A bit more than a year ago I discussed a proposal for a G-9 which was dubbed ‘The Committee to Save the World Order.’ Sometime later, I discussed how such a group, I called it a G-X, might displace the G-20.
Now, I see that last September, France and Germany formed just such a group: the Alliance for Multilateralism, and also see that Canada has joined.
First, let me reiterate that I think “talking shops,” like the G-7, G-20 and the Alliance for Multilateralism (AKA the committee to save the world), are, at the very least, harmless and, sometimes, they are very useful. Churchill’s old dictum* about it being better to talk than to shoot is still valid.
For Canada, from a foreign policy perspective, being “at the table,” almost any table, is usually better than being excluded. Additionally, Canada has been a major beneficiary of the 75-year-old multilateral and liberal world order.
It is, perhaps, a bit strange that Donald J Trump’s America and Xi Jinping’s China both want to reshape that multilateral order to serve their current interests: Trumpian America wants to disengage, as it has done, more than once, in the past; China, which continues to gain in strength, wants to displace America at the top of the global heap, but only under its terms, which means it wants the world to kowtow, as Myanmar’s embattled leader Aung San Suu Kyi did just last week. China is making new ‘friends’ (which it sees as clients) as fast as America is shedding old ones.
My sense is that the purpose of the Alliance for Multilateralism is to mitigate the impact of both. Canada is, I guess, especially keen to join because, as Greg Donaghy, who is the director of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at Trinity College, and Thomas Axworthy who is the public policy chair at Massey College (both at the University of Toronto) say in an article in the Globe and Mail, “For the first time in our history, Canada is virtually alone in the world, creating unprecedented challenges for our foreign policy.” Part of our precarious, isolated position is the result of the changing tides of politics and power, but another, large, part is the horrible blundering of Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland who have managed to insult our oldest friends and most important allies and trading partners. They are, both, colossal bunglers.
Dr Donaghy and Dr Axworthy say that Canada needs “to get more serious about our diplomacy than ever before. The hard, big-ticket items are obvious: increase defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP to meet our North Atlantic Treaty Organization obligations and bolster foreign aid to much more than the current paltry 0.26 per cent of GDP … [but, first, they opine] … Canada should “rebuild our alliances. One place to begin,” they say “is the Arctic Council, where Canada shares interests with countries such as Norway and Sweden and where it remains a credible actor, as the Arctic Council itself was a bipartisan Canadian initiative … [and] … Another is with Mexico and other countries in Latin America, where many feel ignored by the U.S. and where former foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland recently reinforced our profile … [but] … Africa, too, has largely been overlooked by Canada in recent years, and organizations such as the Commonwealth and La Francophonie give us a base from which to relaunch our presence on that continent … [and] … across the Pacific, there’s Japan, almost as alone as we are.” I am disappointed that they didn’t mention Australia, India and the Philippines, but perhaps, being good Liberals (Mr Axworthy was a very, very senior Liberal official) they don’t want to remind us of how badly the Trudeau-Freeland team have done in Asia. With that aspect aside, I agree with them, especially about increasing our defence budget (and then spending it wisely) and doing more with foreign aid to promote and protect our interests, which includes spreading democracy and helping nations to build good, sound, honest, liberal institutions.
The new ‘committee to save the world’ fits in well with what Greg Donaghy and Thomas Axworthy advocate. Its aims (link in the second paragraph, above) are to:
- “Show that countries that “support multilateralism and support the United Nations remain the majority in the world; and
- Establish a network of countries ready to support multilateralism and cooperation, including joint efforts on inequality, climate change and the consequences of new technology.“
I suspect that the first objective is pointless (but harmless) virtue signalling ~ something at which Ms Freeland and M Trudeau excel. I think the second is part of an EU inspired attempt to find a niche in the world for Europe.
There is, also, I think, an unstated objective: to have a Europan led coalition to displace the United States in some key areas: like the UN and the WTO. I believe that will fail. If, as the German and French foreign ministers, Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, said, India and Japan might join then the coalition will lose its European flavour. That will not be a bad thing.
It seems to me that the key to making the Alliance for Multilateralism (AKA the committee to save the world) work is to restrict its membership to real democracies. Thus most, but not all EU members can join; so can Israel and even Jordan; Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are in, but not Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There are few if any African members and not too many Latin American ones, either. Russia and China, obviously, must not be welcome.
The Alliance for Multilateralism is, most likely, a harmless talking shop for politicians and civil servants. One hopes that Canada can stop sending unnecessarily HUGE delegations to all these fora, but anything that gets Prime Ministre Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Freeland out of Ottawa and away from the levers of power might be a good thing.
* It was, actually, Harold MacMillan who said that “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.” Churchill said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”