Over the years I have talked a fair bit about both the elements of a grand strategy for Canada and the military capabilities that are necessary to make a grand strategy effective and the types of forces we need to be militarily effective. I have also stressed my worries about:
- A bloated, even grossly obese military command and control (C²) superstructure;
- A Canadian tendency to follow, blindly, a blind leader; and
- The state of junior leadership in the military.
Now, some very wise people will say that fussing over grand strategy is a fool’s errand. Canada, they will say, is not a leading middle power, if it ever was one, and it might not even be a middle power, at all. Canada has too many of its own problems ~ like official languages ~ to be worried about the world beyond our borders. That was, in fact, the message of Pierre Trudeau’s 1970s foreign policy white paper. And it was, and remains, a wildly popular vision, almost an article of faith amongst the Laurentian Elites, and nearly a cornerstone of Canadian policy under both Conservative and Liberal governments.
Obviously I don’t agree. By almost every sensible measure of national “power,” Canada is either in the top 10 or top 10% of the world’s nations … except in population (Canada is in the top 16%), military power (Canada is ranked at about 60 out of 150 countries, below Singapore (population 5.6 million and well below the OECD high income nation average) and defence spending (Canada doesn’t make the top 15% even though we are in the top 5% of countries by GDP). Canada is a middle power in everything except national, political will.
A factor that must be understood about a grand strategy is that it is broad in scope. It embraces economics, politics, trade, friendships, military force and aid, and, and, and … in the military domain it is not purely defensive. A good grand strategy embraces the full range of military option, short of surrender. Consider Israel’s Six Day War in 1967: it was a lightning offensive operation based on a surprise, pre-emptive attack ~ but Israel was, then, and remains, now on the strategic defensive. But a strategic defence allows, might even require, offensive operations. I think that too many people equate the military with defensive actions only or have some ill-conceived notion that only “defence” is good and proper ~ perhaps that’s because in around the 1950s, we, in the US led West, did away with terms like the War Office and the War Department and replaced them with the Department of Defence and Ministry of Defence ~ in any event the notion that only “defending” is good is nonsense. A grand strategy is all about what we do in and about and sometimes even to the world as we both protect (defend) and promote (advance) our vital national interests, at home and abroad.
Since the early days of this bog I have posted Everyman’s Strategic Surveys about a wide range of topics. Canada has global vital interests and while we may not be a major force in some regions we have interests in pretty much all of them.
We are, first and foremost, a North American state and our most important relationship, head and shoulders more important than all the others combined, is with the USA. We must manage the continental relationship to our advantage or we will perish … becoming a poor, backward, hewer of wood and drawer of water for the USA, China and Europe. The current US administration makes the relationship difficult and while I believe (hope) that America will recover from a bout of deep, painful divisions, it may no longer be willing and able to provide the socio-economic, political, military and strategic leadership that it has for the most of the past 100 years. That being said, we must make continental free(er) trade work to our advantage; we must remain America’s friend and good, trusted and reliable neighbour and ally and that means we must do a full and fair share in our combined continental defence and security relationship, and that means we need to buy a new, American made, jet fighter for NORAD (and other purposes) and it probably needs to be the F-35 LighteningII.
Militarily, Canada is “safe.” It is protected by two great oceans and, over the North Pole, by one of the most hostile environments on the planet. Only the USA has both an “easy” invasion route and the military-industrial capacity to conquer Canada, and, while it might make for some turgid fiction, it is not something about which Canadians have worried since Colonel James “Buster” Sutherland Brown wrote his (now infamous) Defence Scheme No. 1 in the 1920s.
The Caribbean and Central America are neighbours where we have some considerable investments but little real, tangible influence. We have even less in South America. My impression is that American influence in South America is declining and China’s is growing.
Europe remains home to the largest combined economy on earth ~ the deeply troubled European Union, and to one of the world’s most serious trouble-maker’s ~ Putin’s Russia. Russia is not trying to start a war; in fact that’s the last thing it wants. Russia is nearly broke and while there are studies that say that Russia could overwhelm the weak NATO forces (which includes Canadians) in the Baltics, Russia could not beat a German led European coalition in a sustained war, much less one that included the material might of the USA. But Putin remains an opportunistic adventurer and he suspects, correctly so far, that the US led Western powers do not have a coherent strategy for dealing with his provocations. Putin also fears that if he ever gets involved in a shooting war with the Western powers then China will, very soon, move into his undefended rear and dismember Asiatic Russia.
