Interview: Local lessons from the United Nations – Canadian diplomat refines his approach to his former role in Atlanta
Sometimes a top view can bring clarity to the field.
That’s what CanadaActing Consul General Louise blais said happened when she served as her country’s ambassador and deputy permanent representative to the The United Nations, just after leaving his post in Atlanta in 2017.
Now she’s back for a six-month stay in the Southeast, armed with lessons on how to implement international integration in a particular part of the world, at a time when the momentum towards globalization is failing. can no longer be taken for granted.
The pandemic, she said, immediately underscored how connected we are all while leaving ourselves isolated and looking to our nation states, and not just the international system, for assurance and stability.
This has produced global fragmentation that will be difficult to overcome, even as multilateral institutions become even more vital in tackling the pandemic.
Canada and the United States, she said, should begin to see their relationship realistically, deepening their partnership at a time of growing dissonance in visions of global governance between the great powers.
“The Canada-US relationship is more important than ever because the world is not getting soft. The world is getting harder. And while we try to meet Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, the point is that there are areas where we are actually going the other way, ”Ms. Blais told Global Atlanta in a statement. interview.
With COVID-19 revealing the vulnerability of global supply chains, now is the time to strengthen what she calls the “North American platform” – the regional economic integration that supporters of the Free Agreement – The recently revamped North American exchange have often been cited as promoting joint competitiveness relative to other regions of the world, particularly Asia.
“The point is, we live in a world where it’s not inconceivable that we have major disruptions in supply chains. These are global supply chains that we have spent the past 20 years building. And now, all of a sudden, we realize that they’re good, but they’re not the end of all. We realize that we depend on other countries for some crucial materials and products, ”Ms. Blais said.
Seeing potential disruptions like a subsequent pandemic or a ship blocking the Panama Canal as it recently did on the Suez means preparing differently, doubling down on what has worked regionally while remaining open to partnerships.
“We need to create redundancies, I think, in the North American sphere for supply chains – not to ditch the old system, but to make sure we can weather some of the storms that may or may not arise. Either way, we don’t lose, ”she said. “Canada has learned, for example, that maybe we should have a vaccine production capacity and we don’t, so now we’re rebuilding it to some extent. I think my time at the UN has really helped me appreciate some of the big trends that might come our way, so there’s a bit of a broader view.
The UN also has a way of forging alliances, she says, because votes tell a clearer story of influence than some countries would like to show.
At the same time, the focus on the powerful UN Security Council obscures the complexity of negotiating behind the scenes and the usefulness of the UN General Assembly. While it has “no teeth” without the ability to impose sanctions, the pace of “constant consensus resolutions” drives global conversations forward, even at a snail’s pace.
Ms. Blais’ time on the UNICEF Board of Directors showed a more human side of things: how the “United Nations apparatus” creates tangible peace by addressing the root causes of poverty in certain regions that could escalate into conflict, in addition to simply meeting the basic needs of children and families.
“If we didn’t have UNICEF, we would have millions more children who would die each year, not get vaccinated and get education,” she said. COVID-19 has only further illuminated the inequalities.
Bring it home
These global sensitivities colored a relationship between the United States and Canada that during the Trump administration was concerned about trade tensions. Even after USMCA (or CUSMA as the trade agreement is known in Canada) under President Joe biden, not all have returned to the “normal” before Trump.
But the recent virtual summit between Mr Biden and the prime minister Justin trudeau has broadened the view of the relationship at a time when the United States appears to be moving towards more government intervention in the economy to tackle critical issues, Ms. Blais said.
Ms. Blais hopes to enlist the governors of southern states and other actors who will be critical in tackling new bilateral priorities such as climate change, pandemic prevention, Great Lakes management and many other issues. Georgia, she admitted, is even more important to the political conversation than in its last term, which ended in 2017.
“I see my role, while I’m here, to understand and leverage more of what states can play, because it’s a federally organized roadmap, but states and cities are extremely important in the relationship, ”she said, highlighting the oversized role of diplomats in leading these conversations. “I think we have to play that role to bring states into this bigger umbrella, because there is a lot to do.”
Ironically, the physical separation from the pandemic has made it a bit easier to connect with political leaders outside of Atlanta, she said. A few weeks ago, she held virtual meetings with leaders of Mississippi, who plans to set up a trade office in Canada like the one Georgia has operated for decades.
Despite all his experience of seeing global trends at high altitudes, all has not changed: like last time, much of the work of economic development and beyond will be done in the trenches of daily diplomacy.
“At the end of the day, we’re all local.”