New Rabbits, Old Hats: International Policy and Canada's Foreign Service in an Era of Reduced Diplomatic Resources

Article excerpt

Diplomacy is part art, part science, and is perhaps best understood as a nonviolent approach to the management of international relations.1 In the diplomatic context, results are obtained from the successful pursuit of national interests, the advocacy of policy, and the projection of values globally. In short, diplomats seek to advance or defend their country's political and economic place in the world. That is the purpose, the essence of diplomacy.

In practice, results and resources combine in an intimate dialectic: they represent two sides of the same coin. Resources, when skilfully managed, usually produce results, and results, when recognized in exercises such as the bringing down of national budgets, tend to produce additional resources. Lately, we have found both to be in rather short supply. In fact, we seem caught between a mandate that is constant and an operating environment-characterized increasingly by crosscutting transnational forces and non-state actors-that has changed radically. We have arrived at a moment of disjuncture, and are struggling with variations on a central theme: how best to align structures, doctrines, and techniques with the new rule set?

Foreign ministries almost everywhere have responded in a broadly similar fashion, by working smarter, by reconciling priorities with resources, by identifying clients and establishing standards of service, and by focusing on the core business. Innovation and entrepreneurship, as manifest, for instance, through partnership with civil society and an increasing reliance on the internet and other new media, are becoming more common, even if not yet universally in evidence.2 ;

CAN PRACTITIONERS OF THE WORLD'S SECOND OLDEST PROFESSION LEARN A FEW NEW TRICKS?

In this article, I illustrate some of these trends by looking more closely at Canada's case. In our country, severe budgetary cuts to all international policy institutions-the military, development assistance, and the foreign ministry-in the 19903 forced a fundamental rethink of the kinds of results that might realistically be achieved. At the end of the day, the long-standing centrality of large, global order objectives such as poverty eradication, conflict resolution, non-proliferation, and environmental advocacy gave way to a more short-term, team-centred, project-based approach. This new dispensation was well suited to brief bursts of concentrated energy and provided a tangible focus for such resources as were available.

This was niche diplomacy, and it was extremely cost-effective. The results, rather than being measured in small increments over decades, were palpable and highly media friendly: a treaty to ban landmines; an International Criminal Court; an initiative to control small arms, highlighting the plight of child soldiers/children in conflict; a look at the doctrine of humanitarian intervention (which has recently resurfaced under the auspices of the "responsibility to protect" initiative, or "R2P"). Each project had a clearly defined start and finish, and made the political leadership look good; when maximum gains had been extracted, the minister could simply declare victory and move on.

The foreign minister during this period of renewed international activism, Lloyd Axworthy, connected the dots joining the projects, and in so doing, elevated this approach to the level of an art form. By making a virtue of necessity, he produced the string of results adduced above within an extremely limited resource envelope. Toward the end of his tenure, in a stunning retrofit that produced the appearance of near perfect policy coherence, he tied it all together under the rubric of the human security agenda-but that's another story.3

I should also add as a prefatory note that that we may finally have turned the corner on resources. After years and years of reductions, the February 2005 federal budget contains new money-not a windfall, but a significant investment of $641 million over five years-for additional positions abroad, for public diplomacy, for personnel safety, and for international peace and security support. …