Speaking Notes for an Address by the Hon. Bob Rae, Canada needs to find its voice again in foreign policy
Munk Centre, University of Toronto
Aug 10, 2006
Speaking in Oslo on December 11, 1957, Lester B. Pearson said when receiving the Nobel Prize, "The choice….is as clear now for nations as it was once for the individual: peace or extinction. The life of states cannot, any more than the life of individuals, be conditioned by the force and will of a unit, however powerful, but by the consensus of a group, which must one day include all states".
Mr. Pearson then went on to describe what he called his "four faces of peace" – peace and prosperity, peace and power, peace and diplomacy, and peace and people.
He spoke eloquently of the need for a focus on open trade, collective security, and a commitment to a spirit of open dialogue and increased co-operation between states and the peoples of the world. To Mr. Pearson’s faces of peace we should perhaps add one more: peace and the sustainability of the planet.
Mr. Pearson quoted the great judge Learned Hand, who said these wise words: "most of the issues that mankind sets out to settle, it never does settle…(the dispute) disappears because it is replaced by some compromise that, although not wholly acceptable to either side, offers a tolerable substitute for victory".
Above all we should speak to the world with a spirit of engagement and commitment, as Lester Pearson did. We also need to understand how the world around us has changed. Mr. Pearson’s life was formed by the first and second world wars, and by the cold war that followed. With the collapse of the Berlin wall, the extraordinary change that we call globalization, and the emergence of new radical ideologies based on religious and ethnic fundamentalism, we are working in a different context. And yet it is important that we be guided by our values and principles. We are a country of over thirty million people, drawn from around the world. Our foreign policy will inevitably reflect who we are, our values as well as our interests.
We are a small country, living next door to a superpower. We are a trading country, a northern country, a country of many Diasporas. Our geography is vast, yet we are beginning to understand how fragile it is. We are a country deeply committed to the rule of law, to human rights, to the value of an open society, to democracy, to federalism, to equality, to a deep sense of what we owe each other as citizens. We are proud of our values, what we have as a country. We have no imperial ambitions, nor should we see ourselves as anyone else’s foot soldiers in imperial adventures.
We have learned the hard way that the resolution of disputes and conflicts is difficult and requires extraordinary persistence. From my own experience in mediation, the most difficult challenge is to understand the depth of feeling of the other side. There are some disputes that can’s be mediated, because the parties are simply not prepared to accept the existence of the legitimacy of “the other”. There are people committed to violence for its own sake.
We have come to maturity as a country understanding the destructiveness of war. Our young men and women died in great numbers in the first and second world wars, in Korea, and in missions around the world. They are dying today in Afghanistan.
We are not a neutral country. We are engaged in the world. We were founders of the United Nations and NATO because we concluded the major lesson of World War Two was the absolute need for collective security to avoid and deter war. We have learned that the forces of hatred and intolerance must be resisted, that terror must be called for what it is – a common enemy of mankind. We have also learned that in fighting that enemy we must lose our way our values. Today’s news from London is a harsh reminder of the world in which we now live.
Terrorism and extremism are terrible realities that accompany the geopolitical divides of our time. Our experience with the Air India bombing must serve as a reminder that we are not immune from this experience. We have to ensure that our security services and RCMP have the resources they need, that they are co-operating in a seamless way, and that we break down any barriers and silos in government. We also have to break down divides, and ensure that extremism is not allowed to fester in our own midst.
We have allies and friends throughout the world. We are not indifferent to the outcomes of difficult conflicts. We are also deeply concerned about how these conflicts affect people, families, communities. We have been tempered by experience. We are people of principle, but not people of ideology. We are pragmatic, not dogmatic. We value listening as much as talking. We are not afraid to take action when it is required. This is the Canada I know and love. Our foreign policy needs to reflect these voices and traditions of Canada. It also needs to reflect our interests.
A balanced, pragmatic, multilateral approach to global affairs, based on principle, has been at the core of the Liberal Party of Canada for decades- it is one of this party’s great and enduring legacies, from St. Laurent to Martin. Jean Chrétien’s wise decision not to support the invasion of Iraq was not taken after reading a poll. It was taken because of the Canadian government’s principled view that the invasion was illegal, and its pragmatic concern that an invasion can very quickly become an unpopular occupation. These views were wise and correct, although that decision had its critics.
