Canada's foreign policy, in black and white and orange -

Canada’s foreign policy, in black and white and orange

There’s a ‘Harper Doctrine’ now? Really?


Further proof of the Americanization of our politics: the journalistic elevation of the drunkard’s walk known as Stephen Harper’s foreign policy to the level of a “doctrine.” We spent the post-Gulf War nineties hearing about “the Powell doctrine”, and in 2001, Charles Krauthammer gave George W. Bush a doctrine of his own as a post 9/11 present. Today, the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson gifts our prime minister with his very own “Harper Doctrine,” spelled out as follows:

 “We know where our interests lie and who our friends are,” he declared, “and we take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.”

I’m no foreign policy guy, and John Ibbitson has taught me more about how Canada works over the years than I like to admit. But apart from supporting Israel “four-square, without reservation” — which Harper does seem keen on — I don’t see the evidence for the rest of it. “No foreign aid funding for abortion” doesn’t seem like much of a doctrine to me. As for “aggressively asserting our sovereignty in the North” … how so?

My lay understanding of a foreign policy “doctrine” is that it is a general set of rules or principles that a nation sets out, both to frame its own internal decision-making, but also – most crucially – to enable other countries to anticipate its behaviour. Take that most famous of foreign policy doctrines, the Monroe Doctrine, which told the European powers in no uncertain terms to forget about any more colonies in the Americas, and that any attempt to do so would be considered an act of aggression against the USA. Hard to misinterpret that.

The point is, it doesn’t help to say “we know what our interests lie, and who our friends are,” if no one can predict, in advance, what interests you will advance, and who you will choose as your friends. Do Canadian interests lie in killing Ghadafi? Because that’s what we’re up to over there. Was that an avowed principle of Harper’s five months ago?  Do we have stronger interests in Libya than in, say, Yemen? Or Haiti? As for “knowing who our friends are,” ask any of our friends in Britain and the US how they feel about Canada peeling rubber out of Kandahar in the middle of the fighting season.

In fact, if you are looking for a serious foreign policy doctrine out of Harper — that is, one that specifies a general principle that can be used by our friends and our enemies to predict Canada’s future behaviour — Afghanistan provides a great example. At the end of May, Stephen Harper took a quick tour through Kandahar, during which he was quoted by the Globe and Mail as saying  “Canada has been in Afghanistan now longer than we fought in the two World Wars combined.” Harper’s office claims that what the prime minister actually said was that we’d been in Afghanistan “almost as along.”

It doesn’t really matter which formulation is correct. The rhetorical point he seems to be reaching for appears to be something like: Commitment is a function of measure of threat multiplied by effort multiplied by time multiplied by achievement — the German threat was enormous, and we handled that in two wars of about five years each through almost complete national mobilization. In comparison, the Afghan threat is fairly mild, and we’ve spent almost a decade on it, but engaged only in what colleague Wells has described as a particularly violent police action.

I think that this rhetorical point is pretty stupid myself (and note, Harper has been using it for a couple of years) but it does provide some sort of guide to how the Harper government will behave in the future. We will gladly help our friends and defend our interests, until such point as it takes too long or the effort becomes too much, relative to what it is worth.

Fair enough. But what is most interesting about this that it is exactly the same rhetorical gambit the NDP has also been using for a number years. Here’s a quote from the NDP website from just last January, from a Jack Layton speech demanding that Canada retreat militarily from Afghanistan:

“Canada’s been in this war for nine years now. Six of those in a major combat role. Longer than the second world war.”

Longer than the second world war. So Canada does have a foreign policy after all. Call it the Layton Doctrine.


Canada’s foreign policy, in black and white and orange

  1. “No foreign aid funding for abortion” doesn’t seem like much of a doctrine to me.

    That’s about as good a Doctrine that Canadian pols will come up with until we have a proper military.

    Might = right in real world but not intellectual world. No reason at all to worry about ChiComs establishing new doctrine of the seas, instead we can debate whether killing African children is good idea or not.

    “Writing in the July 23 issue of The Diplomat, an international current-affairs magazine, China specialists Paul Giarra and Patrick Cronin maintain that “an increasingly assertive China is creating its own Monroe Doctrine for Asia’s seas – and threatening longstanding freedoms.” ….. 

    Buoyed by growing military power, Chinese interpretations of international law indeed threaten freedom of the seas, a cornerstone of the globalized international order. Beijing in effect regards most of the South China Sea as sovereign waters …. 

    Was the Monroe Doctrine in fact America’s writ for regional hegemony? It depends ….  the United States had no navy to speak of in 1823, when the two statesmen issued their renowned policy statement. Lacking naval muscle, American presidents had little way to enforce an injunction against European encroachment. 

