National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

The G7 in France, now concluded, held little in the way of significance. There was the odd surprise (Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s drop-in visit) and Justin Trudeau’s pledge of over half the group’s combined total to fight the Amazon forest fires, but ultimately the summit was about containing any damage instilled by the American president.

Prominent personalities aside, everyone present understood that the stakes of a possible recession and the coming onslaught of climate change were the ultimate influencers at the numerous sessions. With key nations now more separated than at any time in recent memory, many commentators wondered if G7 actually had the resources required to lead the world back to a more stable place.

They are right to worry. There is the growing sense that international diplomacy might be an endangered species all its own. Until recently, carefully calibrated relations between nations was a constant back and forth, with a few little gains here, a few losses there, with the ultimate goal of maintaining an equilibrium that kept the world from falling into global conflict once more. The outlook produced generations of able diplomats, schooled in complexities and masters of subtle communication. In such a world, Canada’s reputation as a seasoned negotiating player was frequently touted as a model of decorum and patience. We mostly escaped the perils of the unspoken United Nations motto: : “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall take flack from both sides.”

Like some of the other nations in France this past week, however, our country has been guilty of under-resourcing its diplomatic networks in recent decades. We got by with wit and reputation, but with Donald Trump’s “go it alone” braggadocio and Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit designs, global diplomatic strength appears in short supply.

That’s just among our strongest allies, but when one considers the rampant militarism of Putin’s Russia, the economic brinksmanship of China’s Xi Jinping, or the violation of hard-won detente by India’s Modi, the world is again a more dangerous place.

The time has come for every nation to beef up its diplomatic potential and presence in the broader world. Of all the Democratic contenders for the American presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren is the one to not only speak most forcefully on this issue, but to provide a roadmap of how to get there. The reason: the loss of diplomatic expertise will inevitably lead to mistakes that could be fatal. Or, as Megan Turner would put it in her A Conspiracy of Kings: “One cannot toss ambassadors back like bad fish. You treat them with care, or you’ll find you’ve committed an act of war.”

Among Warren’s commitments, as recounted in her Revitalizing Diplomacy: A 21st Century Foreign Service:

  • Fill the State Department’s 15% of vacancies that have existed for years
  • Establish diplomatic possibilities in the 40% of global cities of over 3 million that presently have no American presence, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Pointing out that the Pentagon is 40 times bigger than the State Department and that it employs more people to work in military grocery stores than there are foreign service officers, Warren is committed to doubling the number of foreign diplomats and opening new embassies.
  • To achieve it, she will establish the diplomatic equivalent of the ROTC program in post-secondary institutions across the country, double the size of the Peace Corps and better inspire and recruit young people into the field of foreign service.
  • To diversify a foreign service that is presently 79% white and 65% male.
  • In a practice that never should have been tolerated, ambassadors in the Trump administration were appointed from the ranks of those who gave most heavily to his political campaign. It has happened before, but never to this degree. They now make up half of American ambassadors around the world and have no serious diplomatic expertise or experience. Warren has promised to end the practice of buying ambassadorships.

There is more in Warren’s diplomatic manifesto, but even the most cursory of readings reminds most nations of just how far they have fallen behind when it comes to cutting-edge diplomacy. The Trudeau government’s commitment to a more equipped gender-based foreign presence is a much-needed component of any new venture into a troubled world, but any such diplomatic service must be well-trained, well-resourced and well-informed, regardless of gender. These are hardly the “cushy” jobs many presume, but involve endless negotiations, bone-wearying travel, and lengthy absences from family, home and one’s roots. More dramatically, there is the increasing danger that in a more violent world, kidnappings and killings of diplomatic placements are a real possibility.

Rather than marching forward, history has circled back, and in the process has reintroduced influences that could ruin all that diplomacy has gained since the Second World War. Instead of making history, we are becoming entangled in it. Ultimately, diplomacy isn’t about money, influence or competition, but the deeper understandings of human nature learned through experience and professionalism. The world can never be safe if it can’t negotiate the terms for living together. That will require a new and better equipped foreign service for a more complex age.

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario.  He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario.  He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 32 years.  He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“.   Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.
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