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Charting New Waters: Assessing Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy One Year On

Edited By:
This edited volume is published as a follow-up to IPD’s 2023 Indo-Pacific Strategy Forum.

Introduction: Progress and Challenges in Canada's Indo-Pacific Journey

By Bijan Ahmadi & Jeremy Paltiel

The release of the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) a year ago, marked a milestone in Canada’s foreign policy and security posture towards the Pacific. Ottawa sought to recalibrate and reorient policy to face shifting geopolitical dynamics and challenge of great power rivalry while recognizing and acknowledging the rising geostrategic importance of the Indo Pacific region as the engine of global economic growth. To mark the importance of this event and to evaluate its impact, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) organized the 3rd annual Indo-Pacific Strategy Forum in December 2023 in partnership with the Canada West Foundation. This edited volume was commissioned by IPD in conjunction with this forum and builds on the discussion and debate stimulated by this occasion. The volume aims to critically assess the progress of Canada’s engagement in the Indo Pacific a year after the release of the IPS and to provide policy recommendations for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The IPS was launched in a context of significant transformation to the global order, characterized by the resurgence of great power politics, the persistence of regional conflicts, and the imperative of addressing transnational challenges. The strategy aimed to navigate these complexities by enhancing Canada’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, fostering stronger relationships with key partners, and promoting a rules-based international order. The course from policy articulation to implementation reveals both achievements and obstacles, reflecting the contours and nuanced reality of Canada’s ambition and capacity on the global stage.

This collection begins with a paper written by IPD senior fellow and the volume’s co-editor, Jeremy Paltiel in which he sets the stage by evaluating the IPS’s ambitions against its tangible outcomes. Paltiel’s analysis underscores the cautious approach Canada has taken, balancing alignment with the United States and its allies while striving to avoid the pitfalls of a new Cold War. This nuanced navigation, however, faces scrutiny for its modest impacts and the challenges of defining a more autonomous role within the Indo-Pacific’s complex geopolitical landscape.

The volume then delves into specific relational and thematic areas of Canada’s Indo-Pacific engagement. Lynette Ong’s examination of Canada-China relations post-IPS reveals the strategy’s limitations in articulating a coherent approach towards Beijing, highlighting the challenges of diplomatic and strategic autonomy when caught between major powers’ initiatives. Kai Ostwald’s analysis of Canada’s evolving relationship with the ASEAN region reflects on the strategic intentions set forth by the IPS and the historical context that shapes Canada’s engagement with Southeast Asia. Ostwald’s contribution brings to light the balancing act Canada faces in establishing a meaningful and reciprocal partnership with ASEAN amid a crowded field of actors with similar aspirations.

Stephen Nagy’s exploration of the opportunities and limitations within the framework of the Camp David Principles, between the United States, Japan and South Korea, further enriches the discussion by assessing Canada’s potential to contribute to regional stability through both bilateral and minilateral arrangements. Nagy’s insights point to the imperative of leveraging existing platforms and crafting a diplomatic approach that aligns with Canadian interests and capabilities.

Karthik Nachiappan’s critical perspective on Canada-India relations underscores the challenges of nurturing a strategic partnership with New Delhi, reflecting on the broader implications of trade-focused engagements that overlook the complexities of geopolitical and security considerations. The analysis calls for a recalibration of Canada’s approach towards India, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive strategy that transcends economic interests to address mutual concerns in the Indo-Pacific.

Kim Richard Nossal’s contribution on Canada’s “easy riding” strategy in the region provocatively questions the feasibility of a more assertive Canadian defence and security posture in the Indo-Pacific. Nossal’s critique of the inherent limitations in Canada’s strategic culture and resource allocation underscores the broader challenges of translating ambitious policy goals into substantive actions.

Collectively, these contributions offer a thorough assessment of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and highlight diverse perspectives and debate surrounding its implementation. The volume acknowledges the IPS as a milestone in Canadian foreign policy and looks to sustain its momentum into the future, with looming changes in government possible in both Canada and the United States in the coming year. This volume seeks to foster further reflection, debate, and policy innovation regarding Canada’s IPS. The contributors, who bring a wealth of expertise and insight, provide a valuable resource for policymakers, scholars, and practitioners.

We invite our readers to join this debate to help sustain and extend Canada’s vital interests and values in the Indo-Pacific for the future. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) Program at the Department of National Defence and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for their support, without which this collection would not have been possible.

The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) would like to acknowledge the support of the Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program of the Department of National Defence* and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), whose contributions have helped to fund the 2023 Indo-Pacific Strategy Forum and its subsequent volume.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the Department of National Defence or the Government of Canada.

Edited By:
Jeremy Paltiel
Dr. Jeremy Paltiel is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy and a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa. He previously taught at the University of Alberta, the University of Arizona, and the University of California at San Diego.
Bijan Ahmadi
Bijan Ahmadi is Executive Director and a founding member of the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy. Bijan is also the Chair and lead organizer of IPD’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Forum (IPSF), the organization’s flagship annual conference in Ottawa.
Written By:
Lynette Ong
Dr. Lynette Ong is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, jointly appointed to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy’s Asian Institute, a Faculty Fellow at the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, and Senior Fellow at Asia Society’s Center for China Analysis.
Kai Ostwald
Dr. Kai Ostwald is Director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, as well as Associate Professor at UBC’s School of Public Policy & Global Affairs and the Department of Political Science. He holds further research affiliations with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, and the Penang Institute in Malaysia.
Stephen Nagy
Dr. Stephen Nagy is a Professor at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the International Christian University. He is a Senior Fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute, Fellow the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Senior Fellow at the East Asia Security Centre, and a Visiting Fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs.
Karthik Nachiappan
Dr. Karthik Nachiappan is a Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore with a joint appointment at the NUS South Asian Studies Programme.
Kim Richard Nossal
Dr. Kim Richard Nossal is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Studies and a Fellow in the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University.
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