Address by Minister Freeland

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, gave a speech yesterday outlining her vision of Canada’s place in the world and the principles underlining her foreign policy. Below are some excerpts with my comments on them.

Mr Speaker, Here is a question: Is Canada an essential country, at this time in the life of our planet? Most of us here would agree that it is.

Hubris. What does it mean to be an ‘essential country’? Freeland doesn’t say, but I would guess that the idea is that the world cannot do without us. But why is Canada so special? Again Freeland doesn’t say, beyond listing a few examples of how Canadians have contributed to the world. It is arrogance for any people to believe that they are special, let alone ‘essential’, to imagine that others need them, and can’t get along without them. Foreign policy ought to include a sense of humility, a recognition of the limits of one’s own righteousness, and a recognition of the interests of others. That is the way to avoid conflict. Freeland gets off to a bad start.

She continues:

Why do we spend billions on defence, if we are not immediately threatened? For some countries – Israel, Latvia come to mind – the answer is self-evident. Countries that face a clear and immediate existential challenge know they need to spend on military and foreign policy. And they know why.

For a few lucky countries – like Canada and the United States – that feel protected by geography and are good neighbours, the answer is less obvious. Indeed, you could easily imagine a Canadian view that says, we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first.

Here’s why that would be wrong.

First, though no foreign adversary is poised to invade us, we do face clear challenges. Climate change is by definition a shared menace, affecting every single person on this planet. Civil war, poverty, drought and natural disasters anywhere in the world threaten us as well – not least because these catastrophes spawn globally destabilizing mass migrations.

I find this passage rather bizarre, as military power doesn’t help in any way to deal with the threats that Freeland lists. How does spending more on the military contribute to combating climate change, poverty, drought, or natural disasters? It doesn’t. As for mass migrations, the use of Canadian military power has actually helped to make these worse. Canada played a prominent role in the overthrow of Colonel Gaddhafi in Libya, an act which has contributed to the mass migration of people from North Africa into Europe.  Pointing to dangers isn’t a good argument for defence spending unless you can show that defence spending helps reduce these dangers. Freeland fails utterly to do so.

Next, she says:

To rely solely on the US security umbrella would make us a client state. And although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest.

That is why doing our fair share is clearly necessary. … It is by pulling our weight in this partnership … that we, in fact, have weight. … To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power. Force is of course always a last resort. But the principled use of force … is part of our history and must be part of our future.

To have that capacity requires a substantial investment, which this government is committed to making. The Minister of Defence will elaborate fully on that tomorrow. I know he will make Canadians justly proud.

Hang on. Didn’t Freeland just say that Canada isn’t directly threatened? If so, then why do we have to rely on the ‘US security umbrella’? Could we not liberate ourselves from it and remain unthreatened? Why would that make us ‘dependent’? And how does subordinating ourselves, as a very minor military power, to US-dominated institutions save us from becoming a ‘client state’? Might it not in fact have the very opposite effect? Surely the way to avoid becoming a client is to pursue an independent policy and to assert one’s sovereignty.

As for the use of force, it cannot be a ‘last resort’ if it is ‘principled’. These are two different things. The statement that the use of force ‘must be part of our future’ is quite chilling. With this statement, Freeland has thrown the idea of the supreme value of peace firmly out of the window.

Finally, in this segment, I find it odd that Freeland thinks that by announcing increases in defence spending, the Canadian government will make Canadians ‘justly proud’. Spending more on weapons isn’t something to be ‘proud’ of. At best, it is a regrettable necessity, forced upon us by the fallen nature of man’s world, but it certainly isn’t a reason for pride. Liberal interventionism has now moved beyond the realm of supporting war in pursuit of humanitarian aims into the realm of militarism.

Freeland says also:

Canada has a huge interest in an international order based on rules. One in which might is not always right. One in which more powerful countries are constrained in their treatment of smaller ones by standards that are internationally respected, enforced and upheld.

The single most important pillar of this, which emerged following the carnage of the First and Second World Wars, is the sanctity of borders. And that principle, today, is under siege.

