Ian Brodie is research director at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy. Before joining the School in 2013, Brodie spent four years as strategic adviser at the Inter-American Development Bank. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to the Prime Minister of Canada and executive director of a national political party. He also serves on the advisory board of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.
Over the last decade, the United States has suffered serious setbacks in its global role. Iraq, Afghanistan and the 2008 economic crisis hurt America's standing abroad. At home, the crisis provoked deep partisan debates about American policy but little in the way of consensus on how to respond. Throughout the crisis, America's rivals gained strength and a new south-south economy of investment and trade emerged. If the U.S. has lost some of its power to influence developments around the world, is it Canada's moment to extend its global influence?
Since the end of the Second World War, America's global dominance has benefited Canadian interests around the world. We have done well in the world America made. NATO, NORAD and the American nuclear umbrella protected us from overseas threats. The U.S. Navy's enforcement of freedom of navigation gave us dependable access to overseas markets. Rules-based trade liberalization and the IMF sustained our economy and held off the dangers of protectionism. The UN and other multilateral organizations occupied the creative powers of our diplomats.
Canada's privileged geography gives it freedom to choose where and how to engage beyond North America. We have opportunities across the Atlantic and across the Pacific, as evidenced by our simultaneous negotiations at the CETA and TPP tables. But freedom of choice means we have trouble committing to relationships beyond North America. Unlike, say, Australia, which must engage in the Pacific, we face no natural imperative to be "all in" in Asia.
With few constraints to our foreign policy, we have been free to pursue a democratic foreign policy. Canadians with personal or family roots overseas have often pushed officials to vindicate important principles of freedom and human rights when they are threatened abroad. Our heroic contributions to two world wars built on the British roots of so many Canadians. Today, Canadians are more likely to be connected to Ukraine or Sri Lanka, and we can shape our foreign policy to reflect their insights without worrying about how that will impact Canadian energy supplies or other vital interests.
Canada does not have a history as a colonial power, but that fact alone does not make us a nation of the global south. In fact, we are often ambivalent about engaging with the new global south. We prefer to deal with emerging economic powers through clubs we already belong to – the G-20, the Commonwealth and la Francophonie. But as south-south institutions displace the influence of the "world America made", the room for Canada to exercise global influence has declined. We were once welcome as a dependable joiner of international clubs, but we are having trouble joining newer, more dynamic clubs like the Latin American trade bloc Pacific Alliance.
The world America made will continue to be our comfort zone in foreign affairs for the foreseeable future. We enjoy low barriers to entry and low transaction costs in both the political and economic realms within that world. But we also need to open doors beyond our traditional partners. America's shrinking global role will shrink Canada's global role as well, but there are things we can do to offset that decline. We can push harder to engage with south-south institutions that welcome our participation. The Canadian government is courting the new Pacific Alliance, but so are many other nations of the global north. We should remove any irritant that that might hold up our membership in the Alliance, for if we cannot form a closer partnership with the Pacific Alliance, it is hard to see how we can succeed in courting any of the new clubs of the global south.
Aside from maintaining our close partnership with the United States, foreign engagements have rarely been imperative to our national security, and the success or failure of those engagements never elected or defeated a government. Canada should also be renewing efforts to vitalize the north-south clubs we already belong to. Canada's effort to create an economic policy program within la Francophonie is a good example of how this can work. In our own hemisphere, institutions like the OAS, the IDB and the Summit of the Americas have made progress when they have benefited from Canadian leadership. Canada's agenda at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama City should not be derailed by issues like the Falkland Islands/Malvinas or drug policy. We should instead renew Canada's traditional support for press freedoms and clean elections in the hemisphere.