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[Publications]  SFIA Viewpoint-Opportunities and Issues for Korea-Canada Middle Power Leadership by Shin-wha Lee2014.01.10

Opportunities and Issues for Korea-Canada Middle Power Leadership


Shin-wha Lee (Department of Political Science and International Relations, Korea University)


The term "middle power" denotes states that are neither great nor major powers, but still have the potential to play a significant role in global affairs. Although the term has become a buzzword in the field of international relations, its academic and working definitions are yet to be clarified. The pococurante use of the term "middle" could give the wrong impression that those powers were in any respect average nations forming a bridge between small and great powers. In fact, the recently coined term "constructive power," that is advocated by Canada, attempts to reframe the debate to focus on a fundamental feature of middle powers, i.e., willingness to have a foreign policy independent from that of great powers and a strong focus on multilateralism. Ethically, it implies efforts toward a common good, namely the institutionalization of international norms and law. On the other hand, while Canada prefers to use constructive power rather than middle power, Australia has emphasized its central role in global affairs as a "pivot power" to claim that it is much more than a middle power.


In addition, the lack of clarity on the definition of a middle power is further muddled, as there are no uniformly agreed-upon means to identify which countries are entitled to be middle powers. Whereas some tend to regard national power as a holistic standard to categorize middle power states, others may look at a state’s behavioral patterns or other attributes. For example, on September 2013 the middle power foreign ministers’ meeting took place after the UN General Assembly in order to launch MIKTA, an informal "middle power consultative body" that includes Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea (hereafter Korea), Turkey, and Australia. These five states agreed to put forth every possible collective effort to seek constructive and creative solutions toward common global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, and humanitarian emergencies. The participation of Canada in this grouping of middle powers was discussed at the meeting, but some states reportedly refused to accept its inclusion reasoning that Canada is a G8 member state.


Whether Canada can actually participate in this cooperative mechanism or if there is a way to create an ad hoc linkage that would produce a de facto participation effect may prove to be a challenging issue for Korea-Canada cooperation. To make commitments to the multilateral (or minilateral) mechanism and bilateral cooperation simultaneously, Korea should carefully coordinate to prevent the possibility of interference or discord among the different bodies for cooperation. As Korea aspires to expand its sphere of diplomatic engagement and enhance its global outreach, it must first overcome the deep-seated perception that its diplomatic leverage is heavily hindered by its geopolitical constraints being surrounded by the four great powers, the United States (U.S.), China, Japan, and Russia, as well as being agonized by precarious and volatile North Korea. Moreover, Korea must find a solution to overcome its overdependence on certain states for security and economic aspirations. Still, Korea's success story of modernization and democratization continues to be a standard that many developing countries wish to emulate. To further boost Korea’s national prestige and influence in the international arena, Korea intends to increase its soft power capacities.


On the other hand, despite its substantial national power in terms of territorial size and considerable resources, Canada's regional standing has been contained due to its superpower neighbor, the U.S. In a way to compensate for this situation, Canada actively seeks to strengthen its global governance position and recognizes Korea as one of its desirable partners. Canada has enjoyed a long and well-acknowledged reputation as a champion of human security and the originator of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine, with its active initiative and rich experience in the areas of conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and humanitarian emergencies. Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, however, he has been criticized for shutting down the human security office in the Ministry of Foreign Office, ceasing funding for the internationally recognized Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Nova Scotia, and rejecting the engagement of overly liberal issues at the United Nations. Instead, Harper put more focus on national security matters and bilateral relations with the U.S. The Canadian academic and policy community continue to voice concerns in regards to how to make coherent foreign policies based on international norms and values and cherished national legacy regardless of leadership change.  


Against this backdrop, the 13th annual Korea-Canada Forum was held this year in Ottawa. The objective of the Forum, which is primarily based on the Chatham House Rule, is to collectively seek ways to play an essential leading role in international relations. In general, the Forum routinely covers subjects such as: domestic political development and economic situations of the respective country, changing characteristics of regional and international security environments and its implications for the two countries, energy and environmental issues and bilateral cooperation, and bilateral FTA negotiation and other global governance matters such as G20 meetings and peacekeeping activities. This year's forum provided a unique opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice to honor Canadian veterans' service and sacrifice, in addition to regular forum sessions. Furthermore, the Ottawa Forum held a special session on "Opportunity for Korea-Canada Middle (Constructive) Power Leadership," during which the preliminary outcome of the joint project of the Forum's co-host institution, the Seoul Forum for International Affairs (SFIA) and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) was discussed. SFIA and APFC, sponsored by the Korea Foundation, jointly conducted a project over the past 9 months to identify several vital factors necessary for successful middle power initiatives and the final report will be completed by the end of this year, with the aim of submitting its executive summary to the head of the respective governments, 


In essence, we, the joint project team, realized the world is in significant transition in the face of rapid globalization and increasing interdependence, power shifts of global security structure, widening inequalities, and growing urgency and magnitude of common global threats such as climate change, food and energy security, terrorism, weapons proliferation, and complex humanitarian emergencies. The current international order and arrangements have exposed a serious governance gap to keep pace with these fast changing global landscapes. Yet, we agreed that middle powers must acknowledge the limitation of their role in real-world situations set by the existing power structure and be sensitive to the sovereignty of other nations and their national security concerns. We need to be fully aware of the necessity of sensibly aligning our international engagement or other activities outside national boundaries with domestic political and economic priorities. We also noticed that the success of middle power initiatives necessitate deftness and persistent leadership with strong commitment of the government's top leaders. If such initiatives face resistance, leaders must adroitly utilize fast-track inter-governmental diplomacy and coalition-building, complemented by effective public diplomacy and soft power strategies, so as to push their goals.