    Great Britain, however, commanded naval might aplenty, and London had reasons of its own for keeping rival great powers out of the Americas. In effect, Britain’s Royal Navy acted as silent guarantor of the Monroe Doctrine for most of the 19th century.”

  2. It’s neither Harper nor Layton doctrine….it’s Weathervane Doctrine.  Whatever Harper thinks will sell this week. Subject to change without notice. Batteries not included.

    Which is why it’s so ineffective and vague. Just shadowy ‘threats’.

    ‘Canada has a purpose now that the country has a Conservative majority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday night in a speech to 2,300 party delegates.
    Harper painted a dark picture of the world around Canada near the end of his mostly upbeat speech, and said there are forces rising that Canada must resist.

    “Power is shifting. New forces are coming to the fore,” Harper said.

    “Some we will be pleased to work with. Some we must resist. In such a world, strength is not an option; it is a vital necessity. Moral ambiguity, moral equivalence are not options, they are dangerous illusions.”

    Canada won’t just “go along and get along” with everyone else’s agenda, he said.
    “Now, we know where our interests lie, and who our friends are.”

    Canada’s purpose “is no longer to please every dictator with a vote at the United Nations,” Harper said, adding he never understood why others felt that was in Canada’s national interest.

    “Our party’s great purpose is nothing less than to prepare our nation to shoulder a bigger load, in a world that will require it of us,” he said.’

    Harper’s speech at the convention last Friday.

  3. “Was that an avowed principle of Harper’s five months ago?”

    It’s neoconservative doctrine in spades.  He couldn’t buy it being named after him.

    Or maybe he could.

    Steven’s inauguration speech at that Council for National Policy convention way back when doesn’t look so much the stand-up routine they said it was.

  4. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in the quote that set up the

     “We know where our interests lie and who our friends are,” he declared, “and we take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.”

    The implication of the first part is that we’re selfish and loyal to people who help our selfish ends. (That’s not necessarily pejorative when we’re talking about foreign policy.) And THEN, we’re driven by principle even when principle is unpopular.

    So which is it — are we driven by our own interests and those of our friends, or are we driven by principle? Those two sets of values can’t coexist in the same sentence.

    • Yes they can, if you think of other countries, and their being stable, as in our interests.

      • That’s why we support dictatorships….because they’re stable….yet at the same time we announce we support democracy and freedom.

        That’s not principled, that’s hypocrisy.

    • “So which is it — are we driven by our own interests and those of our friends, or are we driven by principle? ”

      An Anglo Alliance: 

       …… existing system of military and intelligence cooperation between Britain, Australia, and the U.S. that was unusually intimate and extensive.

      And as it happened, this story rang several bells. I had recently been reading a Heritage Foundation study by the American writer (and a friend), James C. Bennett, in which he argued that such forms of developing cooperation were especially characteristic of English-speaking, Common-Law countries such as, well, Britain, Australia, and the U.S. 

      There was, he argued, a definite pattern to them.

      Citizens, voluntary bodies, companies, lower levels of government form their own networks of useful cooperation for practical purposes across national boundaries.

  5. Andrew,

    I find it funny that you are bashing the CPC over the head, because of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. Correct me if I am wrong, but do not the majority of Canadians support the withdrawal? Did not the LPC and the NDP push for this for years? Did not the media push for this for years? And yet you put the blame (?) for it solely on the shoulders of the CPC?

    Totally unfair.

    If their is any blame to go around for the troops being pulled out, it surely isn’t only to be given to the CPC.

    • The CPC has governed Canada for five years and has a lock on policy decisions for the next four years.  No foreign policy decision was forced on the Harper government, ever.  It doesn’t matter what any other politician said previously or says now; foreign policy is the responsibility of the governing CPC.  Harper managed to claim credit for good economic management by the LIberals before he was elected, but now you would have him unload responsibility onto others for policies enacted while he governed.  You should get a job as a spokesperson for the Prime Minister. 

      • I think you should brush up on how minority gov’t’s operate. If the opposition, and the majority of Canadians want to push an issue, they can have a vote of non-confidence. If you remember, that was hanging over the CPC the whole 5 years.

        Your ability to forget recent history, or to comment on things you aren’t fully informed on, is cute. The decision on withdrawing the troops was done as a vote in the house.
        It then became binding.

        If the job was open, I wouldn’t take it. I like what I do. (Although I would imagine that it would be fun).

        • The reason why conservatives have been in charge of a minority government is because the liberals and ndp have no back bones. As a result this conservative government have virtually acted as a majority before they actually won majority.

          But to say it is not the fault of harper because the opposition did not stop him is like finding a murderer not guilty because those watching the murder did not stop the crime.

