skip to page content skip to site menu skip to section choice menu skip to local section menu skip to instructions menu
DFAIT logo partnership The logo for the by design elab, an independent research development and production think tank specializing in online forums for policy development, incubated in 1997 at the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto
DFAIT Home Site Map Help Policies Partners Feedback Netcast Français
Message from the Minister
Dialogue Paper
Answer Questions
View Answers
Expert Interviews
More Resources
Discussion Forum
Final Report


A Dialogue on Foreign Policy: Report to Canadians

A Dialogue on Foreign Policy: Discussion Paper

What Canadians Said
About this dialogue
Directions for the future
What Canada stands for
Human Security and Human Rights
Relations with the United States
Effective Multilateralism and Governance
Sustainable Development
Coherence and Capacities
The Three Pillars
Ensuring Global Security and the Security of Canadians
Toward a broad vision of Shared Global Security
Capable Armed forces
Peacebuilding, Disarmament, and Conflict Prevention
Multilateral Cooperation and International Law
Promoting the Prosperity of Canadians and Global Prosperity
Global and Regional Opportunities
North American Economic Partnership
A Fairer Global Economy
Effective International Assistance and Development Cooperation
Globalizing Sustainable Development
Projecting Canada's Values and Culture
Sharing our Values and Experience
Promoting our Culture and International Education
Making Canada Better Known to the World
Strengthening Canada's International Voice


I. Ensuring Global Security and the Security of Canadians

Questions the Dialogue Paper asked:

  • In promoting the security of Canadians, where should our priorities lie? Should Canada give a higher priority to military combat operations? To sectors such as intelligence gathering and analysis? Or should we focus on broader security measures, such as combatting environmental degradation and the spread of infectious disease? What should be our distinctive role in promoting global security?
  • How does the military best serve Canada's foreign policy objectives: through national and continental defence; combat missions in support of international coalitions; peacekeeping; all of the above?
  • Should Canada do more to address conditions giving rise to conflict and insecurity beyond our borders? If so, where?

Toward a Broad Vision of Shared Global Security

Our notion of security must be based on the premise that if "the world" is not secure, Canada will not be secure. ... We must not define security narrowly, but must understand it to mean that there are social, economic, military, political and human dimensions.
- Dialogue participant

The Dialogue has taken place during a period of high international tensions, with questions of war and peace very much on the minds of Canadians. Particularly in town hall meetings, passionate differences of view emerged over the merits of Canada's decision not to join the U.S.-led military coalition in the war in Iraq. A clear majority of Dialogue respondents applaud the decision taken, and support Canada's efforts to work through the United Nations. Many people want Canada to play a leading part in ensuring that multilateral institutions, particularly the UN, are fully re-engaged in those post-war tasks of "winning the peace"—though some express reservations that such measures should not legitimize a resort to "preventive" war in the absence of international sanction. Many also want Canada to be more engaged in working to solve longer-term obstacles to regional stability in the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Although our country has not been a direct target of terrorism on the massive scale of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Canadians understand that the threat of terrorism is real and its impact extensive. Given Canada's vast territory, international exposure and reliance on trade flows, concerns about our physical safety and welfare lead some participants to call for increasing Canada's capacity to defend its land, air and sea borders from such external threats, and for cooperating in regional and global efforts to combat terrorism.

At the same time, a majority of Dialogue participants strongly urge making comprehensive human security, pursued through multilateral cooperation, an overarching objective of Canadian foreign policy. In the words of one contributor:

Human security and peace must be defined in much broader terms than the absence of violence and war. Security includes meeting the goals of equality, health, education, employment and democracy. The cornerstone of security is inextricably linked to meeting the social, political and economic needs of people and their environment.

Many people made the point that Canadians cannot expect to be secure within our borders unless more is done to address the conditions of insecurity experienced by so many around the globe. In the words of another participant:

The only way to achieve security is to work with other countries to identify and collaboratively remedy the root causes that give rise to war, terrorism and aggression, namely poverty, ignorance, inequity and injustice.

Participants also highlight the importance of children's and women's rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, and environmental concerns within the broader security agenda.

There is a range of views about how Canada can best promote human security globally through our limited resources. Some want more concentrated efforts in fewer areas; some argue for Canada to expand its capacity with military means when necessary in cases where human security and rights are gravely at risk; and still others call for more resources to be directed toward Canada's human security program and our international agenda through the Human Security Network.

Notwithstanding different views about priorities, the main message is that Canadians broadly support a multifaceted approach to security that works on both domestic and international fronts. Most respondents recognize that Canada needs effective tools such as intelligence gathering and border management in order to protect our population and economic activity. Yet such measures must also be accompanied by more investment in human security beyond our borders. Wanting to remain an open society engaged in an interdependent world, Canadians emphasize outward-looking international peace and security policies that avoid the illusion of seeking safety behind walls.

Capable Armed Forces

Our country is not about war, but we are definitely not about dodging responsibility. The soldiers, sailors and airmen are willing to sacrifice greatly and we must at least provide them with the equipment they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.
- Dialogue participant
Military strength must be credible, modern and combat-capable. It is from this strength that we can provide for international peace: Canada's military must have the professional soldiers trained to fight and win, but only when necessary. When not required for fighting and winning, we must respect the Pearsonian peacekeeping model and stabilize the international peace within a strong UN and alliance framework.
- Dialogue participant

Dialogue participants generally express strong support for Canada's participation in internationally sanctioned peacekeeping missions, and, to a lesser extent, for participation in ongoing stabilization or anti-terrorist operations (as in Afghanistan). Some point out that Canada's long military service in the cause of peace and freedom has not always demanded a UN mandate before sending our forces into action. There are widely shared concerns about the state of Canada's armed forces, which most participants see as an indispensable component of our security at home and abroad, and an important contributor to multilateral peacekeeping efforts. A large majority of respondents support increased resources to ensure that the Canadian forces are adequately equipped for the missions they are asked to undertake.

