Military sacrifice and economic contribution during the Second World War earned Canada a previously unknown position of (relative) prominence in international affairs. Canadian resources might have been limited, but the country had the desire and capacity to contribute.
Post-war Canada knew where it stood in a two-power world; we were a strong western ally, and the Soviets were our enemy. Clear thinking about what Canada might do to help ease Cold War tensions and stem the spread of communism served Canada and the western world well. Efforts like the establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force in response to the 1956 Suez Crisis reflected Canada’s clear assessment of what we stood for and how we might contribute.
Today, there is a similar need for strategic thinking about what Canada stands for and how we fit into the international order. In the decade since 9/11, the threats of terrorism and conflict in Afghanistan have reminded Canadians that we stand for something – namely, western democratic values. Interestingly, by carrying our share of the burden of international leadership, Canada has contributed to international security and stability, and has strengthened, reaffirmed, and reignited our own sense of purpose.
In the post-9/11 era, however, increasing Canadian self-confidence coexists with global economic uncertainty, as well as a more complex and uncertain international order. Nevertheless, the government’s foreign policy does reflect some good thinking about areas on which Canada should focus attention and efforts. For instance:
1. The Arctic: The region is clearly of strategic importance to Canada. Not only does the North provide enormous economic opportunity, but it is also a very important part of the Canadian identity.
2. Energy: By virtue of natural endowments (hydro, uranium, oil, and gas), Canada is an energy superpower. There is no doubt that energy development, infrastructure, market access, and environmental challenges will colour our relations with the United States and Asia for the foreseeable future.
On each of these fronts, the current government has staked out a rather robust agenda. Canada will need to identify and seize more opportunities of this type if we are to be a principled leader, and one that is effective on the international stage.