Canada's Liberal Government Should Reassert Soft Power

Canada’s Liberal Government Should Reassert Soft Power

In the post-Harper Canada, the country has an opportunity to once again exert its long-sought influence in various aspects of international affairs and put on display Canada’s soft power. Iran is one such area where Canada can show leadership and make a difference.

By Reza Akhlaghi
Re-published with Permission from The Hill Times

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Conservative Party’s defeat in the recent federal election at the hands of its Liberal opponents has opened a floodgate of new expectations in many policy circles, including that of foreign policy. The Liberal Party’s victory comes three months after the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—also known as the Iran Deal—signed between Iran and the P5+1 powers (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States and Germany) over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

Throughout the many months of arduous negotiations, some Canadian foreign policy observers lamented Canada’s absence in the historic nuclear negotiations, especially given the respect Canada had built over decades through negotiating peace agreements and developing peacekeeping missions.

In the post-Harper Canada, the country has an opportunity to once again exert its long-sought influence in various aspects of international affairs and put on display Canada’s soft power. Iran is one such area where Canada can show leadership and make a difference.

Still a positive image

With the JCPOA behind them, today millions of Iranians have pinned their hopes for a better economy, higher standards of living and greater economic and political transparency through new engagement with key Western economies. Iran has a massive middle-class that makes up more than 60 per cent of the country’s population, but it has been seriously weakened by years of gross mismanagement and widespread corruption. It also has an unusually high rate of college graduates, known for their pro-Western political orientation, but they are disappointed with the chronic high unemployment rate. Canada is in a unique position to contribute to empowerment of Iran’s middle class and feed its penchant for more openness that it so badly desires.

It is worth mentioning that, despite years of openly anti-Iranian policies from Harper’s Conservative government, Canada still enjoys a positive image among Iranians and remains a key destination for their brightest college graduates. Moreover, Iranians have high regard for former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the late father of the incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as an internationally recognized Canadian statesman. Many Iranians, rightly or wrongly, believe that the late prime minister was the key force behind turning Canada into a globally recognized brand name.

The disrupting power of soft power

Currently, a key topic of discussion in the geopolitical dynamics of the region is the direction Iran will be taking following the signing of the nuclear agreement. Within Iran,all-too familiar factional politics has entered a new chapter, with the conservative elite opposing prospects of political transparency and the emergence of a competitive and merit-based market economy. Their opposition comes under the guise of deep concern for Western economic and cultural invasion. Assisting Iran’s young, urban, and large middle class with their pent-up demand for a merit-based economy and polity can have far-reaching implications for Iran, the region, and the emergence of a new economic elite.

In a still early decade of the 21stcentury, Canada will discover that the road to making its presence felt on the global stage goes through utilization of soft power and diversification of its markets globally. When it comes to formulating a new policy toward Iran—a near certainty for the incoming Liberal government—Canada can make a difference in disrupting the entrenched status quo within Iran, entice Iran’s young and entrepreneurial-minded middle class to have faith in positive change, and carve out a solid role for Canadian enterprises that can be the engine of Canadian soft power. For almost a decade, Ottawa’s self-imposed international isolation—no matter the cost—has been a substantial impediment to Canada playing an effective role in world affairs.

This was clearly on display during the nuclear negotiations. Canada can now leverage economic expediency vis-à-vis Iran to bring disruption to the comfort zone of an undemocratic conservative elite and empower an engine of democratic change, that is the Iranian youth.

Despite all interactional rivalries and regional tensions, Iran’s middle class is prepared to be pulled into the Western orbit. Canada should be equally prepared to steer this massive force toward the West. Canada can re-emerge as a soft power of significance, with Iran as a ready, willing, and able recipient.

 

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