21 November 2007

Canada's foreign policy: guns over butter?

In a recent address at York University entitled "Restoring a Broadly-based Canadian Foreign Policy," Joe Clark (that's the decent, modest man who was dumped for Brian Mulroney) nicely summarized a sensible approach for Canada to take with its foreign affairs.

Included in his remarks were some numbers that bear repeating. He pointed out that National Defence now accounts for 8.7 per cent of federal program spending, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for 1.64 per cent and Foreign Affairs and International Trade for 1.62 per cent. In other words we are spending over 2 1/2 times as much on the military as we are on foreign aid and diplomacy combined. And it's getting worse. In the next budget year, defence spending will increase substantially while CIDA's and Foreign Affairs' will both drop.

What a shabby set of priorities: the military over aid and diplomacy, guns over butter. As Joe Clark observed, "For 60 years, under Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments, we Canadians played above our weight in international affairs ... From the invention of peace-keeping, through the fight against apartheid, to the land mines treaty, we have a long, proud, bipartisan history of international initiative." And now that long, proud history is threatened, in so small part because Prime Ministers Martin and Harper have both allowed their Chief of Defence, Rick Hillier, excessive influence in setting military policy. Hillier is, after all, a soldier, and soldiers are in the business of killing people, not talking to them.

This shift in priorities seems to have taken place without public debate. Do Canadians really believe we can do more good in the world with muscle than with diplomacy or aid? Joe Clark insists, "We are quiet in the multilateral forums that we once animated ... We have become invisible on an international stage where Canada had been a consistent and constructive presence for more than half a century." Are Canadians content with subordinating our
"consistent and constructive presence" to military adventurism? Or would we rather leave that approach, with its Vietnams and Iraqs, to the Americans?

I suspect so. In any case,
the issue deserves a thorough public airing. And that it hasn't had.

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