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Canada’s Interests in a Shifting Order

Toward a Comprehensive and Coherent Canadian Foreign Policy


Today’s international order is marked by a shifting balance of power and deepening great power competition, even as the threat of climate change persists. Canada’s diminishing special relationship with the United States and a rules-based international order in crisis together suggest that Ottawa may no longer be able to rely on the traditional pillars of its postwar foreign policy. And while Canada’s geographic isolation has traditionally buttressed its national security, this may no longer be the case in a multipolar and integrated world.

Through a series of private roundtables, occurring monthly throughout the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023, this project seeks to clarify the nature and scope of Canada’s national interests in a multipolar world. These roundtables, held among Canadian experts from differing points of view, will feature discussions centred on Canadian interests in various regional theatres (e.g., Europe and Asia) as well as in different policy areas (e.g., multilateralism, climate change and human rights).

This project does not seek to identify threats to which Canada must respond, but rather takes a “first principles” approach. Without a discussion—both conceptual and grounded—on the reach of Canada’s interests on the world stage, it is impossible to set proper policy goals or to identify which resources and capabilities must be developed in the pursuit of those goals. In addition to written analyses published over the course of the initiative’s duration, the project will conclude in the autumn of 2023 with the publication of a report outlining the results of the year-long deliberations.

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Project Report
True North: A Canadian Foreign Policy That Puts the National Interest First

Project Team

Zachary Paikin
Zachary Paikin
Project Director

Dr. Zachary Paikin is a Non-Resident Research Fellow at IPD based in Geneva, Switzerland. He is also a researcher in EU foreign policy at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels, as well as Senior Visiting Fellow at the Global Policy Institute in London, UK.
Full Biography
Walter Kemp
Walter Kemp
Project Co-Chair

Before joining the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organize Crime (GI) as Director for Global Strategy, Walter Kemp was head of the Strategic Policy Support Unit at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Between 2010 and 2016 he worked at the International Peace Institute (IPI) where he led the Institute’s “Peace without Crime” project.
Full Biography
Ann Fitz-Gerald
Ann Fitz-Gerald
Project Co-Chair

Ann Fitz-Gerald is the Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science Department, and a Senior Fellow at IPD. She has worked at both at King’s College, London University’s International Policy Institute, and at Cranfield University, where she was the Director, Defence and Security Leadership.
Full Biography

Project Activities


Cover 3
True North: A Canadian Foreign Policy That Puts the National Interest First
Against the backdrop of global change and instability, this paper aims to launch a national conversation...
How Canada Can Speak With Its Own Voice: The Example of Latin America
Advisor and former Ambassador Matthew Levin writes that Canada should not underestimate how its influence...
Addressing the Climate Crisis Requires a Diplomatic and Global Finance Overhaul
Caroline Brouillette writes that as the earth heats up, international conflict will too and the world...
In the Indo-Pacific, Canada Has Core Interests but Weak Clout
Senior Fellow Jeremy Paltiel writes for Policy Options that Canada’s difficult relationship with China...
Canada’s Core National Interests Will Have To Lie in North America
In a new piece co-published with IRPP, IPD Senior Fellow Andrew Latham argues that Ottawa won’t be a...
Canada Should Look North to Refocus Foreign Policy — and Regain Lost Middle-Power Status
In a new piece co-published with IRPP, IPD Senior Fellow Zachary Paikin argues that Canada should set...
Helmet and Flack Jackets of MONUC Peacekeepers
Canada Has Lost Its Purpose in Foreign Relations. It’s Time for a Review
Walter Kemp writes for Policy Options that Canada's best interest is to focus on defending its northern...
Canadian Diplomacy Needs to Find Its Way Back From the Wilderness
Former Ambassador Louise Blaise argues that Canada’s been so convinced of its virtue as a force for good...
Canada's Energy Security in a Shifting International Order
Canada faces a strategic choice when it comes to energy: to outline a vision for international order...
The Arctic: A Primary Canadian National Interest
A meaningful debate on Canada’s role in the Arctic is long overdue, but we may be finally witnessing...
Zachary Paikin for Policy Magazine: Canadian Foreign Policy in a Shifting World
For Policy Magazine, Research Fellow Zachary Paikin examines how a changing world order may necessitate...
Why Canada Needs Dialogue With China, Especially When We Disagree
Canadians await their government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy this month. Minister Mélanie Joly’s November...
Canada and Europe: Untangling Interests and Values?
On September 15, 2022, IPD convened the second roundtable of its “Canada’s Interests in a Shifting Order”...
Debating Canada’s National Interests: A Historical Overview
The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy’s newly launched project, dedicated to exploring Canadian interests...
Annual Report Photos
Geography and Canada’s National Interests
How does Canada’s geographic position—and in particular our geostrategic location—determine the scope...


Nov 21 Panel — True North A Canadian Foreign Policy That Puts the National Interest First
Panel — True North: A Canadian Foreign Policy That Puts the National Interest First
Colloquium — Canada in a Shifting International Order: Debating our National Interests
Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor