Establishing Some Baselines

I expressed, a view days ago, some thoughts on democracy. I think we put too much emphasis on the visible trappings ~ free and fair elections, etc ~ and not enough on the foundations ~ institutions, like respect for the rule of law ~ when we try to “spread” democracy around the world. In fact I think “spreading democracy” is a bit of a fool’s errand.

The other two elements that I suggested, yesterday, ought to be part of our “national objectives,” that “motherhood” notion that I think we need to corral all the other policy discussions, were peace and prosperity, and I suggested, further, that peace is more than just the absence of war and prosperity is more than just “a chicken in every pot” and I argued, even further, that they are inextricably linked.

I suppose some countries could survive, even prosper, without trade: America, for example, is blessed with abundant resources of all sorts and a hospitable climate and it could, maybe, live in “splendid isolation,” eating the food it grows, driving the cars in builds, burning the fuel it digs and pumps out of its own ground. Maybe Russia could, too, and even Canada ~ although our diets would be bland and our cars and wool blankets would be damned expensive. But Britain couldn’t and nor can China. China needs to import oil and minerals, for example, just as Canada wants to export both so that we can buy bananas from South America, lamb from new Zealand, cars from Germany and South Korea and an endless stream of consumer goods from China.

For most of the world, trade is indispensable to prosperity and it, in turn, depends upon some sort of peace. Canada ishifting-international-trade-routes-24-638s a great trading nation. Canada ranks about 15th (out of 180 countries, according to the World Bank) in the absolute size of its GDP (which is about $1.8 Trillion) behind countries like Russia, Brazil and even Saudi Arabia. But some of those countries are much, much larger and some others have, essentially, a one product export economy. We have a reasonably balanced economy: we make and consume many of the things we need but a combination of a harsh climate,  an abundance of valuable natural resources and a small, but very productive population base makes us a trading nation: we need (in some cases just want) imports and others want to buy what we sell: grain, insurance, oil, engineering know-how, minerals, entertainment and lumber.

We are uniquely fortunate in history and geography (well, except for the climate): we live downloadnext door to the USA. America is a good neighbour, our biggest, by far, trading partner, a friend and ally and the guarantor or our security. But, ever since the 1950s ~ ever since 1940 if you want to use the Ogdensburg Agreement as a start point ~ while the Americans have, explicitly, guaranteed our security from foreign invasion, they have, equally explicitly, required that we do some share in carrying the continental and even the global security burden. Many people, me included, believe that the dominant factor in Canadian defence planning since 1960 has been one simple question: “how much is (just) enough?” How little can we do, in other words, before the USA decides that it must ignore our sovereignty to defend us. The “how much” is, of course, relative to US expectations. Even, in 1969/70 when Prime Minister Flags2Pierre Trudeau contemplated pulling Canada (militarily) out of Europe, perhaps even out of NATO, he never seriously contemplated withdrawing from or even drawing down Canada’s contribution to the continental defence arrangements. So, we have one “baseline” for our necessary contribution to making and keeping the peace upon which both our democratic way of life and our prosperity depend: we must do a fair (determined by the USA) share of defending the continent we share with the USA. The primary task is to help the USA defend its strategic deterrent ~ the US based part of it’s nuclear force ~ and the primary “tools” are:

  • Our vast geography;
  • Surveillance and warning systems; and
  • Manned interceptor aircraft ~ ageing CF-18, for now.

But NORAD is no longer just a continental air defence organization; it now includes active naval and land planning aspects, too.

So, our revised baseline for our national defence might be phrased as:

To maintain active military forces to share in the continental defence of the North American homelands, of the maritime approaches to them and of the airspace over both.

From this budget and defence planners can make some useful decisions about “how much is enough.”

We have both regional and global interests that are separate from (but, fortunately, very often consistent with) those of the USA. We have vital interests (remember Lord Palmerston: nations have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, just permanent interests) abroad that we need to promote and protect. To do that we need to project power. Now, the best sort of power to project is “soft power,” but as Prof Joseph Nye, himself, argues

“successful states need both hard and soft power — the ability to coerce others as well as the ability to shape their long-term attitudes and preferences.”

The classic, and best, tool for hard power projection is a Navy … and, used properly, a Navy can help with soft power projection, too.


So, a second, baseline, might look something like:

“To maintain a global, blue water fleet, supported by air forces, that is able to, simultaneously, maintain a constant Canadian presence in at least two different theatres.”

So, we have some requirements for a Navy ~ both for coastal/continental security and for global power projection and for an Air Force to help protect the continent and to help support global power projection.

What about an Army?

One aspect of the national defence that does not tie into foreign policy, but which is Kanehsatake-270-years-of-resistance_LG_1absolutely non-negotiable, is “aid to the civil power.” Under our Constitution a “civil power,” specifically a provincial attorney general who is responsible for law and order can demand that the national government provide forces to give “aid to the civil power.” Now, in the first instance, the national government might offer a para-military [police unit … if it has one. Most likely, however, the needed response is a formed, armed, disciplined, military unit that can deal with serious threats to law and order here at home. Running in parallel with “aid download (1)to the civil power” but done under much different legal (and financial) rules is “civil assistance” where the military can be called out to help citizens in distress. These are valid, and, now and again, vital roles for a military force.

It brings up a third role for our defence department:

“To maintain trained, disciplined military units that can, on very short notice, give effective “aid to the civil power” here in Canada.”

And, as long as we are dealing with domestic situation, let us not forget about Search and Rescue.

National, civil SAR is not the military’s primary business and, arguably, it could be assigned, in toto, to some other department or agency, but, for now, at least, the Canadian Forces have the role and it needs to be done well.


More to follow …

By Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.


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