An essential start point for any serious discussion of foreign and defence policies and, subsequently, any useful recommendations for, say, defence spending, is a strategic survey.
I’m sure the Government of Canada has one … in fact I’m pretty sure it has at least four or five:
- There’s certainly one in Global Affairs Canada as our foreign ministry has been renamed … something must underly our foreign policy which, I suspect, is being revised right now;
- There’s also, almost certainly one in the Department of National Defence. Once again we must assume that something also underlies the voluminous studies and reports that conclude that we need n ships of a certain type and nn aircraft of another type;
- There is, I am absolutely certain, one in the Finance Department. After all finance is a global business; it may, or may not, be consistent with the one which I am also sure exists in the Bank of Canada because monetary policy is just as much impacted by global financial markets as is fiscal policy; and, finally
- I am certain that there is one in the Privy Council Office, possibly in the the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat, which is used to “inform” the whole of government.
There are, probably, others in departments like Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, which used to be Industry Canada, and in Environment and Climate Change Canada.
What I’m far less certain of is that:
- The Prime Minister, the PMO and the ministry (the cabinet), are familiar with any of those strategic survey; or
- That the PCO actually believes the reports prepared by other departments and agencies and that the PMO trusts the PCO.
The other thing about which we can all be sure is that these strategic survey’s are very highly classified and we, ordinary albeit concerned Canadians (concerned about our role and responsibilities in the world), will never see them.
But there is a lot of open source material which can, probably, give us a good look at what the politicians and mandarins and admirals and generals are being told by their advisors.
Take a look, for example, at the well respected Financial Times electronic “front page” from today:
It gives us a pretty fair look at the world’s problems:
- The Middle East and West Asia remain in dangerous turmoil;
- Russia is, once again, making us, the US led West, NATO especially into an enemy;
- Europe is in social and political turmoil over immigration, this time, and a potential Brexit from the EU;
- China is preoccupied with its own, internal problems, but it remains a rising, global power; and
- America remains, equally, focused on its own, domestic concerns.
I’m willing to bet that those five items underpin most of the strategic surveys in most Canadian government departments and agencies.
The situation in the Middle East, indeed across most of the Islamic Crescent, which stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way to Indonesia, is hideously complex and I’m pretty sure that very, very few people ~ certainly not President Obama or Prime Minister Trudeau ~ have any idea about who is doing what to whom … much less why.
There is a case to be made for just wiping our hands of the whole affair and leaving the Africans and Arabs and Iranians and, and, and … to sort it out amongst themselves, but it’s not a very realistic case and it’s unlikely to achieve any real political support. Like it or not we are “involved,” often, in my opinion, on the wrong sides
Even if we did want to stand aloof, the peoples of the Islamic Crescent are, by their own actions, forcing us to take some roles …
And, of course, there are “leaders,” mainly of non-state actors in the Islamic Crescent, who urge their followers to take the fight to us: to make more and more violent attacks on Boston, London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Sydney and Toronto and Vancouver, too.
There will be intense, unbearable pressure on politicians, from people like us, to “do something,” and I am reasonably confident that President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Western leaders will manage to do the wrong things and then do them wrong, too. I am equally confident that our armed forces are not organized, trained and equipped to fight an asymmetrical war in that region.
(The above doesn’t mean that our armed forces will not acquit themselves well, indeed very well, in whatever tasks they are assigned. It just means that the admirals and generals have not be told, by their civilian, political masters which wars they should be prepared to fight.)
And that brings us, neatly, to Putin’s Russia …
Wait, you say: we won the Cold War, you told us, just yesterday, that the decisive battle was fought on TV, not in Europe. What’s Putin up to, anyway?
It’s true, we did win the Cold War, we “defeated” the USSR and its Warsaw Pact, we did defeat communism, the Marx-Lenin-Russian variety, anyway, it collapsed under the weight of its own, inherent contradictions. But Russia remained … beaten down, bruised, perhaps even broken, but still Russia: still a vast and potentially rich and powerful place with a very well developed sense of it past glories and current potentials.
Russia has, for about 700 years, lacked only one thing: leadership. From the time of Yury of Moscow (Yuriy Danilovich), in the 13th and 14th centuries to Vladimir Putin, today, Russia has stagnated under various sorts of oligarchical rule; the notions of democracy ~ liberal, conservative or even illiberal in nature ~ never took hold. The notion that government should, broadly, be for the benefit of all is not deeply entrenched in Russian political lore … not as far as my (limited) studies show, anyway.
Vladimir Putin has reawakened Russian pride in one of its “great” eras: when, under Stalin, it played a HUGE and heroic role in defeating Nazi Germany. Many Russians are very proud of that their parents and grandparents did under Stalin, but they are woefully ignorant about what Stalin did to them. Now they, and perhaps Putin, himself, see Putin as a new Stalin who will bring Russian glory back … Russia is (potentially) rich but it is socially, economically, politically and structurally backwards and is unable to make good, even just barely adequate, use of its natural and human resources. It finds it easy to resort to bullying, coercion and brute force to accomplish what should come almost naturally to a well educated, productive people with abundant natural resources. How is Russia so different from America? The answer is why Russia remains a threat …
The Russian threat is one which many policymakers and even more admirals and generals find comfortable.
The Russians are a “near-peer” enemy. If we are going to fight the Russians then we need F-35s and the most modern APCs and new, highly sophisticated warships: we need, in other words, all the things that the admirals and generals and the civil servants and the defence contractors know and love.
And, let me be clear: Russia is a threat. It is a very real and very present danger to Canada and to our allies. We need to be ready and able to counter Russian aggression whether it is in our shared Arctic “back yard” or in the back yards of friends and allies.
But it is a markedly different threat, in size and scope and, therefore in “best response” from e.g. Da’esh (ISIL).
Our generals and mandarins know how to fight back against this …
… they are far less certain about how to fight back against this …
We must have a strategy that tells our admirals and generals how we expect them to counter both threats. Both are real and both are here, now.
Our leaders must figure out how to counter those threats even as they deal with:
- A rising and unpredictable China that is asserting itself in its own back yard;
- European social and political turmoil; and
- American political and strategic confusion.
Good luck to us all. But, let us remember that the strategic situation that faced Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Louis St Laurent was just as complex, it ended up being even more “hot” ~ in Korea ~ and the nuclear dimension added a whole level of complexity that is, thankfully, “contained,” at least, today. Those good, solid men met, assessed, faced down and, eventually, overcame those threats. Surely we can, must expect no less from our leaders, today.