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Hugh Segal: two freedoms should shape our foreign policy

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Hugh Segal
Hugh Segal

Hugh Segal has been involved in politics and has had an interest in foreign and security policy for more than 30 years. A native of Montreal, he served in the Senate from 2005 to 2014, where he chaired its foreign policy committee. He also chaired the Senate’s anti-terrorism committee and was Canada’s special envoy to the Commonwealth on issues involving human rights and the rule of law. Currently master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, he recently wrote Two Freedoms; Canada’s Global Future, a book outlining his views on foreign policy.

What led you to write the book at this time?

I believe that in every country in the world, two things matter the most: freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Those are the two freedoms that when they exist in some constructive measure, produce a happy, viable society. When they are absent – because people are being intimidated by terrorists or being preyed upon by corrupt governments or because poverty is so pervasive that people can’t make any progress in their own lives and have no hope for themselves or their children – that’s when the bad things happen.

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It would make sense for our foreign policy to be built around those two freedoms. Those are freedoms that reflect what every Canadian believes, left or right. You can build a theory of military deployment, a theory of foreign aid, a theory of diplomatic engagement, a theory of humanitarian engagement around the world based around those two freedoms.

That’s why I wrote the book, hopeful that when this new government reviews its foreign and defence policy, this might be a constructive part of the discussion.

How do you craft policies that address emotions like fear and want?

I would argue that the most compelling interests, globally, are freedom and stability, peace and security. In most parts of the world, they’re driven by constructive forces, where people feel they have freedom from fear and freedom from want and they can go about their lives in a constructive, helpful and happy way. Where a father can know that when he leaves home in the morning to school, there’s a very good chance those kids will come home safely from school.

When you get to other kinds of societies, where those kinds of freedoms don’t exist, where fear is pervasive or where the poverty is so massive that no one can make any progress except for the junta and the elite closest to it, that’s when you get violence, that’s when you get terrorist groups putting more recruits together. And that’s when Canadian interests will be harmed, everywhere in the world.

How can Canada devise a foreign policy that will ensure that fathers leaving their homes will know their children will be safe when they return?

There’s got to be a different policy for every country with which we have diplomatic relations. If we’re dealing with Central America, that’s really about helping to train their judicial and police forces, making sure there is a measure of investment and trade that develops economic opportunities and also making sure that organizations, like the OAS and others, apply critical membership criteria that makes it perfectly clear to countries that move off the democratic path, that their presence around the table is no longer welcome. You have to be able to use a carrot and a stick.

Aren’t these countries going to say what we do in our countries is not your business, that we don’t tell you what to do in Canada?

I think we have to be pretty direct and frank about that. I was in Africa and I was making the case against those governments that were bringing in the re-criminalization of homosexuality. Countries like Canada, many countries in the world have gone to remove legal constraints on homosexuality. Our position was that the Commonwealth should exclude those countries that have so radically changed their legal codes to make homosexuality illegal. When Uganda and others went down that road, you actually saw gays being attacked and killed in the streets.

The “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which is a Canadian idea, which was adopted as a core premise of the United Nations, does assume that from time to time, when governments cannot protect their own people or when governments attack their own people, the international community has a duty to engage.

I would argue that, when people say, “Mind your own business,” I say, “Sorry, how human beings live, their rights and freedoms, is our business, because it relates to our own people here.”

How would your analysis regarding freedom from fear and want apply to the situation in Syria?

Number one, the growth of the Islamic State is a result of people not having stood up in a coherent way to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Number two, there have been a series of mistakes made by various governments, which fed the largely Sunni ISIS operation, which gave Iran the strategic opportunity of supporting the Shia, and then gave Russia the opportunity of supporting the Iran and Assad position against ISIS.

That’s a result of foreign policy incompetence and weakness on the part of [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama, and others. I think Canada has been guilty of what they say in the West: big hat, no cattle – a lot of tough talk, but modest deployment in terms of making  a real difference on the ground.

I think you have to face these evils when they emerge.

Does that mean a greater military presence?

Yes it does.

The current government is opting for training. Is that a mistake?

To be fair to the Liberals, they took their proposition to the public in an election campaign. They won a big majority.

That being said, I think we should have thousands of troops on the ground from western countries. Our involvement might be larger than 200 or 300. I also think when we turn 150 next year, as a country, we should make a policy commitment to 150,000 armed forces, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves. So we have the ability to deploy.

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Some governments might want to deploy for peace-keeping or humanitarian roles. Other governments might be more in support of combat. But not having the capacity to deploy means it doesn’t matter what the government believes is important, because they won’t have the instruments to make a difference.

How does freedom from want and fear play a role in the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Israel is very competent at dealing with its own security requirements. Under the Harper government, there was more co-operation between the Israeli military and the Canadian military. Israeli security, Canadian security, is a good thing. That is helping in sustaining freedom from fear.

If you look at income, the average Gazan family earns one-14th of what an average Israeli family earns. That’s not Israel’s fault. But those of us who want to make a difference for other countries and allies, the same way as we invest now in the training of judicial capacity for the Palestinian Authority, training Palestinian police capacity, we should with other allies be investing in economic opportunity in Gaza, so those kids have jobs and opportunities and they’re not being managed only by the narrow Hamas terrorist view.

What should be our policy vis-a-vis Iran?

I don’t disagree with the present government’s view that it’s time to talk about re-opening the doors and talk about the relationship.

We have to be able to walk and chew gum here. It’s one thing to be able to say good luck on the nuclear thing, let’s open up our relationships, let’s do trade. We have some problems on which we are not going to relent. We’re not going to relent on Iranian support of Hamas and Hezbollah, and we’re not going to relent on the Revolutionary Guard activities and how they’re trying to foster terrorism around the world. We’re not going to relent on what appears to be the official anti-Semitism of large parts of the regime. Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom have to deal with one set of issues constructively and also make sure constraints are in place and new sanctions, and if necessary, deployment, on these other sets of issues.

My instinct is [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau gets the balance and will be looking to find it.


This interview has been edited an condensed for style and clarity.