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While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World [Paperback]

Andrew Cohen
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 16 2004
For how much longer can Canada expect to get a free ride?

With 9/11 and the international “war on terrorism,” the time has come to ask some hard questions. Should we continue to starve our military, reduce our humanitarian assistance, dilute our diplomacy, and absent ourselves from global intelligence-gathering? Can we expect to sit at the global table by virtue of our economic power without pursuing a foreign policy worthy of our history, geography, and diversity?

Canada has been getting by on the cheap, writes Andrew Cohen in this timely, forceful, and insightful new book. Our reluctance to pay our own way has had a cost: it has eroded the pillars of our international stature. We are still trading on the reputation this country built two generations ago, but it is a reputation we no longer deserve. We claim to be engaged abroad, but for too long we have been a freeloader, trying to do the same for less, practising pinch-penny diplomacy and foreign policy on the cheap. Our capacity in these key areas has become glaringly inadequate, and now that weakness is compromising our ability to honour our traditional commitments overseas.

The time is ripe for a thorough re-examination of our foreign policy, to affirm our values, to win the respect of our allies, to carry our weight.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

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Canada emerged from World War II with the world's fourth-largest military and the infrastructure to build nuclear weapons if it wanted. Today, its military is a shadow of its once-glorious self, and Canada's diplomatic influence in the world is in decline, according to Andrew Cohen, a journalism professor at Ottawa's Carleton University. In his book While Canada Slept, Cohen laments the "aimlessness" of Canada's foreign policy and the "lethargy" of its politicians at a time of world turmoil. He admits he isn't the first to make the argument. His innovation is to survey Canada's once-great influence and its woeful present through the eyes of three pioneers of its foreign-affairs establishment: Hume Wrong, a legendary senior external affairs official; Norman Robertson, a clerk of the Privy Council; and Lester Pearson, the prime minister. The three men gave Canada a reputation for "punching above its weight" and contributed to Canada's towering diplomatic role of the 1950s and 1960s.

Cohen writes that the three would be saddened by what has become of their country. Canadians are a people "without memory," he suggests, citing a survey that found 88 percent of those aged 18 to 34 could not identify Pearson's role in defusing the Suez crisis in 1956. "We are no longer as strong a soldier, as generous a donor and as effective a diplomat, and it has diminished us as a people," he writes. While Cohen claims not to be partisan, he is especially critical of Jean Chrétien's government for cutting funds from the military, foreign aid, and diplomatic service. Some of Cohen's arguments have indeed been made before, and they fall flat at times. He doesn't explain, for example, why Canada should spend as much on the military as during the Korean War, when it devoured 7.3 percent of GDP. The book could also use an index. But generally it is a decent effort to enliven the dry issue of Canada's foreign policy and is most interesting as a survey of the country's diplomatic heyday. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Relentlessly chronicles just how far this country has fallen from global grace.”
Ottawa Citizen

“In well-crafted prose and on a foundation of extensive knowledge of our diplomatic history, Cohen recounts a tale of how we have created… a make-believe foreign policy.”
–Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star

“A trenchant critique of modern Canadian foreign policy.”
Time Magazine

“Cohen’s contribution is invaluable. A book full of… rich detail, written with passion and engaging prose.… A must read for all of those who wish to understand the roots of Canada’s global outlook.”
Globe and Mail

“Mr. Cohen… has hit the bull’s-eye.”
–Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail

“There could hardly be a better time for While Canada Slept, Andrew Cohen’s cogent and sobering survey of this country’s long slide into the margins of global importance.… A powerful indictment of how we’ve neglected our role in the world.”
Victoria Times-Colonist

“Provocative and persuasive.… [Cohen’s] arguments are persuasive and ably defended in a book that is brisk, on the mark and wonderfully readable.”
London Free Press

