BLOGGING FOREIGN POLICY
The new effort by the Department of National Defence to save money via ‘Defence Renewal’ has a variety of aspects that can and should be examined. Saving a billion dollars a year would be significant, representing more than five percent of the budget. However, besides the various hopes and dreams built into this process, there is one piece that is almost stunning in its lack of realism – the part about strategic clarity:
Strategic clarity is the articulation of a clear organizational direction and strategy for success, and the translation of that strategy into specific goals and targets throughout all levels of the organization. It is an essential component of ensuring priorities and resources within an organization are aligned and focussed on delivery a set of commonly shared objectives.
There are two basic problems here: much of this lies outside of DND; and thus far this government has done a lousy job setting priorities. More …
Sure, it would make a great deal of sense for DND to figure out what its future is and then orient itself around that. However, the pattern of the past several years indicates that the strategic direction of the CF and its civilian masters is subject to fairly rapid change at the whims of the folks in the Prime Minister’s Office. As far as I can tell (including conversations in Brussels and Ottawa with people who should know), DND and the CF were not involved in the decision to send 900 troops to Afghanistan for the training mission that is now wrapping up. The announcement earlier this year to send a single plane to help out the French in Mali for a very short bit of time with a series of extensions also seemed to lack any military input – it seems hardly credible that the French would only need a few days of help.
One could argue that there has been much stability in Canadian strategy. There have been no modifications to the key document, the Canadian Defence First Strategy, except for all of the aspects that have been overtaken by events, such as much investment in a northern port, delays in the new vessels for patrolling the Arctic, and the like. Indeed, this document represents a largely unaddressed cleavage between Harper and the military – the latter is still focused on its day job of working within NATO while Harper is apparently not a big fan of the alliance and is most interested in bilateral military efforts.
So, the first problem with the new plan for Strategic Clarity is that it is not clear what Canada’s strategy is these days. The second problem is related to the first – the above definition of Strategic Clarity would seem to require prioritization and difficult choices. Given that the government has continued to try to continue major procurement projects for all three branches of the CF, that it refuses to consider cuts in the number of troops in the CF, and has downplayed the effects of spending cuts on readiness, I would have to say that Harper and his team are lousy at setting priorities. To be sure, the CF isn’t so great at this either, although the Army has shown some interest by asking to cut the Close Combat Vehicle. Otherwise, peace within the unified CF might be best kept by giving everyone the big-ticket items they want. Hard choices, like dealing with the sub mess, continue to be avoided.
Thus, I am skeptical about this Defence Renewal effort. The people writing the documents have the right idea – if you can figure out what Canada’s strategy is and stick to it, then choices about how to shift the money become clearer. Actually shifting the money, making personnel cuts, and the like would still be politically difficult but would be easier to explain and defend.
The problem is that politicians decide strategy, as it should be, which makes it harder to predict. And with this government, clarity is not likely, so setting up a plan based on strategic clarity is very problematic at the least. It is more of a hope than a plan, and the two should not be confused. Perhaps strategic clarity should focus on being clear about how to manage strategic uncertainty.
The annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are under way in Washington. More than a few Canadians are likely rolling their eyes at the thought of another international economic gabfest so close on the heels of September’s G20 summit.
The St. Petersburg G20 summit, whose agenda became dominated by the Syrian crisis, was roundly dismissed as a non-event on the economic front. That wasn’t fair – a lot of good work to bolster the health and resilience of the global economy was accomplished in Russia.
But the quick burial of the St. Petersburg summit in the news cycle set the scene for a cynical response to the convening of the world’s macroeconomic mandarins in Washington. If heads of state couldn’t get anything done in Russia, why should a bunch of finance ministers and central bank governors be any more effective – especially when not 20 countries, but nearly every country in the world, has a seat at the table? More …
Over the weekend, international commentators already began declaring these meetings a failure. Writing in the Financial Times, Mohammed El Erian judged that there was zero chance the IMF-World Bank meetings would produce progress on any of the world’s most pressing economic issues.
In the face of such skepticism, it’s become reflexive for policy makers and committed internationalists to counter that such meetings “matter more than ever.” This isn’t just banal, it’s counterproductive. Raising the rhetorical stakes doesn’t increase political pressure for collective action, it just makes people more blasé if international meetings fail to deliver on their ambitious agendas.
At least four things need to change in our approach to international economic policy making.
First, it’s not about the meetings. Sure, it’s interesting to see the big names of global finance all together. But real change happens in the months of negotiations that lead up to these gatherings, during the dogged discussions that have public servants shuttling between capitals for months on end. At the meetings themselves, the really game-changing conversations are happening in the parallel conferences and that sprout around DC.
