Copeland on Canada's turn away from internationalism

Former Canadian diplomat Daryl Copeland laments the Canadian government’s retreat from an internationalist foreign policy (Daryl Copeland, “A retreat from the world stage,” Ottawa Citizen, 5 December 2011):

From the late 1940s through to early in this century, Canada enjoyed a reputation as a determined, capable and effective internationalist. Regardless of which party formed the government, this country actively engaged with other peoples and states in the pursuit of collaborative solutions to the world’s major problems and challenges. From the founding of the UN, postwar reconstruction and the Suez crisis to non-proliferation issues, protection of the global commons and working to address the plight of children in conflict, Canada was always present, and, when appropriate, ready to lead.

As Canada’s relative power and influence inevitably declined with the recovery of Europe and Asia and the emergence of China, India, Brazil and others, the scale of Canadian activism was down-sized. Our enthusiasm for joining others in the pursuit of long-term goals such as eradicating poverty and bringing peace to the world gradually gave way to to smaller, “niche” projects such as the landmine ban, conflict diamonds and the construction of innovative new doctrines such as the Responsibility to Protect. The nature of Canadian internationalism changed with the times, and public diplomacy was mobilized to advance the likes of the Human Security Agenda, but a core commitment to internationalism endured.

Today, little remains of that tradition, and international policy decision-making seems related mainly to the quest for future electoral advantage. What happened?


While prepared to join — with minimal public discussion or debate — in aggressive counter-insurgency warfare in Afghanistan or the NATO bombing of Libya, it seems unlikely that this country will ever again undertake anything as ambitious as orchestrating the 1981 Cancun Summit on North-South issues or the 1992 Rio Conference on environment and development, not to mention the exercise of leadership within the Commonwealth to defeat apartheid in southern Africa. Instead, we negotiate trade agreements, promote asbestos exports and boycott major multilateral conferences on racism and disarmament. Canada has walked away from peacekeeping, dispensed with a balanced approach toward conflict resolution in the Middle East, and received the Fossil of the Year award for our performance on climate change.

Tags: Canadian foreign policy, Daryl Copeland, Misc...