Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Tech & Science

Affirming Canadian Sovereignty In An Independent World

Notes for an address by The Hon. Bill Graham, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to The Canadian Institute of International Affairs “Affirming Canadian Sovereignty in an Independent World”
TORONTO, Ontario April 4, 2002 – I must admit that I am somewhat nervous appearing before the institute, comprising as it does so many
people both experienced and expert in the area of foreign affairs, to talk about a subject so seemingly
esoteric and theoretical as “sovereignty.” Two things, however, encouraged me to take the risk of
speaking to you today of Canadian sovereignty in an interdependent world.

The first happened to me the other night in Ottawa when I was browsing through a recently published set
of interviews with Noam Chomsky. In it I came across a passage in which he was challenged by someone
about how he could speak authoritatively all over the United States about foreign affairs, a subject in
which he had no recognized scholarly expertise. His answer was that there was nothing about foreign
affairs that a reasonably intelligent fifteen-year-old could not grasp with some diligence and work,
and that he was as expert as anyone. This analysis may have something to say about how I came to be
Foreign Affairs Minister and why I am here today to talk about sovereignty, our sovereignty.

The second is a realization that I have come to appreciate ever more acutely since I have had the good
fortune to occupy this post: that defining what we mean by “sovereignty” and clearly articulating how
we intend to affirm and promote it are more important to Canadians than ever. Important because in
today’s increasingly interdependent world it determines the choices that are available to us when we
are making decisions about the way of life we wish to develop here in our own country and, equally
importantly, it shapes the way we participate in the global community of which we are such an integral

I say “equally importantly” because a phenomenon that is sometimes labelled “interconnectedness” is
gradually blurring the distinction that governments and legislators have traditionally made between
domestic and foreign policy. The choices that we make about our foreign policy, then, most particularly
in the domain of economic policy, but also in other important areas, will ultimately circumscribe the
realm of choice that we can exercise in creating our own national society.

In exploring with you how we should approach the notion of sovereignty today, I would like to consider
a number of propositions. In the first place, the exercise of real sovereignty to me means promoting
our ability to make choices, and to act on them. And when it has come to making choices, we Canadians
have historically been open to sharing both responsibilities and opportunities with the world. Our
foreign policy heritage shows that our economic prosperity and physical security result in large
measure from our willingness to pool our sovereignty, that is, to pursue our interests by engaging the
world, often by developing to our advantage the tools of multilateralism.

Affirming and Sharing Sovereignty in the Canadian Interest

Fundamentally then, Canadian foreign policy is all about sovereignty-sovereignty as a functional
principle of international relations, and beyond that, as the recognition of the equal worth and
dignity of all peoples and an affirmation of their right to freely shape and determine their own

Sovereignty is neither unitary nor absolute. There are different types of sovereignty, ranging from the
Westphalian norm of non-interference and domestic sovereignty to international legal recognition and
the ability to regulate interdependence.

It is worth noting that state sovereignty has throughout history always been shared and pooled in many
different ways and that, ultimately, its purpose is to define a people and protect their interests,
even when sovereignty is shared with others. Often then, what is frequently misconstrued by observers
as the erosion of sovereignty may in fact contribute to its promotion and enhancement through properly
calculated decisions. Our country arose out of this process when the Fathers of Confederation took a
bold step in nation building by choosing to pool their sovereign interests to create this country. And
since then, from Vimy Ridge to NAFTA, our successes as a nation have largely been in and through shared
sovereignty arrangements. At all these stages the decision to enter into shared sovereignty
arrangements has been vigorously debated by their proponents and detractors. Newfoundland’s entry into
Canada was such a case, as was the 1988 election, which turned on the appropriateness in Canada of the
Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

While sovereignty has been shared for as long as territorial states have existed, I am sure that most
of you would agree that the conditions under which sovereignty is exercised have changed dramatically
since 1945 and may well be evolving in new directions since the collapse of the Soviet empire and the
rise of the United States as the world’s first hyper-puissance, to adopt a French phrase.

One important factor influencing these changes is how evolving international law constrains the actions
of states in ways previously unforeseen. These limits on sovereignty have been accepted voluntarily,
with the potential to benefit all participants. One unforeseen consequence of the growing number and
increasing complexity of international instruments that create the framework for our system of global
governance has been, however, that not every country has the wherewithal to live up to its growing list
of commitments and there is a growing recognition that more developed states have an obligation to help
build capacity in states having problems adjusting to this new environment.

