Against One-Pillar Diplomacy

A recently leaked government draft paper on foreign policy has been the subject of much criticism. In particular, the paper has been criticised for shifting emphasis from peace, security, democracy and human rights toward an economic focus that attempts to push Canada forward at the expense of Canadian values.   This criticism rests on the view that the sole objective of foreign aid should be humanitarian rather than the pursuit of any national interests, whether economic or political.  But these two objectives are not mutually exclusive.  A purely humanitarian perspective on aid is not necessarily sustainable, feasible or most effective.  Indeed, it is likely much inferior to a multifaceted approach centered around global market interaction.

Ultimately, a foreign policy failure does not come down to a singular misplaced objective, but an imbalance of means and ends.  A proper means-ends balance and policy success requires a clear outline of capabilities and concrete priorities.  The ends of alleviating poverty and enhancing human rights are better matched with the means of suitable investments in emerging market economies than the lofty means of a purely values-based foreign policy.  Well placed investments lead to growth and development, which directly contribute to the ends of reducing poverty and promoting human rights.  As David Stevens and Matthew Winters argue in a recent article, successful foreign policy consists in bringing into balance a nation’s commitments with  a nation’s power. In the words of Walter Lippman, quoted by Stephens and Winters, the basic conditions for foreign policy success are established when “men admit that they must pay for what they want and that they must want only what they are willing to pay for.”’

This insight calls for a foreign aid program that is politically sustainable and appropriately focused.  Critics will always be able to bring up a country or issue that current government foreign policy is not addressing, and that could benefit from Canadian assistance.  But being involved everywhere is not possible, let alone effective or efficient.  Clearly, Canada does not have the resources to intervene everywhere. Because of this, specialising according to Canadian interests and abilities is useful to Canada and others.  As former senior diplomats Derek Burney and Osler Hampton write in a recent article, “Future involvement should be calibrated against judicious assessments of our capacity and our interests, and not a Boy Scout inclination to be helpful fixers everywhere.”

Contrary to critics, a shift to a more market-oriented foreign policy does not mean “selling Canada to the highest bidder.”  It simply means leveraging market forces to combat poverty and promote development in needy parts of the globe. A more market-oriented foreign policy is not counterintuitive to combatting poverty and encouraging world development.  As the government has enunciated, Canadian foreign policy has three pillars: economy, peace and security, and democracy.  A focus on trade relationships contributes to all three pillars.  Emerging economies themselves increasingly recognize the power of trade to foster development, and many are therefore advocating “trade, not aid.”  The free trade movement has lifted billions of people out of poverty.

The government draft policy document has been criticised for statements such as: “To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.”  However, it is hard to separate development from political and economic interests.   When involved in business and trade arrangements bilaterally, cooperation normally requires at least an understanding of the values of the other—and compromise in order to work on the same page.  Engaging with others facilitates the adoption of certain business standards and corresponding values.  Business and investment arrangements rest on the condition of certain agreements in line with Canadian values, such as worker rights and transparency.  These arrangements therefore directly promote better governance, in addition to fostering growth and development.

Canada inevitably becomes more actively involved in the countries it is engaged with: “Election monitors help emerging countries hold free elections. The RCMP trains police forces in Namibia and East Timor. Lawyers help draft South Africa’s constitution and shape Sri Lanka’s nascent federalism.” Economic growth through infrastructure and institutional adoption leads to greater civil freedoms and democracy and has done so in developing countries around the world.

In order to make a difference, Canada must have influence and ability.  This means investing in emerging markets and collaborating in mutually beneficial arrangements.  The partners and allies thereby gained allow for concentrated multilateral initiatives in intervention and development assistance.  Creating a foreign policy for a safer and more prosperous world is related to engaging with other countries, not simply dispensing aid.

-Stami Zafiriou

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