Written by Lara Isiolaotan, Director, Strategic Policy.

Foreign policy; domestic policy. More often these policies are cleverly developed and aimed at protecting and preventing crimes against the people it serves. In international relations, what is the best strategy to achieve peace, bilateral partnerships, economic growth, immigration and border control, and more? This post seeks to highlight the importance of local politics for sustainable development. 

Practitioners in international development often use programs and policies as tools for intervention. Intervention in itself dates to the time of Ancient Greece, where there was the establishment of State action in the foreign arena, and to this day where member states under the United Nations (UN) pre-existing obligations protect populations at risk of genocide and crimes against humanity.

At the end of 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), set up by the Canadian Government, issued a report entitled The Responsibility to Protect. The report was inspired by a South Sudanese politician and diplomat, Francis Deng, who published “Sovereignty as Responsibility”. He expressed that sovereignty is not just protection from outside interference, but a matter of States having responsibilities for their own population’s welfare, and to help each other when needed. Therefore, the State itself is primarily responsible for the protection of its people. However, a ‘residual responsibility’ also lies with the community of States, which was ‘activated when a particular State is clearly either unwilling or unable to fulfil its responsibility to protect or is itself the actual perpetrator of crimes or atrocities’.

There have been arguments that member States acting under the Responsibility to Protect principle have the opportunity to engage in colonial tendencies of control and power. While other arguments support programmatic opportunities (such as capacity building, early warning etc.) as a means to assist States in meeting their responsibility to protect and prevent crimes and violations towards its affected population. 

As a keen policy professional, one of my many interests include harnessing the full potential of foreign policy while critically exploring the effectiveness of domestic policy. It becomes imperative to examine from a practical, ethical and policy perspective the impact of both domestic and foreign policy intervention. 

Foreign policy has historically been a popular tool used by governments to calm diplomatic pressure, negotiations, wars and genocides. Indeed, it is very important in international relations and there has not been a more cogent reason to get it right such that a mistake in foreign policy intervention can lead to substantial resource loss, including lives lost. At the extreme case, a wrong move in foreign policy strategy can be dangerous and even lead to a country being conquered, looted, or exploited. The unfortunate experiences of Argentina and Venezuela serves as a reminder to how once prosperous societies can be brought low not because of foreign interference, a silly war, or some other foreign policy mishap but largely because of domestic political blunders.

This makes me acutely interested in the Canadian government’s foreign policy. My aim is to also examine the domestic policy of a member State of the UN that the Canadian government seeks to assist under The Responsibility to Protect. The Canadian government tries to portray a reputation of the “helpful fixer” to the global community in its diplomatic affairs with other nations. A closer look at Canada’s foreign policy shows that the last review of its foreign and defence policy was half a century ago by the Pierre Trudeau government: Foreign Policy for Canadians, 1970. This policy, outdated and flawed in a major way, did not position Canada independently from the hold of the United States of America. So, in every sector, from imports to travel to natural resources to mass media, America’s influence was apparent, and often dominant. Canada’s national security and economic interests, as well as the government’s role on the global stage are defined by our ties to America – this limits the government to act independently towards certain nations. More on Canada’s foreign policy and involvement in global affairs, shows disappointingly that the last two attempts (in 2010 and 2020) to secure a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council failed. Member States are watching, so is the Canadian foreign policy reputation waning. Could this be a wake up call for a course of action to correct, restructure and conduct a review of the 1970 Canadian foreign policy?

Meanwhile, some member States that have historically been recipients of foreign policy interventions have long achieved success with its domestic policy on some economic issues. China is home to nearly a fifth of the world’s population and has historically performed below its abilities and suffered at the hands of other powers for the past two centuries. Largely because of domestic disarray and a related failure to keep pace with Europe’s technological advances. After 1949, its power and influence were further limited by ungovernable and destructive policies like the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution”. As late as 1978, China’s per capita income was well under $200 per year (in 2020 dollars); the comparable figure for the United States in 1978 was roughly $10,500. But the country took off after Mao Zedong died and China embraced Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernizations”. Today, its per capita income is 65 times higher (~$10,200) than it was 42 years ago, and it is now the world’s second-most powerful country. Most importantly, these achievements are due primarily to internal reforms within China and the zeal of the Chinese people themselves—and not to any particularly smart foreign-policy agenda.

Finally, with all the innovative schemes, plots, strategies that foreign policy may claim to achieve, the key takeaway is to never discount the effect of domestic policy. Like the saying goes, maybe charity does begin at home afterall.

Leave a Reply