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Taking Up the Torch

Taking Up the Torch

Canada’s Eight Global Leadership Opportunities
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Is the liberal rules-based order dying? Newspapers around the world are running stories that the post-World War II ‘liberal rules-based international order’ is fraying and liberal internationalism is in crisis.

One proof of this crisis is the renunciation of leadership by the United States, paradoxically the chief architect of the order, and until now, its willing leader. For the first time since World War II, the ‘liberal rules-based order’ is without a clear leader. But does that necessarily mean the end?

Emerging powers in the Global South, and emerging superpowers like China see value in the liberal order. Indigenous populations and civil society organizations around the world are newly invested in a more equitable order. On the other hand, Non-State Actors like powerful transnational Technology Companies are unaccounted and influential players in the order. The United States may wish to retreat, but the liberal order is prepared to continue and demands leadership, if not new or renegotiated norms. Both the evolving forces acting upon the order and the leadership vacuum provide a unique and strategic for Canada to take up a dedicated leadership role.

Canada is up to this challenge. Though a middle power, Canada has honed its diplomacy skills, and succeeded in strategically working multilaterally instead of unilaterally, and attracting the respect of other Nations. At major international milestones, Canada was an active participant with a seat at the table – recently Canada led international efforts for the (criticized) Responsibility to Protect doctrine, creation of the International Criminal Court, was a lead campaigner to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and is a founding member of the United Nations. In February 2019, Canada responded to the governance crisis in Venezuela by hosting a meeting in Ottawa of the Lima Group, consisting of 11 States in the Americas excluding the United States, to discuss the power struggle between sitting President Nicolas Maduro and self-declared interim President Juan Guaido. This move demonstrates Canada’s confidence and willingness to engage in diplomacy with regional groups, and the potenteial for influence. It also highlights Canada’s divergent position from the United States; although both countries support Guaido the United States has suggested military force may be required, and Canada has flatly rejected this suggestion favouring instead free and fair elections. Given the economic and security interdependence of Canada with the United States, it is a bold move and consistent with historically independent and divergent decisions, such as Prime Minister Chretien’s refusal to send Canadian troops to assist the US invasion of Iraq in 2004. However, to take up a leadership role that picks up where the United States has left off, even if multilaterally, would be to squander Canada’s opportunity.

The torch for Canada to take up is a new torch. Going forward, a ‘rules-based liberal order’ must operate fairly and equitably towards all Nation States, rather than being a legitimating vehicle for the hegemonic interests of Big Powers. No longer can we afford to participate in, or perpetuate the myths of the ‘liberal rules-based international order ,’ that has preferenced the interests of certain countries in the North over the rest of the world.

Increasing injustices will demand effective solutions, and not only reaction. Canada must proactively deal with new polities introduced by cyberspace and the role of powerful, transnational, non-State actors as well as illiberal States. But Canada can do none of these things without unflinchingly identifying and addressing the ills at home, starting with rights and reparations towards its Indigenous Peoples, ending discrimination and racial profiling, poverty and inequality, security exceptionalism, and navigating its interdependent relationship with the United States while staking out conflicting grounds to achieve full equality and protection of human beings.

Making America Isolationist Again

In 2016, Donald Trump won the United States presidency on a campaign platform of isolationist nationalism, xenophobia, racism, disdain for multilateralism, and rejection of scientific consensus of climate change. He praised ‘torture’ as an effective counter-terror strategy. He ridiculed the ongoing American support of NATO, claiming fairly that allied members didn’t carry their weight, but threatening American withdrawal from an organization rooted in American interests. He belittled institutions of the ‘liberal rules-based international order’ of which the US was chief architect and enforcer. He ridiculed global trade agreements previously negotiated and aggressively promoted by the United States. He riled up his supporters against ‘rapist’ Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants and refugees, and Hillary Clinton. Anti-black racism, homophobia, and misogyny stepped back into common parlance. For his running-mate, he chose Mike Pence, an extremely right-wing conservative politician with a history of anti-gay views, and a crusade to overturn Roe v. Wade, re-establishing legislative controls and vetoes over women’s reproductive rights, bodies, and agency. Donald Trump sold his base a narrative that the United States was being taken for a sucker by its allies and enemies, claiming America had made disastrous trade deals destroying industry and jobs in the American heartland, and spending billions fighting wars in faraway places Americans didn’t care about. He roused fervent support for the notion that America needed to be willing to let the rest of the world blow itself up if it wanted to while he, and only he, knew how to ‘make America Great Again’. He convinced his supporters that although he was an East Coast self-professed billionaire making him part of the 1%, that he was actually one of them, committing to curbing the elite, and using his business acumen to “drain the swamp” in Washington D.C. Two years into his presidency, Donald Trump has taken significant steps to make good on all but one promise – draining the swamp – and has very clearly demarcated an American renunciation of its ‘leadership of the free world’, ostensibly held together by the post-World War II liberal international order.

