A grand strategy is about far more than just military operations. Defence policy is just one element of a grand strategy and, to be fair, usually not the most important one, but when it is important it is overwhelming. Grand strategy is a mix of defence, development, economic, fiscal, foreign, industrial, monetary, security and trade policies (and others) that, when taken together, guide a country in a wide range of endeavours. A grand strategy tells us what we want to do, at home and abroad, to protect and promote our vital interests in ways and at costs that are most beneficial to us, as a country.
A grand strategy is, in other word, selfish; it tells us what we should do about, with, sometimes for and occasionally to our own people and others as we identify and pursue our own vital interests.
The first key thing, it seems to me, is to identify our own vital interests. I have suggested, before, that they are, at their simplest, political liberty, peace and prosperity. I have also suggested before that the two are intertwined and that prosperous nations are more inclined to be peaceful and peaceful nations are more likely to become prosperous … it’s a virtuous circle which includes free(er) trade and each (free(er) trade, peace and prosperity, reinforces the other. Canadians have often fancied themselves as being exemplars of Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom … even when we were being mighty on battlefields around the world or preparing to defend our own homeland. There is nothing contradictory between our dreams of peace and being prepared for war. They, too, form part of a virtuous circle: Si vis pacem, para bellum (apted from Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus‘s tract De Re Militari (4th or 5th century)).
There are two facts we, Canadians, should always remember:
- We are a charter member (and, thanks to over 100,000 Canadians who have died in wars in far away lands) a paid-up member f the liberal-democratic West;
- We are a nation that has been blessed by history and geography with wealth and political sophistication.
These two factors alone should take us all the way back to Prime Minister Louis St Laurent’s 1947 statement that said, in part, “I am sure, however, that in our national life we are continually influenced by the conceptions of good and evil which emerged from Hebrew and Greek civilization and which have been transformed and transmitted through the Christian traditions of the Western World. These are values which lay emphasis on the importance of the individual, on the place of moral principles in the conduct of human relations, on standards of judgment which transcend mere material well-being. They have ever influenced our national life as we have built a modern state from east to west across this continent. I am equally convinced that on the basis of this common experience we shall discern the same values in world affairs, and that we shall seek to protect and nurture them … [and, therefore] … If there is one conclusion that our common experience has led us to accept, it is that security for this country lies in the development of a firm structure of international organization.” The United Nations already existed in 1i947, but Prime Minister St Laurent was very conscious of the threat posed by Soviet ambitions in Europe and the ingoing Chinese civil war and he was a leader, when he was Canada’s foreign minister, in forming NATO and, later, as prime minister when he was instrumental in founding the Colombo Plan (from which Canada withdrew in 1992, when Brian Mulroney was prime minister, because, I think, of the difficulties in reconciling membership with the ongoing Sri Lankan civil war … withdrawing was, in my opinion, a serious strategic blunder.
Conservatives, it seems to me, are well placed to enunciate and (politically) able to “sell” a grand strategy. Recent polling suggests that, despite some “negatives,” Canadians believe that the Conservatives are the better economic managers and are, also, more interested and capable in the foreign and defence policy realms. The Conservative Party of Canada needs to reach all the way back to a great, but nearly forgotten Liberal, Louis St Laurent, and talk, a lot, about “values which lay emphasis on the importance of the individual, on the place of moral principles in the conduct of human relations, on standards of judgment which transcend mere material well-being,” and like Prime Minister St Laurent, Andrew Scheer and his “front bench” should be “equally convinced that on the basis of this common experience we shall discern the same values in world affairs, and that we shall seek to protect and nurture them.” Conservatives shouldn’t be afraid to talk about Canada’s core values or our national traditions of liberty, equality at and under the law ~ for the governed and governors alike, for moral principles and for fiscal prudence.
Conservatives should be committed free(er) traders. Free(er) trade is one of the foundations of the liberal international order that thrived, with bipartisan support, under US Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and under Canadian Prime Ministers St Laurent, Diefenbaker and Pearson. (The GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was established in 1947, shortly after the UN and the IMF and World Bank and morphed, in the 1990s, into today’s World Trade Organization. It is one of the key institutions for promoting and policing free(er) trade.)
