The Pacific Coast

 

Back
A US Satellite?
Cultural Colony
Economic Integration
Multilateralism
Canada in the world today

 

Since WW2, Canada has taken an active internationalist stand, partly in the hope that its involvement in multilateral organizations would offset the influence of the United States. Its embassies and diplomatic missions greatly increased and it committed itself to the United Nations and the principle of collective security. It was a founding member of NATO. It participated in the creation of the International Monetary Fund and later supported the GATT (The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) to promote free trade in the world. Since the 1940s, it has been an active member of the Commonwealth of Nations and has greatly contributed to trasnforming this instituion into a multiracial and equal forum. In 1989, Canada joined the Organization of American States and has become active in the Americas where it constantly promotes democracy and good governance. It is a founding memeber of the Arctic Council.

 

1) The 1940s: Canada and the United Nations

 

After the Second World War, as British power decreased, Britain was no longer able to act as a counterweight to the United States. Canada’s new diplomatic strategy was to favour multilateral organizations. This was a choice born out of realism, as best suited to Canada’s particular position in the international hierarchy of nations. Activism in multilateral organizations would give Canada the chance to play a more important role in the world than its real power entailed.  As John Holmes remarked, lesser powers in general have a greater interest in international institutions because through them, they “can, by consolidating their interests with those of other countries, hope to have some impact on the great powers” [1]. This was the “middle power” strategy; the term “middle power” was chosen by Canada for itself, in a bid to distinguish itself from small powers and avoid domination by the great military powers [2]. Compared to other middle powers, Canada’s need for international institutions was enhanced by the fact that it shared a continent with a superpower. As American power grew, multilateral organizations came to provide the counterweight Britain could no longer offer [3].

Canada’s active participation to the creation of the United Nations, can be interpreted through both the realist and the constructivist lenses. The structural realist interpretation would lead us to emphasise Canada’s role in the creation of the UN as a cold calculation to exert more influence in international institutions than its actual power warranted. This is clearly demonstrated by Canada’s defence of the principle of functionalism. The idea was that decision-making had to be shared between the great powers and lesser powers that were most capable of making a contribution to specific international institutions, and had already greatly contributed to the war effort. Functionalism allowed Canada to make the most of its war effort to ensure better representation in future international institutions and remained the foundation of Canada’s approach to the UN [4].

Interpreting Canada’s commitment to the UN through the social constructivism lens, on the other hand, would lead us to see it as the consequences of key elements in the national identity and the priorities they imposed on the country. As we have seen, when Canada actively engaged in the creation of the United Nations in 1945, it already had behind it a tradition of thinking well of multilateralism and of linking multilateralism to its own multiple national identity. Within the UN, Canadians quickly developed a role which suited the national myths held by both national groups: they acted as peace keepers and mediators. As Massié and Roussel have very aptly demonstrated, these interrelated roles developed as national myths that reinforced national unity in Canada [5]. This was based on the conviction that Canada’s national identity was characterized by tolerance for diversity and a particular aptitude for compromise and negotiation. This idea functions in a mutually reinforcing virtuous circle: because they are supposedly experts at reconciling differences at home, Canadians are perceived as ideal agents for mediation and peacekeeping in international relations. And on the other hand, the Canadian people, both Anglophone and Francophone, are proudly convinced of their own tolerance and talent for accommodation because the world has long accepted Canada’s expertise in peacekeeping and mediation. The more prestige and recognition Canada gained in its international role, the stronger national unity and the feeling of distinctiveness from the US grew. It was therefore in Canada’s national interest to excel as UN peacekeepers, and promote its expertise to the world.


[1] John Holmes, “The United Nations in perspective”, Behind the headlines, 44:1, 1986, p. 13.

[2] Tom Keating, Canada and World Order: The Multilateral Tradition in Canadian Foreign Policy, McClelland and Stewart, 1993, p. 9.