Second, we need to set expectations realistically. Not every set of meetings can set a landmark in history. Investors need long lead times and to carefully co-ordinate the signalling of policy changes; it would be a disaster for markets if every time global leaders gathered, they produced a major pivot in policy.
It’s manifestly not the case that each meeting is more important than the last. Nor should it be. It takes time to move economic and financial policy forward. It takes hard analysis to figure out what needs to be done. And democratic legitimacy requires careful deliberations.
We know that when the world really is about to end, and significant change is required, our public officials find ways to work together. The 2008 IMF-World Bank annual meetings took place right after Lehman Brothers’ collapse. They spawned intense collaboration that led to a series of G20 summits in 2008 and 2009 that produced real action to prop up the global economy: co-ordinated stimulus, more firepower for the IMF, aid to developing countries side-swiped by the crisis, and fresh trade credits to keep markets moving.
As financial leaders gather at the IMF and World Bank this week, no one thinks the world economy is on the edge of a precipice (unless the U.S. Congress puts it there). Banking systems have been stabilized. The euro zone’s existential threats have been temporarily tamed. Abenomics is reinvigorating Japan. China’s feared hard landing hasn’t materialized.
Which leads to a third major change in mindset that ought to happen in our approach to international economic policy making: We all need to be much clearer about where the real bottlenecks to progress are – and aren’t. Take, for instance, the issue of fundamental reform of the IMF.
For years, there has been broad agreement that the IMF needs more financial firepower, that emerging economies should be given more prominent representation on the IMF board, and that these countries should have a greater share of voting power in return for contributing more capital. The IMF’s shareholders – that is, nearly all of the world’s major countries – reached a landmark agreement a few years ago to move ahead with these changes. Such cornerstone revisions to the IMF’s Articles of Agreement require endorsement by 85 per cent of the IMF shareholders’ voting power; the United States has just shy of 17 per cent, making its participation essential. The agreement has to be ratified, however, by Congress.
Events this week make it clear that it’s painful for the U.S. to pass its own budget and raise its debt ceiling. It’s nearly impossible to contemplate a scenario where a House of Representatives, held hostage by isolationist Republican representatives, would consider devoting more money to an international institution while simultaneously ceding some of America’s power within it – especially in the case of the IMF, which skeptics hold up as an example of global governance run amok.
In short, the fact that we can’t reform the IMF isn’t a failure of the international system. It’s a result of extreme gerrymandering in U.S. congressional districts.
Finally, we need to recognize successes when they’re achieved. Five years ago the global economy was on the edge of tipping into a repeat of the 1929’s crash and drawn-out recession of the 1930s. International policy makers came together and took innovative and decisive action. Five years later, the global economy may still be on life support, but it’s still alive. In 2008 when we gathered in Washington, no one thought that was a certainty.
It almost seems like an annual ritual for someone to write about a future where Canada and the United States are amalgamated. This time, in an apparently panic-filled book, Dianne Francis argues that the U.S. and Canada should ponder union in the face of the twin Chinese and Russian menaces. I say apparently because I am only familiar with the book via this Foreignpolicy.com interview with her. I do not have the time or patience to read the entire book, as there is plenty of reality-based analysis that I need to read. However, as this piece is getting more play, I thought I would consider some of the problems with this argument, starting with domestic politics and moving to international politics. More …
Francis’s work is a smidge better than the usual fear-mongering about the U.S., as she acknowledges that the Republicans would never let Canada enter the United States. If one were to turn Canadian provinces into U.S. states, it is almost certain that the GOP would have a far harder time getting into the White House, even if it could count on Alberta’s votes to go their way.
However, Francis seems to forget that Canada has its own politics which make any significant political change pretty close to impossible. One hint of this: Canada has tried to skate by the constitutionally complicated possibility of Kate and William having a daughter by agreeing to go along with the British legislation. This practice was of dubious legislative legitimacy, but a serious attempt to reform the Crown and related issues would have required getting the consent of all of the provinces. Given the events of the 1990s, Canadian politicians are understandably averse to opening up the Pandora’s box of constitutional reform. The consensus required to change the rules to accommodate a female taking the throne pales in comparison to that which would be needed for approval to either join or be annexed by the United States.
Even if we leave the Quebec problem aside (and good luck with that), Canada has sufficient problems with its internal markets to make greater unification challenging. Supply management, maple cartels, cultural content restrictions, and a general tolerance of collusion in the marketplace (does the car dealer community in Montreal still prevent new cars from being sold on Saturdays?), all would have to be confronted if union were to occur. Unification would also hurt various sectors of the Canadian economy that enjoy protection, so they wouldn’t be easy to persuade either – just look at the recent effort to keep Verizon out of the Canadian cell phone market.
