A Grand Strategy for Canada (2)

I have been worried about a grand strategy for Canada for quite some time. Almost ten years ago I was the lead author of two papers on Army.ca that, even then, at the height of the Afghanistan War, questioned whether NATO was a cornerstone of our foreign (and defence) policy …


… or if it had become a stumbling block. At about the same time, still on Army.ca, I was beginning to wonder if we, Canada and, indeed, the whole of the US led West actually understood China and it’s strategic vision and if we understood how to contain China in a new, modern, 21st century way. My conclusion was that we did not really ‘get’ China, much less all of Asia and that we, Canada, needed to shift our focus away from Europe and towards Asia, to “engage China” ~ we needed, in short, a Pacific Strategy.

As I have said in the past, we had a grand strategy, once.

We cannot really count Macdonald’s “National Policy” as a grand strategy because Canada was not, until the 1930s, fully independent, so Macdonald could pursue his protectionist/expansionist policy without having to pay for all the consequences. Laurier proposed reciprocity which was more of a partial strategy. King proposed nothing but cheese-paring and caution. It was, of course, Louis St Laurent who gave us a complete, coherent, integrated grand strategy which, since it enjoyed bipartisan support, endured for about 20 years: from 1947 when he set it forth to 1969 when Pierre Trudeau set about dismantling it.

(Now, it must be said that Pierre Trudeau had a strategy, too, of sorts: a neo-isolationist strategy that called for Canada to withdraw from the world, hide behind America’s skirts, worry and fuss about national unity and take canoe trips in pristine national parks. It must also be said that it, too, had bipartisan support because none of Prime Ministers Mulroney, Chrétien nor Harper really tried very hard, not hard enough, anyway, to dismantle it and to restore anything like the grand strategy Prime Minister St Laurent gave to us.)

A proper grand strategy mixes domestic, foreign, economic, defence and even social policies into one coherent whole. It rests on a foundation of our vital interests in the world. It expresses what we plan to do in cooperation (or competition) with, frequently about, sometimes for, and, occasionally, even to the rest of the world while we pursue our own vital interests. It recognizes that there is very little, from legalizing soft drugs to selling armoured vehicles to hateful religious oligarchies, that doesn’t have impacts on our dealings with several, often many other states. I have, previously, discussed out vital interests, which I have defined as being, broadly, peace and prosperity.

Strategically we want need to be:

  • A nation that is united around a robust, free, liberal parliamentary democracy that rests on respect for the rule of law and equality of opportunity for all;
  • A nation of immigrants that is tolerant of new and ever-changing social values even as it works hard to preserve its own core socio-cultural values;
  • A nation that is “open for business,” willing to welcome foreign investors and, equally, seeking the freedom to invest abroad;
  • A nation that maintains a sound, freely traded currency and an open economy;
  • A nation that is “friendly” to businesses, foreign and domestic, because business creates jobs;
  • A free (or at least freer) trading nation that supports and abides by international trade agreements;
  • A nation that, therefore, promotes and protects the “freedom of the seas” for all trading nations;
  • A nation that supports free markets and the free exchange of goods, people and ideas;
  • A nation that supports promotes and protects liberal, democratic socio-economic and political values for all people, everywhere;
  • A nation that respects the rights of others to follow their own paths to good government so long as those paths do not threaten the peace or the rights of others;
  • A nation that cares for and is prepared to help secure and protect the fundamental rights and  liberty of every person, regardless of race, creed, sex or nationality;
  • A nation that is committed to asserting and maintaining the sovereignty and liberty of its own people in all the territories it legitimately claims as its own; and
  • A nation that is willing to do a full and fair share of the “heavy lifting” involved in countering terrorism, international crimes against humanity, the slave trade, political repression and aggression whether by states or by non-state actors.

Two images should help guide us in the formulation of strategic policy:

The first shows us that we are a major, important trading nation. The second should tell us that, while the vast bulk of our ‘foreign’ trade is with the USA, and is, therefore, not really all that ‘foreign,’ the region with which we need to trade and where we need to invest, more and more, and soon, in order to assure and expand our prosperity, is Asia and the other region with which we need to expand trade and investment, albeit later, is Africa.