[3] Tom Keating, Canada and World Order: The Multilateral Tradition in Canadian Foreign Policy, McClelland and Stewart, 1993, p. 11-13.

[4] Tom Keating, Canada and World Order: The Multilateral Tradition in Canadian Foreign Policy, McClelland and Stewart, 1993, p. 21-25.

[5] Justin Massie and Stéphane Roussel, “Au service de l’unité: Le rôle des mythes en politique étrangère canadienne,” Canadian Foreign Policy, 14:2, Spring 2008, p. 80-84.

 

 

2) The early 21st century: Canada in the Arctic Council

 

Canadian foreign policy on the Arctic is a modern illustration of the priority given to multilateralism, for reasons that are more pragmatic than idealistic.

At the systemic level, Canadian foreign policy in the Arctic is shaped by its relative capability. The key issue for Canada in the Arctic, one that has been much in the news lately, is sovereignty. The Arctic is one geographical area where the old concern of American influence on Canada is blatantly revealed. First because the US does not recognize Canadian sovereignty on the Northwest Passage, which Canada insists is part of its internal waters. With global warning and the shrinking of the ice floe, the Northwest Passage will be a potentially crucial commercial route in the near future. Secondly, because during both WW2 and the Cold War, the Canadian capacity to intervene and control its Arctic domain proved to be limited; in fact most of the important Arctic initiatives during these periods, in terms of the establishment of military bases, radio and weather stations, road building, were financed, conducted, and maintained by the US, thus creating a dangerous precedent of US infringement on Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic [1]. Even today, Canada’s resources in the Arctic are stretched thin. Canada certainly does not have the power to oppose American policy in the Arctic. Once again, then, Canada has been encouraged to follow the multilateral path in the face of the much stronger American position in the Arctic.

One manifestation of the Canadian multilateral strategy has been the role it has played in the creation of the Arctic Council [2]. Of course, Canada’s support for the Arctic Council is not solely motivated by its relative position vis-à-vis the US. It makes sense to deal with global Arctic questions such as environmental protection and sustainable development in cooperation with the other Arctic states. Nonetheless, the Arctic Council appears as one more example of the old Canadian strategy of counterbalancing American power through multilateralism. The past has clearly demonstrated that meeting the US in the Arctic solely on a bilateral basis would severely weaken Canadian sovereignty in the area. The strategy of the Harper government seems to have taken this into account: the 2010 Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy acknowledged the need “to work with others: through bilateral relations with our neighbours in the Arctic, through regional mechanisms like the Arctic Council, and through other multilateral institutions” and proclaimed Canada’s intention of strengthening the Council when it chairs it again in 2013 [3].

However, to this realist approach which reveals that Canada’s relative capability is a prime agent for the country’s support of the Arctic Council, can be added a constructivist interpretation that shows that it is also a logical consequence of the current definition of the national identity. Indeed one characteristic of the Council is the role played by Inuit organizations, with six of them having permanent participant status. The 2010 Statement on Canada’s Arctic Foreign Policy underlined this key feature, pledged to strengthen it, and pointed out the convergence with Canada’s domestic policy of empowering indigenous peoples in the North “through land claim and self-government agreements” [4].

Within the Northern strategy elaborated by Stephen Harper government, the Inuit dimension and particularly the need for economic and social development is now given pride of place. In the 2009 presentation, the government listed four priorities beginning with “exercising our Arctic sovereignty” followed by “promoting social and economic development”; by contrast, in the 2010 presentation, “economic and social development” comes first while “Arctic Sovereignty” comes only in fourth position [5]. This seems to show that Stephen Harper’s government has realized the need to place the Inuit at the very centre of its Northern strategy, something that was not clearly expressed before. Referring to Stephen Harper’s well-used motto about Arctic sovereignty, “Use it or lose it”, Paul Kaludjak, President of Nunavut-Tunngavik Inc, wrote in 2007 that “Inuit are here – use us or lose our support, Mr Prime Minister. An Arctic policy that attempts to airbrush the Inuit majority out of the picture won’t cut it at home, and it won’t cut it abroad” [6]. This was confirmed by a 2011 survey poll that demonstrated that Canadians’ priority in the Arctic is infrastructure and human capital investment rather than increased military presence [7]. At the international level, it was confirmed by the severe rebuke from Inuit organizations as well as from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when Canada organized a conference of the five coastal states of the Arctic in March 2010 in Chelsea, Quebec, without inviting the Inuit organizations and the other three Arctic states [8]. The more recent policy of the Harper government, then, follows recommendations long expressed by distinguished Canadian academics, who argued that Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic would be best served by emphasizing stewardship rather than security [9].

Canada’s multilateral and multicultural approach in the Arctic, through its support of the Arctic Council, is the expression of hard-headed strategic choices made to serve the national interest. It seems clear that Canada can do well (or at least better) by doing good. This is true in terms of national unity: the 2011 survey poll has shown that Quebeckers are particularly attached to good stewardship in the North, while ranking military reinforcement as very low priority [10]. Therefore, emphasizing economic development for Inuit makes sense for the federal government. In international terms, emphasizing cooperation with the Inuit makes it possible to argue that Canada’s policy in the Arctic is designed “to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and reiterate the exemplary Canadian commitment to “cooperation, diplomacy and respect for international law” [11]. This allows Canada to present itself as a model international citizen. Canadian activism in the Arctic through the twin policies of multilateralism and respect for indigenous peoples not only spreads Canada’s good name beyond its borders; it may increase its influence in the world and give it more leverage when decisions are made. This is crucial in the Arctic, where Canada’s claims are far from being unanimously accepted.


[1] Laurence Cros, « Le Passage du Nord-Ouest à l’épreuve du réchauffement climatique : une remise en cause de la coopération américano-canadienne dans l’Arctique ? », Les Relations interaméricaines en perspective : entre crises et alliances, Isabelle Vagnoux et Daniel van Eeuwen dirs., Éditions de l’Institut des Amériques, 2009, p. 76-77.

[2] Evan T. Bloom, “Establishment of the Arctic Council”, American Journal of International Law, 93:3, July 1999, p. 714.

[3] Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising Sovereignty and Promoting Canada’s Northern Strategy Abroad, 2010, p. 23-24.

[4] Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising Sovereignty and Promoting Canada’s Northern Strategy Abroad, 2010, p. 21-24.

[5] Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Canada’s Northern Strategy: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future, 2009, p. 2 and Northern Strategy: Record of Achievement 2009-2010, 2010, p. 1.

[6] Paul Kaludjak, “Use the Inuit”, The Ottawa Citizen, 18 July 2007. Quoted in Catherine Warin, “Canada and the Scramble for the Arctic”, unpublished MA thesis, Université de Paris Diderot, 2011, p. 38.

[7] Ekos Research Associates, Rethinking the Top of the World: Arctic Security Public Opinion Survey. Final report submitted to the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs. January 2011, p. vii. Downloaded June 8, 2011.

<http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/01147/Arctic_security_po_1147265a.pdf>

[8] Catherine Warin, “Canada and the Scramble for the Arctic”, unpublished MA thesis, Université de Paris Diderot, 2011, p. 81.

[9] See, for example, Franklyn Griffiths, “The shipping news: Canada's Arctic Sovereignty not on Thinning Ice”, International Journal, Spring 2003, 58:2, p. 282.

[10] Ekos Research Associates, Rethinking the Top of the World: Arctic Security Public Opinion Survey. Final report submitted to the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs. January 2011, p. vii. Downloaded June 8, 2011.

<http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/01147/Arctic_security_po_1147265a.pdf>

[11] Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Statement on Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy: Exercising Sovereignty and Promoting Canada’s Northern Strategy Abroad, 2010, p. 21 and 26.