Navigating the New World Disorder – Risks and Opportunities for Canada

On Oct. 5, the CIC Halifax Branch hosted Dr. Maria Banda, of the University of Toronto, to speak about today’s complex international environment and how, despite the risks, there are also opportunities for Canada.

Dr. Banda, whose work has focused on the interconnections between security, sustainable development, climate change and human rights, presented the case for resilience as the vision for a future-focused Canadian foreign policy.

Dr. Banda began by noting that despite progress in some significant areas, the world in 2017 is influenced by a number of “mega-trends” which contribute to an increasingly chaotic international order. These include the renewed nuclear threat, terrorism, mass migration, population growth and water and food scarcity.

In addition to the mega trends she identified two cross-cutting “systemic threats” which fuel the disorder: erosion of the rule of international law and climate change.

In this climate of disorder, Dr. Banda suggested that Canada faces both risks and opportunities and should reshape its foreign policy accordingly. She questioned whether Canada is an ‘essential country’ today (no) or should be in future (yes) and offered three premises on which a renewed foreign policy (FP) should be based:

· FP must advance Canada’s national interests (which themselves need careful articulation)
· FP needs a coherent vision
· FP vision must be supported by comparative advantage

Canada has some traditional comparative advantages, according to Dr. Banda, such as a multi-cultural society, a history of institution-building, and working with coalitions of like-minded countries. These competitive advantages could support a foreign policy based on a vision of resilience, and supported by four pillars, which she described in concrete terms:

· Conflict prevention
· Sustainable development
· Climate leadership
· Championing a rules-based system

Dr. Banda also suggested that, if Canada’s effort to secure a United Nations Security Council seat meets the three basic criteria (which it is not clear that it does), Canada should use its membership to promote a more resilient world in the long run.

A lively discussion ensued around Canada’s investment in diplomacy, comparative advantages, multi-polarity, the rule of law, and the role of universities. Among other important comments, it was proposed that Dr. Banda’s four ‘resilience’ pillars will need to rest on a solid foundation of domestic policy and fiscal planning if Canada’s foreign policy is to be effective. The suggestion was welcomed.

Photo credit: CIC Halifax