That is why the democratic world has united behind Ukraine. The illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory by Russia is the first time since the end of the Second World War that a European power has annexed by force the territory of another European country. This is not something we can accept or ignore.

I fully agree with the first part of this – Canada does have an interest in ‘an international order based on rules’. But if that is what we want, we should start by looking closer to home rather than criticizing far away countries we happen not to like. It is true that the annexation/reunification of Crimea is the first annexation of territory in Europe since WW2, but it certainly isn’t the first time that European borders have been changed by force. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and still occupies half of it. Turkey remains a member of NATO. Canada joined other countries in changing the borders of Serbia by bombing Serbia and then physically occupying Kosovo in 1999. Canada has also participated in the violation of borders in many other ways. I have already mentioned Libya. What is less well known is that some Canadian troops participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These were soldiers who were on exchange posts with the US Army, and whom the Canadian government did not recall. Canada is hardly without guilt when it comes to violating borders.

As for our allies, most notably the Americans and the British, they have probably done much more to undermine ‘an international order based on rules’ and the principle of ‘inviolability of borders’ than our supposed ‘enemies’ ever have. They continue to do so today in Syria.

If it is true that breeches of international order are ‘not something we can accept or ignore’, we ought to start by doing something about ourselves and our allies. Then perhaps we might have some moral standing.

Freeland is on sounder ground when she talks about economic issues:

Another key benefit for Canada from an international system based on rules, is of course free trade. … The second great challenge is an exhaustion in the West of the belief among working people, the middle class, that the globalized system can help them better their lives. … It’s true that the system is flawed. But international trade is the wrong target, Mr Speaker. The real culprit is domestic policy that fails to appreciate that continued growth, and political stability, depend on domestic measures that share the wealth.

I’m on Freeland’s side when it comes to the benefits of trade, though I think the talk of the declining fortunes of the middle class is unjustified. But our government needs to think through what is being said here. If we believe in free trade, and wish to support measures that ‘share the wealth’ not just domestically but also globally, we should be working on eliminating the continued barriers to trade which exist within our own country. Abolition of the system of ‘supply management’ which subsidizes our dairy industry would be a good place to start.

Next, Freeland comments:

Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world, Mr Speaker. No one appointed us the world’s policeman. But is our role to clearly stand for these rights both in Canada and abroad.

… It is our role to set a standard for how states should treat women, gays and lesbians, transgendered people, racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, and Indigenous people.

In short, it is our role to impose our values around the world. What else is the ‘principled use of force’ about? And it would have been better, I think, to have left indigenous peoples out of this list. The Canadian record on this matter is not good. Again, perhaps we should look to rectifying problems at home before setting out to rectify the problems of the rest of the world.

Finally:

I offer the example of my grandfather, John Wilbur Freeland. … My grandpa was the opposite of an Upper Canada elite. But in the darkest day of the Second World War, Wilbur enlisted to serve. Two of his brothers, Carleton and Warren, joined up too. Wilbur and Carleton came home. Warren did not. … They rose to their generation’s great challenge. And so can we.

At least Freeland did not mention grandfather no. 2. But, putting that to one side, the anecdote on which she chose to end her speech is revealing. The analogy she uses to describe the world is WW2. This a frame of good v. evil, one  in which failure to confront ‘evil’ wherever it appears, however far away, is seen as endangering Canada itself. But the world is not such a simple place. Canada and its NATO allies aren’t all ‘good’. Their geopolitical opponents, such as Russia’, aren’t all ‘bad’. Confrontation doesn’t help provide solutions, but often makes things worse. And failure to resist ‘aggression’ in places like Ukraine isn’t actually going to put the lives of Canadians at risk. We often can simply leave things as they are for others to sort out themselves. In fact, as often as not, they will probably sort them out much faster without us than with us.

Overall, this is not an encouraging speech. It lacks humility and self-reflection. In this respect, it is exactly what one would expect from a politician: self-reflection isn’t patriotic; it certainly isn’t a vote winner. But at least we can take consolation in the fact that nothing much is likely to come out of it. To a large degree, it’s  hot air. Canada isn’t going to suddenly become a military, political, or economic superpower. By international standards, Canada is a great place to live. There is an awful lot to be said in its favour. But, whatever Freeland says, we aren’t an ‘essential nation’ at all.

