Is there a way to fix the Freeland doctrine so it works for Canada?


On 11 October 2022, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a high-profile speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington on the future of Canada’s trade and economic policy within our broader international engagement.

In her words:

This is a moment of extreme economic upheaval, and today, I want to speak about the new economic path that the world’s democracies can chart together.

Building on the model of closer Western security cooperation since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and eschewing the allure of turning inward and embracing “autarky” [economic independence or self-sufficiency], she proposes:

A better alternative is what U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has described as friendshoring — that democracies must make a conscious effort to build our supply chains through each other’s economies.

Critics see manifold risks in this approach

The reaction on the economic front is perhaps best summed up by a CBC headline in its Business section entitled ‘Freeland Doctrine’ could set the world on a path to a new trade cold war (Don Pittis, 19 October 2022).

But equally important are the broader foreign policy implications

In a brilliant analysis entitled Friend-shoring* Canada’s Foreign Policy? former Canadian diplomat Kerry Buck and Carleton University professor Michael Manulak conclude:

Freeland’s twist on Yellen’s [friend-shoring trade] proposal has implications beyond securing supply chains. Her vision would result in a considerable deepening of social and political ties among democracies.

The crux of the approach is that trade with autocracies should be limited and “in-between” states should be incentivized to embrace the values of this new club of democracies. Her proposal is being called, not by the minister herself, “the Freeland doctrine.”

While the authors understand the impulse “to close ranks behind democratic lines”, they also see “risks in such an approach”, writing:

With the world headed, perhaps inevitably, toward increasing strategic competition, Freeland’s vision could be easily interpreted in a manner that risks exacerbating polarization, undercutting multilateral organizations and international rules.

Here is what they suggest:

It may be that the most promising approach is to interpret the “Freeland doctrine” to include multi-layered channels of engagement, both with autocracies and in-between countries. Such an approach would capitalize on shared interests and invest in international architecture.

In the view of

This is a brilliant reframing that ultimately reorients this very bad idea back toward the best of Canada’s long tradition of inclusive multilateral engagement, with important adjustments in light of today’s global environment.

More on the risks inherent in the Freeland doctrine

Despite the rising tensions between China and democratic countries, Buck and Manulak remind us of essential differences between the Cold War and today:

While tensions are increasing, we are not yet in a Cold War. Links between China and democratic countries are far more pervasive than they were with the Soviet Union in the 1940s.

Interdependent problems, such as climate change and pandemics, generate shared interests that are of an entirely different scale than experienced by the original cold warriors.

They continue:

Although the intent of Freeland’s speech is not to make the case for a new Cold War, a deepening of ties among democratic countries and a severing of links with autocratic ones risks doing just that by widening this divide.

Freeland doctrine embodies a “highly statist” worldview

Another concern is the “highly statist” worldview that Freeland is espousing, which does not address the “intersecting webs of connection”, and people-to-people networks, including “within autocracies.”

This concern hearkens back to a Quincy Institute study entitled Sanctions Don’t Promote Democratic Change (, 6 February 2012), discussed in our 14 October 2022 blog post.

Writing on the same issue in 2018, Peter Beinart explains why sanctions tend to make the countries subject to them more authoritarian and repressive:

sanctions don’t just help despotic regimes tighten their grip. They erode the habits and capacities necessary to sustain liberal democracy over the long term.

A comprehensive academic study released in December 2021 finds, inter alia:

Sanctions may strengthen targeted regimes due to an incumbent’s response to limit “public goods” and weaken possible “challengers” while a deteriorating targeted economy weakens civil society and the “middle and lower classes”.

While the Freeland doctrine does not explicitly discuss sanctions, the proposal to further isolate autocracies and other non-compliant states in a top-down, statist approach, clearly risks weakening indigenous civil society groups seeking to enlarge their democratic space.

The “in-between states

Without naming names, Freeland acknowledges that

the hardest question that a friendshoring approach must grapple with, is our attitude towards the in-between countries.

She argues:

We must keep the door wide open and not doubt the long-term appeal of our principles.

Buck and Manulak spell out in more detail just how broad the “in-between states” category actually is, comprising as it does

states that do not fall neatly within the democratic/autocratic divide, such as Brazil, Turkey, increasingly India, and indeed much of the world.

In their view, waiting until these countries “reform themselves sufficiently to join our friendship circle” is an approach that is “fraught with risks”:

The starker the line we draw between the world’s democracies and its autocracies, the murkier our relations become with countries that fall within this grey area.

The quality of our links with the in-between countries will be vital to the longer-run success and legitimacy of the global democratic enterprise.

Friend-shoring undercuts multilateral institutions

One of the most important parts of the analysis by Buck and Manulak is the potential impact on multilateral institutions, from the UN to the World Trade Organization “or any other of the multilateral bodies that form the backbone of Canada’s foreign policy”. They write:

A strict friend-shoring worldview could also present a fundamental challenge to multilateral institutions, including the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

By tacking on a democratic pre-condition for a deepening of ties, the democratic countries isolate themselves and weaken their capacity to build the coalitions necessary for exercising influence in UN bodies.

