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A Moral Foreign Policy

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Foreign policy has traditionally had the nation's interests as its goal. The problem with with that approach is that it requires someone to define what the interests of the nation are.  The definition is usually complex, and often consists of mutually exclusive goals such as human rights and optimized trade.  What's more, the people making the definition change when governments change. Of course, the role of special interests effects foreign policy further.

There's no need for this sort of fractured focus.  It's short sighted, and often counter productive and embarrassing. This applies not only to Canada, but to any liberal Western democracy. Imagine if we set out on a long car trip and navigated the country the way we navigate foreign affairs - we'd have an expensive and eventful trip, but there's virtually no chance that we'd end up arriving at our destination.  

Rather than continuing to do what we've done we should simply adopt a moral foreign policy.  A respectful, non-presumptious approach based on values that we can be proud of.

Those values are respect for individual rights, freedom of expression, and the exercise of democratic rights. Its really not difficult, despite any criticism that sophisticated foreign policy wonks may advance.

We should support regular elections that give the population the opportunity to change their government.  

We should support respect for minority rights. Tyranny of the majority is the shortcoming of democracy. 

We should support engagement through trade, but it must be transparent. We should encourage companies involved in resource extraction or manufacturing to actively endorse our values.  Examples are clean water development, infrastructure, education and student exchange programs.  Canadian corporations have demonstrated that they are willing to engage in these practices, and they are not prohibitively expensive.

In dealing with other countries and regimes we should separate trade and regime support.  We should support democratic forces, always, regardless of the outcome.  There is no sense in supporting a regime that oppresses its own population on the basis of the regime being "friendly" to us or sympathetic with our goals.  No oppressive regime lasts forever, none outlast Western democracies, and when they founder, as they eventually must do, the oppressed population is unlikely to look kindly on freinds of the oppressor. 

We should not fear the outcome of democratic elections in other countries and should not be concerned with controlling outcomes. History shows that leaders of Western democracies who think they control outcomes are either mistaken or involved in almost cataclysmic wars.  The most we can do in peacetime is influence events.

We should offer friendship to all, but be prepared to defend ourselves when necessary.  If, for example, a country like Egypt or Pakistan votes for a regime that is hostile to us, that is the right of their population.  We cannot force anyone to be our friend. Pretending that we've made friends with a nation by supporting a non-democratic leader has repeatedly been shown to be a delusion. 

The degree of support we give to democratic forces can vary, but we must do more than pay lip service to our values.  Support does not have to equal active intervention, or choosing sides in an internal struggle.  It can be as simple as speaking truth to power.  It can consist of offering safe haven and recognition to exiles. 

There is no alternative to doing the right thing.  There is no need to do the wrong thing for the right reason. Just because the world can be vicious we do not have to be cynical simply because we recognize the existence of evil.  Despite centuries of confusion over this evil has succeeded but not triumphed. Persuasion, education and support for good will pay real dividends long term. 

The world is changing.  Its getting smaller and individuals are gaining more power.  Its time to celebrate people who accomplish good without aggression or deception, and involve more and more of the world's population in this activity.  Its an inescapable fact that the majority of people do not want to rule their brethren.  Oppressors are a minority, and an informed population is their anathema.  

Aside from the feel good aspects of this approach what are the advantages?  Consider recent events.  The politicians of the free world have been unable to respond intelligently to events in Egypt and Libya. Imagine if our leaders could simply refer to the playbook in these instances and say: we support the forces of democracy and expect that they will be respected.  

End of story. No compromising on human rights in order to promote trade.  No compromising on human rights in order to fight terrorists. No compromising on human rights to maintain cheap access to commodities.  

Everything that we need to live prosperous consumer lives can be purchased in the new global economy without sacrificing our values.  Nor are private corporate interests reason enough to sacrifice these core values. If a Canadian company needs the nation, through its government, to turn a blind eye to oppression in order to make a profit, it can get into another line of work, or it can get used to calling the Devil by his name when they do business with him. 


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