Canada has always been one of the leading pillars of global peacekeeping. However, in the past two terms under Stephen Harper, with his emphasis on ‘hard power’, there was an evident deterioration in its multilateral ties. But Justin Trudeau, it seems, is bent on bringing Canada ‘back’. Now, the question is, how?
One of the first decisions taken by Trudeau after taking office was the withdrawal of the Canadian mission against the ISIS, after which Canada will not take part in any military missions unless requested by the United Nations itself.
On top of that, in the previous months, the Trudeau government has welcomed more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, putting itself back on the map of refugee-friendly countries.
The most important development, arguably, is the improved relations with US and Latin America. Well, at least under Obama. In the middle of 2014, Keystone was denied, there was no bilateral relationship whatsoever, there was no Three Amigos meeting, there wasn’t even an agreement on climate, and the Trudeau government has managed to do a complete 180 on that. A major achievement in improving relations with Latin America is lifting the visa requirement for Mexican visitors to Canada, allowing more movement between the two countries.
However, the most distinct shift still remains Canada’s switch back to multilateralism. it has committed $2.65 billion to help developing countries tackle climate change, announced that Canada will lead a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of an effort to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and will commit $450 million and up to 600 troops to as-yet-unspecified UN peacekeeping missions. With its bid for a seat in the UN Security Council in 2020, Trudeau has left no stone unturned in declaring Canada is back in the games, and this time, to win.
Another important step Justin Trudeau has taken has been prioritizing “low politics” and “soft power” in an attempt to realign the country’s actions to its real political, economic and military capabilities. Canada has now refocused its attention on areas of expertise such as human rights, environment, equality promotion, peacekeeping missions and humanitarian aid. Over the next three years, Ottawa will be spending $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance of all sorts, ranging from emergency relief, health and sanitary operations, educational programs and infrastructure schemes. This renewed commitment to humanity underlines Trudeau’s quest to seduce to world rather than to compel it.
Nevertheless, Canada still has a long way to go. Trudeau’s foreign policy can be summed up as a very good start, with room for improvement on the overall communications front. The Trudeau government’s biggest foreign policy failure thus far, several experts agree, was the handling of the $15 billion Saudi arms deal. The contract was made under Harper but, despite many calls for its cancellation, the Trudeau government has presented it as a done deal.
Across the board, Canada’s relationship with the U.S. and China are cited as Trudeau’s major challenge for the near future. Other challenges include Canada’s relationship with Russia, with particular regards to our territory in the Arctic, while taking a hard-line against its annexation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine. In the Middle East, Canada should focus on leading efforts to help neighbouring countries and displaced people. It remains to be seen whether Trudeau will follow in the vein of Harper’s staunch support of Israel. On climate change, Trudeau will have to juggle international commitments with domestic political and economic concerns.
To conclude, everything till date indicates that rather than following a megaphone diplomacy approach like his predecessor did, Trudeau’s government would be following a more proactive and compassionate foreign policy, one without any display of ‘hard power’. To a certain extent, the new approach will adopt a more constructive role in global affairs, and present Canada, once again, as the pragmatic yet sensitive middle power, like it was for many years.
Ultimately, as he asserted in his inaugural speech, these changes mean that Canada is back. Back to being a progressive player in the global arena, back as a pacifist and a moderator, and back as a nation welcoming the world.