Two things caught my eye the other day:
- A column in the Vimy Report by former senior Canadian diplomat Paul H Chapin, headlined with the question: “This is National Defence?” and
- A report from the Angus Reid Institute which is titled: “Fear of nuclear war rising significantly, but more Canadians inclined to “stay out” of missile defence.”
Mr Chapin asks “What is it about Canada that makes it so dumb on issues of national defence? Sure,” he says, in partial explanation, “it’s a country the size of a continent and not easy to defend. But with the population it has and its wealth, you’d think the country would be up to making at least a respectable effort. There’s more than enough here worth defending. But no. Slowly and relentlessly, this generation of Canadians has been rendering their country defenceless. Even in the face of a clear and present new danger.“
The Angus Reid Institute looks at our fear of nuclear war in late 2016 and now (September 2017) and reports this:
As you can see, more and more Canadians understand that the threat of nuclear war is very serious or fairly serious while fewer and fewer think it is not very serious or not serious at all, BUT, the Angus Reid Institute says that while “Canada has a history of joint ventures in air defense partnership with the United States – including the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) created in 1957 … in 2005 the government of Paul Martin decided against joining the United States’ ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. The BMD is designed to counter intercontinental ballistic missiles through land, sea, and air based interception, utilizing missiles … [and] … The government is reportedly weighing the possibility of joining the program now. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan noted in early October that the government needs to make sure they “get this right”, after Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole called on the government to act …[but] … Just over four-in-ten Canadians (44%) say this country should not join the U.S. ballistic missile defense system. The rest are split between saying Canada shouldn’t join, or aren’t sure.”
“Opinions are driven strongly by gender and political affiliation,” the Angus Reid polling data say, “Men are more than twice as likely as women to say that Canada should join the program, while the same goes for past Conservative voters compared to those who voted Liberals and New Democrats in 2015 … [and] … Perhaps paradoxically, while more Canadians tilt towards staying out of BMD, they also say Canada would be safer under such a partnership. Four-in-ten Canadians (40%) say that joining the BMD program would ultimately make Canada safer. An equal number disagree (42%), while two-in-four are unsure (19%).“
I explained, a few months ago, that while strategic defence is almost the “gold standard” of grand strategy aims and goals, when Ronald Reagan proposed the first strategic missile defence system ~ promptly nicknamed Star Wars by a skeptical media ~ in the early 1980s it was countered with a massive and brilliantly targeted Soviet (Russian) propaganda campaign that convinced many, well beyond the established “useful idiots” who normally parroted the “party line,” that ballistic missile defence couldn’t work and even contemplating it would destabilize the nihilistic doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and make it more likely that the USSR would attack in “self defence.” The Western intelligentsia and the chattering classes, took to the streets and to the pages and sound stages of the media and managed to turn public opinion against strategic defence.
And I think that’s part of the answer to Paul H Chapin”s question: Canadians are more afraid of being active in their own interests than they are of being attacked by real, dangerous (even mad?) tyrants like Kim and Putin. Long before, 15 years before, President Reagan’s Star Wars project, our own Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, released a white paper that explicitly turned Canada, quite sharply, away from a course of responsible international engagement and on to one of timid isolationism. It appealed to very many* Canadians because he diverted defence spending to social programmes and various entitlements. But, Mr Chapin is wrong about one thing: it isn’t “this generation” that “has been rendering their country defenceless;” it was in fact the generation that US journalist Tom Brokaw called ‘The Greatest Generation.‘ It was the generation that came of age in the Great Depression and fought World War 2, that elected Pierre Trudeau and that, in the 1970s, demanded an ever growing and ever finer social safety net in which almost everything is “free” (an entitlement) for almost everyone … until we can no longer afford it. We paid for excess entitlement spending, which some people believe, entirely erroneously, is economic “stimulus” that will promote growth, by ignoring e.g. our national defence, infrastructure maintenance and so on.
The other, myriad points that Paul H Chapin makes about the deficiencies in Canada’s national defence are all valid, but the reasons that Canadian governments, of all stripes, are afraid to spend on defence is that we, Canadians, 40±% of us, anyway, are still wedded to a notion ~ partially propagated by Pierre Trudeau, partly by Soviet (Russian) disinformation spread, in the main, by Andrei Gromyko and his henchmen ~ that defence spending is, in itself, a cause of conflict and that we need the money for our own, internal, domestic use. It “feels good,” even right and noble to not contribute to global wars and crises, at least so the Laurentian Elites tell us, and it feels even better when we pay ourselves instead … it’s a vicious circle that leads Canada ever downward in both its ability to influence the world around us and to protect, much less promote, our vital interests in that world.
When we see that 40% of Canadians are against almost anything it is not hard to understand why politicians take note and are afraid to act. We, Canadians, know the answer to Paul H Chapin’s rhetorical question “What is it about Canada that makes it so dumb on issues of national defence?” It’s us, it was our parents, too, it will, likely, be our kids. We know that the great American political cartoonist Walt Kelly was right …
* Despite his personal charisma and the popularity of the culture of entitlements he created, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals never captured 50% of the popular vote in a general election