Does Canada stand for anything?
'Foreign policy, more than any other area of government activity, expresses the personality of a country," Pierre Pettigrew declared last year. "It is not just a matter of what we do -- it is, even more importantly, a matter of who we are."
Our Foreign Affairs Minister is right: Nothing does more to shape a nation's identity than the role it takes on the international stage. But for the most part, our recent role hardly does us proud. For all our talk of exporting "Canadian values," the reality is that long-term neglect of our international responsibilities has left Canada a bit player.
The recent deployment of our Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to tsunami-stricken Southeast Asia was a telling example. Our deployment was tiny and came almost two weeks after the Americans and Australians sent in their own larger forces. The spectacle mocked the government's boast that "Canada is among the most generous international donors to respond to this disaster with humanitarian and early recovery assistance."
Why were we so late compared with other nations? Like the rest of our military, DART is underfunded. Lacking their own transport planes, the team's members had to wait while a deal was struck to rent Russian aircraft. As the chart below shows, we spend a smaller share of our national wealth on military obligations than any NATO nation except tiny Luxembourg and Iceland (which has no military at all).
Indeed, if we are to apply Mr. Pettigrew's formulation that foreign policy "expresses the personality of a country," then Canada might well be described as a braggart who is all talk, no action. Consider this past week's grandiose promise by the Prime Minister to do "whatever is required" to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur -- as if Canada had the capacity to do even a small fraction of what is needed in war-torn Sudan. A similar boast from Hungary or Latvia would have been more credible.
While our military neglect is common knowledge, Canadians may also be in need of a reality check when it comes to foreign aid. As UN Millennium Project manager John W. McArthur noted in these pages yesterday, our official development assistance (ODA) did not even amount to 0.3% of GDP in 2004 -- less than half the 0.7% standard wealthy nations have embraced as a goal. Notwithstanding Bono's boosterism and the government's chest-thumping, the truth is that tiny European nations such as Norway are putting us to shame not only in military spending but also in aid.
The significant increase in our military budget and the smaller boost to foreign aid announced on Wednesday will go some way toward remedying matters. More is needed, however: While experts estimate that our forces require an additional $4-billion per year to be made effective, the amount of genuinely new spending announced this week averages out to less than half that. Likewise, the $3.4-billion in extra aid committed over the next five years will do little to move us to the 0.7% benchmark.
But as events this week show, money is only part of the solution. What is also needed is a more principled approach to foreign policy -- one that is less concerned with hectoring the United States and posturing as a multilateral champion, and focuses instead on fighting terror, confronting rogue states, stabilizing crisis zones and advancing democracy.
In recent years, it has fallen primarily to the United States, Britain and Australia to take the lead in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo, Bosnia and Haiti. In some operations -- Afghanistan and the Balkans, most notably -- we have played significant roles. Too often, however, we flex our moral muscles for the benefit of passers-by while our allies do the heavy lifting.
Our refusal to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile shield, a project that would protect Canadian and American cities alike from immolation, is perhaps the best example yet of how thoroughly fantasy and reality diverge in Ottawa. On Thursday, our government declared it would have nothing to do with the shield -- a foolish gesture meant to placate the pacifists in the Liberal caucus. But the next day, our PM advanced the conceit that the Americans would still have to consult with us before activating the system. One can practically hear the howls of laughter emanating from the few Washington officials who still bother to inform themselves of Ottawa's pronouncements: Can anyone seriously imagine that the President would ask our PM for permission to shoot down a missile heading for a U.S. target?
Should it ever see the light of day, Canada's much-delayed foreign policy review will be a chance for our government to see our country the way other nations see us, and respond accordingly. Nobody is suggesting a full u-turn in our foreign policy, or that we become a lapdog to the United States. Rather, what the federal government should do is consider how some of its previously touted principles could serve as the bedrock for a newly engaged nation.
At the core of both the "responsibility to protect" doctrine flirted with by Mr. Martin, and the "human security" agenda trumpeted by Chretien-era foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, is the notion that Canada should be part of an international effort to bring a better life to those oppressed by war, dictatorship and human rights violations. For all our grousing about U.S. policy, how different are such principles from George W. Bush's declared aim to spread liberty? History shows that freedom and "human security" go hand-in-hand. How can we shy away from the U.S. effort to spread the former if we hope to make good on rhetoric concerning the latter?
We stand at a crossroads. Either we will continue to shrivel into our role as the world's impotent scold. Or we can begin to reclaim our status as a leader on the international stage. We urge the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to use the upcoming foreign-policy and military reviews to restore Canada's place in the world community and put an end to our unconscionable drift.