We assessed current gaps in global governance and identified the following issues as areas of Korea-Canada partnership in order to exercise skillful middle power strategies and initiate actions: strengthening the governance regime regulating nuclear power generation; enhancing effective humanitarian operation in complex emergencies; building new partnerships for international development, taking initiatives in climate change, energy and the green growth agenda, and seeking ways for arctic collaboration.


More specifically,[1] we first discerned that all major states in Asia, including Korea, depend on nuclear energy for civilian use and are expanding their nuclear power generation. Canada, as the world's largest exporter of uranium and a major provider of civilian nuclear technology, has a strong stake in the growth of the nuclear energy industry. The 2011 crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, however, served as a dramatic reminder that the growth of nuclear energy will depend critically on each state's ability to guarantee the safety of their facilities. This includes their ability to withstand natural disasters. In addition to nuclear safety and emergency preparedness, in the face of North Korea's nuclear threat, how to deal with nuclear matters from the national and regional security perspectives should be addressed, as well as how to change the negative public perception of nuclear use. We suggested both countries work together to strengthen the nuclear governance architecture and lead multilateral efforts to develop joint guidelines for new nuclear facilities and for responding to nuclear disasters.


Second, we realized the seriousness of complex emergencies, where a vicious cycle of violence and poverty complicates the survival and welfare of individuals. It is better to either prevent or promptly respond to crises rather than having a delayed and unprepared response. In this regard, the notion of human security, which promotes "individual sovereignty" over state sovereignty, and the practice of humanitarian intervention have received increasing international attention. Yet, humanitarian missions have often been the subject of controversy, due to the selectiveness or the unilateral nature of the missions. To seek more effective intervention approaches, R2P was introduced to call for the states' and international responsibility to protect civilians, particularly in the situations of "R2P crimes," i.e., genocide, ethnocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. We called for Korea-Canada cooperation in security areas in general, and complex humanitarian emergencies in particular, by taking lessons from Canada's foreign policy tradition of global outreach, its galvanizing synergy effect of cooperation in global affairs such as PKO activities and R2P, and its consideration to address R2P and human security dilemmas in complex emergencies.


Third, we realized that the response to newly rising challenges in the areas of climate change, energy, and green growth has required a balanced combination of sovereign interests and global public goods. The constructive role of middle powers in these areas can be developed by promoting international regime-building, developing agenda-setting, establishing a "core participants" group, and providing a stable epistemic community. We suggested Korea and Canada should establish a more comprehensive "Green Energy Partnership" to ensure more proactive contributions to climate change, energy, and green growth. Actions plans are also proposed to develop a bilateral leadership role in these areas such as increasing Green ODA, enhancing common R&D and education, building new global climate change governance, strengthening inter-Pacific energy trade, and building partnerships for Green Détente on the Korean Peninsula.       


Fourth, we acknowledged the importance of developing new partnerships for international development. One way for this partnership to have a positive impact would be for each nation to play to their respective strengths in multilateral bodies. Canada would utilize its achievements in raising standards for aid transparency and accountability, as was acknowledged recently on the Aid Transparency Index. Korea could leverage its credibility as a country that has successfully moved from unprecedented developing to developed economy status to build trust between donor and recipient countries. Also, Korea's special status based on its reputation as a successful developmental model could help it reach out to new donor countries such as China, India, and other non-Western states to encourage them to become part of a process of defining new paradigms and building new norms around international development. At the bilateral level, Korea and Canada could strengthen their collaboration on capacity building in challenging environments such as Myanmar, and possibly even North Korea. For this, it is important to understand the negative side effects of globalization, which results in aversion to greater global integration and anti-Western sentiment.


Finally, we note that mere functional cooperation alone may prove to be difficult to establish a complete and sustainable partnership. Therefore, the two countries must work together behind the scenes to develop various cooperative items. Ultimately, the Korea-Canada ‘strategic cooperation’ will require further expanding of their area and scope of cooperation as to address issues such as how to hedge between two great powers, i.e., the US and China, and how to jointly address North Korea’s human rights issues, possible contingencies or reform in the future.


[1] Portions of the explanations about the project contents are drawn from Eva Busza, Shin-wha Lee, Jae-seung Lee, Dong-joon Jo, and Seung Hyok Lee's "Opportunities for Canada-Korea Middle Power Partnership," Draft Plan of Action by the Study Group on Korea-Canada Middle Power Strategies, 8 November 2013. 

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