Ok, so the domestic politics in Canada might make it difficult to respond to the terrifying advancement of China and Russia with unification, but let’s consider the international politics of the future:
“The Russians have thrown down the gauntlet in the Arctic.… And the Chinese have targeted our resources, along with everyone else’s,” Francis told Foreign Policy by phone from Canada. They’re “the wolves at the door,” Francis says; she frames the situation in terms of “prey and predator” in the book. “They’re gaming the system,” she told FP.
Is anyone else having flashbacks to the mid-1980s hysteria about Japan, Inc. taking over the American economy? Just me? There is no doubt that China has been playing a clever game of expanding its reach and trying to guarantee its access to resources. However, plotting China’s future based on its recent trajectory is probably just a wee bit of a mistake. First, it is quite unlikely that China can maintain the pace of growth of the past few decades. Wages will go up, other competitors will emerge, backlashes will occur and so on. Second, and more importantly, China’s political system is facing a lot of pressure, so the time may soon come where it must focus more on improving the conditions of the Chinese public rather than marching on the Northwest Passage. Oh, and that is something that always bothers me about fearing the Chinese in the Arctic—how are they going to get there? Anyone envisioning the Chinese Navy sailing through the Bering Straits needs to cut back on whatever they are drinking.
The other problem China faces in any drive towards global hegemony is quite close—Russia. Yes, they can work together to oppose the U.S. in the short term, but their proximity and their conflicting interests will make any partnership fragile. If they both covet the Arctic, then their rivalry will get in the way, giving Canada and the United States more room to maneuver than Francis suggests.
The piece also gets the Americans wrong: “The United States will continue to go broke buying foreign oil and cheap goods from Asia.” Well, the U.S. may go broke refusing to pay its bills, but if the past few years have indicated anything, it’s that oil is the least of America’s problems. To be sure, writing positively about the U.S. this week is kind of hard to do, given the dysfunction in the capital. However, betting on American decline seems to be foolish as well, as has been proven again and again since the 1970s. The U.S. will not return to its relative supremacy of the early 1990’s, but its Navy will still stand in the way of the Chinese, its Air Force will continue to help guarantee the security of Canadian airspace, and its economy will still be one of the most important ones in the world. Otherwise, who will be buying Chinese stuff and employing Chinese workers?
Just as Francis underestimates the Americans, she underestimates Canada: “Canada is … peripheral to the United States, as Turkey is [to the EU]…” Really? I am sure if you check the trade statistics, Turkey does not play nearly as an important role in most European economies as Canada plays in the U.S., as one of its largest markets and one of the largest importers of American goods. I am pretty sure that Turkey would love to be taken for granted by the Europeans to the extent that Canada is by the U.S., as opposed to being a frequent target of animus, fear and xenophobia.
The funny thing about this piece is that it suggests that unification of the two countries wouldn’t really change all that much. Francis argues that unification would give Americans access to Canadian oil and natural gas. Um, who’s buying that stuff now? If the concern is that China is buying up key parts of the Canadian economy, unification with the U.S. is hardly necessary. Just enact some legislation that would limit China’s ability to buy Canadian companies. It really is not that hard.
According to FP, “It’s time for that to change, [Francis] says, so she’s “starting a conversation.” Maybe so, but if you start with such a fearful view of future, then the conversation is going to turn to the next Hunger Games movie rather than potentially significant policy alternatives. Instead, if you are a mining company fearful of foreign investment (and Francis is a director of a mining company), then you’re better off lobbying for what is realistic rather than dreaming of a distant near-apocalyptic future. Otherwise, rather than getting serious engagement, you will simply face simplistic scorn like this post.
When Stephen Harper made his now familiar pitch on the Keystone XL pipeline to a business audience in New York this week, he said the logic behind building the pipeline was simply overwhelming. It would create about 40,000 jobs in the U.S. and would be in everybody’s interest. The president had assured him that his decision would be based on facts, said Mr. Harper, “And I think the facts are clear”.
But the International Panel on Climate Change laid a different set of facts on the table Friday and they are equally clear. If the greenhouse gas emissions which are largely caused by fossil fuel use are not reduced to zero by mid-century, global temperatures will rise above the limit the politicians themselves agreed was tolerable, according to this group of scientists set up in 1988 to advise governments on policy. Even their best-case scenario included rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and warmer temperatures bringing with them more extreme weather.
