Pooling diplomatic resources with Britain may not be in our interest
By: John Kennair
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 06:00 am
Is Canada a sovereign state any longer? This is a question being asked after the recent announcement to pool our diplomatic missions and duties with Britain. With the interconnected economies of our modern world, no state is truly sovereign in the classical sense of the term, but one cannot help but wonder whether, in this case, Canada has taken a step backward toward its old colonial master.
Diplomatic missions were the very essence of statehood, as they were a way for kings and princes to recognize one another’s right to rule. Such a tradition goes back millennia. It was also a natural way to rank states, as those which were deemed more important to a king sat closer to him at a banquet, while those less important were further away. So diplomatic presence in a country’s court had great significance.
This all seemed to change, however, with the advent of both the United Nations and technology. The United Nations became a new forum for the display of the power and importance of states, and, while the Cold War was waged, Canada flourished in this environment.
Modern telecommunications also changed how Canada extended its presence around the globe. At one time, diplomats were powerful, influential persons who could make decisions on behalf of the state, as it could take weeks or months to send letters back and forth, which was not practical when decisions had to be made. With improved telecommunications, however, messages could be sent home in seconds, so decisions were now made by bureaucrats positioned back in capital cities – for us, Ottawa. This has been the case for Canada since the 1980s, based upon a decision then on how to become more economically efficient.
If this is the case then, why was there political kerfuffle over this decision? Possibly because we were moving back toward an old an old imperial master. Conservatives lamented our move away from Britain in the past, raising eyebrows as to their intent now.
Though we see ourselves as Canadians and not members of the British Empire any longer, Canada did struggle to gain that recognition of statehood. Our first diplomatic mission was in the United State in 1927, but our foreign policies were still being coordinated by Britain then. That is why, even after Britain affirmed our Dominion status in 1931, other states did not always treat us as such. Our delaying of our declaration of war on Germany in 1939 was a symbolic act by Canada to say we made our own foreign policy decision. Especially after the Second World War when Sir Winston Churchill wanted to create a Commonwealth foreign policy. Canada vehemently objected to this, and this was a contributing factor in why we did not want to support Britain in the Suez Crisis in 1956 (as an aside, it was really from this time on that we became more closely aligned with the U.S., and they still did not trust our hemispheric intentions until 1989).
Since the late 1950s, Canada has had a diplomatic presence around the world, but the economics of this venture, and our lack of interest in other lesser states, does raise questions on how important or effective these missions are. Thus, it does make sense to work with Britain, or another state, in this manner. We, as Canadians, must maintain our ability to say ‘no’ to international actions that do not serve our interests here. Because, rest assured, the British are only looking out for their own wellbeing.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.