Some Further Thoughts on a Framework for Strategic Discussions

In looking for a national foreign policy, back in 1947, Louis St Laurent said (in the Grey Lecture):

StLaurentKarsh001A policy of world affairs, to be truly effective, must have its foundations laid upon general principles which have been tested in the life of the nation and which have secured the broad support of large groups of the population. It is true that differences of opinion about foreign policy must continually be reviewed in discussion and debate inside and outside of Parliament. Such discussions, however, can result in constructive conclusions only if they take place against the background of a large measure of agreement on fundamentals … [which outside factors, beyond our control] … tended to create conditions for our ancestors and tend to create conditions for our own generation which lead to almost inevitable results. They have forced French-speaking and English-speaking men and women to live side by side as members of the same community. They have inspired them to work together to obtain an ever increasing measure of self-government; they have tempered the resistance of the metropolitan government to this healthy development; they have made natural and easy the creation of an economy productive of large surpluses of certain kinds of commodities and lacking in certain other kinds and thus dependent in an extraordinary degree upon exchange and trade to get some benefit out of the surpluses and to secure the commodities not available from our own production.

He said, essentially, that foreign and defence policies must be built upon a base of a sound national strategy, a grand strategy that can guide politicians and officials in crafting coherent and cohesive social, economic, foreign and defence policies.

I do not believe that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the whole Liberal brain-trust have or can even imagine a real national grand strategy. They are still in campaign mode ~ and they may remain there until 2019, if they can ~ and, therefore, focused, as in fairness, Conservatives were in 2013-15, on making carefully “sliced and diced” promises aimed at winning the next election.

As I said on Army.ca, I don’t think that any defence review, which the minister has promised, or a White Paper, for which many are begging, will produce any results because a defence review, no matter how well, done, will be undertaken without a national strategic vision ~ it will be rudderless, ungrounded, resting on quicksand … pick your own metaphor.

(Parenthetically, that’s not to say the MND, on his own, cannot make some urgently needed reforms:

  • Some rationalization of the Army Reserve command and control superstructure ~ which has far, far too many lieutenant colonels and warrant officers and far, far too few corporals and privates ~ for example; or
  • A thorough clean up of the whole Canadian Forces C2 superstructure which has too many admirals and generals (and Navy captains and Army and RCAF colonels) in too many HQs with overlapping and unclear responsibilities.

But both of those would be firmly resisted by too many high ranking people who have put their own interests far ahead of the national interest and their duty to their country.)

Reforming defence procurement is, of course, or should be a pressing priority but it requires the whole of cabinet to want it to happen and the whole of the senior public service to get behind it … once again there are too many “rice bowls” at stake.

So, what can be tackled?

Some academics, retired admirals and generals, other assorted pundits in the national commentariat and Conservative leaders (because the Liberals will not be interested) could start talking about a Canadian grand strategy.

I have suggested that we can, must begin with a clear set of national aims. Mine are deceptively simple:

  1. We want to maintain our free, liberal, secular, democratic society which is firmly grounded in the values of the Western enlightenment;
  2. We want prosperity ~ which doesn’t just mean “a chicken in every pot” and which certainly doesn’t mean we will eradicate poverty, but which does mean that hard working Canadians can be reasonably confident that they will, in the words of an old Navy prayer, be able to enjoy the blessings of their land and the fruits of their labours and, further, can be confident that their children will, mostly, have better chances at having better lives in the future; and
  3. We want peace because we understand, as a trading nation, that our prosperity rests, in some large measure, on a peaceful world in which we can sell our goods and service to others and buy what we need and want from them.

Those may seem like “motherhood” or platitudes but, at the highest level, our national aims are “motherghood.” They are fairly simple to enunciate, as slogans, but quite hard to implement in practice.

Louis St Laurent said that “differences of opinion about foreign policy must continually be reviewed in discussion and debate inside and outside of Parliament,” and we, especially Conservatives, must recognize and welcome a spectrum of opinion.

One thing we must remember, as we debate, is that there will be a spectrum of opinion and some, especially those on the “fringes” will want to shout theirs. But just because some opinions are shouted or unpopular does not mean that they are always wrong, nor that they are wrong about everything.

Slide1

Further, the “right” policy is not, necessarily, the one that is most coherent or the one with the ideal strategy … it is the one that is broadly acceptable to most people. That old utilitarian principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” come into play in policy, too. The “best” policy will not work if it does not have enough popular support.

tlc11stampede

The debate does need to start with, at least, confirmation of the “motherhood” wish list, mine or one like it, if for no other reason than to provide an intellectual corral into which all the other policy debates can be herded.

Next, at the official level, there needs to be an agreed (at the political and highest policy levels: PMO and PCO) strategic survey so that everyone formulating policies is doing so with the same view of challenges and enemies.

Finally, then, we can have a debate about coherent domestic, fiscal foreign and defence policies for Canada … but I think it will require a Conservative government, or a Liberal one that rejects everything it’s done from 1968 onwards, to accomplish anything.

7 thoughts on “Some Further Thoughts on a Framework for Strategic Discussions

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