History shows, I believe, that nations that trade more freely are more likely to be at peace with their neighbours and trading partners. Peoples who are producing and selling goods and services to others are less likely to want to go to war with the very people who buy their goods, services and resources, and, equally, other peoples are less likely to want to make war against the people who, fairly, provide them with what they need and want.
Free(er) trade, therefore, should be at the centre of a Conservative grand strategy.
If and when we can expand our trade deals beyond NAFTA and the CETA, to include e.g. perhaps the RCEP and even a CANZUK deal that goes beyond free(er) trade and allows for the free movement of people and combined defence agreements then we will, of necessity want and need to do more to secure the sea-lines-of-communications and to preserve the freedom on navigation for all.
Along with free(er) trade in resources, goods and services, Canada should welcome more and more and more newcomers without regard to race or creed. But, as with all elements of policy, we should put our needs first when it comes to seeking and accepting immigrants. We already know, I think, that some countries have a surplus of well educated, hard working, entrepreneurial people who are, already, fairly well attuned to Canadian values; we should make it easier and father for them to enter Canada by assigning more resources (people and time) to shortening the queue for immigrants from e.g. China, India and the Philippines even if that means lengthening the queue for prospective immigrants from other regions.
Our foreign policy should be, very clearly, based upon:
- A firm analysis of our own vital interests; and
- Liberal-democratic principles.
We don’t need to tell ourselves or the world a whole lot more: we will, always, act in our own best interests and we will, equally, act only on principle … we will not “play nice” with murderous dictators just to sell a few million dollars worth of manufactured goods, nor will we soft pedal our fair and legitimate criticisms of the policies of other nations just to secure market access, but, nor will we refuse to trade with any peaceful nation that is willing to trade, freely and fairly, with us.
Our domestic economic policy should retain and enhance the affordable welfare state … Canadians should be willing to “share the wealth” so that no one, for example, is ever financially ruined by catastrophic medical expenses, and our senior citizens should not live in dire poverty just because private pension schemes are inadequate, but, at the same time, almost everyone is able to and should pay something towards their own medical care and towards their old age security; none of us are “entitled” to the fruits of others’ labours. A fiscally responsible, prudent Conservative government ought to be able to preserve what’s best in our social safety net and provide resources for e.g. our research and development programmes and a strong military without mortgaging our grandchildren’s futures.
The Conservative Party of Canada should pledge to raise defence spending, step-by-step, to 2% of GDP (or even more, if necessary) after its has instituted reforms to ensure that Canadians get “more bang for the buck,” not just more gold braid. The Conservatives should promise a new colour scheme for the Canadian Armed Forces: lots more grey and green (more, new ships, planes, tanks and trucks) and a lot less brass and gold in headquarters. Even though we should not follow up on the notion of a CANZUK combined fleet, Canada should, as a free(er) trading nation with the world’s longest coastline have a large, powerful, global navy and an efficient, effective, well armed constabulary fleet. We also need efficient and combat effective joint forces that can, after some partial “mobilization” sustain, first, a large battle group and, later, a full brigade group plus an air wing in prolonged combat operations, overseas.
Finally, we need to be a united nation … going back to Prime Minister St Laurent’s statement, our first principle must be that our policies will not divide us. But this does not mean that we are, simply, sensitive to Quebec’s distinct character and history, it means that we do not allow any province or region or First Nation to block the national agenda and it means that the national agenda is not, in and of itself, divisive.
A grand strategy that stresses Canada’s traditional values and principles and that promotes peace and prosperity for all will not divide Canada. A Conservative grand strategy that promotes peace and prosperity through free(er) trade and the judicious use of a strong, combat effective and efficient (cost effective) military should, in fact, make more Canadians, whether Newfoundlanders, Québécois pure laine, or newcomers from the Philippines, equally proud because we all share some common values and principles … no matter what the “post national” state theorists think.