Canada recognizes this obligation as our role as a leading architect of the post-war international
system and is an example of our having recognized the benefit to us of ceding some of our sovereignty,
whether to the UN or NATO or in the course of successive trade liberalization rounds.

We all know of the many multilateral ways of achieving Canadian national objectives, which were, in
addition, consciously designed to benefit the broader international community:

* The United Nations, which grew out of our World War II alliances, has allowed Canada to “punch above
its weight” on international security through peacekeeping and to promote our social and economic
vision through agencies such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the UNHCR [United Nations
High Commission for Refugees].

* For a half century NATO has provided Canada with a transatlantic bridge, has enabled us to bring an
end to bloodshed in the Balkans, and now assures us of an expanding zone of security across the North
Atlantic Alliance, a region that is, collectively, our number two economic partner.

* The World Trade Organization (WTO) and its predecessor, the GATT, lowered tariffs and opened markets
to Canadian products. For the new trade round, Canada is working to create a new trade agenda tackling
the issues of developing country capacity referred to above, as well as access to patented medicines
and the integrity of international environmental regulation.

Testing the Boundaries of Sovereignty Today

In this new environment of growing global governance much has been said about the disappearance of the
sovereign state but, paradoxically, for all the predictions from both the corporate and NGO world about
its withering away, sovereignty still matters and national governments remain indispensable actors
within the new global framework. It is clear, for example, that effective and legitimate states
continue to be the best means of ensuring that the benefits of the internationalization of trade,
investment and technology are delivered to their citizens.

That said, it is equally true that every major international problem that we are facing today-from
governance in Africa to future campaigns against terrorism beyond Afghanistan-raises questions related
to the concept of sovereignty and the interdependence of states.

On the one hand, humanitarian crises and genocides in failed states have prompted calls to override the
principle of non-intervention by other states. Increasingly over the past decade these calls are being
heeded. Canada has been at the forefront of rethinking the relationship between intervention and state
sovereignty, sponsoring an International Commission of eminent thinkers from both South and North that
has recently reported its findings to the UN in a thought-provoking document entitled “The
Responsibility to Protect.”

The authors of this report found that even the strongest supporters of state sovereignty no longer
claim the unlimited power of the state. Rather, it is acknowledged that sovereignty implies a dual
responsibility: externally, to respect the sovereignty of other states; and internally, to respect the
dignity and basic rights of all peoples within the state itself.

In international human rights covenants, in UN practice and in state practice itself, sovereignty is
now understood as embracing this dual responsibility. Sovereignty expressed as responsibility has
become the minimum content of good international citizenship, and this will increasingly be the case as
more domestic issues, such as protection of the environment or the treatment of minorities or the
obligation to hold free and fair elections, take on global dimensions.

When we, in concert with other states, took the grave decision to intervene in the case of Kosovo and
Afghanistan, for example, there was a vigorous debate both within the government and by all parties in
the House of Commons concerning the circumstances and means of that intervention that were necessary
for it to have international legitimacy. I believe that we and our allies made the right choice in
those circumstances. And let me remind this audience that we made those decisions because we had the
sanction of NATO, in the one case, and the United Nations, in the other, unlike other situations to
which some people are, in my view, drawing misleading comparisons.

Indeed, the present discussion concerning the dangers posed by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass
destruction and the possible right of preventive intervention, to name only one case that we are facing
today, raises similar issues, particularly whether one state is free to determine both the
circumstances that justify intervention and the means by which it will be accomplished, free from the
sanction provided by generally recognized regional or global institutions.

Canada’s policy has been, then, always to act in these cases in a way that strengthens our
international institutions; the alternative risks chaos and global instability.

In other areas we have also sought and led new, distinct approaches to international dialogue-our
pursuit of the broader more inclusive G20 on international financial issues, our championing of the New
Partnership for African Development in the summit context, and the prominent role we have played in
preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development are but three recent examples.

We have signed hundreds of international agreements that commit Canada not only to certain codes of
international behaviour, but also to the obligation to implement their principles at home. As only one
example, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade works with the office of the Auditor
General to monitor the domestic application of 88 international environmental agreements to which we
have subscribed.

