Well, yes, I suppose, but …
First: the whole of the US led West needs a strategy related to what’s going on in parts of the Islamic Crescent ~ the parts that stretch from North Africa through the Middle East and Iran to South West Asia, including Pakistan. I’m not sure if there’s one “thing” going on there or ten loosely interrelated different things. Of course it doesn’t matter if I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that none of President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, or Paramount Leader Xi Jinping know, either, and I’m damned sure Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t a clue, and all that, especially the parts about Obama and company, scares the hell out of me.
Second: Canada needs a strategy, too: a Grand Strategy that tells us ~ citizens, officials (the mandarins) and elected leaders ~ where we fit in this big, complex and dangerous world and how we plan to promote and defend our vital interests in it.
Some will argue that Canada is just a small, weak, relatively poor place, on the periphery of the centres of power and conflict, and that we need to be busy with national unity and our environment, not with the wider world. That was, certainly, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s opinion when he released the 1970 White Paper, “A Foreign Policy for Canadians” in which the Trudeau regime specifically rejected the then existing Grand Strategy set forth by Prime Minister Louis St Laurent in the late 1940s. Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to focus his policies on our small, local, domestic concerns and he hoped that the world would look after itself … somehow. It didn’t last long. “Events, dear boy, events” as British prime Minister Harold Macmillan might have said, when asked what would derail his government, transpired and forced Pierre Trudeau back into the world, even to buying new, German, Leopard tanks for the Canadian Army.
As I mentioned, we had a Grand Strategy …
The first one was built on domestic needs ~ it was Sir John A’s “national policy.” It was muddled and wrong headed and economically unsound and, and, and … but it was immensely popular and it got Macdonald re-elected and even Laurier didn’t do much to change it. Mackenzie King shifted, under the (not very wise) counsel of O.D. Skelton away from parts of the “national policy,” especially when US Franklin Roosevelt offered his “good neighbour” policy and, more especially the Ogdensburg Agreement. Incremental changes to Sir John A’s vision were enough for 70 years, even, arguably, on tariffs to “protect” us from America, for 120 years, but, in the wake of the Second World War and faced with the new, global menace of Soviet (Russian) expansionism there was a pressing need to redefine Canada’s place in the world. Enter one of Canada’s very, very few great statesmen: Prime Minister Louis St Laurent.
I have suggested, in a past post, that Prime Minister St Laurent ought to be a Conservative icon and a model for our next leader: socially moderate, fiscally prudent and internationally committed and engaged. Sadly, for Canada, he’s clearly someone the Liberals, still under the sway of Pierre Trudeau, want to forget.
I discussed, in that earlier post, the five principles Prime Minister St Laurent set for in his Grey Lecture at the University of Toronto in 1947. They became the foundation of Canada’s foreign policy and, coupled with the still remaining (and quite unnecessary) high tariff remnants of Macdonald’s national policy, and a new, albeit cautious, expansion of social programmes, formed a coherent grand strategy for Canada.
Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker explicitly accepted Prime Minister St Laurent’s international vision and he added an Arctic dimension to it.
As I mentioned Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rejected St Laurent’s notion of Canada as a “leading middle power” and wanted to pursue a self serving, isolationist policy. Prime Minister Mulroney, to his credit, did two vital things:
- He put some principles ~ especially in his campaign against apartheid in South Africa ~ back into our foreign policy; and
- He finally got rid of the last, harmful remnants of high tariffs against America and ushered in a new era of free(er) trade.
For both those things Brian Mulroney deserves the enduring gratitude of all Canadians. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien signalled a partial return to the Trudeau model. He mistrusted foreign dealings ~ except for trade, and he did well with China ~ and he didn’t much like principles, either.
Finally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper returned, or tried to, to a principled foreign policy and he was, I believe, a committed free trader, too, but his incremental approach and his desire (need) to appease every faction of the Conservative base meant that he could do less than I would have wished.
What are the elements of a Grand Strategy for Canada?
First: hewing very closely to Prime Minister St Laurent: “Our
external policies shall not destroy our unity.” Any useful grand strategy must be, very broadly, acceptable to most Canadians most of the time. It is based on that old utilitarian principle of doing the “greatest good for the greatest number.”
Second: it must promote and protect out vital interests at home and abroad. Which interests are vital? I would argue that they include:
- Our personal and political liberty;
- A peaceful world into which we can trade; and
- Prosperity for our people.
(I am persuaded that “peace and prosperity” are closely intertwined and that they lie at the very core of most modern nations’ vital interests.)
Third: we must be a leader, not just a follower. Leading, circa 2020, will be more difficult for Canada than it was in 1950, but not impossible. Canada is, by any number of fair measures, one of the top 10% of nations in the world, more often than not one of the top ten, period. We can lead … if we are willing.
We just need a national leader in the mould of Louis St Laurent …
Who is it to be?