• Blog
  • September 30th, 2014

A better way forward in a troubled world? Why radical diplomatic reform is imperative

By Daryl Copeland

It is the end of September, the seasons are changing, and Canadians have every reason to feel uneasy.

The erstwhile global village is today looking more and more like a patchwork of gated communities surrounded by a roiling wasteland of violent and terrifying shantytowns.

Over the course of the summer – and  undoubtedly much to the delight of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi - the media has delivered saturation coverage of the Islamic State on the rampage, Iraq fissuring, carnage in Gaza, civil war in Libya, Russian adventurism in the Ukraine, state failure in Afghanistan, rising tensions in the East and South China Seas…

The torrent of troubles has been unrelenting.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, and just when the ill-starred Global War on Terror seemed finally to be winding down, our political and opinion leaders seem convinced that Western civilization is once again being menaced, this time by new iterations of both threats: a revived, and particularly strident version of Russian revanchism, and a media-savvy, unusually treacherous form of Islamist terrorism operating out of a reconstructed Caliphate.

Be afraid, be very afraid…

Reaching for the gun

What are Canada and our NATO allies doing in response? Talks have been initiated under various auspices, but these have been on the margins. In the mainstream, coalition-of-the-willing cheerleading and military machinations have prevailed, including:

  • Firing precision guided munitions and sending arms, advisors, and special forces back into Iraq
  • Pressuring NATO member states to increase military spending
  • Creating a new rapid reaction force
  • Bolstering air and missile defences and ground forces in Eastern Europe and the Baltic
  • Increasing naval assets in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.
  • Strengthening alliance relations in Europe and the Western Pacific.

Add to all of this the legacy of NATO’s aggressive eastward expansion 1999 – 2009, a back-to-the-future return of hostile sabre-rattling directed at Russia, and barely concealed efforts at the “containment” of China, and the full gravity of the current situation becomes clear.

The West has again been engaging in the international policy equivalent of putting out fires with gasoline. Doing more of the same old, same old, while hoping against hope that ratcheting up the threat or use of armed force will somehow make matters better.

This outcome is patently unlikely. For starters, much of the present instability – not least the devastating blowback now emanating from IraqAfghanistan, and Libya - is causally rooted in the failure of previous military interventions. Secondly, when your tool of choice is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Not a very supple strategy of statecraft. Finally, all of this ignores the most enduring lesson of the Cold War, namely that militaries work best when they are not used.

Take the sword out of the scabbard, and it makes a dreadful mess.

It all looks too familiar. Like the unpaid “peace dividend” of the 1990s, President Obama’s commitment to weaning the USA off its “permanent war footing” now lies in tatters. Instead, the US “strategy” to defeat the Islamic State consists of one part re-hash and one part long shot - not necessarily the defining elements of a winning combination.

Talk, don’t fight. But first…

The observations set out above may help to make the world today more intelligible, but they do not make it justifiable. If we are to avoid once more reaping the whirlwind generated by an over-reliance upon armed force, an entirely different approach will be required. Specifically, people everywhere will have to insist that diplomacy displace defence at the centre of international policy. Relative to the alternatives, diplomacy’s approach to the non-violent management of international relations through dialogue, negotiation and compromise is highly cost-effective.

Except… Just when they are needed most, most diplomatic institutions and practices are in crisis. Before diplomacy is ready for prime time, the world’s second oldest profession will require major reinvestment and a complete overhaul.

Although doing diplomacy has never been easy, these days the challenges are particularly daunting. With some significant exceptions – China, India, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia amongst them – the budgets of foreign ministries are being cut, diplomatic missions are being closed or downsized and foreign services are losing staff.

The profession has been slow to adapt to the globalization-driven reconfiguration of the operating environment. It is widely misunderstood, and suffers from debilitating image problems associated with perceptions of weakness and appeasement.

Before a credible case can be made for the infusion of new resources, however, ways must be found to identify new economies, to embrace innovation and to adapt. Radical reform will be required.

Mission impossible?  No, but progress will be complex and difficult.

An outline of ten concrete proposals will appear in the next post on Guerrilla Diplomacy.


Former diplomat Daryl Copeland is an educator, analyst and consultant, the author of Guerrilla Diplomacy and a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.  Follow him on Twitter @GuerrillaDiplo.

Photo credit: Tom Toles, The Washington Post

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Ottawa Peace Festival event – “Pursuing an Afghan Peace: Women, Civil Society and Blue Helmets”

The Rideau Institute is pleased to invite you to an event it is hosting along with Afghanistan: Pathways to Peace, as part of the Ottawa Peace Festival.