So the question is: Which facts do you want to use? More …
As politicians with relatively short-term time horizons, Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama are drawn to the short-term economic impacts of building the pipeline. With both the U.S. and Canadian economies still growing sluggishly, the opportunity to back any job-creating measure is difficult for a politician to ignore. Mr. Obama is under considerable pressure from the Republicans to give his approval (although environmentalists have mounted a strong counter-campaign). Mr. Harper has his Alberta base to consider. And both are being lobbied ceaselessly by the energy, pipeline, and related companies who have the most to gain if the presidential permit is secured.
It’s much harder to get politicians – and the public for that matter – to focus on the longer-term consequences of continuing to use fossil fuels, which is largely what the IPCC report requires. While it documents changes that are already occurring – sea levels are already rising faster than expected, the oceans are warming and becoming more acid, and the last three decades are warmer than any other decade since 1850 – the worst outcomes will occur long after the president and prime minister have exited the political stage.
Public pressure could force them to lift their gaze. But unlike 2007, when the public was seized with the startling findings of the previous IPCC report and politicians were gearing up for what looked like a credible global climate change agreement in Copenhagen, this report seems less novel if more damning and the continuing fallout from global financial crisis has forced politicians to make economic concerns a priority. As well, there is no shortage of well-funded climate change deniers ready, willing, and able to muddy the waters. Unpalatable as they are, those are also facts.
The long-awaited presidential decision on Keystone XL will be a small but telling addition in what is a much broader debate about climate change. Mr. Harper has already nailed his colours to the mast, pushing for more and faster resource development while dragging his feet on a credible climate change plan. Following his lead, companies are investing in projects and infrastructure that will lock Canada into more fossil fuel production for decades to come. This path does not lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Obama’s position is less clear. He has linked Keystone approval to Canada’s climate change performance, an indication he is taking the longer term into consideration. But does he have the ability to follow through? It is foolhardy to guess which way his decision will go. It all depends on which set of facts he intends to use.
If global development targets followed a National Football League format, we would be approaching the two-minute warning. December 31, 2015, marks the final deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the global anti-poverty targets that have mobilized an unprecedented generational success in tackling extreme poverty around the world, most notably the burdens of disease in the poorest countries. We are now facing the final moment to bend the relevant curves of progress. For decision makers, 2013 is the real 2015. More …
It is difficult to overstate how important the final 2015 results will be. As ends unto themselves, the statistics measure outcomes across billions of people. For indicators like hunger, income poverty, and access to drinking water, each percentage point of developing world progress will represent approximately 60 million lives improved. But the deeper effects will take hold over the medium term, when governments and citizens decide how seriously to pursue any subsequent goals through to 2030. In global political terms, success begets success, and the next generation needs to feel an obligation to achieve at least as much as its predecessor.
Some observers believe 2015 should not be an over-inflated deadline amidst the grand sweep of human progress. But the reality is that the 2015 targets bring unique political salience, having been set in 2000 by the then-largest ever gathering of world leaders, at the dawn of a new millennium. Moreover, the statistics will form some of the most scrutinized policy data in history. Limitless commentaries, academic articles, and even PhD dissertations will be written on how, why, and where each thematic goal did or did not boost success. The operative question is not whether the end-2015 data will matter. The real question is how much the data will motivate sustained global co-operation efforts in the future.
Two years might seem too brief to make inroads, but there is still room for huge progress. From 2000 to 2006, Cambodia cut child mortality by a stunning average of nearly 20 percent every two years. Between 2005 and 2007, Malawi pioneered an agricultural support program that doubled national cereal production and helped turn the tide on a history of global policy failures. During 2009 and 2010, more than 230 million anti-malaria bednets were distributed, mostly in Africa, affording unprecedented protection for twice that many people. From 2010 to 2012, life-saving AIDS treatment expanded nearly 50 per cent, remarkably now reaching about 10 million people.
On April 5 of this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called attention to the final 1,000 days of the MDGs and the need for continued momentum. Some organizations like the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations set 1,000-day targets to deliver front-line pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines to 50 countries around the world. The Nigerian Ministry of Health established admirably specific goals for training health workers and expanding access to basic drugs and services en route to eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission.
But many of the world’s major economies, including Canada, still need to set similarly specific commitments. Most notably, the Obama Administration will have been in office for nearly half the MDG era. Representing the world’s largest economy, the United States has now endorsed the goals en route to a long-term vision of eradicating extreme poverty and disease within two decades. But it still needs to set explicit objectives for the end of 2015. The administration, led by its highly talented development chief, Raj Shah, can straightforwardly set targets as intermediate metrics for its second term. Joining the international timetable would bring enormous political mileage across foreign policy priorities.