This should lead us to conclude that our economic (prosperity) priorities are:

  1. Domestic, of course;
  2. Continental;
  3. Trans-Pacific;
  4. Trans Atlantic, towards Africa; and
  5. With the rest of the world, including Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas.

We should want to expand our trade, globally, so that, in percentage terms, we look more like Germany, even more like South Korea, taking international trade from ¼ of our GDP to something around or even in excess of ⅓ of it.

Doing that will involve being both more “open” to foreign trade and investment, recalling that “trade” implies that I “give” something in order to “get” something else and that in most trades there is some “give” and some “get” for each trading partner ~ a lesson that e.g. Big Labour wants to ignore, and doing a fair share of keeping all markets safe and open and in securing the sea lines of communications that link them.


Source: shipping density data adapted from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, A Global Map of Human Impacts to Marine Ecosystems [on-line]

Although there are security (peace) issues in Asia, some caused by China, I see the greater threats to peace as being in/from:

  • Middle Easter radical Islam ~ a rather localized, regional threat that, occasionally, will ‘spread,’ sporadically, to Western Europe, Australia, the USA and Canada through acts of terror;
  • African social, political and economic distress ~ also, for now, localized, but in danger of evolving into some sorts of pan-African internecine wars that will, seriously, disrupt Africa’s economic progress and further enrage the African people; and
  • Russian adventurism ~ which poses real threats to Europe, the Middle East, West Asia and even East Asia.

image004Sixty years ago, when Louis St Laurent was formulating the best ~ actually the only ~ grand strategy Canada ever had, the global strategic situation was dominated by one, single image. There was a Soviet counter-image and a real debate about what “containment” really meant,  but the fact was that since 1945 the global, glowering, greedy USSR had been on an expansionist “spree” in Eastern Europe, in East Asia and in the Middle East. The West was, except for America, Canada and Australia, largely a spent force, trying to recover from the devastation of World War II. Russia seemed likely to be able to have its way unless the able and responsible nations of the liberal democratic West stood up to it.  Russia is still a threat ~ nothing like as serious as it once was ~ and it is one which the liberal democracies must still be prepared to counter, but the greater threats are from non-state actors and from the potential spread or escalation of small, local wars into larger, regional ones that can, actually, threaten global peace and security.

In 1948 then foreign minister St Laurent actively supported the first UN peacekeeping mission, in Palestine (1948) and Kashmir (1949). (No, boys and girls, Lester B Pearson did urguhartPicture-Ralph-Bunchenot “invent” UN peacekeeping … it was done by a Brit, Sir Brian Urquhart, whose doubts about “going a bridge too far” are chronicled in Cornelius Ryan’s book and later in the film of that same name, and by his boss at the UN, the distinguished black American scholar and diplomat, Ralph Bunche. That’s why Dr Bunche, a former member of the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA in World War II, won the Nobel Prize in 1950.) There is still room for peacekeeping in a Canadian grand strategy … provided we all understand that the days of baby-blue beret style, so-called Pearsonian peacekeeping, are long gone, never to return. It is now a more dangerous business.

The world is less complicated now than it was circa 1950. The very real threat of global thermonuclear war has receded, the notion that anyone can “conquer the globe” is no longer a reasonable fear. But the world is still a dangerous place and there is still a very real need for able, responsible, liberal democracies like Canada to play a leading role in making it safe for everyone.

To do that Canada needs a new, or maybe just renewed grand strategy based on offering the opportunity to achieve peace and prosperity to everyone, by:

  1. Being a free trader, or, at least a free(er) trader than many other nations; and
  2. Keeping the peace, which may mean making the peace, whenever and wherever required ~ obviously not all by ourselves, but in concert with the United Nations or, increasingly, with ‘coalitions of the willing.’ 

That renewed Canadian grand strategy will, in my opinion, be focused, increasingly, beyond North America and, especially, away from Europe ~ first towards Asia (not just to China, but also towards Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, too) and then towards Africa (for trade, not just aid and peacekeeping).



Published 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.

13 thoughts on “A Grand Strategy for Canada (2)

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