“Persuasive and compelling.… A long-awaited wake-up call to Canadians who have for years been blinded in a glare of self-satisfaction about their own international importance.”
Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“Cohen has pulled together a well-written, engaging and timely book. This is clearly a must-read for all Canadians interested in our glorious past and in Canada having an influential voice in the world once again.”
Montreal Gazette

“The articulation of foreign policy and the integration of its various elements (diplomatic, aid, military and financial) should be high on [the next prime minister’s] list of his or her policy challenges. If so, much will be owed to Andrew Cohen for this passionate, informative, entertaining and mostly convincing volume.”
–David Malone, Literary Review of Canada

" Excellent … This is an exceptionally easy book to read – popular but built on scholarship and masterly in its smooth transitions."
–Douglas Fisher, Legion Magazine



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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Whine for a Nation Dec 25 2003
By Graymac
Format:Hardcover
Cohen does a reasonably good job of recapping the facts of Canada's decline as a middle power since the end of the Second World War. Probably a third to a half of the book is simply a jog through 50 years of Canadian history, emphasising the 40s, 50s and 60s as the decades when Canada was a country of some influence. He pays the usual homage to senior civil servants Lester Pearson (before he became PM Pearson), Norman Robertson et al, seeing them as the key to Canada's ability to punch above its weight on the world stage.
Where Cohen goes astray is in failing to treat Canada's foreign, defence, trade and aid policies in the broader context of world affairs. His book does not really acknowledge that the world has changed, and indeed that Canada's post-Second World War moment of influence was very much a function of Europe's collapse. And apart from vague appeals to do more and spend more, Cohen doesn't seem to have much of a vision of what he would have Canada do with any new-found/restored influence.
All that said, it's still a worthwhile read, if only to get your own thought processes going.
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Format:Hardcover
This book was a good read, and provided a great overview of Canada's post-war foreign policy. Cohen also nicely incorporates the thoughts and lives of Hume Wrong, Norman Robertson and Lester Pearson into the narrative. As I suspect most will sheepishly admit, I had never heard of the first two! At just over 200 pages, this book doesn't waste your time, and you get a lot out of it.
My only complaint with the book is that it could have had more context for some of the discussions. For instance, Cohen describes how Canada's foreign aid is too thinly distributed across to many countries and programs. While this is true, Canada is hardly unique in this regard. The entire development community and the World Bank can all be accused of this to a great extent (see, for instance, William Easterly's "The Elusive Quest for Growth" and recent article "The Cartel of Good Intentions" in Foreign Policy, plus Jessica Einhorn's "The World Bank's Mission Creep" in Foreign Affairs). As the definition of "development" expands, it's hard not to spend on health, education, governance, legal reform, etc., etc. Otherwise you could well be accused of the simple, narrow-minded economic policy interventions of the past, and with a fair amount of justification.
Similarly, Cohen also describes a staff retention crisis at the foreign affairs department. This was eye-opening, but I also had no sense of how specific these problems of retention of good staff were to the department or whether they reflected the problems all organizations have had in the past decade or so training and retaining good professional staff. The situation does sound serious though, and he documents it well.
All in all, a good, quick read. I recommend it highly.
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Format:Hardcover
This critique of Canadian foreign policy will humble readers who are under the impression that Canada has a notable place in the world comparable to its illustrious past. Andrew Cohen gives us a brief overview of the history of Canadian foreign policy, dispeling several myths including our supposed past of being primarily neutral peacekeepers. At the end of ww2 Canada's military was the 4th largest in the world with the capacity to develop nuclear weapons if necessary. More importantly, Cohen reveals information about the state of the current military detachment in Afghanistan which makes one wonder whether our presence there is more of a liability than an asset to coalition forces.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful read for any Canadian April 3 2004
Format:Paperback
I would recommend this book to any Canadian interested in our nation's place in the world. This book examines the foundation behind many of our national myths and demonstrates the decline in our stature and influence. The book isn't simply a litany of problems, it also suggests what could be done to improve the situation. At the very least, these issues deserve a national debate, not the gradual decline through neglect that is currently happening.
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