International Trade & Domestic Tirades: Domestic/International and the Real Hypocrisy of Foreign Policy

The Canadian government’s decision to broker one of the largest export deals in Canadian history with the government of Saudi Arabia is unfortunately not the first and unlikely to be the last time when financial decisions promoting particular commercial interests seem to trump the alleged objectives of Canadian foreign policy. Officially announced in February 2014, Canada agreed to ship light armoured vehicles manufactured in London, Ontario by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (and a number of other secondary sites) to Saudi Arabia to the tune of approximately $15 billion dollars over the next 14 years. In large part due to Foreign Affair’s continued caginess when it comes to answering straightforward questions about whether assurances about the nefarious uses of this military hardware were provided by the Saudi’s pushed this story back into the national media’s sight-line (Globe&Mail). But should we expect such assurances, and does it matter? Or, is this apparent hypocrisy a tried and true part of Canadian Foreign Policy and even foreign policy more generally?

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is spotted at best. As a recent article by Adam Taylor in the Washington Post indicates, often only marginal differences are apparent between the definitions of crimes and punishment in Saudi Arabia and the definitions among adherents to ISIS. The notable difference between these cases is that Canadian service men and women are currently in harms way, risking their lives on Canada’s behalf in the international coalition against ISIS. While an alleged moral imperative compelled the Government of Canada to join in the struggle against ISIS, it would seem that Foreign Affairs would simply rather not entertain the conversation as to whether or not this stance, motivated by the Prime Minister Harper’s so-called “Principled Foreign Policy” is inconsistent with our arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Although it may be, dwelling on the tired and stale accounts of double standards and hypocrisy will do little more than cause most readers to move on to the next article. We have become numb to the manner in which neoliberal economic objectives sit somewhere outside of alleged principled foreign policy objectives, or indeed, the manner in which decisions about foreign affairs masquerade as moral, somehow apart from the neoliberal objectives of most developed nations.

Canada has a long history of taking up the space of the “middle power” in international affairs,¬† promoting peacekeeping and later the more ambiguous “peacemaking,” advancing a human security agenda in Canadian foreign policy and at the United Nations, and now advancing an equally amorphous principled foreign policy. However, Canada has an equally long history of advancing corporate and trade interests in manners that sometimes seem hypocritical with the stated aims of Foreign Affairs. Whether the nefarious actions of erstwhile Canadian oil company Talisman energy in Sudan in the mid-1990s while then Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy was vociferously advancing the Canadian led human security agenda at the UN, or the coincidental interests of Foreign Affairs Canada and Suncorp energy in Libya at the time of Canadian government’s decision to join in the fray of military intervention there, foreign affairs and trade appear to be strange bedfellows and the contemporary example of Foreign Affairs’ stance on ISIS and the arms deal with Saudi Arabia is no exception. The blame for this hypocrisy lay squarely with the electorate. Chastising politicians for being savvy and attempting to simultaneously advance both moral motivations in international affairs and combat domestic unemployment not only falls on deaf ears, but plays into the manner in which the convenient, effective, but false separation between economics and politics, domestic and international, allows for such hypocrisy to flourish in the first place. As citizens, we can hold our government accountable far more effectively when we challenge the convenient lines between what is domestic and what is international. As the current¬† slump in oil prices and the ongoing debates over the Keystone XL pipeline clearly indicate, while the concept of a “Canadian economy” provides a certain ease and comfort, such distinctions makes little sense in a globalized world. As such, questions of international trade are as much about international affairs and deeply political commitments and concerns, as stances by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are economic (and dare I say environmental, but we can leave this for another day). As such, a tirade about hypocrisy between trade and foreign affairs does little more than reify the lines that allow for such inconsistent policies, double-standards, and the economic decisions void of political reflection, and political stances allegedly outside of neoliberal economic commitments. Some are quick to highlight the political vacuousness of trade decisions, but we ought to be as quick to question the alleged moral stances of the Government of Canada’s Principled Foreign Policy and the fiscal ramifications. If you remain unconvinced, just ask citizens of the United States about the final tally of the cost of the Iraq war, and what can happen when foreign policy is allowed to function outside of fiscal constraints.