There is an international order – and you cannot ignore it

Yesterday morning, Minister Freeland gave a major foreign policy speech in the House of Commons, outlining Canada’s general position given the shifts in recent international relationships. Her speech was no doubt one that will be remembered as historically important, as it very clearly sets out an agenda that separates Canada’s foreign policy from that of the United States. This is a first in our country’s history. And yes, that’s a big deal.

There are already numerous articles analyzing and interpreting Minister Freeland’s speech on what it really means when it comes to global leadership, our military spending and the approach with which Canada will uphold international obligations. These pieces reveal a reality that was further emphasized by President’s Obama’s speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal last evening.

There is an international order that exists, with relationships and institutions that have paved the way for the modern global economy and that are embedded in the foreign policy infrastructure of all major countries around the world. Whether or not the United States seeks to hold its leadership of that order, there is no going back.

There were several key points Obama made in his speech regarding the importance of postwar international order. First, he highlighted the fact that this is not the first time the world has been faced with economic uncertainty or a fundamental shift in economic practices. The industrial revolution earned its name for a reason. Importantly, he points out what happened when countries did not adapt to change and gave into fear (two World Wars), versus when countries intentionally decided to build a new world based on “principled self-interest”. While America was at the helm of this new change, it was certainly not alone. He also points out that the progress made in the last 70 years, happened with the cooperation of nations under America’s leadership, but not solely because of it.

Minister Freeland clearly states that emerging economies must be integrated “into the world’s economic and political system in a way that is additive” and in a way that “preserves the best of the old order that preceded their rise”. This is extremely important. In our world of global value chains, the Internet and global citizenship, there is really only one option that is in the best interest of all countries: to deepen and further international relations.

It is completely fair for a country which has been a global leader for several decades to want to reassess their position in the global order. However, it should be with the understanding that maintaining that global order is a team effort. One cannot sever ties and still benefit from the progress of multilateral cooperation. Most countries around the world realize that in order for them to succeed in the global economy, they have to embrace the philosophy and the principles of an international order. And the ones that do not participate can expect to see the negative effects of that choice.

Interestingly, although Minister Freeland explicitly stated that a “Canada first” approach would be wrong, that is exactly what she did yesterday by affirming our continued participation on the international stage. She put Canada first.


Jyotsna Venkatesh is the producer and editor of Policy Talks Podcast. 

Image Attribution: Joseph Morris, Creative Commons


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