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9 thoughts on “Address by Minister Freeland”

  1. “To rely solely on the US security umbrella would make us a client state. And although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest.”

    You are absolutely right, Mrs. FREI-LAND! Either return back to daddy (UK – pip-pip!) or go to become China’s bitch: You already sell them air:

    “It is by pulling our weight in this partnership … that we, in fact, have weight. … To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power. “

    Canada stronk! Canada can into relevance!

    ” The Minister of Defence will elaborate fully on that tomorrow. I know he will make Canadians justly proud.”

    Canda stronk as moose!

    “The statement that the use of force ‘must be part of our future’ is quite chilling. With this statement, Freeland has thrown the idea of the supreme value of peace firmly out of the window.”

    Oh, yeah?! When Yetis will invade pristine lands of Canada – what you gonna do then? “Negotiate” with hairy bastards?

    “Spending more on weapons isn’t something to be ‘proud’ of. “

    I have one small ugly question. Is Canada 100% self-reliant when it comes to stuffing itself to gills in the “lock’n’loaded” action movie montage OR you have to import quite a few/a lot of military grade items from… elsewhere? So… could this new policy make this country(/ies) MIC “proud” instead?

    “The single most important pillar of this, which emerged following the carnage of the First and Second World Wars, is the sanctity of borders. And that principle, today, is under siege.”

    There was, apparently, a helluva of “respect” for the “sanctity of borders” in 1989-91 re:USSR and former Warsaw pact countries. And re:Yugoslavia in 1990s. Hey, even right now think-tankers and various politicians in the West respect Syrian “sanctity of borders” so much, that propese to partition it!

    As a Russian I have only one question: 5th partition of Poland – when?

    “The illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory by Russia is the first time since the end of the Second World War that a European power has annexed by force the territory of another European country. This is not something we can accept or ignore.”

    You, cocksukers, accepted or ignored the fact of annexation of the GDR by the FRG. Had a few orgasms while it happened, in fact. So, in the immortal words of Sergey Lavrov – “who are you to fucking lecture us?”

    ” It’s true that the system is flawed. But international trade is the wrong target, Mr Speaker. The real culprit is domestic policy that fails to appreciate that continued growth, and political stability, depend on domestic measures that share the wealth.”

    It’s as if the current weather reigning supreme over the largest part of the European Russia (which allowe all of us to feel ourselves as in St.Pere… weather-wise) decided to retort back to the humans with “Сами вы паршивые!”

    “Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world, Mr Speaker. No one appointed us the world’s policeman. “

    Yeah! That’s Murika’s job!

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  2. The illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory by Russia is the first time since the end of the Second World War that a European power has annexed by force the territory of another European country.

    I’ve heard this many times in the last few years. I guess I probably internalized a lot of American PC-liberalism (unfortunately), because every time this ‘concern’ strikes me as utterly racist. Does it mean that Europe is some sort of Holly Land populated (presumably) by superior creatures (the Eloi?), so that annexing territories in this particular region violates Heavenly Harmony? Whereas in the lands of Barbarians (Asia), Savages (Africa), and Cowboys (the Americas) annexation is a perfectly fair game?

    Can someone offer a different, more benign interpretation?

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    1. Firstly there are those who would dispute that Russia illegally annexed Crimea by force from Ukraine. Many if not most Crimeans themselves would say that Ukraine had been holding Crimea by force since the early 1990s, when the region tried to determine its own independent path.

      While it’s true that Russia had 21,000 troops stationed in Crimea in March 2014 during Crimea’s independence referendum, the fact is those soldiers were there legally under the terms of the leasing agreement signed by Ukraine and Russia in 2011 that allowed Russia to station up to 25,000 troops in the region.
      https://www.rt.com/news/russian-troops-crimea-ukraine-816/

      Indeed to say that Russia annexed Crimea by force from Ukraine is to deny that Crimea held an independence referendum (in which the overwhelming majority of voters voted for independence) at all. This came after the incident in which a group of Crimeans, returning home after campaigning against the Maidan Revolution in Kiev, were confronted by neo-Nazi thugs who killed some of their number. The survivors raised the alarm once they got home and the independence referendum was organised quickly.