Although each developed and developing country has its own respective opportunities, some global urgencies stand out, like this fall’s replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. No institution has done more to transform global anti-poverty expectations and outcomes over the past decade. It pressingly needs $15 billion in commitments in order to help save and improve countless millions of lives over the next three years.
The clock hasn’t stopped yet. World leaders are now gathering at UN headquarters in New York to take stock on the final stretch to 2015 and beyond. They need to huddle-up and recognize the pivotal nature of the next several weeks in setting the terms for a generation’s final lap. Their decisions will largely be self-fulfilling. Those who choose to make stretch efforts amidst global complexity will improve their own odds of success. Those who quietly avoid the challenge will meanwhile lower everyone else’s chances.
Ambitious goals don’t simply achieve themselves. They are attained when individuals and organizations take specific and practical steps. This fall, development leaders from government, business, and civil society should not just be advocating for the world’s international development goals. They should recognize they are making their final millennium development decisions.
This post originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.
Every year, we see many but not all of the leaders of the world give a speech at the start of the UN General Assembly session. There are many rituals involved, including blaming the UN for things and asking for reforms. The tweet below reminds us that the UN gets more blame than it should.
Worth remembering Holbrooke quip that blaming UN is like blaming Madison Square Garden for Knicks record: UN only as good as member states
— Jim Goldgeier (@JimGoldgeier) September 24, 2013
However, there is such a thing as home-field advantage. Every stadium has its own quirks and characteristics that tend to favour some players and teams and disfavour others, whether it is the Green Monster in Fenway Park or the cold weather in Chicago, Buffalo, and other northern (well, for the U.S.) cities without domes.
Any institution is not just a building and a set of procedures but an arena where the structure of the institution empowers some actors, weakens others, and leads to some strategies being deployed more often than others. The United Nations is no exception, and we need to keep in mind that the institution itself is not so much an actor as it is a place where various actors compete, and that the UN’s design shapes how those competitions are fought and who wins.
The most important attribute of the UN is that all members are treated as equal except when they are not. Any and every member can have its leader or a representative speak to the UN General Assembly each fall. The president of Burkina Faso has the same opportunity as the president of the United States. The prime minister of Canada has the same chance to address the rest of the world (even if he chooses not to take advantage of it) as the prime minister of Samoa. This formal equality matters a great deal, especially to those countries that are hardly equal in any other way. Of course, just because everyone can speak does not mean that everyone gets equal attention.
The second key attribute is that five members of the Security Council are permanent. The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and the People’s Republic of China do not have to worry, as Canada does, about getting a seat at the table. They also have vetoes, which means that the UN often becomes pretty irrelevant when the permanent members don’t agree. It has been so long since the Cold War that we have almost forgotten that the UN is often a bystander, handicapped by the vetoes of the U.S., Russia and/or China. There will be much talk about Syria at the UN this week and next, but given that Russia and the U.S. are on opposite sides, like the good old days, there is little the UN can do.
The third key attribute is a stunning lack of accountability. In Bosnia, the UN was crashing a car pretty much every day. Why? Many of the drivers had never driven before getting behind the wheel of a UN vehicle, and driving a UN vehicle is like driving a rental car, except doubly so – no one ever washes a rental car (well, except a key character in Breaking Bad), and no one cares about the condition of a vehicle belonging to an international organization because there is little punishment if one does wrong. Indeed, crashing cars is among the least problematic things that UN peacekeepers have done, and abetting human trafficking among the worst. All the UN can do is send someone home.
The fourth key feature is that contributions to any mission are voluntary. So, if there is enough disinterest, the forces in the field will have very little capability, as was the case in Rwanda. Again, as the Holbrooke reference reminds us, this is not the UN’s fault but the fault of its members. Well, mostly. The UN has a bureaucracy that is often especially interested in the protection of the institution. And as Michael Barnett’s Eyewitness to Genocide testifies, that institution did not cover itself in glory in the spring of 1994 either.
So every fall, leaders from around the world come together to celebrate the United Nations and, well, lambaste each other. This year Obama snarked at Putin over American exceptionalism. A few years ago, it was Hugo Chavez essentially calling George W. Bush the devil. So perhaps it is only suitable that I rain a bit on the UN parade this week by pointing out that while it has some noble purposes and has done a great deal of good, the UN as an institution is very much like any sporting arena – the shape of it determines the strategies that are used and favours some players over others. We can laud its intent but we need to keep in mind its limitations.
Too often events in Canada are covered by the media as if they occur in splendid isolation, divorced from what is taking place in the rest of the world. The danger in this is that valuable context is lost, as is the opportunity to debate what lessons should be drawn from elsewhere. And so it has been with the controversial charter of values proposed by the Parti Québécois government in Quebec.
