Review: The Herd

They say Cape Buffalo ward off predators by instinctive mobbing behaviour. Many buffalo will join to protect the herd. Among nations, this is called “multilateralism”. It sounds co-operative and altruistic, but in practice can be narrow and cynical.

Seeking Order In Anarchy examines the phenomenon with first-rate essays by political scientists. The book is timely, in an age of rising nationalism and a receding tide of free trade. “If, as realists claim, states are more interested in themselves than anything else, why has there been a proliferation of multilateral arrangements?” asks editor Robert W. Murray, senior business advisor with Dentons Canada LLP.

“Why would self-interested actors willingly choose to sacrifice their independence with others?” writes Murray: “The answer becomes clear. States use multilateralism to help in securing themselves and hope to get something out of it”.

The only reason the world headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization is located on Robert-Bourassa Boulevard in Montréal is that Canada in 1945 owned one of the world’s largest air forces. We “played an important functional role in the creation of the postwar system of international civil aviation,” notes Assistant Professor Paul Gecelovsky of Western University.

“Like war, multilateralism is a strategy states can consciously choose to increase their relative power position and increase their society,” writes Editor Murray. Canada is an enthusiastic joiner.

We belong to NATO and La Francophonie, the Commonwealth and G7, UNESCO and the Order of Malta – some 20 herds, by official estimate. “Canada promotes commonly-shared values such as equality and democracy,” the foreign ministry enthuses. The department might have added the asterisk, “**When we feel like it.”

Since 2006 Canada has contributed fewer than 60 peacekeepers to United Nations missions in Africa, writes Assistant Professor Edward Akuffo of the University of the Fraser Valley. That is a smaller contingent than the police department in Brandon, Manitoba.

When the terror group Boko Haram kidnapped some 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, “The Canadian government’s response to the Boko Haram crisis was rhetorically robust, espousing Canadian values of human rights, rule of law and democracy,” writes Akuffo. “However, it is not clear as to what Canada’s contributions will be to assist Nigeria.”

Canada’s most enthusiastic herd instinct has been in trade. We have signed literally dozens of pacts in the twilight of the free trade era. “But to what end?” asks Professor Christopher Kukucha of the University of Lethbridge. “Are these agreements innovative ways of managing international trade and entering new markets, or are they instead an extension of an older, deeper approach to Canadian foreign trade policy?”

“Canada continues to play the traditional role of follower,” Kukucha concludes. We’re just happy to be one of the herd.

By Holly Doan

Seeking Order In Anarchy: Multilateralism As A State Strategy, edited by Robert W. Murray; University of Alberta Press; 296 pages; ISBN 9781-7721-21391; $34.95

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