Total diplomacy

| September 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

A conversation with Morris Rosenberg, Canada’s new deputy foreign minister


Morris Rosenberg

Morris Rosenberg

The American politician-turned-diplomat, Chester Bowles, who served as ambassador to India under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, once opined that “We are coming to realize that foreign operations in today’s world call for a total diplomacy … ambassadors can no longer be content with wining and dining, reporting, analyzing and cautiously predicting.” Bowles understood better than most of his contemporaries that modern diplomacy is a highly complex affair, that it engages many domestic and international partners, and that practically all of today’s so-called “international” problems do not respect state boundaries or national jurisdictions. As he further noted, the “extraordinary multiplication of activities and agencies reflects the complexity and interdependence of our modern world.”
Successive Canadian governments have struggled with the “total diplomacy” demands imposed by war and peace, disease and disaster, global recession and persisting poverty. Almost without exception, these foreign policy issues compel coherent and integrated decision and action by multiple departments and agencies of the federal government — often aligned with action by provinces, the private sector, NGOs and others. Almost invariably, securing co-ordination has proven an insuperable challenge.
That is not to say that successive Canadian governments have not tried to reform the foreign policy-making process to achieve a more integrated and coherent approach to the development and implementation of Canada’s foreign policies. Canada and the World, the Chrétien Government’s policy review, called for greater levels of integration in Canada’s foreign policy machinery. Ten years later, the International Policy Review, conducted for the Martin government, tried to integrate foreign, defence, development and trade policies.
The Harper Government continues to wrestle with the problems of developing an integrative, inclusive policy process that involves major departments and agencies with meaningful involvement from provincial governments, business, labour and other interested actors. Issues such as Afghanistan, climate change, trade and development policy, and Canada’s  relationships with the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia, especially India and China, all demand a “total diplomacy” approach to ensure  coherence, program delivery and public support.
No one understands the challenges of “total diplomacy” in the 21st Century better than Canada’s newly appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs, Morris Rosenberg, who assumed his post two months ago. A graduate of McGill University (B.A.), Université de Montréal (LL.L) and Harvard University (LL.M.), he served as deputy minister of health (2006-2010), deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada (1998-2004), deputy secretary to the cabinet (operations), privy council office (1996-98) and assistant secretary to the cabinet, economic and regional development, privy council office (1993-96). In a wide-ranging interview with Diplomat magazine, Mr. Rosenberg discussed some of the biggest surprises of his new job, what he sees as the main challenges for the department in helping to manage Canada’s international relations and some of the key assets and skills he brings to his post. The following has been edited for length.

Diplomat magazine: What has been the biggest surprise for you in your new job?
Morris Rosenberg: The incredible quality of people at headquarters and in our missions abroad. I knew about DFAIT’s talent pool from my previous jobs, but I am now seeing it first hand. There are so many outstanding young people in the department. It is quite clear that DFAIT attracts the very best and people who have a strong understanding of international relations and public policy. The most unpleasant surprise is, of course, the daunting financial and management challenges we continue to face as we bring the organization into the 21st Century.

DM: What do you see as being the main challenges for the department in the conduct and management of Canadian foreign policy and Canada’s international relations?
MR: On the management side, I have spent the past two months learning about the job. The department faces the same problems that confront all foreign ministries in a globalized world. Everybody is wrestling with the same question ‘What’s the added value of a foreign ministry?’… There has been lots and lots of discussion everywhere on these issues … A modern foreign ministry has to play several key roles: (1) integrating foreign policy and a country’s international relations; (2) strengthening working relationships with other government departments and international partners; (3) positioning our missions abroad with a whole-of-government approach.
In order to address these key strategic challenges, we will need to build up the policy capacity of the department and to understand better the forces shaping the world … The integration and interpretation of the international context is vital in order to help not just DFAIT but its government partners understand today’s global challenges. The renewal of the foreign service is also a key challenge. DFAIT faces the same challenges as other departments. The baby boomers will eventually need to be replaced. The department must represent the country it serves. It needs diversity in terms of its intellectual and ethnic composition. But it is not just a matter of substituting the young for the old. It is also one of creating a workplace environment where people want to work and a place where there is also real learning on the job.

DM: How do you conceive of the whole-of-government approach to managing Canada’s international relations?
MR: There are structural and attitudinal approaches to bringing about change. There has been a lot of structural change in the department in recent years. However, you can do things without turning things upside down … I also want to bring those who can contribute at any level in the department into the discussion … Senior management has typically been the focus of the deputy’s interactions (but it should not stop there.) I would like to reach out and involve a much wider group of individuals in the department … I have begun to have regular luncheon meetings with junior foreign service officers to hear about and learn their concerns.

DM: What would you like to accomplish in the next six months?
MR: First, learning about the department, meeting people, visiting our missions. Second, building on the work initiated by my predecessor, Len Edwards, to provide a stable financial basis for the department’s operations. Third, promoting outreach by strengthening the department’s relationships with both traditional and nontraditional stakeholders here in Canada and abroad.

DM: What kind of team are you going to assemble to take the department forward?
MR: I am still learning about the team I have. The posting season is upon us. It affects the department at all levels. At Health and Justice, I managed these departments as a corporate, collaborative enterprise. I am looking for team players who can work for the greater good and look beyond narrow, short-term interests. We need leaders who understand the broader international context and can translate it into a domestic policy context … I also want a team that reflects the diversity of the country.

DM: How do you see the department’s relationship to other key departments involved in managing Canada’s international relations? Has the whole-of-government approach to foreign-policy management been realized?
MR: The reality is that we won’t succeed unless we place a premium on collaboration. This involves engaging key players at and beyond the federal level including the provinces who are also important international players. We also need mechanisms for collaboration. There are important lessons to be learned from our collaborative experience in Afghanistan where the mission has involved many departments including Corrections, Public Safety, Border Services Agency, the RCMP, etc., along with CIDA, DND … To remain relevant, government has to perfect those mechanisms. This is true on both the operational and policy fronts … We have to be realistic and acknowledge that international relations in a globalized world affect everybody. The department can’t just talk to itself. It has to talk to a wide range of people. At the same time, our job is to provide advice to the government. We won’t make promises when we consult with others, but we can promise them that our advice to the government will be much better informed.”

DM: Many see a tension in DFAIT between policy formulation and “process management.” They see senior managers in the department being chosen for their management as opposed to policy-development skills. Is this a problem?
MR: Certainly, the policy enterprise is very important. But we also live in an era of accountability and transparency. However, there is a real danger that focusing too much on process simply feeds the beast. I think it is important that we organize ourselves so as to effectively address the substantive foreign policy issues facing the country. In the final analysis, appropriate attention to management ought to enable us to do this.”

DM: What special assets in terms of your own background and experience do you bring to your new job?
MR: I worked in the trade law division office in the mid-1980s as a lawyer and helped to implement the Canada-U.S. Free Trade agreement. I also spent five years in the Privy Council Office and served as deputy minister in two departments, Health and Justice. I know how Ottawa works and have seen how many issues have a global character and involve not just Canadian, but international, partners. I was in the justice department at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks when Canada had to deal with Washington on a whole range of complex anti-terrorism and security issues. I was at Health when Canada had to deal with the H1N1 flu crisis and work with drug companies and foreign regulators in the development and acquisition of a new vaccine. Justice and Health are essentially knowledge-based organizations which place a real premium on innovating thinking and outreach. DFAIT is no different.

Fen Osler Hampson is chancellor’s professor and director of The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

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Category: Diplomatica

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Fen Osler Hampson is Distinguished Fellow and Director of Global Security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and Chancellor’s Professor at Carleton University.

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