Even the provinces are increasingly bound by international instruments, not only in the economic field
but also in respect of international human rights norms.

We expect no less of other signatories. International peer review is increasingly a way for governments
and their publics to hold each other to account and a means for developing our institutions of global

Witness also the momentum growing behind the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Next week we may reach the 60 ratifications needed for entry into force of the Rome Statute.

By taking the lead in promoting the ICC, Canada is supporting the rule of law internationally. The
creation of the ICC will ensure that those responsible for the most serious crimes known to humankind-
genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity-will be held responsible for their actions and will be
judged in accordance with commonly accepted principles applied with full respect for the rights of the

It was one of the proudest moments in my parliamentary career when I reported to the House, the
Standing Committee’s Report adopting the legislation necessary to implement this historic development
in international law. And I am equally proud as Foreign Affairs Minister to speak of Canada’s leading
role in developing this crucial international instrument.

Trade has probably been the area, however, that most firmly entrenched the principles of collaborative
rule-making and revealed most clearly the bottom-line benefits of sharing sovereignty. For Canadians,
NAFTA has helped stimulate a remarkable growth in trade-nearly doubling in the past eight years-within
an increasingly integrated North American market.

Agreements, of course, will always be tested. Canada is taking a firm stand on issues such as softwood
lumber. We have made it clear that our approaches to resource management are based on Canadian needs
and circumstances and must not be a licence for protectionism by others. Failing a recognition of our
rights, we will vigorously pursue our multilateral options, including invoking the dispute settlement
provisions of the WTO, as well as those of NAFTA.

Some argue that the softwood lumber dispute illustrates the weakness of NAFTA as an institution when
faced with American protectionism exercised in a highly politicized environment. One must say that,
after several previous successful challenges to similar complaints, millions of dollars in legal fees
and years of managed trade, it is discouraging to face the disruption that this represents to our
legitimate trade with the United States and the pain that it is causing to workers and investors who
relied on assurances of open unrestricted markets. When dealing with the United States one is sometimes
ruefully reminded of George Will’s dictum: “Free trade ranks somewhere between Christianity and
jogging, as something much talked about but little much practised.”

That said, it is also true that the vast majority of our trade with the United States proceeds free
from any dispute, to the great benefit of both our economies. And the fact that we have effective
dispute resolution systems, both in the WTO and NAFTA, to which we can turn with confidence for a fair
result in circumstances such as this, is a credit to the new multinational institutional framework that
Canada has had a significant role in constructing.

Canadians: North Americans and Global Citizens

While Canadian sovereignty is largely built upon our identity as both North Americans and global
citizens, today it may also be said that we are becoming more and more a nation of the Americas,
evidenced by our deepening economic ties in North America which includes, let it not be forgotten,
Mexico, and our growing profile throughout Latin America. Meanwhile, our multiculturalism has helped us
welcome the entire world within our borders and the way in which we have managed this process has made
us a model for much of the rest of the world.

September 11 made us all aware how much we feel a part of North America in particular. It was, and has
often been said, as much an attack on Canadian values as American values. Canadians understood this.
Our efforts to cooperate on enhancing border security demonstrated the maturity and initiative of our

In working together quickly across levels of government and with the private sector, Canada was able to
produce a package that allowed us to cooperate with our American partners in an environment of
uncertainty around the border, and to address both commercial and security needs without giving in to
demands for extreme solutions that would have seriously compromised our sovereignty.

Working with Secretary Colin Powell, I have also stressed the importance of a multi-dimensional
American approach to the anti-terrorism campaign and other pressing issues. As close allies, we want
our friends in Washington to resist the temptation of unilateralism, and to draw on the strengths and
insights of other players in the global system, whether they be military contributors, economic
partners or transnational virtual communities that can be brought into our coalition for a more secure

But Canadians clearly have aspirations beyond a North American relationship. Indeed, both Canada and
the U.S. are multicultural societies that expect their governments to be active in the outside world
from which they have come. This multiculturalism, in turn, gives us connections and a depth that many
other states do not have.

We Canadians are global citizens drawing on a distinct set of values and a diverse culture. Exercising
our sovereignty, thus, also means providing Canadians with a choice so that we can read about, listen
to or view our own stories. This interest extends far beyond our borders. As our media exports and
international book prizes show, the world does indeed want more Canada.

