MLI Munk Senior Fellow Shuvaloy Majumdar maps out six key foreign policy issues Canada will need to focus on after the election of Donald Trump as president.
By Shuvaloy Majumdar, Nov. 14, 2016
Across the world a cacophony of condescension on one side, and disaffected rage on the other, has precipitated a global political realignment. Upon the embers of the American presidential race, President-elect Donald J. Trump has emerged victorious.
On paper, Republicans control the Congress, Senate and White House, Republican governors command a majority of state capitals, and Republicans are strong at local levels. This should not be confused for a sense of coherence, as the American conservative movement is experiencing deep ideological fissures on fundamental questions of openness to the world versus isolation.
The pressures on Canadian interests abroad will be significant, so long as the United States remains the guarantor of Canadian national security and the major partner in economic prosperity. So what does the US election mean for Canada in the world?
The election in the United States represents a fundamental shift in how the world’s most powerful nation will act towards major trade agreements, the world’s security architecture and the American approach to the key challenges of our times.
Six major foreign policy issues following the inauguration of President Trump will shape this new relationship between two very different governments.
The Canada-US economic relationship
With the White House and Congress finding common ground on energy prosperity, it is likely the Keystone XL pipeline will be approved. North America is already densely interwoven with environmentally sound pipeline infrastructure, and a larger continental energy deal may finally be at hand. This will be of significant benefit to all aspects of the Canadian economy, and provide an opportunity for positive engagement with the new administration.
Beyond pipelines and continental energy security, key debates loom on threats to NAFTA made during the US campaign. The President-elect has been highly disciplined about discussing NAFTA only in the context of trade imbalance and illegal immigration pressures stemming from Mexico. It stands to reason his lament has little to do with Canadian trade, presumably an area the New York developer had experience with in his commercial undertakings. However, trade negotiations with the United States are never pro forma and Canada will need to be prepared for intense bargaining to protect our own economic interests. This will include a decision point on whether to fold in an agreement on softwood lumber, or continue to negotiate that issue outside of NAFTA.
Canada will also need to ascertain whether an update is needed to reclassify labour for work visas, reflecting the modern global economy. The current classifications better describe professions of the 1980s (lawyer, accountant) than today’s dynamic workforce. Modernizing and co-ordinating the system would be a major benefit for commercial partnerships on both sides of the border.
NATO and collective defence
The President-elect has made pointed comments about certain allies not sharing the military burden, both with regard to NATO and the Asian security architecture with Japan and South Korea. While less involved with hard security assets in the Pacific, Canada has had a significant stake in the transatlantic security architecture between Europe and North America. NATO has indeed had an imbalance in its members contributing the agreed to target of 2% of GDP in national defence spending. But measuring commitments to spending levels alone says little about a nation’s commitment to global security. Canadian contributions to the alliance have been appropriately focussed on dealing with threats rather than feeding the defence bureaucracy. With NATO, Canada has made a difference in the European east including Ukraine, taken on the hardest fighting in Afghanistan, and by contributing to NATO’s essential Centres of Excellence on Cyber Security, Energy Security and Strategic Communications.
In dealing with the new administration, Canada can credibly and accurately define what sharing the burden actually involves, measuring sacrifice and impact alongside treasure and materiel.
More can and should be spent prudently on Canada’s defence apparatus. But unlike other NATO partners, Canadian per capita contributions in blood and risk far exceed those of other Allies. In dealing with the new administration, Canada can credibly and accurately define what sharing the burden actually involves, measuring sacrifice and impact alongside treasure and materiel.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership and China’s rise
The President-elect has decried the TPP as the worst conceivable deal for the American interest, offering scant specifics on what a successful deal could look like. The definitive positions he has taken on trade have already created a spirit for compromise by America’s traditional partners, including Ottawa, which has proactively offered to renegotiate NAFTA. Trump’s rhetoric has shifted the goalposts for negotiations closer to American interests, including at the TPP table. It is true to his style of negotiation to exaggerate his demands, secure enough compromise, then conclude a deal and claim victory for his domestic audiences.
