Why Canada Can Lead in a Changing World
The current shift in power is not only between nation states, but from nation states to non-state actors — such as the environmental movement, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, foundations. The Red Cross/Red Crescent employ more than 300,000 people.
Photograph by: Peter J. Thompson , National Post
Power among nations is shifting dramatically. Goldman Sachs has projected that, by 2050, the seven largest economies in the world will include only one western nation — the United States, which will rank second in economic power, well behind China. Next in order would be India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia. Canada would rank 16th, a little behind Vietnam, a little ahead of the Philippines.
That trajectory is not about anyone’s decline, but rather about the rise and assertion of new strengths. The shift is not just economic, but also political, military, diplomatic — and, most significant, it is cultural — what languages, which values, what sense of community will characterize the future?
Consider two dimensions of these changes.
First, where does conflict come from in the modern world? Not much now from ideology, as in the Cold War, and not simply from poverty and inequality but instead, so often, from culture and identity and faith.
How might we respond? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate clearly that these conflicts cannot be resolved by mere military power, or simply by “the magic of the market.”
Many of these deadly, growing conflicts are rooted in the fear that vital values or identities are under siege. Such fears are as old as humankind, but they are more easily inflamed in an age when information travels so fast and so far, challenging sacred assumptions, creating new aspirations, stimulating anger or envy or extremism.
The critical talents, in such a world, are the ability to respect and bridge conflicting identities — and different values — and patiently seek enough common ground to build trust and respect and, then, collaboration. No country in the world is better at that than Canada. And our capacity increases as our population diversifies, making us more like the world. So the habit of common purpose — the sense of with whom we might empathize or co-operate — is larger than it was before. That is a significant asset.
The second change is that the shift in power is not only between nation states, but from nation states to non-state actors — such as the environmental movement, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, foundations. And organized crime, and terrorists.
Today, Greenpeace has more influence on public policy than most national governments. The Gates Foundation is more innovative. The Red Cross/Red Crescent employ more than 300,000 people. Of the world’s 10 biggest multinational companies in 2011, ranked by “Fortune global 500,” only five — Wal-Mart, three Chinese state companies and Toyota Motors — employ more people internationally than Red Cross/Red Crescent. And that is just the beginning of the non-state list. World Vision is in 97 countries, with more than 40,000 staff, and more than 100,000 volunteers. The NGO “BRAC,” rooted in Bangladesh, is the largest non-governmental organization in the world. Amnesty International has offices in 80 countries — more national offices than most countries have embassies.
These groups have more than numbers and reach. They are innovators — on the ground, able to act directly, not bound by a formal protocol which a state may have signed, or an informal protocol requiring the approval of some official thousands of miles away. They invent new instruments — look at micro-credit. They build personal trust, which is the basis of creative partnerships. They are not hog-tied by a veto in the Security Council.
But what they don’t have is the authority to change the rules. Non-state organizations often have the imagination the world needs. But only states have the mandate and the power to change laws and regulations and obligations.
We need to marry mandate and imagination. Again, Canada is one of a handful of countries which, in the past, has been able, willing and trusted enough to establish strong purpose-specific partnerships with non-state organizations — witness the international treaty to ban landmines, the campaign against Apartheid, the agreement on blood diamonds, and several other initiatives pursued by Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments of Canada.
Of course, these capacities to manage diversity and build partnerships are not a whole foreign policy. We have vital economic and trade and environmental and security interests to pursue. But these are all in jeopardy if conflict thrives. Our skill at building partnerships and respect could be a distinguishing Canadian credential. They speak to the most challenging issues of the future. And they are capacities where we are not 16th in the world. Our place is among the leaders.
Ironically, governments and publics pay more attention now to the world’s “new threats” than to the world’s “new solutions.” The disproportion is enormous between the money and attention which western governments spend on defence and “homeland” security, compared to their investment in the growing capacity to achieve co-operation, understanding and tangible improvements in the conditions which give rise to violence and crime and terrorism.
Canada’s foreign policy has never been static. It always evolves — from Robert Borden’s steady assertion of sovereignty, to Lester Pearson’s creation of peacekeeping, to the trade initiatives of the 1980s.
So being innovative is nothing new for Canada.