In response to the positions of the United States under the Trump Administration, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland gave a speech printed in July 2018 in the Globe and Mail and Foreign Policy, entreating the United States to remember the genesis of the order and the critical role of the US in creating that order as a response to the atrocities of Nazism and Fascism seen in World War II, and as a bulwark against future tyranny, ideological threats and aggression:

We remember a time when the U.S. believed great international projects like the Marshall Plan or the reconstruction of Japan were the path to lasting peace. When America believed that its security and prosperity were bolstered by the prosperity of other nations. Indeed, that America could only be safe and prosperous when its allies were too. This vision, the greatest generation’s vision, was crucially dependent on the rules-based international order and the postwar institutions built to maintain it…

(A)llow me to make the case that America’s security …lies in doubling down on a renewed rules-based international order. It lies in working alongside traditional allies like Canada and alongside all the younger democracies around the world.

She laid down a gauntlet, stating that even if the United States went its own way, Canada would “rise up to the challenge”. But the United States is not the only threat to the liberal rules-based international order, even as Donald Trump’s presidency is more symptom than cause of American disenchantment.

Inherent Flaws, Authoritarian Trends, Shifting Values

Integrated markets and friendly borders are also a devaluing priority. The Brexit vote was a rejection by British voters not only of membership in the European Union, but also a broader rejection of the key principles of economic globalization, such as open and integrated markets and the free flow of goods and peoples across open borders, in a regional context. In hindsight, the Brexit vote is also a repudiation of a perceived bureaucratic operation, headquartered in Brussels with courts in Strasbourg, imposing its ‘outside’ laws, policies, and judicial rulings upon the people and government of the United Kingdom; in turn this was perceived to threaten British sovereignty, culture, and economy. Such positions did not give quarter to any measured consideration of actual and potential benefits of EU membership. The rampant disinformation surrounding the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, such as advertisements on the sides of busses falsely claiming that the United Kingdom siphoned moneys to the EU that could instead be used to fully fund the National Health System in Britain, is emblematic of the perils of ‘false facts’ and ‘fake news’.

The belief that a distant, disconnected authority is imposing harmful decisions on you is one definition of populism. This belief also shares a common refrain with the narrative popularly used to explain Donald Trump’s success with American voters. According to this narrative the disaffected white voter who is the salt- of-the-earth-American, has been overlooked by generations of reforms, bypassed by “globalization’s promised prosperity,’ and whose interests have been sacrificed in favor of the interests of minorities, immigrants, and ‘illegals’. Such views brook no quarter for empathy, for compassion, or respect for the inherent dignity of the other. These views indicate a disconnect between State and citizens in transparency, communication and democratic debate and principles of accountability, all of which are necessary for healthy democracies.


Additionally, the inherent promise in the formula of the ‘liberal rules-based international order’ has failed. No longer is it convincing that economic prosperity cannot exist without democracy and multilateralism. The rising economies of China, Ethiopia, and Vietnam are each proof that non-democratic countries can create and enjoy phenomenal economic growth and advancement.

Social Media, Digital Communications, and Real-world Connectivity

The divisiveness in the United States today is amplified by new technologies, social media, and digital communications, that allow a proliferation of ‘fake news’ and deliberate disinformation. Social media technologies can connect people but there is also the real danger that they encourage and enable individuals and groups to exist in silos, insulated from pluralistic views, and instead circulating and recirculating information in the form of articles, blogs, memes, and theories supporting one narrative. These siloes also obstruct populations from developing and enjoying a common, shared core of facts or values. The very idea of trying to understand the viewpoint of ‘the other side’ is anathema.

Another serious and dangerous byproduct of siloes is that they are easy targets for bad actors, be they domestic or foreign. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and concerns of Russian interference in the 2016 US federal elections are but one example among many. Last year it was widely reported that in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Facebook and other social media apps were used by hate groups to spread deliberately false and provocative information that succeeding in inciting violence against ethnic minorities.

Security Exceptionalism

Democratic principles have also suffered in the post 9/11 era with a proliferation of counter-terrorism laws, prescribed by the UN Security Council, and implemented domestically by States. These laws have normalized exceptions to international human rights and constitutional norms such as due process and fair trial in the name of security. Counter-terrorism it seems is one sphere in which multilateralism is thriving and being led by the United States.

If the liberal rules-based international order is in crisis, what is the cause, and how should Canada respond? Understanding the cause is important as it may prescribe remedial measures. It may also unveil inherent flaws in the post-WWII liberal order, harmful and unsustainable, which ouroborus-like led to the current crisis.

The issue of Canada’s response and what that should look like is the issue at the heart of this book.


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America the Fair

America the Fair

Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation
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