In the case of Canada in particular, this would leave us with “less leverage and less global relevance”.

Note that Kerry Buck, a former Canadian Ambassador to NATO, and Professor Manulak believe that the Freeland vision could even undermine NATO alliance solidarity.

In the view of

Surely this NATO concern speaks volumes about the incendiary impact of such a closed democratic club on international institutions with disparate members not bound by a security alliance relationship.

Now more than ever we need creative diplomacy

Rather than Canada “leading the charge toward a sharpening of the global divide”, Buck and Manulak assert:

What is needed is …. creative diplomacy that seeks to explore all avenues to tackle global problems and re-establish the habits of self-interested collaboration.

Rather than an empty call for collaboration with autocracies on shared global challenges, based on a Freeland policy thrust that would “work against this possibility”, Buck and Manulak propose the

strengthening of ties globally, preserving openness and dealing cooperatively with states that are “not quite democracies” and even autocratic countries when and where interests align.

The way to do this, in their view, is to embed Freeland’s club of democracies

in the multilateral organizations Canada relies on for leverage, creating networks of like-minded democracies that align their diplomacy and policy positions as they engage with in-between states.

They elaborate further:

With this approach, Canada and other democracies would encourage states to “bind” to existing international architecture, rather than working outside of it and use international institutions as the “docking station” for new norms on democracy or values-based trade.

This would avoid or at least mitigate the risk of sharpening the global divide and increase the sustainability of new norms and of the new grouping itself.

Whither Canada?

While Freeland focuses on her club of democracies to the direct detriment of the UN system, we should recall the absolutely fundamental role that the UN is playing in relation to climate change, refugees, humanitarian assistance, global health, sustainable development, and in many other lifesaving and rule-building domains.

And even in the peace and security realm, with the UN Security Council polarized by the Ukraine conflict, that body is continuing to agree on mandate renewals for UN peacekeeping missions, including in Mali, Colombia, and South Sudan as well as on new sanctions in relation to Haiti.

The point is that no club of democracies or coalition of the willing can begin to substitute for this vital work, which needs much more, not less, support from Western democracies at this pivotal juncture in global governance.

We call on Foreign Minister Joly in her ongoing Foreign Policy Review to champion a multi-pronged diplomatic approach based on enlightened self-interest and creative collaborations on global challenges in all available forums while, at the same time, rejecting narrow doctrines that risk increased global polarization and the undermining of essential multilateral institutions.  

[*Ed. note: Freeland uses the unhyphenated spelling for “friendshoring”, while virtually everyone else includes the hyphen.]


The prestigious American journal Foreign Affairs has made an article available to non-subscribers entitled The Ukraine War Will End With Negotiations (Emma Ashford, 31 October 2022).

The under banner reads:

Now Is Not the Time for Talks, but America Must Lay the Groundwork

While praising the Biden administration’s “realpolitik” approach of arming and funding Ukraine while making it clear the US will not engage directly in the conflict, author Emma Ashford questions the failure to discuss

one crucial area of war strategy… how it might end.

She further notes:

Experts and policymakers who have suggested that the United States should also support diplomatic efforts aimed at a negotiated settlement have been treated as naïve or borderline treasonous.

In response, Ashford restates an important fact:

But nearly all wars end in negotiations.

She recalls the all-too-familiar costs of the war, canvassed in many previous posts and which include the “twin specters of a broader war with NATO and of the use of nuclear weapons”, together with the already enormous global economic costs which the winter is bound to increase further, and then outlines the difficult questions that a negotiated end to the war raises and for which preparations simply must begin to be made.

These include:

  • Determining the right timing to push for negotiations and the point at which the costs of continuing to fight will outweigh the benefits,
  • Crafting a sustainable settlement that capitalizes on Ukraine’s successes without setting the stage for further conflict,
  • Maintaining a common front between the West and Ukraine, and
  • Demonstrating flexibility, particularly in working out which sanctions against Russia can be lifted without strengthening Putin’s regime.

She concludes:

If the administration does not prepare soon, it may find its carefully calibrated response to the war being overtaken by a dangerous fantasy of absolute victory.

In the view of

Mainstream expert advocacy for a negotiated solution is a most welcome development. And there is no doubt that sanctions relief for the Russian economy, in return for substantive concessions on Putin’s side, is a fundamental element of any potential deal. The sooner the Biden Administration begins to grapple — at least internally — with this thorny issue, the better.


Midterm elections in the United States are the general elections that are held near the midpoint of a president’s four-year term of office, on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Federal offices that are up for election during the midterms include all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 33 or 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate.

For a solid and sobering academic assessment of what is at stake, see What the midterm elections tell us about the stability of US democracy (, 3 November 2022).

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Tags: American democracy, American midterm elections, Civil society, club of democracies, collaboration, creative diplomacy, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, economiic sanctions, Emma Ashford, Foreign Affairs Journal, Freeland doctrine, friend-shoring, friendshoring, how the Ukraine war will end, in-between countries, Janet Yellen, Kerry Buck, Michael Manulak, multilateral institutions, people-to-people networks, sanctions relief, statist worldview, trade cold war, Ukraine