The Role of Diasporas in Foreign Policy: The Case of Canada
Diasporas engage in a range of trans-national activities for political purposes. Forcefully dispersed or conflict-generated diasporas are more prone to be politically engaged than diasporas whose members have moved for economic reasons or in order to improve their standards of living. While some of these activities support Canadian foreign policy objectives, others contravene them and may create security risks.
Diasporas are playing an ever increasing role in conflicts around the world. Two key reasons account for this trend: the overall decline in state support for insurgencies and the increase in ethnically-based conflicts. Experts agree that conflict-generated diasporas are more likely to engage in destructive actions that perpetuate and fuel conflicts. This is due to several inter-related factors, such as the trauma of exile, safe distance from the consequences of drastic actions, guilt and immutable perceptions about the conflict in question. Shelteredin prosperous democracies, these so called long-distance nationalists are well positioned to offer a range of resources their struggling kin at home may lack including money, weapons, shelter, combatants as well as tactical and logistical support.
This is especially true when homelands are emerging democracies, failed and failing states or when they are in a midst of an independence struggle. Canada is not exempt from such activities and some would argue that itsmulti-cultural make-up and open democratic environment make it particularly vulnerable to abuse by segments of diasporas motivated by homeland struggles. This is the case, for instance, when radical Somali-Canadians arerecruited to Islamist militias mounting a civil war in Somalia under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) finance a bloody civil war in Sri Lanka with funds generated in Canada, or when those promoting a Sikh Khalistan attack national symbols associated with their perceived oppressors on the Canadian soil.
The involvement of diasporas in fuelling or perpetuating conflicts undermines international security and contributes to the persistence of failed and failing states. In some instances Canada's relations with homelands and their regions are affected, in others its relations with allies may be irritated. Legal and ethical conundrums arise in situations where Canadians end up fighting other Canadians, as is the case in Somalia where Canadian nationals backing the transitional government are pitted against those supporting the loose ICU coalition.