          • Do you think anyone who follows politic would believe that?

            And yes, there was a vote on the Afghanistan pull out.

          • The point is Harper didn’t in essence disagree with the vote, hence it is his responsibility. Are you honestly going to argue that if Harper had thought it a good idea to stay,it would not have happened? Or if he did lose on such a matter of principle he wouldn’t go to the electorate. Man. I thought the guy had principles or something.
            Cons like you want it all ways. When something bad or dumb was adopted by the minority govt, it was because of the opposition; when something good happened it was down to Harper’s policies. You just can’t accept responsibility and all it entails – both the successes and the failures.

  6. Hasn’t the withdrawal from Afghanistan been planned for about five years now? Isn’t the NDP’s only criticism of this policy the fact that it hasn’t been implemented faster and earlier?

    From where I sit, everybody agrees that Canada should get the F out of Afghanistan, I’m not sure of anybody who’s arguing Canada “stay the course” any longer, because there is no longer any course to stay.

    • Potter, Listening To Afghans: 

      Fawzia Koofi says a lot of things that make people in the West uncomfortable. She believes in Sharia law. She doesn’t mind wearing a burqa. But perhaps the greatest discomfort comes from her conviction that the worst thing for Afghanistan, and for the West, would be for the NATO troops to pack up and leave. 

      In this, she is the countervailing force to Malalai Joya, the 33-year old Pashtun woman who was also elected to the Wolesi Jirga in 2005, but who was kicked out two years later for accusing many of her colleagues of being unfit for service in the new Afghan government. Joya is also noted for her strong opposition to the presence of Nato troops in Afghanistan and her belief that their presence is only fueling the insurgency.

  7. The alternative to the Layton-Harper Doctrine seems to be to remain in Afghanistan perpetually with a mission that inflates and deflates to fit any new rationale from catching Osama bin Laden to helping school children to read, building bridges, overthrowing the Taliban, rebuilding the prison system we just built, or just trying not to get shot at while consorting with druglords and torturers. Maybe we could ask Bill Graham what the new mission should be?

    • But hasn’t AP got a point too? What’s worse? Going there in the first place and staying, largely to placate the Americans,[ but with no clear objectives] or pulling out and looking feckless, largely because it’s taking too long to make a difference, and it’s starting to seem pointless anyway?  If we’d only had a clear idea of what our interests were in the first place[ other then being America’s best friend] we might have come to our senses much sooner, or not been sucked in at all. 

  8. haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa poor harper.  still learning this as he goes along!  its ok harper!  the seniors still love you!  i’m a believer harper!  i’m wearing blue now!  its ok bumble this as you go along and pretend you know what your doing!  there’s no winner in diplomacy harper!  either you got it or you don’t!  we’ll see the successes of mad dog biard and your believers as they bumble their way through the international arena of public opinion.  eh harper!  i’m rooting for ya! 

  9. “…but it does provide some sort of guide to how the Harper government will behave in the future. We will gladly help our friends and defend our interests, until such point as it takes too long or the effort becomes too much, relative to what it is worth”
    More evidence that Harper’s basically pushing the cart for the Chretien/Martin liberal govts. When is the last time we had a coherent semi -independant foreign policy we stuck by, were willing to fully commit to?
    In fairness this may just be reflecting the mood of the country. But the really unforgivable part of it all for me has been all the lies, excuses and half truths for why we were there, and why we had to stick it out – it seemed to change almost week to week. 
    In the end everyone’s just human. We really need to learn not to commit to some international  adventure or foray without a clear idea of what our interests and aspirations are going to be. It’s a fact of geo-politcal history that commiting to something and finding reasons for sustaining that commitment once you’re there, rarely seems to end well for everyone involved.

  10. Does Harper’s principled commitment mean Hu jin-tao’s goons in Canada will no longer be permitted to harass the ethnic Chinese Canadian citizens? Does it mean Hu jin-tao’s proxy companies will not be permitted to invest in Canada’s resources? Does it mean Canadian companies will not be permitted to invest in China’s indentured-labour sweatshops?

    Does it mean our trade negotiation teams will meet with China’s with the purpose of telling Hu jin-tao to stuff his repressive political policies ‘where the moon don’t shine.’ ?

    That we don’t support American Monroe doctrines? Beijing Monroe doctrines? Beijing exceptionalism?

    That fiscal conservatism doesn’t permit spending 10’s of billions on cost-overrun jets that will be worthless by 2020?

    That commitment to principles entails an endogenously robust, regulated, economy that can build capital and social wealth for all citizens, and resistant to the whims of globalized revolving doors of money and labour distribution?

    No. Again: