Let’s make a deal
If the “buy American” provisions of the United States’ economic stimulus package or the pending report for the Department of Homeland Security on a northern border strategy have you fretting the near future of the Canada-U.S. relationship, now may be a time for horse-trading.

John Ibbitson, Washington bureau chief for the Globe and Mail and an astute observer of the American legislative process, believes a bold, binational initiative on par with the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Auto Pact or the North American Free Trade Agreement might influence U.S. thinking.

“We simple cannot allow the border to get any thicker than it already is,” he recently told the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa. The “quietly troubled security and trade relations are slowly deteriorating and consequences are grave,” he said – approximately 3.5 million jobs are dependent on $1.7 billion in trade that crosses the border each day.

“[Washington doesn’t] don’t come to us, we come to them.”

And we need to come with a bold offer. Though it would face a mountain of political obstacles, he recommends a North American environmental, economic and security accord: bilateral agreements on such things as a cap-and-trade carbon emissions system; American investment in cleaner Alberta oil for guaranteed access; and a continental security perimeter that would include pre-screening of goods and people.

“When Canadians look at the border, we think of trade and travel; when Americans look at the border, they think of security.” If we could see it through each other’s eyes, we might be able to deal for what we both need.

A podcast of the presentation is available at www.cips.uottawa.ca .

Cultivating the Washington relationship
As Ottawa prepares for its first meeting with President Obama and considers the opportunities presented by a new administration in Washington, the Harper government would be well advised to read From Correct to Inspired: A Blueprint for Canada-US Engagement, a paper by the Canada-US Project.

Prepared by a team of Canada-US veterans under the direction of Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and its Centre for Trade Policy and Law, the blueprint runs the gamut from Arctic stewardship to border security, climate change, energy security and regulatory convergence.

The authors believe “there is scope for critical breakthroughs on issues that serve both Canadians and Americans,” but they caution that the depth and extent of these issues demands a whole-of-government approach, “led by the prime minister and with the full engagement of his most senior colleagues.” Moreover, they argue, it should be the highest priority of the Harper government. “The only question is whether there is the will in Canada to initiate and the stamina to persist,” they conclude.

Colin Robertson, a director with the project and a Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, offers his own assessment of the Obama cabinet, Congress and the immediate legislative agenda, dominated of course by the economy. In a paper for CDFAI, the career foreign officer notes that opportunities abound in everything from the environment to energy, national security and foreign policy, but relationships with the new administration – and especially those at the state and provincial level – need to be cultivated.

For the Canada-US Project blueprint, see www.carleton.ca/ctpl; for Colin Robertson’s paper, www.cdfai.org . For a U.S. perspective on the cross-border relationship, see Christopher Sands’ article on page 28.

Purging pirates means stabilizing Somalia
Somali piracy may plague the waters of the Gulf of Aden, but any comprehensive solution will likely involve operations on land. In a paper originally prepared for multinational energy corporation Nexen, Patrick Lennox, the J.L. Granatstein Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Calgary, says that despite the recent increase of international warships in the GOA to combat the rise of piracy off the Somalia Coast – the average ransom is now at about $1.5 million – the epidemic is “directly tied to the failure of the Somali state.”

For the international community, then, a long-term solution will require “ground operations to stabilize the country itself, as well as to unsettle pirate sanctuaries and destroy pirate infrastructure.”

For the complete Nexen paper see www.cdfai.org; for Dr. Lennox’s article in Vanguard (Nov/Dec 2008) on Canada’s command of Combined Task Force 150 in the Aden Gulf, see www.vanguardcanada.com .

Time for a procurement agency?
In late January, the Australian Department of Defence announced the creation of an advisory unit to improve the management of complex defence procurements. One can only hope Canadian officials were paying attention.

The organization, known as the Defence Systems Integration Technical Advisory unit, is a joint venture between the Defence Materiel Organization (DMO) and the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DSTO) intended to provide advice to project teams and decision-makers.

Earlier that month, Aaron Plamondon, a defence academic with the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, released a 47-page study on Canadian military equipment procurement that noted the lack of an “overall, long-term procurement strategy,” highly trained personnel and accountability within departments.

While DND may have a shopping list and a timetable, there is little clear prioritization between projects. Most of the major procurement projects, he argues “no longer resemble the original plan.”

Plamondon suggests this is “symptomatic of the lack of highly trained personnel within the department who have overseen multiple projects over a long period of time.” Instead, ad hoc project offices are the norm and team members scatter once the project is complete. To improve accountability, he supports a recommendation made by former ADM of Material Alan Williams for a single agency responsible for defence procurement.

“Although defence contracts are far more expensive, technical, and complex than are other government purchasing contracts, there is no specialized agency to effectively carry out these projects. This would also remove the functional overlap between the DND and the PWGSC.”

As with all such ideas, though, success hinges on people. Such an agency would only work if it were able to recruit, train and retain “talented and experienced procurement officials.”