When Lester Pearson argued at the United Nations in 1956 that a peacekeeping mission was essential to counter-act the imperial overreach of Suez, he did not phone Sir Anthony Eden for permission. Nor did Pierre Trudeau have the enthusiastic support of either super-power when he launched his initiative to point out the folly of the so-called "balance of terror" in the early 1980’s.
Those were examples of a principled foreign policy, rooted in Canadian values and coupled with a broad, conception of our national interests. Canada’s work on the land mines treaty and in creating an international Criminal Court are other recent examples. We should be clear advocates against torture and coercive interrogation, and for the promotion of human rights. There should be no confusion in what we think and say in these areas. Looking at some of the major foreign policy issues facing us today, I am troubled by the direction and tone being taken by the Harper government. They show an alarming disregard for Canada’s strengths and traditional priorities in foreign affairs – support for multilateral solutions to global challenges; a willingness to speak out on key issues in a fair-minded way; a commitment to engaging Canadians; the ability to see the broader picture.
Global warming is a good example. As a small country we can’t possibly confront
something like climate change alone. A global problem requires a co-ordinated, global response. We have to be part of an intense international effort. Right now that means supporting, and living up to the Kyoto Treaty. We need to bring the country together so we can live up to our global responsibilities on climate change. And we need to do it now. As a small country whose income depends on trade, we need a strong rules based system to allow us to gain access to foreign markets without harassment. If other countries won’t let that happen, we need to be tough minded in our response. We should not capitulate to protectionism from our trading partners. This means we should reject the surrender of the Softwood Agreement being proposed by Mr. Harper. We don’t do this in a spirit of belligerence or anti-Americanism, but because the deal being proposed is not in our interests.
Our lumber is not subsidized. The United States industry is not harmed by free and open trade in wood products. We need to have confidence and courage in our positions. The government needs to be telling industry – "we shall weather this storm together". The government needs to remain committed to free and open trade that is subject to the rule of law, and not the bare-knuckled exercise of power. The prospect of collapse in the current world trade talks makes it even more important for Canada to support the principle of rules based trade.
Canada needs an aggressive, sophisticated, focussed aid and development strategy to get at the root causes of conflict in failed and failing states. Unfortunately this is not on the Harper government’s radar screen.
We should be leading the charge internationally for an end to punishing duties for exports from third world countries, especially in light of the apparent collapse of the Doha round of trade negotiations. We have to end protectionism against countries that want to trade their way to prosperity. The trade agenda can’t be separated from the cause of international development. Nearly forty years ago, the World Bank asked Lester Pearson, then recently retired Prime Minister, to Chair a study on development assistance. One conclusion he reached was that the wealthier countries of the world should set aside 0.7% of GDP to development assistance. In 2004-05 Canada spent under half that amount on foreign assistance- $3.74 billion (2004-05) out of a federal budget of $210 billion (2004-05). Recently many countries have committed themselves to meeting the “Pearson target”.
Denmark has reached the target and is committed to staying the course.
The point is not simply to meet a target or a number for its own sake. If thousands of children die each day in countries that are in the clutches of extreme poverty, what will it cost us as a country to reduce, and then end the slaughter? These deaths attract no daily media coverage. Some are caused by famine, some by disease, and as Jeffrey Sachs points out, many are caused by a simple lack of a $2 mosquito net. But they are real and tragic enough. We have trouble absorbing it. But we must respond, and it will take concerted action.
Canada’s GDP is currently over $1 trillion, 0.7% of that is over $7 billion. So the math of reaching the Pearson target is clear enough. Is it doable in nine years? This naturally depends on priorities. For me, it is a priority. But the priority should not be just on increasing development assistance. We also need to spend it more effectively and efficiently, targeted at specific goals, such as public-institution-building that helps build sustainable societies, or the fight against infectious disease, including HIV/AIDS. Here is a clear example of the intersection of values and national interests in foreign policy. Canada can make a real difference in the lives of people and reduce suffering around the world. That reflects our values. At the same, time we will be contributing to
global stability. That is in our national interest.
