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Foreign policy makers: Suit up?Foreign policy makers: Suit up?

Foreign policy makers: Suit up?

Last November, a "leaked copy" of a briefing paper on the new foreign policy strategy made its way into the media, detailing the already understood shift to closer economic ties "even where political interests or values may not align." The overwhelming message of that document, and of this government, has been the trinitarian invocation of trade, growth, jobs.

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Topics: Fashion, Economics
Foreign policy makers: Suit up? November 28, 2013  |  By Robert Joustra
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This announcement yesterday by Canada's Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, of a new directive, a "culture shift" in Foreign Affairs, is not a surprise: "Take off your tweed jacket, buy a business suit and land us the deal." Called the Global Markets Action Plan, it pivots Canadian foreign policy toward opening markets and making trade deals. But this is neither a new directive, nor a culture shift. It’s business as usual.

Last November, a "leaked copy" of a briefing paper on the new foreign policy strategy made its way into the media, detailing the already understood shift to closer economic ties "even where political interests or values may not align." The overwhelming message of that document, and of this government, has been the trinitarian invocation of trade, growth, jobs. We might "wish for a secret agenda," but the paradigm of this government is neither a secret, nor a shift. Already in 2012, foreign policy pundit Roland Paris said this strategy of economic incrimentalism amounted to little more than retrospective restatement of what the government had already been doing. Critics complain this strategy reduces foreign policy to a series of managerial exercises and business deals; it reduces foreign policy to an economic prism. But that’s not entirely true. It’s not foreign policy that’s reduced to an economic prism, it's politics itself.

Mark Mackinnon for The Globe and Mail argues it wasn't always so. Gone, he laments, are those whistful days when our Prime Minister was turned out on his ear from Beijing for deigning to talk human rights. That was in 2006. Here instead are the days of 2011 when the Prime Minister talked trade, and only trade, and brought home the bacon—or the pandas as the case may be. Mackinnon calls it “Mr. Harper’s Chinese Lesson.” He has harsh words for foreign ministers that talk tough with Iran’s Rouhani on the eve of nuclear negotiation, while cutting ribbons on emerging markets in Saudi Arabia.

Thomas Friedman famously coined the idea of "the golden straightjacket"—that certain policies and sacrifices of economic sovereignty must be made, must restrict our choices, if we wish to grow. Do straightjackets get tighter? This feels more like sacrificing our sovereignty to economics, to the prism of economic diplomacy: "All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector." "Market economy? Yes! Market Society? No!" argued long-time Comment editor Gideon Strauss. Economy in foreign policy? Yes! Economy as foreign policy? No! True human development, even true national interests, need a simultaneous realization of norms; not only free economies, not merely growing markets, but systems of public justice, freedoms of religion or belief, of press, and of association.

"Money must serve, not rule!" [58] said Pope Francis on the eve of Evangelli Gaudium—the Joy of the Gospel. Market society, market foreign policy, yields to pervasive consumerism, to the desolation and anguish born of complacent yet covetous hearts, and of the "feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience." Markets do tremendous good, but they are not the only good; they are in our interest, but not to the exclusion of all other national interests. In the false choice between business suits and tweed jackets, markets and government, choose better masters; choose better dress.

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