GPF has written before about how a country’s foreign policy is often dictated by circumstances beyond any leader’s control. Canada is no different. Its foreign policy is shaped by the inescapable fact that its southern neighbor is the world’s only superpower. With a few notable exceptions, Canada has followed the United States’ lead when it comes to relations and conflicts abroad. (It participated in the war in Afghanistan but did not withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.) Its foreign policy is also informed by how regionalized the rest of the country is. The interests of the west aren’t always consistent with the interests of the east. Canada needs to devise a strategy that the entire nation, in all its cultural disparity, can live with.
But in “Two Freedoms,” Hugh Segal – the former senator who once served as the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and chief of staff to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – advocates a different approach. To “confront the cult of foreign policy inevitability,” Segal said a middle power such as Canada should be driven by certain values and goals in its relations with other countries. In his view, the two values that should define Canadian foreign policy are freedom from want and freedom from fear. Freedom from want exists only in places where there is hope of achieving a better quality of life. It can’t exist in places where there is no hope of bridging the gap between those who are better off and those who are struggling, no matter how hard one works. It’s this lack of hope that leads to instability and disorder, even in wealthy countries. Freedom from fear, Segal argues, is the gateway to all other freedoms. It includes freedom of expression and freedom of the press and the belief that all laws are applied equally to every citizen.
I picked up this book because I thought it might offer an interesting counterargument to GPF’s view that foreign policies are driven by immovable geographic, demographic and economic constraints. But it approaches the topic from a very different perspective – arguably too different. It looks at the world as it ought to be, rather than as it is. It advocates a certain policy approach based on certain values, but it doesn’t seem to take into account the limitations to applying this strategy globally. For this reason, its value to a geopolitical discussion is limited. It does, however, offer some interesting ideas on the links between security and economic vulnerability.
Valentina Jovanovski, editor
There are libraries full of tomes about U.S.-China relations since World War II. Countless authors have penned books about post-war U.S.-Japan ties. There are far fewer accounts of U.S.-China-Japan ties, and fewer still on how this trilateral relationship has shaped the Western Pacific.
Richard McGregor’s “Asia’s Reckoning” gives a lively account of the twists and turns of this competition, showing how each country has shifted weight from side to side to try to play the other two off each other – and to keep the Soviets at bay. It’s also a worthwhile study on how the individual tastes of one leader or another affect their country’s posture toward the other two, albeit within the narrow parameters established by their strategic interests and domestic political environments.
Perhaps more than anything, the book underscores just how little choice Tokyo has ever had in anything after it lost the war. Its alliance with Washington began under U.S. occupation. It was sustained by Tokyo’s fear of the Soviets and the latent potential for a communist uprising at home. (Beijing’s wariness of the U.S.-Japan alliance was tempered somewhat by the role it played in checking Moscow’s power in the Western Pacific as well.) And now, with China gradually shrugging off internal constraints and trying to step into a more prominent and assertive global role, Tokyo once again finds itself yearning for freedom of action within the alliance. But once again, it has little ability to dictate terms or to exploit U.S.-China ties to its benefit, considering its growing doubts about U.S. interest in the region.
McGregor expects this to result in Japan going nuclear. Such a scenario is certainly possible, albeit unlikely. Even though China’s continued rise is by no means guaranteed, all possibilities remain on the table.
Phillip Orchard, analyst
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this review noted Canada’s participation in the Iraq war. In fact, it fought in Afghanistan, not Iraq. We regret the error, which has been corrected on site.