What: Panel Discussion “Pursuing an Afghan Peace: Women, Civil Society and Blue Helmets” 

Who:  Dr. Walter Dorn, Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada
Najia Haneefi, Co-founder of Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee

When: Monday, September 29, 2014

Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm

Where: Auditorium of the Ottawa Public Library (Main Branch) at 120 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa


Dr. Walter Dorn, Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and editor of the new volume Air Power in UN Operations: Wings for Peace, will speak about his new paper, entitled “Peace Talks and a Peacekeeping Force for Afghanistan?”. He will look at how the United Nations might facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan and, in that context, will consider the role that a UN peacekeeping force could play in building a viable and sustainable peace.

Najia Haneefi, Co-founder and Executive Board member of Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee, will speak about efforts to empower Afghan women to promote and engage in a comprehensive peace process.

A question and answer period will follow the panel discussion.

Introductory remarks:
Gerry Ohlsen, Chair of the International Steering Committee of Afghanistan Pathways to Peace, will provide short comments on the role of Afghanistan Pathways to Peace in promoting civil society participation in, and support for, a comprehensive peace process for Afghanistan.

Peggy Mason is the President of the Rideau Institute. Her career highlights diplomatic and specialist expertise in the field of international peace and security, with a particular emphasis on the United Nations, where she served as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament from 1989 to 1995.

For more information contact the Rideau Institute at operations@rideauinstitute.ca.

We look forward to seeing you at this event!

Unable to attend? Follow the action on twitter using #PursueAfghanPeace.


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Harper sending troops to Iraq

Harper attends NATO Summit

The Harper government is sending troops to Iraq.

As reported in the media, several dozen Canadian soldiers, and possibly many more, will be sent to Iraq to advise that country’s military forces in fighting Islamic fighters.

Rideau Institute calls move “reckless”

On national media, the Rideau Institute’s Peggy Mason told Global National that,

Without a comprehensive strategy it is a reckless step, and it is a step that I don’t believe that Canadians want.

The deployment will place Canadian troops directly on the front lines. The Canadians will join U.S. troops in the northern part of Iraq to provide advice to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL.

The deployment is for 30 days, but will likely be extended. Canada’s contribution could be further increased once a strategy with its allies has been worked out.

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  • Blog
  • September 4th, 2014

Op-ed: Let’s move from dangerous military posturing to serious negotiations

Embassy News
Peggy Mason
September 3, 2014

Every day we read another article about the senseless slaughter of the First World War in which nine million died on the bloody battlefields of Europe and beyond.

One hundred years after its onset, nuclear-armed powers face off over Ukraine, and the stakes are unimaginably higher: nuclear Armageddon, the end of the world. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the other 27 NATO leaders meet later this week in Wales, let us hope they have read the lessons of history carefully and do everything they can to avoid blustering into a war with Russia that nobody can win.

“There will be repercussions for [Russia’s] blatant act of aggression,” Foreign Minister John Baird sternly intones, after mounting evidence of a further incursion by Russian military forces into Eastern Ukraine. For the Globe and Mail editorial board it is nothing short of the return of the Iron Curtain.

The cacophony of calls from pundits and journalists for NATO to be more resolute and for lethal military equipment to be given to the Ukrainian army is invariably followed by the assertion that, of course, NATO won’t actually go to war with Russia.

So while acknowledging that such a war is out of the question, opinion leaders appear to be demanding that NATO ramp up the very military posturing and charged rhetoric that could bring this unthinkable course of action ever closer.

If we all agree that nuclear Armageddon is not an option, then we need to take a deep breath and carefully consider our available options. Putting aside a total abandonment of Ukraine to an uncertain fate, we are left with ratcheting up sanctions, investing major political and diplomatic capital in a negotiated solution or both.

Turning first to sanctions, Russia must surely be feeling some economic bite from those already imposed; yet they have failed to secure any positive change in behaviour—quite the contrary. Further measures are slated for discussion at the NATO summit in Wales.

While sanctions are widely perceived as a diplomatic tool, they are categorized in Chapter VII of the UN Charter as a coercive measure, one step short of armed force. And like the use of force itself, they often have entirely unintended and quite counterproductive consequences.

Take for example the recent call by the United Kingdom for Russia to be ousted from the SWIFT worldwide interbank transaction system. Experts warn that, while this would undoubtedly be very disruptive to Russian financial and commercial activities in the short term, over the longer term it could encourage Russian development of its own transfer payment system, one far less transparent than the global one and beyond the reach of future sanctions.

Add the fact that the historical record suggests sanctions are rarely sufficient on their own to compel the desired change in behaviour, and this brings us back to the only option left standing: the strongest possible promotion of, engagement in and tangible support for, a high-level, broadly supported and internationally facilitated peace process.

