Can Diplomacy be Restructured?

The delivery of diplomatic services is becoming increasingly costly due to the growing number of mostly small nations in the postwar period, and to the labour intensity of providing the service for political, economic, defense and humanitarian reasons. The government has proposed cost savings by combining these services with other countries. It is suggested here that further use of information technology may also reduce costs without markedly decreasing the quality of services. I expect diplomats, past and present will denounce this idea, as academics do when cost savings are proposed.

 Can Canada’s diplomatic service be reorganized to provide more cost effective services? Diplomats are a bit like academics. Both cherish their tenure and perks and are loath to admit that their services can be reorganized in a more cost effective way; both tend to be, or have been, to-date, labour intensive with lectures, labs, seminars, tutorials and research supervision for academics, and interviews, meetings, conferences, presentations for diplomats. Both professions need to read, study and write reports, make presentations and deliver lectures as well as provide general administrative services.

Developments in information technology have affected most areas of economic activity. The next to feel this cyber tsunami will be higher education, where the bricks and mortar of colleges and universities will stand empty, be demolished or sold for other purposes, casinos or homes for the aged perhaps. In their place, distance education will emerge and grow. It has always been there with correspondence courses and then various television delivered courses. Carleton and McMaster universities were among the pioneers of TV courses, but were slow to adapt to changing technology. Courses are now being delivered as MOOCs, multiple open online courses, which reduce the costs of education and diminish the need for bricks and mortar and salaried professors with tenure. One professor can give a course to hundreds of students located anywhere with internet access. Information technology has also reduced the need for academic office space.  Academics spend more time at home except for lectures, office hours and meetings leaving their offices empty for the rest of the time. If a hotel had a similar occupancy rate for its rooms, it would soon be bankrupt.

In October 2012, the Canadian government indicated that it would reduce the number of its representatives abroad by sharing premises with other countries, mainly the British. When travelling abroad, a Canadian may be told to visit the embassy of another country if Canada is not represented there, and foreigners to Canada may get their visas from another Canadian embassy, often Washington, if Canada is not represented in the foreign country.

The proposed arrangement generated painful cries from diplomats past and present, especially those who disliked the reminder of Canada’s imperial roots, while ignoring that the Queen remains head of state which gives the arrangement a logical connection. Some would prefer a different head of state, although they seldom explain how the position would be filled by either appointment or election. An elected head would have power, something present parliamentarians dislike, and did so when such a referendum was presented and defeated in Australia, where a strong Irish presence tends to be anti-monarchy because of past events. An appointed head like today’s Governor General would increase demands by interest groups in Canada to have their turn at the wheel and the associated perks.

Why alter the delivery mechanisms for diplomatic services? One reason is that there are so many small countries now, many of which have little trade with, migration to and aid from Canada, principal but not sole reasons for representation – defense is another factor. I would be surprised if there were not cost savings to be found without loss of effectiveness. Again information technology is one reason for this possibility.

Consider the arena for diplomacy in the postwar period. Around 50 countries signed the UN Charter in 1945. There are now 191 UN countries, all of which expect to offer and receive diplomatic services. Diplomacy is a growth industry and if conducted bilaterally on the ground creates a large number of well paid jobs.

In the case of Canada, there are 127 countries with embassies in Ottawa, 54 others are covered by their embassies in Washington, 24 of which have consular offices in one or more cities in Canada. Abroad, Canada is represented in 196 countries, about half with direct representation from Canada, and the rest have offices serving Canada in neighbouring countries. There are also international organizations with Canadian representation. Because of Canada’s historical links with the UK and France, Canada is represented in the 54 states of the British Commonwealth and 56 members of the Francophonie. The Commonwealth has a total population of two billion people with the largest countries being India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the UK, Canada and South Africa; in the Francophonie with 890 million people, the largest are Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece and Canada.


Aid, Trade and Representation – how significant are they?

I have selected a number of smaller countries in Africa which are represented in Ottawa with embassies or high commissions, and where Canada is represented abroad; two are represented via their offices in Washington. This information is taken from websites including the DFAIT website for Canadian representation in these 17 countries. The information on foreign representation in Canada is incomplete. DFAIT probably has it for those employed by country in Canada, but this is not available to outsiders. The following observations are not a scientifically based study, but should be indicative of what is going on.

The 17 countries in Table 1 have embassies or high commissions in Ottawa. Some have consular offices in other Canadian cities, some of whom house Honorary Consuls. Population size for the 17 range from 6 million in Libya and 11 million in Tunisia to 91 million in Ethiopia and 73 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the 17, Table 1 contains information available on various country websites:

The first column indicates the number of persons employed abroad by Canada in the foreign country.  Ethiopia* and Mozambique* are represented by their Washington offices; Niger** states resident in Cote d’Ivoire. Column two lists the number employed by foreign countries in their Ottawa offices. Websites show pictures of each country’s Ottawa offices and residences, some of which are combined in the same building. CIDA funding of ODA by country and Canadian exports by country are listed in Columns 3 and 4, population size in Column 5.

                                                       Table 1.

         Canada’s diplomatic connections, trade and aid with the selected countries

Col.1   Canadian representatives employed abroad from DFAIT website

Col.2   Foreign representatives in Canada from country websites where available.

Col.3   CIDA funding of ODA from  Note 70% of ODA funding came from CIDA, 16% from Dept. of Finance, 6% from DFAIT, and 8% from 10 other departments.

Col.4   Canadian exports –  Jan.-Aug. 2012 from Statistics Canada.

Col.5   Population from CIA Factbook.

Burkina Faso        8 – 5 – na – 44-17

Cameroon             5 –  8 – na- 22 – 20

Congo                    12 – 1 – 19 – 12 – 73

Cote d’Ivoire       6 – 5 – na – 31 – 22

Ethiopia*            na – na – 105 – 10 – 91

Ghana                39 – 5 – 80 – 143 –  25

Kenya                 46 – 10 – 22 – 66 – 43

Libya                     6 – na – na – 100 –  6

Mali                    19 –  4 – 86 – 12 – 15

Mozambique* na – na – 103 – 28 – 24

Niger**              na – na – 12 – 4 – 16

Senegal              23 – na – 67 – 23 – 13

Sudan                    8  –  na – 86 – 82 – 34

Tanzania            12 – na – 88 – 52 –  50

Tunisia               16 – na – na – 101 – 11

Zambia                 3 – na – na – 24 – 14

Zimbabwe         16 – na – na – 6 – 13

Diplomats deliver political, economic, defense, development/humanitarian and consular services. Some of these are labour intensive and may require persons on the ground. But in the same way that other organizations now hold teleconferences to reduce costs, some of these could be incorporated in the conduct of foreign relations. A 2007 government report stated the following:

“DFAIT employs nearly 10,000 personnel located at headquarters and at more than 270 offices in 180 countries. Approximately 55 percent of departmental personnel are locally engaged staff (LES) – citizens of host countries – working mostly in administrative and support positions but also as trade officers, public affairs officers, and mission administration officers. The remaining 45 percent are rotational Canada-based staff (CBS), spending portions of their career at headquarters and portions on assignments at missions lasting from two to four years, and non-rotational staff at headquarters.”

Those on the inside now and in the past are among the best placed to comment on how savings can be made. There is little doubt that this must happen as it will in higher education. Comments would be appreciated.


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