Many have dismissed the idea of declaring Quebec a secular state and prohibiting civil servants from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols as a purely political ploy. It certainly contains a large dollop of opportunism on the part of a government desperate to turn a minority into a majority through whatever means are to hand. More …
But it didn’t spring from nowhere. Even the most cursory look at other western democracies unearths a wealth of examples of governments trying – and often failing – to find a balance between freedom of religion and freedom of expression that is acceptable to divided electorates. The government led by Premier Pauline Marois borrowed liberally from some of them in drafting the Quebec charter. Too few in Canada are scrutinizing where the ideas came from and their likely implications.
France is cited by some commentators and indeed by Ms Marois herself as an inspiration for her government’s proposed charter. In 1905 the separation of church and state that had been developing since the revolution that began in 1789 was made official under French law. But most references to the French approach deal with more recent events: A ban in 2004 on religious symbols in primary and secondary school classrooms; a country-wide ban in 2011 on full facial veils in public; and a secularism charter released earlier this month meant to reinforce and expand the 2004 law to include a prohibition of students raising questions in the name of their religion.
Quebec has taken a narrower approach than France. The charter covers only government employees, although both the premier and Bernard Drainville, the minister charged with seeing the charter through, say they hope the private sector would eventually follow suit.
Inspiration also seems to have also come from Italy, Belgium, and Germany, which are all struggling with religious accommodation. In Italy, which like Quebec has a long, shared history with the Roman Catholic church, the minister of justice decreed in 2007 that crucifixes could be displayed in public buildings because they were a symbol of Italian culture and values. Mr Drainville has made a similar defence for leaving the crucifix on the wall of the legislative chamber.
The Belgium government passed a law in 2011 banning the wearing in public of a burqa (a head-to-toe garment that also covers the face) and while there is no central policy on wearing headscarves, most schools prohibit them and courts have dismissed challenges to the practice on the grounds that it upholds the principles of equality and neutrality in schools.
In Germany, a federation like Canada, the constitutional court ruled in 2003 that teachers could wear headscarves, but that individual states could prohibit them if they so wished. Eight of the 16 lander (akin to provinces) promptly did so. But somewhat confusingly, when the state of Bavaria tried to make it mandatory for schools to display crucifixes in classrooms, the country’s constitutional court ruled that this infringed on freedom of religion and ordered them down.
Britain is currently engulfed in a row over religious symbols sparked by the decision of a college in Birmingham to prohibit students from wearing face veils. A public outcry forced the school to reverse that decision, but not before key politicians weighed in, keeping the debate alive. David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister of Britain’s coalition government, said schools should be allowed to set their own dress code and that he would support a ban on face veils at the schools his children attend. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the idea of a ban made him uneasy. But Jeremy Browne, the home office minister who is also a Liberal Democrat, said the government should consider the idea.
It is hard to draw any firm conclusions from these examples as to what a government truly worried about religious accommodation should do. As Australian academic Anthony Gray noted in an extensive review of international jurisprudence on various religious bans, court decisions indicate that religious freedom is not absolute and can be infringed to further interests such as equality, assimilation, esprits de corps, women’s rights and public safety. However, they also suggest there is a limit to how far a government can go. Decisions have gone against legislators when measures are seen as disproportionate or when alternative and less invasive means are available.
The PQ government has emphasized the first bit, especially the public interest in advancing equality and women’s rights. But its critics both within and without the province have pointed to the second – the disproportionate nature of the measures. It is by no means clear that in a province of 8 million people, the wearing of religious symbols by a small minority poses such significant threat to the majority that freedom of religion should be undermined.
There is one other point made by Mr Gray and by Laura Bennett in her paper for the Library of Parliament on religious symbols in the public sphere that the Quebec government appears to have overlooked. Unlike the European countries from which the PQ have drawn inspiration, Canada has been built by immigrants and has needed to accept difference in order to survive. The same holds true of Australia and the United States, where the issue is also being debated.
Quebec may look to France for support and inspiration, but the political and constitutional climate in the province and the country is firmly North American. The more rigid European approach to religious accommodation, which France exemplifies, is unlikely to work here. Quebec’s leadership should be challenged to defend its veiled references to “inspiring” cases abroad, and the media should provide Canadians with the kind of international analysis this requires.
So now it’s official. After days of frantic diplomatic overtures and in spite of a 20-minute call from President Obama, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff called off next month’s state visit to the United States. New revelations that her personal email and web searches were monitored by the National Security Agency (NSA) were apparently the final straw. Her decision not to dine with the American president was designed to send a message and assuage the country’s wounded pride.