Most respondents also stress the need for forces that are capable of responding flexibly to a range of assignments. As one contributor observes:

Humanitarian efforts and military operations are not mutually exclusive. For example, responses to humanitarian crises in high-threat environments, such as in failed states, require combat-capable forces as much as aid workers and humanitarian organizations.

Another contributor suggests that:

... it is important to reinvest in the Canadian Forces to ensure that they have the capacity to patrol and protect our borders on their own. This requires conventional military preparedness appropriate to Canada's geographic situation and a realistic assessment of external threats, and carefully managing the delicate relationship with the U.S. in the context of continental and North Atlantic defence arrangements. ... These measures should not be adopted at the expense of continued investment in the equipment and training required to contribute actively to UN peace operations.

Respondents concerned about the militarization of international affairs urge Canada to focus on alternatives to military solutions. Some express concerns as well about Canada's potential involvement in U.S. military plans for the possible weaponization of space; and many urge devoting more effort to further, faster disarmament.

In terms of coordination and guidance for Canada's military, some respondents are concerned that decisions about resources needed for military modernization presuppose a clear statement of the Government's foreign policy priorities related to international peace and security, and to the kinds of missions forces will be expected to undertake. Another concern often expressed is that the defence and international assistance arms of Canadian foreign policy be better integrated when both are engaged in peace-supporting operations in conflict zones.

Peacebuilding, Disarmament, and Conflict Prevention

Canada can play a more active and visible role in the peaceful resolution and transformation of conflicts by focusing more closely on a limited number of specific conflicts and demonstrating the political will and committing the necessary resources to sustain engagement.
- Dialogue participant

Dialogue participants identified various key concerns in this area, noting regional hot spots in the Korean peninsula, Chechnya, the Congo and Colombia, as well as the existence of new kinds of post-Cold War threats arising from the proliferation of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles among hostile regimes or potential terrorist networks. More effective Canadian leadership in peacebuilding and disarmament objectives is urged on issues including small arms, war-affected children, and nuclear non-proliferation. Participants also call on Canada to work on improving collaboration with civil-society groups and multilateral organizations on policy development and in field effectiveness, particularly with respect to post-conflict peace operations where many actors and agencies are typically involved. Policing, justice reform, human rights and governance are mentioned as areas in which Canada has a demonstrated track record and could do more in international peacebuilding efforts.

Amid some disagreement about the use of Canadian military forces in post-conflict peacebuilding, some participants stress that more attention needs to be paid to strategies for the prevention of deadly conflicts. Early warning systems, conflict management and resolution processes, and development assistance addressing sources of conflict are mentioned as meriting more support. There are also appeals to further involve knowledgeable non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in peace and disarmament activities in order to design more effective, coherent and collaborative approaches.

Multilateral Cooperation and International Law

The very nature of our country, and the values we hold dear, demand that our government pursue a foreign policy that provides full support for the preservation and advancement of international law along with increasingly progressive and democratic multilateral institutions.
- Dialogue participant
Supremacy of international law and diplomatic negotiation within multilateral bodies is the key to security, not only for Canada, but for the entire planet.
- Dialogue participant

One of the most consistent themes among Dialogue participants is that despite the problems highlighted by the Iraq crisis, multilateral cooperation based on international law must remain a foundation of Canadian foreign policy. Because many global problems can be addressed only through the cooperative efforts of all nations, participants underscored the importance of an effective UN system to the broader dimensions of global human security.

On the other hand, many participants note the demonstrable weaknesses and failures of the UN Security Council in the arena of collective security, as well as evident flaws in UN bodies dealing with human rights and disarmament (though some note that the UN's member states are more at fault for these failures than the institution). Participants suggest that Canada's deep knowledge of the UN system and our respected multilateral diplomacy could help to repair rifts, re-engage the United States in the UN, and push for institutional changes.

NATO is another multilateral security organization that is attracting considerable critical attention. While some see it as increasingly less relevant, others are concerned about damaging tensions within an alliance important to Canada's multilateral interests. Again, our proximity to the United States, close relations with many like-minded European countries, and diplomatic skills are invoked as reasons for us to take a leading part in discussions about the future role and operations of the alliance. To do this effectively, some argue, Canada must bolster its military and other international capabilities in order to gain credibility among its NATO peers.

Many participants focus more on Canada's role in non-military aspects of collective security. There is strong support for our part in creating the International Criminal Court, and concerns about dealing with continued U.S. opposition to this as well as to other international treaties. Canada is seen to have much to offer in the development of effective international legal norms incorporating cross-cultural values and inclusive processes. Canada is also urged to do more to support the implementation and enforcement of existing international law obligations (particularly those bearing on human rights), both by living up to our own obligations and by taking action to pressure or assist other countries in undertaking human rights and democratic governance reforms. There is wide agreement among participants that multilateral progress in these areas is important to both Canadian and global security in the long term.

  • Previous: What Canadians Said
  • Current: The Three Pillars
  • Next: Promoting the Prosperity of Canadians and Global Prosperity
  • Projecting Canada's Values and Culture