Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Moosemilk and Cucumber Sandwiches? The Shared Anglo-Canadan embassy cocktail party...
There was a very interesting press release on the FCO website recently which reported on the visit by the Foreign Secretary to Canada for bilateral meetings. One of the outcomes has been a decision for the UK and Canada to investigate better shared use of embassy facilities across the globe, using each other’s diplomatic presence as a means of bolstering a wider presence across the world. The full text of the press release can be found HERE.
This is a really interesting and very positive development. The UK has over the years acquired a large global estate of diplomatic interests, which consist not only of FCO sites, but also representation from UK Trade & Industry, Department for International Development and also the British Council. Almost by accident the UK possesses one of the worlds largest global diplomatic networks, enabling access and presence across the globe. But, over recent years this network has shrunk as budgets have tightened and engagement priorities changed. By their very nature Embassies are expensive to run, and require a lot of funding, real estate and commitment to keep open. Both the UK and Canada have got to make reductions to funding of their Diplomatic Services over the next few years, and this represents an excellent way to continue representation instead of closing it down.
The suggestion that the UK may work with Canada to share facilities is a genuinely good news story. Both nations have a very long shared history, which is built on absolute trust and shared democratic values. Canada is a beacon of global standards; it shares a border with a vastly more powerful neighbour, yet is not in thrall to them. It has a history of peacekeeping, tolerance and willingness to absorb new cultures and create a better country, but when push comes to shove, is not afraid of using force to stand up for what it believes in.
Between 1945 and 1990 the UKs relationship with the three ‘old dominion’ nations (excluding South Africa) seemed to be destined to decline into near irrelevance. A UK focused on defending the Central Front, and withdrawn from the Far East and Asia Pacific region, was having far less to do with these countries. The end of the Cold War and the re-emergence of interventionary operations seems to have sparked a significant resurgence in co-operation between all four nations. If one looks at military operations conducted across the world, then for the last twenty years, and particularly since 2001, all four nations have worked closely together as a common alliance. Humphrey has had the honour of working alongside representatives from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and it is clear that for all the jokes about sport, and national differences when it comes to beer, wine and winning cricket, there is a far deeper bond shared between us than practically any other country. There is an absolute trust, an absolute alignment of values, and a willingness to go to far off places and do dangerous things in order to do the right thing. This is not a colonial ‘Master / Servant’ relationship – all four countries seem to regard each other as equal partners, each bringing different skills and experience and areas of influence to the table.
The news that the UK may be lucky enough to share with Canada in Embassies sends a very positive message. Firstly it will allow both countries to share office space in order to represent themselves overseas – furthering the interests of both nations. While the author has absolutely no idea as to where the shared embassies may be located, it would seem logical that they will be in places where one country has no current representation. In the UKs case, this may be in the Asia Pacific region, which has seen a steady drawn down of representation in recent years.
Logistically the move benefits both nations, who will be able to draw on office space to allow them to work at a vastly reduced cost compared to running two embassies in the same location. It doesn’t mean that there will be shared office suites with colonial officer Brits telling the downtrodden Canadians what to do. Rather it’s likely to mean there being shared office buildings, with separate national areas and ambassadors doing their own work. This is in many ways no different to companies sharing office space, or in the case of operational theatres, nations sharing each others support facilities.
The most important thing though is the strong message this sends to other nations. By having a joint embassy site, both nations are able to send a strong message about our shared values and interests. We can show the world that jointly our nations hold some things so dear, and have a relationship built on such trust, that we are willing to work together in this way. That is a very powerful message to send, particularly as Canada takes on an ever more assertive role in the world stage. The days of Canada as a quiet peacekeeper, trying to make everybody play nicely have gone forever. The modern Canada is a confident and assertive nation, not afraid to stand up for what it believes are acceptable standards of behaviour – just look at their actions in Afghanistan and the closure of their embassy in Tehran.
By sharing these facilities, the UK and Canada will be able to expand their diplomatic presence, and influence across the globe. It benefits both nations, and sends a strong signal to others of the immense value that comes from working together in a mutually beneficial relationship. This could be a most significant development indeed.