      The reason that the West generally is sore at Russia reacquiring Crimea and Sevastopol is that both Crimea and Sevastopol are far more valuable to NATO than Ukraine itself. Occupying the peninsula and the city with its naval base would have given the US a base from which to control the Black Sea and nations’ access to it.

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  3. I agree with the vast majority of your comments, Paul. What we have here is an attempt at a platform erudite speech, meant to make herself look good. Yet it falls apart at the seams when you analyse it. It also reeks of the ‘exceptionalism’ which Obama underlined West Point.
    What I do disagree with, is your comment about the dairy sector, however minor this issue. We cannot abolish trade barriers in a vacuum; abolishing these would hand our own dairy sector over for free to our American neighbors – which also get subsidized in Wisconsin and other states.
    Freeland seems to try to whip up a kind of Canada doctrine which runs counter to our spirit. We don’t need a country that dips into the mud of ‘Slava Ukraina!’ – a patriotic cry that is reminiscent of the nazi salutes – we need a country that is treats patriotism as it treats the use of alcohol. It’s wonderful in small doses. It’s dangerous and debilitating when you get soaked.
    Similar to our defense spending. The Russian spending on the Arctic – they spend heavily on their military while the actual use there of their troops and facilities will be to enable trade, scientific research, oil drilling and search & rescue – is a picture of what we should have realized twenty years ago. We could even combine it with a renewed all-out commitment to lifting the indigenous peoples – who live in relative proximity to these Arctic zones – out of poverty. We can define defense spending through search & rescue specialization, a tripled commitment to strengthening the diplomatic corps and negotiation reach across the globe. That, I believe, would be more ‘Canadian’ than the watered-down Americanism that wafts off of Freeland.

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  4. I think you miss the most important fact: Canada survives because it is an extremely decentralized state. The provinces have real powers. In fact, it is recognized that Quebec has, in practice, two “national” governments.

    Freeland does not recognize that what is clearly needed in Ukraine is for the oblasts to have their own powers and privileges. Ukraine needs to work towards a democratic and decentralized government. However, led by the ethnic chauvinism of western Ukraine, it went exactly the opposite way. Hence, the failed state.

    Freeland promotes the opposite of traditional Canadian values in her understanding of eastern Europe, and doesn’t recognize the foundations upon which Canada succeeds.

    Paul Grod has misled the Ukrainian-Canadian community badly for a long time, and the community is rapidly becoming a political dead weight, preferring appeals to ethnic nationalism over accurate historical assessment.

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    1. Currently there is a jubilant mood in the Ukr-Net segment of the Web, ’cause they proclaimed impending Canadian military modernization and the increase of the military spending as their own peremoga. According to such “acclaimed” people like Oleh “Smachna Kava” Ponomar’s (and his fellow cultists among the diaspora) – this is all a very kunnin plan. After modernization, Canada will give – for free! – all of its still kewl weapons to the Ukraine. And Freeland is “their gal” anyway, who’s gonna order such weapon transfer.

      SUGS!

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    2. More likely Chrystia Freeland is not interested in a decentralised federal government in Ukraine, because among other things such a country would have to allow Russian as a co-official language together with Ukraine in eastern Ukraine (Donetsk, Lugansk oblasts especially) and areas like Odessa in other parts of the country. Zakarpattia in western Ukraine bordering Hungary would also have to be allowed to use Hungarian as an official language. The pluralism that a federal Ukraine would have to allow is at odds with the project to impose a particular narrow definition of Ukrainian identity on people right across the nation.

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      1. Yes, I agree. That is my point.

        I also ask that we not pretend that she represents “Canadian values” or is bringing Canadian values to Ukraine, despite spokespersons for the Ukrainian community who regularly claim that to be the case.

        In passing, choosing a failed state over a decentralized one strikes me as rather self-defeating.

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