Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Diplomacy Disturbed: NATO, Conservative Morality and the Unfixing of a Middle Power

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Diplomacy Disturbed: NATO, Conservative Morality and the Unfixing of a Middle Power

Article excerpt

Introduction: multilateralism and the Conservative foreign policy

With the Conservative government of Stephen Harper nearing its ninth year in office and about to face the Liberal Party in an election, the Conservatives' foreign and security policy record has become a subject of wide-reaching debate. The main question has been that of continuity and change: have the Conservatives substantially changed Canada's foreign and security policy, or have they continued the broad traditions associated with the countr y's international persona over the past half centur y?

Among the changes attributed to the Conservatives, Canada's relations with multilateral organisations are almost universally pointed to as the most visible area of the Conser vative challenge to the dominant Canadian identity (Paris 2014: 277-8). Canada, James Eayrs (1965) famously quipped, 'grew up allied': relationships with others have been crucial to the formation of the countr y's identity and concepts of its international behaviour. Multilateralism and support for international institutions, first and foremost the UN, have been integral parts of Canadian foreign and defence policy since 1945. The Conservative government, however, has shown little inclination towards institutional multilateralism, preferring to work bilaterally with selected allies. Since taking office in 2006, members of successive Conservative governments have sought to put distance between Canada and the UN. In 2007 and 2012, PM Harper ignored UN General Assembly meetings in favour of bilateral engagements with other leaders and events at ideologically aligned think tanks; in 2011, Foreign Minister John Baird attempted to limit the UN's participation in the Middle East peace process and temporarily suspended Canada's participation in the UN disarmament committee (DFAIT 2011a, 2011b; Goodman 2012; Ottawa Citizen 2007).

The UN, however, had been the Conservative (and before that, Canadian Alliance's) bête noire since the late 1990s, and the Harper governments' attitude to it is not much of a surprise. More unexpected is the current lack of engagement with NATO, an institution which the Conser vatives had initially praised for its role in stopping egregious human rights abuses and for a degree of militar y coherence (Clement 2004; Manning 2005). As of 2014, Canada has almost entirely disengaged from NATO's operations in Afghanistan and has withdrawn from two important NATO programmes fostering allied interoperability: Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS).

Despite these changes, the Canada-NATO relationship under the Conservative government has received limited academic attention as the issue of the UN took centre stage (Smith and Sjolander 2013b). The available literature arrives at diametrically opposed conclusions: some (e.g. Boucher 2013: 60) argue that the Conservatives still harbour a preference for NATO, while others (e.g. Paris 2014: 279) note the government's pull away from the A lliance. We aim to fill this gap by offering: a more detailed analysis of the Conservative attitudes to NATO and their sources; an overview of the evolution of Canada-NATO relations since 2006; and an assessment of the consequences of these developments for Canada's place in the Alliance. Based on 26 interviews conducted in NATO headquarters in 2013 and among Canadian policy-makers in Ottawa in 2011-12, we conclude that the relationship has cooled off significantly, with Canada's Conservative government becoming less committed to the Alliance, more rigid in its demands, less willing to accommodate others, and reportedly enjoying less influence. This is particularly the case when it comes to NATO as an institution: while the Conservative government does show inclination to work with selected allies (particularly the USA) and on selected initiatives, it is less prepared to engage with NATO as a whole and to participate in alliance-wide programmes. …

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