We could lead the way by dramatizing the loss of life that is currently taking place, and by celebrating any successes we can achieve in actually reducing it. What is remarkable is that so many Canadians are ahead of their government: it is impossible to travel the world without meeting volunteers, aid workers, teachers, doctors, from every corner of the country, leading the way, asking many times- where is their government, why isn’t it in the lead? The real Pearsonians are not only in Ottawa: they are working in AIDS orphanages in east Africa, removing land mines in Sri Lanka, teaching kids in northeast
India, working on environmental issues in Costa Rica. In summing up, my basic message today is that we need to regain our balance, our focus
and our commitment to what we do best. We need to find our voice again. The Harper government’s approach to international issues is simplistic, out of character with what Canadians expect, and out of step with Canada’s traditional role in the world. It threatens to submerge that distinctive voice the world expects to hear from us. Another conservative, Edmund Burke was right – “governing in the name of a theory" is a bad idea. The avoidance of ideological enthusiasm, doing less harm, saving more lives, reconciling differences, eliminating the worst poverty, steadily constructing a world order, step by step, this is the better way of the future. It should be the Liberal way. It should be the Canadian way.
Some will say that to take this approach will put us at odds with the United States. The United States is Canada’s most important bilateral partner, economically and otherwise, and we should not take that friendship for granted. At the same time, when we have principled disagreements with the Americans, Canada needs to clearly articulate its views. This is expected by Canadians and Americans alike. It is the basis of a sound and deep friendship. Fifty years ago Mr. Pearson said that “the days of relatively easy and automatic political relations with the United States are, I think, over.” He was right then, and would be now. But the bonds of our friendship with the people of the US are deep and permanent.
To speak with our own voice, in the dangerous world we are in, means having our own military capacity. The Canadian Forces are one of the best small militaries in the world, and are recognized around the world as such. They are capable of operating effectively and professionally across the full spectrum– from peacekeeping to combat. Canadians are rightfully proud of this eminent national institution, whose men and women are superb ambassadors for Canada wherever they go in the world. I fully support our troops on whatever mission they are on, and we all grieve as Canadians when they give the ultimate sacrifice.
A few days ago NATO took command of the multinational forces in southern
Afghanistan, at the same time as Canada began to replace over 1,000 troops with a new rotation in that part of the country. This is a logical time for reflection on the situation in Afghanistan and to evaluate the approach Canada and western nations generally have been following in Kandahar. The insurgency has been intensifying lately despite an aggressive combat operation and the
presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops.
Aid and reconstruction projects, which were to be a critical component of the
multinational effort in Kandahar, and were intended to be absolutely central to the
Canadian mission there, are not proceeding at anywhere near the pace that we thought they would. The reconstruction effort in Kandahar has been supplanted almost entirely by a combat mission. Canada is fighting a war in Afghanistan, and Canadian troops are dying in that war. Committing a country’s soldiers to fight wars is the most serious decision a government can make. The Parliamentary vote the government engineered in the spring to “approve” this mission was a cynical manipulation of the House of Commons. By prohibiting all but six
hours of debate, and insinuating that those who would vote against the government are being somehow unpatriotic, or lacking in support for our troops, the Prime Minister politicized a military operation in a way I have not seen in my lifetime. Canada sent its military to Afghanistan five years ago as part of a multinational coalition in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. The Taliban nurtured and abetted Al Qaida. And our military has undertaken many different tasks throughout Afghanistan since then, notably our major contribution in 2003-04 to the NATO stabilization mission in the capital, Kabul.
But we are now at a point where Canada’s Afghanistan policy needs to be assessed and evaluated. This does not mean Canada should abandon Afghanistan. That is the straw man that the Prime Minister talks about. It is not an option any serious people are proposing. We need to approach our policy on the basis of at least three fundamental criteria: Is it working? Is it consistent with our experience of what can work? And is it balanced? Today, Canada’s efforts and resources in Afghanistan are heavily weighted toward the war fighting side of the equation. We have about 2,000 troops fighting on the ground in Kandahar, at a rough cost of half to three quarters of a billion dollars a year. By contrast,
we have about half a dozen civilian Government of Canada officials doing much needed development and reconstruction work, and we spend about $100 million a year on aid to Afghanistan.
The lack of balance goes beyond Canada. Since 2001 western donors have provided Afghanistan with on average U.S. $2.5 billion per year in aid. Yet it has been estimated that the US and NATO countries combined are spending U.S. $15-18 billion per year on military operations in Afghanistan. Permit me to quote President Karzai’s own words only weeks ago in response to the
intensifying insurgency: “I have systematically, consistently and on a daily basis warned the international community of what was developing in Afghanistan… and of a change in approach by the international community in this regard."
We need to heed President Karzai’s warning. As one of the largest troop contributing nations in Afghanistan, Canada has the credibility to lead a discussion at NATO on our approach. That is what we should do now. And we should be responding positively to requests from local Afghan officials for more targeted aid projects to help build their communities and thereby show Afghans a positive alternative to the extremists.
