More Than a Star Turn: Canadian Hybrid Diplomacy and the OAS Mission to Peru

By Cooper, Andrew | International Journal, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

More Than a Star Turn: Canadian Hybrid Diplomacy and the OAS Mission to Peru


Cooper, Andrew, International Journal


THE PRACTICE OF CANADIAN MISSION-ORIENTED diplomacy where and when it is needed has attracted considerable controversy. To its proponents, it is a creative and requisite break from the restrictive practices of traditional Canadian statecraft. The fundamental difference between the 'new' diplomacy practiced by Lloyd Axworthy during his time as foreign minister from January 1996 to October 2000 and the mode of operation associated with Lester Pearson and his contemporaries is in the shift towards transparency and accountability.(f.1) Whereas the leitmotiv of Pearsonianism was quiet, behind the scenes, diplomacy, the model developed in the campaigns to ban anti-personnel landmines and create an International Criminal Court (ICC) had an important public dimension. Instead of being the exclusive preserve of a skilled but self-contained cohort of state officials, the initiatives most closely identified with Axworthy included partnership with civil society generally and with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) more specifically. Driven by the emotion, enthusiasm, and expertise of these groups, accepted methods of working within the multilateral system were modified to facilitate speed of delivery. The attraction of the initiatives was precisely that they reflected not only the flatter, more diffuse, and less disciplined world of the post-cold war era, but also the emerging rules of the game in domestic politics.(f.2)

To the critics, the shift to an initiative orientation is interpreted as a placebo in the practice of Canadian diplomacy. Faced with enormous commitment-capability problems, especially in defence/security related activities, missionary zeal becomes a substitute for the logic of well-crafted, comprehensive, and well-funded engagement. Resources, both human and financial, are diverted from day-to-day imperatives so that heroic but highly episodic and impulsive activity can be sustained. Status-seeking instincts, in both national and personal forms, insinuate themselves into the design. An addictive quality hangs over the whole enterprise. Setbacks do not lead to a rigorous reassessment of the lessons learnt. Hints of success stimulate Nobel peace prize fever.(f.3)

Notwithstanding the vigour with which these arguments are presented, the dichotomy presents a misleading image of the direction, range of choices, and mode of behaviour in Canadian diplomacy. The element of newness in the Axworthy years should not be given short shrift. A greater 'will to intervene'(f.4) was the primary trigger for a number of initiatives that fall under the rubric of Axworthian diplomacy. Sovereignty was no longer defined in absolute terms and no longer provided a hard shell around a state. Rather, that principle was highly contested and became the source of intensive bargaining. Diplomatic 'end-runs' were used as tools of circumvention and 'hurry-up.'(f.5) Process and organizational legitimacy were subordinated to results. Civil society was privileged in terms of agenda-setting, as well as in the delivery process. As Axworthy explicitly argued: 'those of us in government must recognize that civil society has earned a place at the table.'(f.6)

The innovative quality of this 'new' diplomacy, however, should not be exaggerated to the point of distortion. At the core of these initiatives can be found many of the same ingredients of the embedded Canadian diplomatic style. The tenets of Pearsonianism might have been bent, but they were not broken. The shape shifting of the Axworthy factor did not trump the hold of older habits of doing things.

Canadian diplomacy within the Organization of American States (OAS) special mission for Peru provides an excellent case study of the appearance of a hybrid brand of Canadian diplomacy. In a variety of ways, the character of Canadian diplomacy in this instance confirms what is taken to be the standard repertoire of the Axworthy model. Triggered by irregularities, the pull-out of the leading opposition candidate, and fundamental flaws in the presidential elections in Peru in April and May 2000, Axworthy moved to the centre of a high-profile OAS-mandated mission that intervened in this 'crisis of democracy. …

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