Speaking of China, it is advancing on a full spectrum offensive strategy, aiming, I think, to accomplish Xi Jinping’s ambitious (some would say foolhardy) “Two Centennial Goals: “First, China will build a “moderately prosperous society” by doubling its 2010 per capita GDP to $10,000 by 2021, when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Second, it will become a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation by the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2049. If China reaches the first goal— which it is on course to do—the IMF estimates that its economy will be 40 percent larger than that of the U.S. (measured in terms of purchasing power parity). If China meets the second target by 2049, its economy will be triple America’s.” But that’s not all Xi is doing. He’s making China into a global superpower in socio-economic, cultural, military and even environmental terms, and he’s doing all that while America dithers under Donal Trump. Whether it is an ongoing soft power offensive, bullying his neighbours in the South China Seas or building a new Silk Road towards Europe, China is asserting itself on all front, all the time. It is a well conceived, coordinated, aggressive and long term grand strategy. Ready, even preferential access to Canada’s resources are amongst China’s goals.
North Korea is a Chinese puppet, as, largely, is Pakistan. Both are encouraged to keep China’s powerful neighbours and competitors (Japan and India, respectively) off balance and distracted. That North Kea also keeps the USA distracted is a bonus.
The Middle East is, as I have explained before, many times, the most complex and dangerous region, being at the centre of the whole, unstable, badly governed, Islamic Crescent that stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way to Indonesia. We need different policies for each different “actor” across the entire region. We need to recognize, in almost every case, especially when dealing with Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS, that the enemy of my enemy is most likely to my enemy, too. We have only a tiny handful of “friends,” across the entire region ~ few enough to count on one hand and they include, mainly, Israel, Jordan and (probably) Malaysia.
Canada’s strategy vis-à-vis the entire Islamic Crescent should be, mainly, “hands off.” In my opinion the entire Western strategy is misguided and is, probably, doing more harm than good … and is, equally, bolstering Putin’s opportunistic adventurism and Xi’s economic colonialism. The exceptions are:
- Israel, which we should, broadly and generally, but nor blindly, support ~ because it is, broadly and generally again, on the right side of history;
- Jordan, which we should actively support with trade, aid and such military help as the kingdom might require; and
- Malaysia, which we should try to steer away from Arabism and back into the, broadly, moderate, Western fold. My personal sense is that many Malaysians want to be less Arab and more Western.
More broadly, Canada needs to shift its economic focus more and more towards Asia and then towards Africa. In Asia our primary free(er) trade focus should be on China, India, Malaysia and the Philippines ~ and our immigration focus should be on the same countries. We should recognize, especially in our approach to Africa, that free(er) trade is, almost always, better than foreign aid.
Canada should actively pursue a broad free(er) trade agreement with the CANZUK nations, even as we try to strengthen the CETA with Europe and join either a revitalized TPP or the RCEP.
Canada needs to remain militarily engaged, productively engaged, in e.g. NATO and NORAD and Canada needs to remain engaged in those United Nations organs that are productive … which does not include UN, baby-blue beret type, peacekeeping. Canada should look to increase its commitments to peacemaking and peacekeeping outside of the failed or failing UN framework. There are plenty of opportunities, especially for naval and land forces, to help, unilaterally or, more often, in conjunction with a host nation and a very few trusted partners, in e.g. Africa and the Asia-Pacific regions.
Canada needs a quantitatively larger and qualitatively better armed, trained, organized and managed military … that probably means the 2% solution must apply sooner rather than later. Something like 2% is well within Canada’s means … IF we have the national will. But we need to recognize that before the Department of National Defence can make productive use of more money the command and control (C²) superstructure (of both DND and the CF) needs to be slimmed down and reformed and the defence procurement system needs to be radically reformed.
There are domestic elements to a proper grand strategy, too. We need fiscal policies that encourage growth, risk taking and innovation; we need to have domestic, interprovincial free-trade; we need to “walk the talk” when it comes to being real liberals ~ which means respecting ethnocultural differences but disavowing customs that violate our core, liberal-democratic and secular values; we need co-operative, constructive federalism to replace Pierre Trudeau’s bastardized and corrupted version of ‘fiscal federalism’ that ended up helping to kill then Energy East project (about which I will have more to say, later this week); and we need a renewed sense of productive nationalism.
I believe that there are two key ingredients to a proper, practical, principled grand strategy for Canada:
- A national will to be a leader, again; and
- A political leader who can and will convince Canadians that being a leader is in their (selfish) interests because being a leader amongst the middle powers means that we can protect and promote our own vital interests in the world ~ because no one else, certainly not President Trump, is going to do it for us; a political leader who can, as Louis St Laurent did back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, enunciate a clear and popular vision of Canada as that responsible, leading middle power, and then lead his government in that direction.
I do not believe that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either the intellectual capacity (neither the depth nor the breadth of learning or interest) or the personal and political gravitas to be such a leader. I hope that Andrew Scheer can be that leader, and I am fairly confident that he has, now, a team upon which he can build and it is one that can help promote such a vision. I believe that being a leader in the world, with a principled and practical grand strategy is in Canada’s vital national interest.