Keating, Tom
September 2010
Canadian Foreign Policy (CFP);2010, Vol. 16 Issue 2, p9
Academic Journal
The essay considers the continued relevance of multilateralism both as an idea that defines and represents Canadian foreign policy and as a set of practices that Canadian governments have employed to advance the country's foreign policy objectives. The historical record, while by no means consistent, demonstrates that multilateral practices have served a number of different foreign policy interests over time. It also suggests that the idea of multilateralism has shaped Canada's image as an active and responsible contributor to international order. Both the idea and the practice have been used by policy makers to advance Canadian foreign policy in many different venues and on a wide range of issues. The practice and the idea of multilateralism and their value in support of Canadian foreign policy have at times been called into question, but perhaps never so much as during the past decade where developments around the globe and within Canada have encouraged foreign policy practices that suggest significant shifts in the amount of support for multilateralism and raise questions about the utility of its role in serving Canadian foreign policy interests. Among some of the more significant global developments have been increased criticisms of the capacity, effectiveness and legitimacy of multilateral institutions, especially the UN, shifting commitments of the US towards these institutions and the idea of multilateral cooperation. Successive Canadian governments, for their part, have reduced Canada's international commitments in areas such as United Nations peace support operations and development assistance and withdrawn from commitments such as the Kyoto Protocol. Such developments provide ample evidence of a declining commitment to multilateralism as a strategy on the part of the government. There is also increased skepticism at a number of levels of the effectiveness of multilateralism for Canada in the current geopolitical environment. This changing practice demonstrates the need for a more thorough assessment of the utility of multilateralism and its role in supporting Canadian foreign policy in the years ahead.


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