Ultimately, the military operation in Afghanistan should be in pursuit of a political
solution to the conflict. That will not be easy but it needs as much attention as our
current effort. If Afghanistan has been understandably the focus of attention, the same cannot be said of Sri Lanka. It is also a country engulfed by violence. Nearly a thousand people have been killed since January of this year. It is also a conflict that affects Canada and Canadians.
Since the early 1970’s Sri Lanka has been immersed in a bitter war. Sri Lanka’s tragedy can be described in numbers – tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands made homeless and refugees, billions of dollars in damaged infrastructure, billions more in lost investment. Yet little has been said or done about a collapsed cease-fire in the battle between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Since January of this year, over 700 have been killed. Every day marks a steady increase in violence.
I have visited Sri Lanka several times on behalf of the Forum of Federations, an NGO I served as founding chair for many years. With the exception of the ruthless LTTE leader Prebakharan, I have met with the leadership of the country on all sides. It is a place of great beauty, its people caught in the deepest and most complex of tragedies.
 Cited in Ahmed Rashid, “Afghanistan on the Brink”, The New York Review of Books, Volume LIII, Number 11 (June 22, 006), p. 26
Canada is inevitably affected by the Sri Lankan conflict. People from all backgrounds have now made Canada their home. We should be more engaged than we currently appear to be in helping to create the conditions for peace in this troubled land. Norway has been playing the role of mediator in this conflict, and Canada has, together with other donor countries, been supportive of their efforts. As a key power in the area, India has also been making an effort to bring an end to conflict and violence. Canada should be doing whatever it can to get a peace process back on track. The downward spiral has to somehow be stopped.
The Canadian Tamil and Sinhala Diasporas need themselves to be challenged to
overcome the divisions that been altogether too destructive. The LTTE needs to abandon terrorist tactics. The government of Sri Lanka needs to show a capacity for structural change. Together with others, Canada needs to do what it takes to get the parties to the table.
Conflict resolution should be at the heart of our foreign policy, not an afterthought, or an interesting sideline to other efforts. This will require much greater discipline and determination than we have been able to do so far. We sent a DART team to the tsunami ravaged east of Sri Lanka, we have a few CIDA projects, but nowhere near the clout and focus we should have. What are we doing to prevent fragile states from descending into collapse and violence? Where are we in Congo, in Darfur? What are we doing to prevent the next Darfurs? We need capacity to identify crises before they happen, and an ability to stick with them whether they are on the front pages of newspapers or on our TV screens. The political and social crisis of Darfur is as overwhelming and difficult as it was two years ago.
Millions have died, in conflicts in Sudan, in the Congo, without the world taking notice or action. Canada needs to create an early warning system, a rapid response capability, and the will to persist. No conflict in the world has proven more intractable than the Middle East. I say this as some one who is now, and has always been, a friend and supporter of the state of Israel, a friend as well of peace and stability in the Arab countries in the region. My wife and
children are Jewish. I have spent many years expressing the strongest support for the right of Israel to live within secure and internationally recognized borders, for Israel to be accepted fully by its neighbours, for the rancid rhetoric of anti-semitism to finally come to end. I shall continue to do so. I have also expressed support for a Palestine that can finally take its place among the family of nations, for a Lebanon that can live whole and in peace with its neighbours.
The tactics of Hezbollah, and Hamas, can only be condemned. The thinking, language, and strategy of seeking to create the greatest possible death and destruction to civilian life is abhorrent. These organizations, clearly supported by others – notably Iran and Syria -refuse to accept the reality and right of Israel to exist. This is a completely unacceptable position in today’s world.
No country can live with rockets and bombs killing and maiming its civilian population. All countries in the region have a right to live in peace, within secure and recognized boundaries. It must be said that every country has a right to defend itself from attack. Managing, reducing, and ultimately resolving conflict in the Middle East is one of the great geo-political challenges of our time. Canada is not "neutral" about the outcome.
Canada must be engaged in helping shape it. The outcome must secure the future of every country in the region: Israel, Lebanon and Palestine. All as viable, recognized entities with borders that are secure and with governments that have an equal capacity to govern their populations and control violence. These are issues whose resolution will take much time and extraordinary perseverance.
A radical Islam that cannot accept pluralism and diversity in the Middle East is an
obstacle to an objective that sensible people everywhere share. The question is: how to keep the next generation from embracing these destructive ideologies?
