This policy-focused research project draws most deeply from schools of foreign policy analysis, drawing on major paradigms of international relations theory in line with the eclectic approach championed by Katzenstein (2004; 2012) It is fundamentally based on the material analysis of the realist school, but not rigidly confined by analysis of objective material conditions.It accepts that Canada’s fundamental foreign policy outlook is shaped not just by geopolitics and material assets,but also by social outlooks and normative commitments deeply embedded in political institutions. Power structures constrain, but state actors can exercise agency to shape the development of international systems (Wendt 1992; 1998).Our research raises the underlying question of what happens to political commitments when material conditions that sustain them change. What is the process by which social constructions congealed in foreign policy outlooks adjust to shifts in the global balance of power?
The core premise of our research is that Canada’s foreign policy outlook is deeply institutionalized. Therefore, in a context of dramatic and profound change in the foreign policy environment, especially when Canada remained relatively insulated from the worst effects of a global economic crisis, there is a significant time-lag in institutional response without compelling need to re-adjust institutional resources and commitments to meet the new environment. The primary research framework informing this project is path dependence (North, 1990; Pierson 2000). This theoretical framework assumes that policy choices in the past constrain the institutional choices of the future. This further fits with the foreign policy analysis advanced by Graham Allison that argues that bureaucratic position affects policy choice (Allison, 1999).It also draws on social constructivism since it assumes that policy choices are primarily made by actors embedded in social institutions which filter choices and policy directions through social learning and social selection. Social learning has a material basis—decision makers are located in organizational hierarchies where resource allocation can only be changed incrementally. Institutional commitments align with the interests of incumbents who are reluctant to shift their areas of concern both out of habit and learned bias, but also because new initiatives range beyond core competencies and involve greater career risks.