There is no doubt that her public rebuke is playing well in the local Brazilian media. To her credit, President Rousseff has manipulated the embarrassment of the NSA intercepts to her benefit. In nationalizing the narrative, she has shifted attention away from her government’s much-maligned handling of the popular protests that shook Brazil in June and July. Rousseff’s defiant stance may also shore-up her popularity at home after a dramatic decline in recent months. She has an eye firmly on the 2014 elections and her decision to stand up to Obama will satiate her Worker’s Party base, the members of which are hugely critical of the NSA spying scandal.
Even so, her political posturing comes at a cost, and it will do little to reverse the country’s economic slide. The Brazilian economy is floundering at the moment and its business leaders are eager for more American investment and export opportunities. Both Brazil and the U.S. have spent the past several years trying to deepen ties, and more Brazilians are traveling, buying real estate and shopping in the U.S. than ever before. This may partly explain why press statements issued by the President’s office described the visit as “postponed” and likely to “quickly occur” once the dust settles.
Some analysts see her decision to call off the visit as a shrewd political move. After all, there were no likely breakthroughs on the horizon for the two giants. Few analysts anticipated any practical dividends emerging from the bilateral talks, noting instead that the “potential costs were high, and the benefits were limited.” Instead, assuming she wins the election (as is predicted), she can take up the offer to visit Washington D.C. later in 2014 or 2015.
The hullabaloo about her cancelled visit conceals a much more ominous set of developments. The revelations of the full extent of NSA spying on Brazil and Mexico by Guardian journalist (and Rio resident) Glenn Greenwald has set off an explosive chain reaction. He has testified to Congress, highlighting the ways in which the NSA spied on top officials and also the communications of the country’s largest oil company, Petrobas. After dressing down the U.S. ambassador, Brazil demanded that the United States undertake a full investigation. The word from the White House is that they’ll get on top of it, eventually.
The Brazilian authorities are now preparing to take their message of “cyber neutrality” to the United Nations General Assembly this month. President Dilma has pulled together an Internet Steering Committee made up of over 20 representatives. For its part, the Brazilian Congress has debated the so-called neutrality principle in the past, to little avail. But the word on the wire is that Brazil intends to take the debate on Internet privacy to a new level.
Brazil is now flirting with the idea of divorcing itself from the web, since most Internet traffic passes through the United States. A proposal floating around Brasilia is that data be locally stored and that more exchange points be developed, ostensibly to protect citizens against NSA espionage. President Rousseff has also said she intends to lay underwater fiber optic cables directly to Europe to link all South American states and a U.S.-free network. Some have described this as a new form of national privacy sovereignty that threatens to fragment the global network.
It is hard to gauge how seriously Brazil is in its efforts to isolate itself from cyber-interference. There are concerns in some circles that such moves could set off a global backlash, emboldening China and Russia, among others, to balkanize the net. Some analysts contend that a more effective approach would be to strengthen international laws that hold nations accountable for ensuring online privacy, an argument that should resonate with Brazil’s multilateralist instincts. Either way, expect fireworks in the months ahead.
Lockheed Martin must be getting nervous about Ottawa’s decision to entertain alternatives to their F-35 fighter jet. The company has indicated that $10.5 billion of potential work for Canadian companies could disappear if Canada doesn’t buy the plane. Oh my gosh let’s run out and confirm that we want the F-35 right now, or they might kill the hostage!
Or not. Let’s do some simple math: $10.5 billion over 40 years is about $250 million a year. Which is not peanuts, but in defence spending terms, it is not that big of a deal. More …
However, there are clearly heaps of budgetary consequences if the government does choose to buy the F-35. This Lockheed Martin calculation ignores the ‘opportunity costs’ of the purchase – that is, the money that could be spent elsewhere if the F-35 turns out to be more expensive than the alternatives. Indeed, the government could not buy any plane and just spend $250 million a year for the next 40 years on industrial policy, and it might just be better for the Canadian economy.
Of course, the government is going to buy a new fighter plane, since the old ones will eventually be un-flyable. The other planes are costly, but may not be quite as costly as the F-35. More importantly, this “threat” ignores the reality that if Canada does purchase a different plane, its manufacturer will be spending some money on Canadian co-production. Indeed, I am pretty sure that is one of the factors being considered in the decision process, especially with this government suddenly thinking of defence spending as industrial policy.
While some of the competitors may not promise as much investment in Canada’s high tech sector as Lockheed Martin is promising, if they are smart, their bids will respond to Lockheed’s gambit with high tech promises of their own. Given this government’s approach to spending, it would be stupid of them not to, as long as there is a profit to be made in building the next fighter. And given Lockheed’s behaviour, is there any doubt? Of profit, that is. We should have significant skepticism about the promises.