Canadian negotiators should aim to pursue the paths of a renegotiated TPP and bilateral agreements concurrently and aggressively, as long as this uncertainty remains.
The US Congress has already postponed its TPP deliberations during this lame-duck session until after inauguration. Should, somehow, another round of TPP negotiations commence, Canada has vital interests at stake in accessing key high-growth markets in the Asia Pacific and the Americas. The rules which will define trade spanning three continents (and Australia) are essential in setting the standards for how a rising China would economically engage the vast opportunities of the Pacific. There is an opportunity to constrain its belligerent tendencies and its outlook on trade, which seeks advantage for its state-owned enterprises. These standards are also essential in providing an aspirational roadmap for potential partners to the TPP such as India and Taiwan, once domestic reforms make them viable partners.
Should the President-elect kill the deal, Canada will need to make a separate approach, using the TPP framework, to all of the markets involved in the TPP, to secure individual, bilateral deals. Canadian negotiators should aim to pursue the paths of a renegotiated TPP and bilateral agreements concurrently and aggressively, as long as this uncertainty remains.
Engaging Russia: Ukraine, Syria and beyond
Both Prime Minister Trudeau and President-elect Trump share a spirit for a changed engagement with Moscow. This comes amidst two of the defining geopolitical issues of our times in which Russia’s hand has undermined American power: Ukraine and Syria.
The President-elect removed essential support for Ukraine from his presidential platform, even while Congressional Republicans ran on a promise to ensure Ukrainian sovereignty. Russian hacking and propaganda altered the American narrative in the President-elect’s favour. The President-elect himself had a campaign manager for a time whose dubious ties to Russia through the Kremlin’s proxies in Ukraine continue to cast a disturbing shadow over the imminent occupant of the White House.
In Syria, beyond a campaign that leveraged the ugliest impulses of American voters, the larger concern is over a basic, shared understanding of who the enemy is. Is it ISIS? Is it also Assad and his guarantors in Tehran and Moscow? The President-elect has been deafeningly silent on his plan, beyond “destroying ISIS,” while offering platitudes regarding Vladimir Putin’s exploitation of American weakness in the ongoing conflict.
In the larger geopolitical context, Canada will need to define the limits of its engagement with Moscow, with an understanding of the risks that come with the potential the government sees for commercial progress in relations with Russia.
In Ukraine, Canada must show resolve in expanding sanctions against Russian actors responsible for the crisis, fortifying Ukrainian defence forces and civil society, and continuing the political isolation of the Kremlin’s cronies. This would include taking on the fighters Russia is sponsoring to create conflict in the Ukrainian Donbas by listing them as terror entities.
In Syria, Canada must not fall into the sectarian trap of solely targeting ISIS while ignoring Iran-supported Hezbollah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which presumes a de facto preference on the ground for Iranian-backed Shia sectarian terror over Sunni sectarian terror.
As the President-elect gives form to the policy he intends to pursue with Moscow in the midst of these conflicts, Canada’s stake in both conflicts must be informed by those who share our values, by the aspiration to restore international order, and by clear interests rather than taking a pose as “honest intermediator” that risks moral equivalence or even pandering to evil.
Iran has had sanctions lifted on assets worth approximately $150 billion, while parading new missiles and Syria-hardened IRGC soldiers in Tehran, and while continuing to call for the destruction of Israel. It sponsors terror across Iraq, Syria and beyond, with its clients murdering 10 to 12 times as many in Syria as ISIS has. Iran recently, for the second time this year, surpassed the agreed-to threshold for stockpiling heavy water, a material used as a moderator in nuclear reactors. It continues to pursue advanced missile technology – specifically designed to deliver a nuclear payload.
The president-elect has promised tougher consequences on Iran for failing to live up to its own commitments in the nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama, including throwing the deal to the wind, along with the UN Resolution that acknowledges it.
Iran’s atrocious human rights record continues to outpace every other country in the region, while its rival Saudi Arabia is acknowledging the systemic challenges of its economic state and embarks upon a vast reform agenda.
