Affirming Canadian Sovereignty in an Interdependent World

By Graham, Bill | Behind the Headlines, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

Affirming Canadian Sovereignty in an Interdependent World


Graham, Bill, Behind the Headlines


INTRODUCTION

I must admit that I am somewhat nervous appearing before the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, comprising as it does so many people both experienced and expert in the area of foreign affairs, to talk about a subject so seemingly esoteric and theoretical as `sovereignty.' Two things, however, encouraged me to take the risk of speaking to you today of Canadian sovereignty in an interdependent world.

The first occurred the other night in Ottawa when I was browsing through a recently published set of interviews with Noam Chomsky. In it I came across a passage in which someone challenged Chomsky over his credibility as an authoritative speaker, across the United States, about foreign affairs, a subject in which he had no recognized scholarly expertise. His answer was that there was nothing about foreign affairs that a reasonably intelligent fifteen-year-old could not grasp with some diligence and work, and that he was as expert as anyone. This analysis may have something to say about how I came to be foreign affairs minister and why I am here today to talk about sovereignty, our sovereignty.

The second is a realization that I have come to appreciate ever more acutely since I have had the good fortune to occupy this post: that defining what we mean by `sovereignty' and clearly articulating how we intend to affirm and promote it are more important to Canadians than ever. Important because in today's increasingly interdependent world it determines the choices that are available to us when we are making decisions about the way of life we wish to develop here in our own country, and, equally important, it shapes the way we participate in the global community of which we are such an integral part.

I say `equally important' because a phenomenon that is sometimes labelled `interconnectedness' is gradually blurring the distinction that governments and legislators have traditionally made between domestic and foreign policy. The choices that we make about Canadian foreign policy, then, most particularly in the domain of economic policy, but also in other important areas, will ultimately circumscribe the realm of choice that Canadians can exercise in creating their own national society.

In exploring with you how we should approach the notion of sovereignty today, I would like to consider a number of propositions. In the first place, the exercise of real sovereignty to me means promoting an ability to make choices and to act on them. And when it has come to making choices, Canadians have historically been open to sharing both responsibilities and opportunities with the world. Our foreign policy heritage shows that our economic prosperity and physical security result in large measure from a willingness to pool our sovereignty, that is, to pursue our interests by engaging the world, often by developing to our advantage the tools of multilateralism.

AFFIRMING AND SHARING SOVEREIGNTY IN THE CANADIAN INTEREST

Fundamentally, then, Canadian foreign policy is all about sovereignty--sovereignty as a functional principle of international relations, and beyond that, as the recognition of the equal worth and dignity of all peoples and an affirmation of their right freely to shape and determine their own destiny.

Sovereignty is neither unitary nor absolute. There are different types of sovereignty, ranging from the Westphalian norm of non-interference in domestic sovereignty to international legal recognition and the ability to regulate interdependence.

It is worth noting that state sovereignty has throughout history always been shared and pooled in many different ways and that, ultimately, its purpose is to define a people and to protect their interests, even when sovereignty is shared with others. What is frequently misconstrued by observers as the erosion of sovereignty may in fact contribute to its promotion and enhancement through properly calculated decisions. …

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