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It's Time To Reboot Canada's Diplomatic Machine

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The change of government in Ottawa will hopefully bring a new approach to our relations toward the Middle East, and in particular Iran.

Iran plays a pivotal role in a number of ongoing crises in the Middle East. Past experience in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that whenever Iran and the West cooperate on complex security issues positive results can be expected.

Canada's strength is not in its fleet of aircraft carriers, but in its moral capital. When our foreign policy reflects our core values, pluralism, diversity, tolerance and empathy then we can expect amplification of our influence around the world. Hearts and minds of population, tired of perpetual violence, is not won through military muscle, but by the ability to defuse conflict and tireless effort to establish and maintain peace. In other words our mightiest foreign policy weapon is our core values.

Any big and well-equipped army can possibly win a war; fear can bring temporary obedience and calm, however making peace can only be achieved by reestablishing exchange at all levels. Bringing all parties back to exchange universe requires the ability to mediate, which is dependent on being accepted as impartial and morally justified. It is fair to say that moral capital is the currency of crisis management. Maintaining and increasing moral capital requires making difficult decisions, in particular when it comes to the relation with the world.

Definition of allies and friends should not be limited to our short term economic and political exchange, we can stay close with our friends but still be critical (that is what tough love is for) on the other hand we should talk to our enemies, trying to persuade them to exchange. It is important to note that exchange is not limited to a rational framework, in fact most crises in the Middle East do not usually fit into such model. That is why it has been so difficult to bring conflicting parties back into a rational exchange universe. Most conflicts in the Middle East are multi dimensional, with a dominant emotional and cultural dimension, which is often targeted for exploitation and manipulation.

The million-dollar question is: How will Canada meet the peace and security challenges of the Middle East? Is Canada capable of assuming its traditional role as a peacemaker and a peacekeeper in the region? Support for peace and human rights has been and continues to be one of the main pillars of Canadian foreign policy. However, the ideals and principles of the traditional Canadian foreign policy consensus need some transformation in order to bring them into line with the new principles of conflict management and the ideals of nonviolent exchange in today's world.

Iran is a special case, its population can be considered the closest ally the West will ever find in that region (Israel being an exception). While people of Iran crave better relations with the rest of the world, part of its establishment benefits handsomely from ongoing conflict. In fact hardliners will have a tough time to sustain their ruinous campaign if Iran treads back from isolation. Canada can play a role here, by reestablishing the diplomatic and intellectual ties, it can start to act as an impartial mediator, trying to keep the dialogue lines open and influence the regime to act more responsibly.

Let us not forget what Lester B. Pearson said in his 1956 address to the United Nations General Assembly concerning the Suez Crisis: "we need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace..." The objective of peacemaking in the Middle East is not only to end the sectarian and ideological conflicts in the Middle East, but also being capable of establishing a process of negotiation, mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. Canada is supposed to be a country of peacemakers, not peace enforcers. Peacemaking, like peacekeeping is multi-dimensional and is an expression of a nonviolent, harmonic and proactive exchange. This is where Canada could and should make a significant contribution to the conflict in the Middle East. But to achieve this role, Canadian diplomacy should abandon myopic and provincial approach to global affairs. 

Diplomacy is an art of "complexity management" and the Middle East is a complex region that cannot be viewed and analyzed solely from the lenses of one country or one religion. Canadian diplomats and peace builders need to be exposed to the challenges of complex diplomacy in a growing world of exchange and dialogue. This requires a change of mind and heart, a new sense of global responsibility, and a move from a culture of conformity and complacency to a culture of dialogue and innovation.


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