Friday, August 11, 2017

Soft Power Works

While Donald Trump was threatening North Korea with "fire and fury," Canada secured the release of one of its citizens -- Hyeon Soo Lim -- from the Hermit Kingdom. Michael Harris writes that Justin Trudeau could have torn a page out of Donald Trump's playbook:

Trudeau could have jabbed back. He could have said that North Korea was being run by a dictator in training pants, a misguided, vicious child trying to ape the dubious accomplishments of his autocratic father and grandfather. He could have asked what else one could expect from someone who has his own people executed with an anti-aircraft gun. He could have said Kim was a madman with whom Canada would have nothing to do unless Lim was released on our terms. But he didn’t.
Instead, Trudeau went about the business of securing Lim’s release quietly. The PM employed his national security adviser, Daniel Jean. The Canadian group that went to work on the task teamed up with the Swedish diplomatic mission inside North Korea, where only 24 countries have embassies. Canada is not one of them.
Sweden functions as a ‘protective power’ for Canada in North Korea; in other words, it assumes consular responsibilities there for our citizens, like Lim.

Trudeau was not turning a new page. He was operating from an old Canadian playbook:

This country invented UN peacekeeping. Lester Pearson won the Nobel Prize for preventing the Suez Crisis from turning into a wider regional war in the Middle East. Though this is less well-known, Pearson also kept Canada out of the Vietnam War (just as Jean Chr├ętien kept this country out of the disastrous Iraq War that Stephen Harper was so anxious to fight).

But perhaps the person Trump could learn the most from when it comes to avoiding violent solutions is General John de Chastelain, a former Canadian chief of the defence staff and the man who helped broker peace between the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Defence Force in Northern Ireland.
As it happened, I was attending school in Dublin during one of the deadlier phases of the battle between the IRA and the UDF. Back then, the conventional wisdom was that there was no bridge to peace in the seemingly endless cycle of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants.

But through two years of patience and diplomacy, de Chastelain and others came up with a plan to put an end to the Troubles — the so-called Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The deal was strongly endorsed in referenda held in the 26-county Republic of Ireland and the six counties of Northern Ireland. Where guns and bombs had failed, diplomats succeeded — through faith, hard work and goodwill.

Soft power works. But it takes time, patience and intelligence -- qualities which the current President of the United States clearly lacks.



Lulymay said...

Nice to read once more that Canada, despite the fervent wishes of one Stephen Harper, we are still best at keeping the peace rather than destroying. As someone who is very grateful to have been born in Canada, thanks to my grandparents bringing their family here from that very war torn Ireland you refer to. Somehow, most long term aggression inside of any country is usually based on religious differences, not human ones, doesn't it?

Owen Gray said...

I grew up in Quebec, Lulymay, where the world was divided into Protestants and Catholics. By the time I started teaching there, they were under one roof, sharing their English language. With time and patience, we can find solutions to problems.

The Mound of Sound said...

The timing was exquisite. What a great counterfoil to president "fire and fury"? North Korea makes nice with Canada, threatens to drop missiles into the sea off the coast of Guam.

Owen Gray said...

The differences are so stark, Mound. Only Donald Trump could miss them.

Lorne said...

I have to give credit where it is due, Owen. There are many things with which to criticize Trudeau, but this is not one of them.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Lorne. He's carrying on a long Canadian tradition.