It is our interest, then, to promote cultural diversity, not only at home but also internationally, and
we will continue our efforts to arrive at an international instrument that sets out the means whereby
states may achieve that very important goal. I am pleased to say today that our government has the
instruments to project Canada and its interests across the board. Thanks to prudent fiscal management,
Canada is again able to boost overseas development assistance. We are not only increasing our
contribution, as the Prime Minister pledged at Monterey, but we are also helping to shape a new
consensus among both donors and recipients on making aid more effective, an approach that has shaped
our G8 Africa initiative.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s 164 missions abroad are focused on
extending Canada’s global reach and bringing home the benefits of globalization, while helping to
tackle potential threats to our security or well-being at their place of origin.


In the recent issue of The Economist, Joseph Nye wrote an article entitled “The New Rome Meets the New
Barbarians.” In that provocative piece he reviewed the United States’ ability to project its power onto
the world. In so doing he analogized the exercise of global power to playing on a complex three
dimensional chess board, the moves on any one level influencing the pieces at the other levels.

For him the three chess boards represented, respectively, military power, economic strength and “the
realm of transnational relations that cross borders outside government control.” As he put it, “at
first glance, the disparity between American power and the rest of the world looks overwhelming.” But,
while it is true that on the top level that proposition is accepted, it is less so on the second, where
the U.S. is not the top leader but must deal with Europe and an emerging China.

On the third board, which is the domain of international bankers wielding enormous influence over
currencies and the wealth of nations, or of computer hackers or international terrorist operations,
like Al Qaeda, power is widely dispersed. He concludes, then, that the United States needs allies if it
is to exercise its sovereignty in the world; it cannot dominate these three chess boards at once and,
“in a three dimensional game, you will lose if you focus only on the top board and fail to notice the
other boards and the vertical connections between them.”

I believe that we Canadians, perhaps because we have never dominated any of the boards, have always
been intuitively aware of the need to build consensus and have sought to develop our global influence
where we may be most effective: modestly on the top board, more significantly on the second where our
G8 status and leadership of the G20 give us standing well above our simple economic ranking, and very
aggressively on the third board where our highly educated multicultural population extends our
influence considerably.

Many examples of this will come to mind to this audience of experts but I would like to share with you
one recent experience that struck home for me. I was in Quebec two weeks ago and had the opportunity to
meet with groups of highly energetic and motivated students from high school to CEGEP to university
level. All these students were engaged in the world, helping at their level, counterparts in far less
developed and less fortunate places in this world. One group I met with, at the University of Quebec at
Montreal, was leaving shortly to teach the principles of human security in Francophone Africa. I just
knew from speaking to them, sensing their enthusiasm and determination, that they were Canada’s players
on that third level and that their Canadian spirit, added together with that of thousands of NGOs,
church groups, companies and individuals, will influence our chances of projecting our interests and
values on the other two levels as well.

I had the same sensation when I attended a meeting at a local church in our riding to welcome a group
of refugees from Georgia, brought into Canada through years of work and devotion of that church

These are only two examples-we can all cite so many more from corporate good behaviour to altruistic
NGOs-of how individual Canadians are reinforcing our sovereign presence in this world.

Canada will continue to be an aggressive player in this three-level game, developing new patterns of
association with states and non-state actors alike. We will make sound choices to promote our sovereign
interests and create improved conditions for the success of those choices. That is the tradition of
Canadian engagement in the world, built up through our experience of multiculturalism, espoused through
our expertise in governance, and demonstrated through our social cohesion and the integration of new
Canadians who continue the nation-building experiment that began with Confederation.

Those values represent our sovereign interests as a nation, and our sovereign responsibilities to our
citizens and to the world. For Canada, the responsible exercise of sovereignty means to continue to
make the choices necessary to carry on those traditions, and to expand the reach of our values by
grasping the opportunities inherent in the challenge of managing the increasingly interdependent world
within which we continue to contribute and to prosper.

Thank you.

You may also like:


Bullets made out of money never miss and don’t make appointments.


Morgan Spurlock, the acclaimed filmmaker behind the hit 2004 documentary "Super Size Me," has died aged 53 of complications from cancer.


Veteran actress and singer Lorna Luft chatted about her latest endeavors.


Jeremy Renner chatted about his latest endeavors in acting and music, which includes the release of his "Love and Titanium" EP.