Soft Power During Economic Uncertainty

Government is a matter of creating a pyramid of priorities that will influence the drafting of policy.  This pyramid is mounted, one stone at a time, bearing in mind the needs of the population, at the point in time in which policy will be developed and applied.  It is an increasing concern in Canada that policy is becoming less of a “supply and demand” matter, and turning into an ideologically-driven endeavour. Among the clearest examples of what could be considered “social neglect”, one may find Canada’s militarization trend.

As Europe struggles to keep its head above financial water, Canada finds itself surrounded by economic turmoil. In this climate of insecurity, it is definitely ill-timed to start considering changing Canada’s long-standing peacemaking tradition towards a more militarily-oriented foreign policy.

The exercise of soft power as foreign policy entails pushing governments to invest on the executers of such policies: diplomats, and everything directly related with the exercise of their offices.  Imposing a hard power stance, on the other hand, involves similar expenditures, with the added costs that involve military equipment, training, maintenance of military bases, and missions abroad.

The foreign policy path that Canada seems to follow under the Harper government is becoming harder in substance, which inevitably brings with it an influx of costly military procurements.  It is not my intention to argue against investing in the military.  In fact it has been shown that the military can play a central role in a number of situations where the use of conventional civilian forces is deemed insufficient to ease human suffering.  The aid provided by the military during the Richelieu Valley floods of 2011 illustrates this logic. It is nonetheless imperative to make these investments when the state of the economy allows them, and when these investments become necessary for the well-being of the nation.

Given the often publicized state of Canada’s weak economic recovery, and the military’s relatively small role in missions abroad, it is ill-conceived to increase the country’s military spending.  The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that in 2011, Canada’s military expenditure was close to 24.5$CAD billion, a 7.429$CAD billion increase from 2006, the year that the Conservative Party took office.

It seems the alleged trend followed by the Harper government is that of restraint, but one should be able to find coherent uniformity in that restraint.  At a juncture when Canada is signalling its intentions to diversify its trade beyond the confines of the U.S market, it seems puzzling that the government decided to cut 29.1$CAD million off the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.  It also seems confusing to see that the Canadian government is cutting the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) budget by 319.2$ million, while announcing the opening of a new embassy in Burma, a country whose slow democratic transition could have benefited greatly from CIDA funds.

During times of economic uncertainty, hard power is an ill-conceived policy solution, and in the case of Canada, signifies a substantial shift in priorities.  The persuasive nature of soft power not only makes it an effective policy solution that does not carry with it significant military costs, but it also embodies the very heart of Canadianism.

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3 Responses to Soft Power During Economic Uncertainty

  1. davewr2012 says:

    Adan
    I agree with some of your general analysis, but not with all your conclusions. Starting at the end of your blog; my observation of government to government aid in general, and that passed through CIDA in particular; is often not just a waste of money, but is damaging to the very people Canadian taxpayers want to help.

    My observations are based on a number of trips to Africa on business; but they included “goofing off”, and a considerable amount of being in the field where aid was being delivered by CIDA, to the African government, for various projects; and, by private NGOs, perhaps with matching funds from CIDA. If the current government is moving to a policy of using well vetted NGOs to deliver aid, then I’m totally in agreement. Dambisa Moyo’s book; “Dead Aid” precisely mirrors what I have believed since I first went to East Africa in the late 80s.

    As for militarization; I would argue that Canada was more respected by countries that matter when we were militarily capable. By countries that matter, I mean those that have a reasonable level of democracy. And I don’t believe that countries citizens are always in lock step with their politicians. I think that the UN and its “peacekeeping”, has often been a tragic farce, and it’s getting worse. I am a seventh generation Canadian, and our “soft power stance”, despite (l)Liberal propaganda to the contrary, is a relatively recent development.

    Regarding another of your blogs having to do with our stultifying bureaucracy being more of an impediment than a solution to getting done “what needs doing” – (that’s’ a separate issue); I agree completely. Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom did research that demonstrated conclusively, that local management of local undertakings was nearly twice as successful as having professional bureaucrats manage the endeavors.

    • adanesuazo says:

      Dave,

      I appreciate you taking the time to leave such a well thought-of and informed reply. I agree with you that bureaucratization of foreign aid is increasingly becoming the major expense of NGO’s and aid organizations. The article touched upon the issue of moving towards hard power during economic hardships. I do agree with you that Canada’s soft power stance is a recent development, but it is not due to a main policy shift, but due to Canada having full authority over its military only after the early 20th century, hence making any military development relatively new. The article touched upon the priorities of our government. It is worth noting that Canada’s “relatively recent” soft power stance also happens to coincide with a point in our history where our government decided to create and invest on our national social institutions, meaning that there was certainly a shift on how the government decided to spend public money.

      I agree with you completely that the UN, as it stands today, is becoming increasingly unable to address the crises it is meant to help solve. Diplomacy is never easy, yet more work needs to be done to give the UN the mandate it needs to do its work efficiently and expediently.

      • davewr2012 says:

        Adan
        I don’t think we are too many miles apart on the underlying philosophy. But I am concerned that the government’s “creation and investment” in national social programs has – like most things will if unchecked – gone too far. All levels of government are “helping us” too much. I am all for safety nets; I oppose entitlements.

        My background (35 years ago) is that of a Saskatchewan farmer. I felt even then that government programs and bailouts robbed farmers of the incentive to innovate and be self reliant. I knew farmers that did nothing but grow wheat. They took the winter off and curled, or went south. Then they complained when the crop failed or the price dropped. I could never understand how they could work 1000 hours a year, and expect me; (we had livestock and worked year round), to pay taxes for their welfare.

        The growing entitlement attitude, and $600 billion in federal debt, suggests to me that we need to move the pendulum back toward the center. All governments and bureaucracies overreach unless they are prevented by the taxpayers.
        Best regards
        Dave.

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