The following is the rough text of my opening remarks:
Thank you for the invitation to be here and thank you also for your service to Canadians.
Standing for election is a noble act, and I salute your courage, your resilience, and your commitment to our country.
You’ve asked me to speak about Canada’s diplomatic capacity. Do we, as a country, have the personnel and supports in place to promote and defend our national interests at home and around the world?
The objective answer to part of this question can be found in statistics that I will leave to folks at Global Affairs Canada to provide.
I will instead reflect on two more subjective capacity issues that I hope you will take into consideration during your deliberations: national ambition on the world stage and the value of diplomatic agility.
The very question of whether Global Affairs Canada has the capacity to “demonstrate leadership within key multilateral organizations” suggests a level of foreign policy ambition that is not necessarily derived from the national interest.
Canada makes up just under 0.5% of the world’s population, and we rely on international trade to grow our economy.
We do not have the capacity – be that in terms of population, independent economic power, or military might – to impose our will on others, and efforts to do so often risk undermining the relationships we must cultivate to maximize our security and prosperity.
We must defend and seek to preserve as much of the current international order as we can while keeping in mind that foreign policy is not an exercise in making Canadians feel good about themselves.
Rather than leading internationally, it is often in our interest to allow others the spotlight instead.
Such a pragmatic approach to defending the national interest requires seasoned, well-educated, multilingual diplomats willing to do the grunt work that keeps the global order functioning.
We must take on the positions in international organizations that no one else wants, participate actively in the meetings that no one enjoys, pay our dues on time and in full no matter who else does, and ensure that states friendly to us remain committed to multilateral solutions to global challenges.
For this, I am confident that the capacity exists. I worry more that it is sometimes diverted to unnecessary efforts to lead.
Similarly, I am less concerned with Canada’s capacity to “plan ahead for future geopolitical shifts, crises, and opportunities” than I am with the ability of our foreign service officials to pivot in response to global disruptions outside of our control.
No amount of planning will prevent more powerful external forces from shaping and reshaping the international environment in which we must operate.
Better then, that we privilege adaptability, flexibility, and relationship-building and that we do so modestly, and with humility.
In sum, let’s focus on the capacity to do the little things right rather than trying too hard to be great.
If you are interested in what I think is just about the best piece of communication made available by any member of the Canadian Armed Forces in as long as I can remember, take a look at this video by the Commander of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee.
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