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Canada’s Energy Security in a Shifting International Order

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Executive Summary

  • Canada has numerous options among gas, carbon capture, nuclear, battery, and renewables at its disposal to confront the energy transition. But, we lack a coherent vision and strategy for the short, medium, and long term that balances climate change, our economic interests, and national security.

  • Canada should prioritize trade diversification when it comes to energy sourcing amid shifting geopolitical tides to ensure its energy security.

  • Canada faces a strategic choice when it comes to energy: to outline a vision for international order rooted in commitment to reinforcing alliances or an open global economic and trading system. Allies would benefit from certainty on Canada’s position one way or the other.

This event summary is published as part of IPD’s project, Canada’s Interests in a Shifting Order.


On 29 May 2023, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) hosted a private expert roundtable as part of its project on Canadian national interests in a shifting global order. This project, launched in June 2022, brings together Canadian foreign policy scholars, analysts and stakeholders for a series of informal discussions, culminating in the publication of a final report in Autumn 2023. The project’s guiding logic is not to point to threats which must be balanced against, but rather to hold a first-principles discussion on the nature and scope of the country’s national interests, which can then serve as a basis for determining policy goals and developing the capabilities necessary to achieve them.

In this month’s session, co-organized with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI), IPD gathered virtually with an array of energy experts from academia, government, and industry to discuss Canada’s energy interests within the context of its broader security agenda. The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule. The following is a summary of the key points raised by the participating experts.

An Uncertain Future

The discussion began with a broader analysis of the current state of the global energy transition. The demand for energy is rapidly increasing, which could lead to scarcity and more expensive resources. While it is agreed that both climate change and the energy transition are real and are accelerating, it is unclear in terms of both vision and policy how Canada and the world will cope.

One perspective was that we continue to use coal, but offset with carbon capture. Renewables such as solar and wind are gaining traction, yet it can sometimes be hard to measure their true cost and reliability. Another vision includes using liquified natural gas (LNG) as an in-between as we move from coal to renewables. The use of electric vehicles (EVs) is growing — especially in China, though experts are conflicted on the future role of EVs and batteries due to questions over the feasibility of scaling up critical mineral mining. Nuclear, another viable option in the mix, has polarized support here and abroad, such as in the case of Germany (which is winding down nuclear) versus France (which is ramping it up). Further complicating the discussion, we must also factor in the accelerating speed of global development and technological innovation.

Moreover, there is risk involved when it comes to the economic aspects of the energy transition, both at home and worldwide. Some participants expressed concern that an overly ambitious transition could cause more economic and political instability. There is also a risk to not acting, as the catastrophic effects of climate change become a real-time challenge. As for Canada’s place in the global energy transition, much is unclear; we lack policy certainty around how we aim to balance energy, security, and climate change.

Energy Geopolitics: Self-Sufficiency or Open Order?

A main focus of the discussion was Canada’s geopolitical interests when it comes to energy security.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent cutoffs from Russian gas in Europe have demonstrated, energy can be weaponized. While older oil fields in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States may have already hit their peak production capacity, it looks as though Iran, Libya, and Venezuela have some additional production capacities. Yet none of these suppliers are our allies. As supply starts to dwindle, Canada may need to invest further at home to secure its energy reserves. The experts agreed that Canada needs to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependencies.

Nuclear power presents us with an opportunity for carbonless self-sufficiency: Canada is already a leading global producer of small modular reactors (SMRs) and could feasibly become a global leader in exporting SMR technology and uranium. As for the security of an electric future, Canada has some capacity to mine critical minerals, but China is far ahead – Beijing holds a monopoly on well over half of the global supply share and a small handful of countries hosting the rest.

Should Canada only trade energy with its allies, or should Canadian energy exports respond to market-based incentives? Canada could opt to reinforce the current global process of bloc formation, or it could maintain as its top priority the preservation of an open international economic order.

Bilateral and multilateral climate actions increasingly run the risk of being overshadowed by strategic concerns. Therefore, Canada needs to prioritize trade diversification when it comes to its energy needs. But this presents us with yet another question: should Canada only trade energy with its allies, or should Canadian energy exports respond to market-based incentives? Canada could opt to reinforce the current global process of bloc formation, or it could maintain as its top priority the preservation of an open international economic order.

Canada also faces a moral dilemma when it comes to the global energy transition, which may help explain our ambiguous position to date. We produce more oil and gas than we need and could provide energy security for other nations, much in the same way that Norway has acted as a guarantor of fossil fuels to Europe well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But, we also have a moral responsibility to be a global leader in reducing emissions.


Amid a growing array of energy options, many experts agree that Canada’s long-term energy security lies in diversifying its energy sources. The more difficult task is deciding how we intend to get there, including how we will balance provinces’ priorities (who have jurisdiction over their resources) with national ones. It is in Canada’s interest to add certainty and order to what is already panning out to be a chaotic energy transition. Despite conflicting visions of the future, one important point of agreement is that Canada needs an immediate industrial strategy that aligns with global net zero targets — something that the US, UK, and EU all already have in place. This would provide at least some policy certainty to Canadians and to our allies.

Written By:
Tatiana Velickovic
Tatiana Velickovic is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy
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