Canada on the international stage: Looking back at 2010

In this CTV News article, Steven Staples and other foreign policy analysts look back on an eventful 2010, identifying two major Canadian foreign policy failures and blaming poor diplomacy and a lack of Canadian leadership on international issues (Josh Visser, “Did Canada punch above its weight on the world stage?” CTV.ca news, 25 December 2010):

“On the whole, Canada had lots of opportunity to shine, but instead of an A-plus, we came away with a D,” Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, a left-leaning Ottawa-based think tank, said in an interview with CTV.ca.

The first blow came when the UAE expelled the Canadian military from “Camp Mirage”, its long-time support base in that country:

“It seems to me a diplomatic dispute that we thought we could brush off became much larger than that,” Adam Chapnick, a foreign policy expert and deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, told CTV.ca. “It’s quite possible we underestimated the extent to which the UAE would react to more hardball diplomatic tactics.”

Chapnick calls the loss of Camp Mirage, which was the vital logistical airbase into Afghanistan, an “expensive blow.”

“It’s a cost we probably could have avoided,” he said.

The loss of the base would become even more expensive after it was announced in November that Canada would be staying in Afghanistan until 2014, adding three more years to the total bill. Estimates put the cost of closing Camp Mirage at $300 million, provided the mission ended at the 2011 deadline.

Days later, Canada suffered again on the international stage when it lost its bid to win a seat on the UN Security Council to Germany and Portugal.

“I think it’s a culmination of a lack of leadership by Canada. In my work internationally lots of people say, ‘What happened to Canada? You used to be at the forefront of a lot of issues,'” Staples said.

“By focusing on very narrow interests internationally — which this government has done — we largely disappeared from other key areas of discussions and the failed UN vote was the result of years of neglect on the international stage.”

Chapnick says with a secret vote there may not be a definitive answer to what happened, other than “something went wrong.”

“It’s clear we can do better on the diplomatic level, Canada did deserve a seat on that Council based on its record, particularly when compared to Portugal,” he said.

“We could be more tactical in the bluntness of our diplomacy on the world stage.”

The two failures are even more diplomatically devastating considering Canada’s significant contribution to Afghanistan over the past eight years. Canadian soldiers have paid the price, taking much higher casualties per capita than our allies, yet that sacrifice did not carry favour with the UAE or in the UN.

“This was supposed to increase Canada’s visibility in the world and our kudos on the international stage, and I don’t see any evidence of that at all,” Staples said. “It shows you that international stature does not come from just being able to exert military force in a single area — that it’s multifaceted and requires attention to many other issues as well.”

The article also points to some of Canada’s more successful endeavours in the last year, including improved Canadian-Chinese relations, its relief contribution to Haiti, and a much more controversial “success” – the G8/G20 Summits.

Photo by DJOtaku

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