reform and renewal, it found a way to convert adversity into opportunity. 

It is time to turn that kind of trick again. 

If given a mandate to serve as the catalyst and network node for the management of globalization, DFAIT could take the lead in harnessing this country's considerable comparative advantages. In so doing, it might once again make a major contribution to the realization of Canadian interests. 

It's a new year. 

Carpe diem.