Defeating extremists who use terror as a weapon in their arsenal is very difficult when they have much of the civilian population under their control. There are as many examples in modern history of unsuccessful efforts to do this as the reverse. Guerilla groups can abandon terrorism when the political context around them changes, but military firmness has to be matched with the imagination to create that new framework.
The right to self defence has to be exercised in such a way that extremism is not fueled by the response itself. That is why Canada should always be a continuing voice for restraint. Not because we are weak willed, but because we have to be as concerned about the consequences of actions as their justification.
The choices we face as a country are not between "decisiveness and dithering", or between "taking sides and neutrality". They are rather between over-simplification and wisdom. We made a wise choice, the right choice, as a country many years ago when we affirmed our support for an Israeli state in the Middle East. And we also made a wise choice when we affirmed the need for a Palestinian state. Wisdom is about balance, realism, and finding just, enduring solutions. What steps can we take that will ensure real peace, a peace that starts with a ceasefire and an end to violence, but goes well beyond that to deeper solutions. The answers lie more in the world of politics and diplomacy
than anywhere else.
Canada needs to say "yes" to Israel, Lebanon, and to Palestine, and "no" to terrorism and to hatred. My friend Irwin Cotler has expressed the need for this most eloquently in today’s National Post Canada needs to work with our friends and allies to develop strategies that will have a deep and lasting effect. This is a world where slogans and bumper-stickers don’t really work. Too many ordinary citizens are being killed, in Beirut, in Haifa, in Tyre, in Qana. There
has been, for some time, a humanitarian crisis in the area. We cannot be indifferent or callous about these losses. We should not be calling them inevitable. On the contrary. They are a call to get out of the terrible trap into which the region have fallen. Canada needs to find its voice again. Canada should be part of the diplomatic effort to devise an appropriate plan, a plan that gives the Lebanese government the means and support to assert real control of its own territory. This is the plan currently being discussed at the Security Council of the United Nations. A plan that that gives all the countries in the region the confidence that the rockets and the cross border raids will stop. A plan that
once more asserts the need for a clear direction to the resolution of the Palestine issue. And Canada must be prepared to commit resources to the implementation of the plan, and to the urgent business of civilian reconstruction.
I once heard a South African judge describe his country as “the world in one place.” A small, but powerful, rich world. A large, growing poor one. A world of stark contrasts, of conflicts; but also one of achievement and hope. Few could have predicted that the extraordinary leadership of one man, Nelson Mandela, could have contributed so dramatically to a peaceful transition to democracy and the rule of law. Canadians also often describe ourselves as “the world in one country”. We are now a decidedly multicultural and multinational place. Unlike South Africa, we are as a whole far better off than the world average. But there is enough poverty – on native reserves, in our inner cities and suburbs, in parts of rural Canada – to make us less affluent than some would like to think.
“We are the world” has a deeper meaning. The borders and boundaries between
countries are coming down. A company’s supply chain extends throughout the globe. The phrase “national economy” has much less meaning than it once did and “global economy” much more. The dramatic change in places like India and China, where economies grow at an exceptionally fast pace, and where technology and communication are instantly linking people and businesses to the wider world, are no longer concerns of a few. Whether we call the world shrinking or flat, the point is the same; there is no escaping interdependence.
Politically we are brought together as well. Insecurity in one part of the world can
readily lead to violence somewhere else. A world whose populations in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia continue to grow at a rapid pace face human challenges on a scale that will require all of our ingenuity to meet. Put another way; always ask yourself what percentage of a population is under the age of eighteen? And then ask, what is the rate of employment? These questions make us realize the extent of the challenge. These are the circumstances that help feed extremism.
The next twenty-five years will tell a story. Canada can play a meaningful role in ending extreme poverty in the world. It can provide an exciting range of opportunities for all its citizens. It can become a leader in reducing pollution and in slowing climate change. It can help open up the world for its entrepreneurs. It can ensure that we are more prosperous and that opportunities are deeply and widely shared. Canada can play a role in reducing insecurity and violence in the word as well, knowing that this is never easy. Whether this happens depends on choices we make today. This campaign is about these choices and how they affect the future. I ask for your support in becoming that choice, and that voice, for Canada?
 Cited in Ahmed Rashid, “Afghanistan on the Brink”, The New York Review of
Books, Volume LIII, Number 11 (June 22, 006), p. 26