Even as the gap between Iran’s words and deeds widen on its broader nuclear program, on its industrial-scale sponsorship of terrorism, and its worsening human rights record, Ottawa is preparing to normalize relations with Tehran, swept up in the spirit of last year’s nuclear negotiations. Iran has not behaved as if it desires to rejoin the international community as a constructive actor, rather the opposite. It has taken spirited advantage of a weakened international system.
So long as there are two very different understandings of the nature and aspirations of the Iranian regime, tensions will mount between Canadian and American diplomacy. If Ottawa intends to stand with Jerusalem, as it claims it will, normalizing a relationship with Iran at the expense of Israeli security will squarely place it against two close allies – Israel and the United States.
Climate change and energy poverty
While Canada may benefit substantially from the Trump administration’s energy policy, there is a wide gulf on climate change policy, and there is now a major challenge to the Trudeau government’s climate agenda. The global carbon regime promoted by Trudeau is anathema to the President-elect, who has prioritized meaningful economic benefits for the vastly diminished American middle class. These Trump voters are deeply disaffected and disappointed with grand global ventures that deliver little locally.
The debate about how the world addresses climate change is fundamentally about whether the solution can be centrally planned and enforced. Many among the environmental lobby are willing to risk subjugating energy impoverished countries, holding them to the unethical standard of industrializing through expensive and experimental green technologies. These nations would need to purchase this technology from the West, from those who polluted and industrialized at their expense, awakening old resentments of colonialization.
Those on the other side of the debate envision a path to resolving climate challenges that is local, and driven by innovators making bold investments, betting on technological innovation. The developing world has already leapfrogged telephone cables for cell phone towers. They stand to do the same in other parts of their industrial development, through more efficient distribution of power using artificial intelligence and meta data, through unlocking the vast potential of everything from power sources to recycling, and through the smarter planning of emerging cities in high growth regions of the world.
The global carbon regime promoted by Trudeau is anathema to the President-elect, who has prioritized meaningful economic benefits for the vastly diminished American middle class.
If Ottawa is to preserve and expand Canada’s economic strength relative to the rest of the world, it will need to make the economic decisions around climate change, not the climate decisions around economic change.
Trudeau intends to lead the world by example on climate change. Punitive carbon taxes will put Canada at a serious disadvantage compared to the US under Trump and hit a vital yet hurting sector of the Canadian economy, oil and gas. And they put at risk a fragile Canadian middle class, which ranked as the strongest in the world in the post-2008 Great Recession. Undermining the middle class by engaging in global schemes will put at risk the great economic exception that Canada is in the world today.
Green schemes and wealth redistributionists in Europe have created an eco-elite and a growing gap between rich and poor. Inequality in the United States has seen the isolation of two sides, networked within their own worlds, speaking only among themselves rather than to each other.
National governments have failed to invest in economic adaptation for the most vulnerable to job losses as a result of technological innovation and globalization. The domestic and foreign policy decisions on climate change that Ottawa will need to make following the inauguration of President Trump are central to the wider conversation about the path to global prosperity, and Canada’s role in it.
The election in the United States represents a fundamental shift in how the world’s most powerful nation will act towards major trade agreements, the world’s security architecture and the American approach to the key challenges of our times. The long term consequences of how all this unfolds are vast and cannot be understated.
Green schemes and wealth redistributionists in Europe have created an eco-elite and a growing gap between rich and poor.
Canada will need to be more agile than ever if it is to be a strategic partner that informs these choices, and will require statesmanship that has a clear vision of where our country will stand in the world once the limits of American power are finally defined.
Each of these six areas is about making decisions whose effects will be understood in a generation, not necessarily in the next few years. The question isn’t about what the world will look like in 2020, it’s about Canada actively defining the agenda that shapes the international order in 2050.
Shuvaloy Majumdar led democracy assistance initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010, and recently served as policy director to successive Canadian foreign ministers in the Harper Government. He is a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. @shuvmajumdar