The government, if it actually cares about the Jenkins report, should make it clearer that investing in Canada’s aerospace industry and other high tech areas is a requirement, not just a good idea. Then Lockheed’s threats would be entirely empty. While I am not a huge fan of making defence policy based on what is best for Canadian companies (as it can raise the costs of contracts), in this case it makes sense to level the playing field.
So, this effort at blackmailing reminding Canadians what they might lose by choosing another plane is very lame. I am beginning to understand why so many defence programs have cost over-runs – these guys suck at math and perhaps basic economics.
Larry Summers’s reluctant withdrawal from the beauty contest to become the next Federal Reserve Board chairman doesn’t change the fact that U.S. monetary policy will remain loose for years to come, regardless of who ends up leading the U.S. central bank.
With the American economy far from take-off velocity, the choice between Mr. Summers and current Fed vice-chair Janet Yellen was never a choice between a hawk and a dove; it was always a choice between different degrees of dovishness. More …
The next Fed chair’s discretion will be constrained by the policies of his or her predecessor. The Fed has already bound its hands with the forward guidance it issued in December, 2012. At that time, Fed policy-makers indicated that the federal funds rate would remain near zero so long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 per cent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Fed’s 2-per-cent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored (i.e., consistent with no more than 2-per-cent inflation). They further emphasized that these thresholds are consistent with their earlier guidance that exceptionally low interest rates would be warranted at least through mid-2015. The next Fed chair has little room to move.
Current chairman Ben Bernanke’s successor is unlikely to chafe against this constraint. There is still so much slack in the U.S. economy that the new chair will be unlikely to tighten monetary policy any time soon. Public and private balance sheets will be in debt-reduction mode for years to come, dampening credit extension, investment, employment and growth. The output gap remains wide. Participation in the U.S. labour force just hit its lowest level since 1978. Price increases remain subdued. In this context, there is little for an inflation hawk to attack.
What’s more, the U.S. economy faces continued headwinds on the fiscal front. Federal public spending and employment are being cut even though the economy is still on life support. Congressional wrangling over the budget and the debt ceiling will further inhibit investment, consumption and growth. So long as the fiscal side of U.S. crisis management remains impaired, monetary measures will have to remain heroic.
Given all these challenges, it might seem surprising that Mr. Bernanke has persisted in foreshadowing an imminent tapering of the pace of quantitative easing (QE), the $85-billion (U.S.) of monthly bond purchases that the Fed has used to loosen credit conditions even further than the near-zero federal funds rate managed to achieve. But taper talk isn’t being driven by a few sporadic green shoots of recovery – it’s a response to fears that QE is creating new asset bubbles in housing and equities. The taper is meant to prick these bubbles before they get too far ahead of the recovery. Even if the Fed does taper (but not end) its QE program, its balance sheet will still be expanding. Put differently, the Fed will still be printing money. Monetary policy will be exceptionally accommodative. Tapering is mere trimming around the edges.
The Fed isn’t going to tighten monetary conditions meaningfully any time soon. At its meetings this Tuesday and Wednesday, the bank’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) may indicate a gradual easing of the pace of QE, but it will probably couple this with very dovish language on inflation to prevent a knee-jerk back-up in markets. If the taper gets initiated under Mr. Bernanke, the next Fed chair’s views on QE become less consequential.
Moreover, the Fed chair has only one vote among 12 on the FOMC. Unlike the governor of the Bank of Canada, who exercises sole responsibility on policy setting, the Fed chair has to convince these committee colleagues to follow his or her lead. This is a natural check on sharp turns in policy.
The obsession with President Obama’s choice for Fed chair has drawn attention away from the fact that the FOMC is about to undergo several other changes. Regional Fed presidents Richard Fisher and Charles Plosser – both inflation hawks— as well as Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota will rotate into voting positions on the FOMC. Sarah Bloom Ruskin and Sandra Pianalto have announced that they intend to leave the FOMC; Elizabeth Duke has just left. Ms. Yellen may also quit if she is passed over for the chair’s job. Jerome Powell must be reconfirmed early in 2014, and Daniel Tarullo has already been a governor for four years. It’s anyone’s guess where this will leave the general cant of the FOMC in 2014.
Regardless of how the FOMC gets reconfigured, it’s one thing to talk a hawkish line and quite another to act on it. Mr. Bernanke’s clear forward guidance raised the bar for any change in policy – and that bar is unlikely to be hit by U.S. macroeconomic data any time soon. The future credibility of both the FOMC itself and its new members will hinge on respecting past promises – and that makes them all doves now.