Editors' Forum

Canadian Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy During Trump’s Term

On February 14, Anastasia Shlyakhova, a political science student at the University of Toronto visited the NATO Association of Canada headquarters to discuss the following question:


“Given recent developments in American politics, many controversial executive orders coming out of the White House in recent weeks, and the undeniable impact that new leadership will have on global security and international relations, what should Canadian foreign policy and grand strategy seek to achieve during Trump’s term? How should Canadian policy-makers define our role internationally now that Trump has made clear his intentions to drastically rearrange how the United States operates within international institutions and frameworks?”


Here is a summary of her thoughts, and some comments by the NAOC team.


Anastasia Shlyakhova – Political Science Student, University of Toronto

Trump’s talks of wall building, potential withdrawal from NAFTA, narrative about an ‘obsolete’ NATO and especially the recent travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, has left the world perturbed, and maybe even a little afraid. In such turbulent times, Canada needs to take a stance against the bigotry and racism that is coming from its Southern neighbour, and employ its humanitarian ideals of inclusivity and diversity on a grander scale. Canada should reassert its role as the leading humanitarian country, by accepting more immigrants and resettling them into the Prairie Provinces (by creating infrastructure that can support new incomers) to offset the overpopulation in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Moreover, instead of appeasing Trump’s demands with mere concessions to placate him, Canada should pursue further integration with Europe to slacken the dependence on American trade, reducing the potential for economic shock if the unpredictable President Trump decides to sever certain ties with Canada.


Farah Bogani – Program Editor, NATO’s Arc of Crisis

President Donald Trump’s term has so far left a wave of uncertainty with rippling effects across other countries’ foreign policies. President Trump’s wavering attitude towards NATO, refusal to honor the Paris climate agreement, willingness to withdraw from the Iran deal, and ambivalent strategy for ISIS leaves US foreign policy as a big question mark on the international scene. Consequently, it is difficult to confidently prescribe how Canadian foreign policy and strategy should navigate these new waters.


As much of the US’ new strategy thus far appears geared towards isolationist foreign policies, this leaves Canada with an opportunity to come out as the more open and reliable North American partner. New economic policies that hope to implement CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) with the EU and explore free-trade agreements with China would also lead to strengthened ties with both countries that have faced disparagement from Trump, such as his declarations that other states should follow the UK in leaving the EU, and that climate change is a “Chinese hoax”.


Additionally, given Trump’s campaign win through a rhetoric of hatred and the subsequent increase in hate crimes, policy-makers may have to define Canada’s role more strongly as a country of acceptance and pillar of democratic values, institutions, and cooperation. This may prove to be especially significant in light of Trump’s victory boost to right-wing populism (Marine Le Pen and her National Front party in France, the Austrian Freedom Party, Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, etc.), and the ‘post-truth’ trend.


Furthermore, with Trump’s recent travel ban, increased refusals of entry into the US, and limiting the number of accepted refugees, Canada has already had to step up as a ‘sanctuary’ for those fleeing persecution or nationals of countries included in the travel ban. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said that Canada will take refugees rejected by the US, while recently there has been an influx of illegal border crossings into Canada under extreme cold temperatures by people seeking asylum. Consequently, Canada already seems to be redefining its role on the surface as a ‘champion’ of acceptance and human rights. However, whether that commitment will be reflected in new policy-making is another story entirely given that the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires asylum-seekers to make applications at their first port of arrival unless an immediate family member is already living in the country, remains in place. This makes it almost impossible for the influx of people crossing the border illegally from the US to apply for asylum. Thus, in considering what Canadian foreign policy and strategy should achieve and how Canada’s role may be defined internationally, Canada should take care not to overreach in its many commitments unless absolutely certain of its ability to uphold them.


Benson Cheung – Research Analyst

Canadian foreign policy must now be grounded on the basic premise that Trump’s administration and foreign policy is not “normal” (and who knows if normal will ever come back). Never mind allegations of pro-Russian ties; at the very least, Trump is the most powerful personification of the nationalist pushback. If there is any residual “End of History” liberal triumphalism left in Canadian policymakers’ minds, that assumption must be jettisoned posthaste. We must take the nationalist backlash seriously, and the political mainstream must work across partisan lines to prevent Canada from falling to a nationalist wave.


In the face of the global assault on this system, Canada’s strategy must at minimum be to remain a stable cornerstone of the post-WWII system. It is imperative that Canada take a principled stance in defence of human rights and decency, and maintain a critical but cooperative stance with the Trump administration. Rather, it is best to adopt a similar policy as articulated in Angela Merkel’s statement on Trump’s election: “Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.” In other words: we should not offer Trump friendship, but only principled cooperation—but we must always extend our friendship and kinship to the American people.


With the US signaling a desire to turn its back on its international commitments, it is up to the remaining liberal democratic states to assume a collective leadership in favour of globalization. This means that Canada must redouble its military and institutional commitments to the UN, NATO, and other international institutions. However, in chaos there is opportunity, and here I echo the sentiments of Maclean’s Scott Gilmore: should the opportunity arises, perhaps Canada can and should make ourselves more visible on the world stage as the preeminent defender of the post-WWII order.


Canada must (as much as possible) work with, and encourage, the members of the Trump administration who are universally understood to be level-headed actors, like James Mattis, to persuade Trump of the current order’s merits and to lay the groundwork for further, more fruitful cooperation after Trump. We should spend no time dealing with millenarian ideologues like Steve Bannon, nor extend them diplomatic legitimacy. As during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, Canada must steer clear of any unilateral, or even illegitimate, military adventurism the ideologues may push for.


Project Manager: Erin Loney – Program Editor, Expanding Community

I have heard arguments for a Canadian shift towards a more self-interested, hard-nosed foreign policy and grand strategy, and I have heard arguments that this is Canada’s moment to pick up the American slack in decency, and to prove itself on the world stage by doubling-down on international and multilateral commitments, and progressive, humanitarian ethics. I wholeheartedly agree with my colleagues that it is Canada’s moment to take a stance in the name of human rights and civility, while cooperating as much as possible with the Trump administration. That is not to say that Canada should condone, or even reserve criticism of the Trump administration’s actions. It is Canada’s duty as a tolerant democracy to condemn unconstitutional and unjust actions by other democratic nations and world leaders. However, there is no denying that we are tied, both geographically and economically to the United States, and therefore need to be pragmatic about Canada-U.S. bilateral relations. That does not mean that Canada should adjust its overall international foreign policy towards a hard-nosed strategy. On the contrary, this is Canada’s moment to prove itself as a bastion of broad-minded and enlightened policy, both foreign and domestic, and as an advocate for civil and human rights at home and abroad.


Photo:U.S. President Donald Trump meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House (2017), by Office of the President of the United States via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under public domain.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Erin Loney
Erin is a contributor and former Program Editor for Expanding Community at NATO Association of Canada. She recently graduated with an Honours BSocSc in International Development and Globalization, with a minor in Political Science from the University of Ottawa. Key areas of study included international trade and development, Canadian foreign policy, economics of globalization, and research methods. Along with these topics, Erin’s personal areas of interest include environmental policy, public diplomacy, and human rights. In addition to her work at NAOC, Erin writes, edits, and contributes to social media management for an Ottawa tech start-up. She plans to pursue further studies and a career in International Affairs and Development. Erin has traveled extensively and is passionate about studying other cultures and areas of the world. She hopes to live abroad and work with an international or multilateral organization in the future. Erin can be reached at eriniloney@gmail.com.