There is nothing new in calling for a negotiated settlement. This has been the position of the United States, NATO and the European Union from the outset. Talks involving the Americans, Russia and Ukraine; negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE; and now mediation efforts led by Germany for the EU have so far borne little fruit.

Continued high-level engagement of the US and the EU is critical, but what is now needed in addition is a comprehensive approach which seeks to address all aspects of this complex conflict and which draws on expert, impartial international mediators acceptable to all sides. Russian agreement is by no means assured, but they have expressed some interest in mediation under UN auspices, so that is a place to start.

While the NATO summit will not be the venue to resolve the Ukraine crisis, leaders must, at a minimum, ensure that they do not make the situation worse. That means maintaining a steady focus on, and careful articulation of, sensible defensive measures to reassure nervous alliance members like the Baltic States, and no more.

But NATO leaders can and must do more than avoid inadvertent escalation of tensions. They can put their full diplomatic weight behind a negotiated solution without preconditions that could doom the talks before they begin.

It is time for the Canadian government to tone down its rhetoric and scale up its diplomatic support for a peace process that can pull us all back from the nuclear brink.

Peggy Mason, a former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the UN, is the president of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, an independent advocacy and research think tank in Ottawa.

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  • Blog
  • August 26th, 2014

What remains unlearned from the First World War

Originally published in Embassy August 26, 2014.

Guest Blog by Roy Culpepper.

Much has been said, in this centenary year, about the First World War. The print and electronic media have offered up a surfeit of op-eds, documentaries, reminiscences and analyses of the war and its innumerable consequences for the world down to our own day. In fact, since 1918, at least 25,000 books and articles have been written on the so-called Great War.

Can there be anything left to say? Actually, there is, particularly since we need to learn more from the First World War, a senseless conflict that was almost guaranteed to end in stalemate. Yet it killed over nine million and injured more than 22 million.

This horrendous toll was heightened by a number of deadly innovations in the technology of war: poison gas, submarines, tanks, warplanes, and long-range artillery among others. In addition, the war laid the foundations for a century of instability in the territories of the collapsing Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Hence, it is certainly worth learning more from the First World War and its legacy—about how senseless armed conflict can be prevented, how to strengthen the tools of diplomacy and peacebuilding, how to inhibit the competition for ever more destructive and costly weapons and how to reduce stockpiles of such weapons.

In addition, we must learn not only from those who fought in the trenches or from those in command, but also from the perspective of the home front. Women lost husbands, sons and fathers in the conflict. As nurses and caregivers, women also bore witness first-hand to the appalling suffering of combatants. In addition, civil society organizations, conscientious objectors and the advocates for peace all had important roles in resisting the war. But the perspectives of such groups, and of women, were dismissed at the time and continue to be under-represented in mainstream histories.

Also, we must learn from the perspectives of former enemy nations. Regrettably, the adage (attributed to Winston Churchill) that “history is written by the victors” retains its validity. Millions of enemy combatants as well as innocent civilians were killed or injured in the First World War. Germany lost around 1.7 million in military deaths, Austria-Hungary lost 1.2 million.

It is overdue, a century later, to acknowledge these enormous casualties sustained by the other side. This is beginning to happen, for example, with the project The World Remembers, led by Canadian actor R.H. Thomson. Over the next four years, this unique initiative aims to commemorate every death among the nations on both sides in the war.

The fact that truth is the first casualty of war also obscures our understanding of what happened and why. Modern propaganda and censorship took flight in the First World War. We need to peel away the layers of disinformation that cluttered the official record, and also resist their imposition in future conflicts.

On the positive side, the First World War led to the creation of the League of Nations. Although it failed to stop the Second World War, the interwar generation accepted that much better international co-operation was imperative to prevent war. This is a lesson we are re-learning with the League’s successor, the United Nations.

But as nuclear weapons continue to proliferate, the stakes today are much higher. In the absence of the UN, the world today would look a lot more like it did a century ago, except that a nuclear Armageddon would be infinitely worse.

Finally, Canadians need to be more honest about the First World War in our own history. Much has been made about the “birthplace of the nation,” the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in which Canadian troops demonstrated unquestionable valour. But neither was the battle of strategic importance in the war; nor was the war itself a breakthrough in Canada’s march to independence. However, World War I did undoubtedly deepen the divisions between French and English Canada.

The lesson for Canadian foreign policy may be that our two solitudes are drawn closer together when diplomacy, peacemaking and international development are its main features. In contrast, war-making in the cause of big-power geopolitics often drives us apart.

Roy Culpeper is a member of the Group of 78, a non-governmental organization focused on foreign policy. The Group of 78′s 2014 Annual Conference is on World War I and Contemporary Policy on War and Peace. It will be held Sept. 26 to 28 at the Canadian War Museum. For further information visit the Group of 78 website.

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