Foreign and defence policy problems

Two things caught my eye:

In his chapter Professor Paris says that while he finds much to favour in Prime Minister Trudeau’s foreign policies, he sees many problems ahead: “Canada needs an activist foreign policy,” he says, “not just to help others, but also to help ourselves. Today’s historic shift in global economic and political power towards emerging countries has far-reaching implications for both the security and economic well-being of Canadians. How can Ottawa contribute to the process of integrating these countries into the existing international order, which for decades has underpinned an unprecedented period of prosperity and relative peace for Canada? How can we best help to adapt that order so that it better reflects new power realities while simultaneously upholding the interlocking network of institutions and rules that have provided a modicum of stability in international affairs?” And, he adds: “Managing Canada-US relations is a vital interest, but it should not come at the expense of pursuing a strategic and energetic foreign policy beyond North America. This will require sustained attention from the prime minister and his cabinet, along with a commitment to achieve substantive rather than merely symbolic results. Trudeau, in short, still needs to convert his ambitious foreign-policy language into concrete initiatives and achievements, translating aspiration into action. Political leaders’ time and attention are the most precious commodities in Ottawa. Will there be enough to spare for a foreign policy that secures Canada’s interests in a rapidly changing world while also providing Canadian leadership to address specific global problems?

Roland Paris, notes that every long serving prime minister from Louis St Laurent to Stephen Harper left a positive foreign policy legacy, from helping to found NATO through peacekeeping, and NAFTA through to Stephen Harper’s “global initiative on maternal, newborn, and child health that achieved significant results and continues to this day,” and he concludes that “Halfway through its first mandate, the Trudeau government has laid a solid foundation for its foreign policy, but it is still only a foundation, and dangers loom. Trudeau’s success or failure to protect Canada’s interests with the Trump Administration will almost certainly be a defining element of his foreign-policy record as prime minister. On the other hand, focusing too narrowly on relations with the United States would also be risky. Canada’s interests extend well beyond North America, and current conditions are unusually promising for Trudeau to pursue an ambitious and effective foreign policy. Failing to capitalize on this moment—due to a lack of attention, strategic clarity, or ambition—would also figure in Trudeau’s eventual foreign-policy legacy: as a missed opportunity of historic significance.

I continue to maintain that Canada cannot have a coherent, “activist” foreign policy unless and until it has sufficient “hard (military) power” which it is, clearly, ready, willing and able to use, to back up its political and diplomatic initiatives in any and all areas, including trade, refugees relief, peace and human rights. But, as Professor Paris notes, in 2017, “the government announced that it would increase defence spending by a substantial amount, although the bulk of the increases were scheduled for future years. A new development policy statement followed a few days later. Its centrepiece was a plan to increase the proportion of Canadian development spending dedicated to women’s health and empowerment, from two to 15 per cent. However, the government committed no new funds to this goal, instead reallocating existing budgetary resources at a time when Canada’s development spending was trending towards its lowest level in 50 years (as a percentage of gross domestic product). Nor did Freeland pledge additional funding for Canada’s foreign service, which had also been depleted over the preceding years. This was awkward for a government that had emphasized the necessity for Canada to play a leadership role in the world; implementing Freeland’s vision would seem to require reinvesting in all the tools of international policy, not just the military.” In other words Team Trudeau has talked and continues to talk a lot but there is precious little, beyond programmes initiated by Stephen Harper, to show that it wants to take any action. That sends a message to the world.

Another, more bleak, message was sent by the Department of National Defence which listed ten major projects as being in trouble, including:

  • The navy’s new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships. The first vessel was supposed to arrive this year, but now won’t be delivered until 2019;
  • The air force’s CP-140 surveillance planes, which are due to be upgraded. The report appeared to pin the blame on the company responsible for the work, saying negotiations had “increased cost and reduced flexibility;”
  • The navy’s new support ships, with delivery of the first pushed to 2023 from 2021; and
  • The army’s new transport trucks, with the delivery scheduled pushed back six months.

It is important to remember that delays in major projects are normal, but some, like design problems with army cargo trucks speak to a more serious problem: a lack of ability inside DND to decide what it really needs and ‘freeze’ the specification for contract purposes. Too often too many of the generals in Canada’s too numerous and too large and too highly ranked headquarters decide that, for whatever reasons, they want some new or additional feature on a system ~ even on as prosaic a ‘system’ as a cargo truck ~ and the result is, in contractual terms, an engineering change proposal which requires the contractor to change the item to be delivered, sometimes creating operational issues, and always, without fail in my experience, allowing the contractor to raise the price. I have been retired for a long time, it was a slight but annoying problem when I was serving but anecdotal evidence suggests it is, now, a rather more serious problem.

The procurement system was been staggering for decades under the weight of too much bureaucracy and too much process as too many departments and agencies, each with a different mandate, get involved in a matter which is complex enough to begin with. It is to be hoped that at a cabinet meeting held during the first six weeks of the mandate of the next Conservative government ~ the one that replaces Team Trudeau ~ the new, Tory, prime minister will tell his colleagues that he has tasked the Clerk of the Privy Council to form a ‘tiger team’ of seasoned deputy ministers and that they will, in less than six months, design a whole new, top to bottom, defence procurement system that will work better, faster, cheaper and, always, in the interests of the government. Such a new system will not “take the politics out of procurement.” Those who advocate for that are blind to the realities of policy and politics: elected politicians have critical and legitimate roles in deciding what new ships, guns, trucks and aircraft are purchased for the military and how much s spent and where it is spent. But the process doesn’t have to be slow and sloppy … as I suggest it is now. That ~ a slow, sloppy defence procurement system ~ also send as message to the world.

I think the two messages, selfies matter more than substance and no one cares about defence supply, amplify one another and tell the world that Canada is not a reliable or willing ‘partner’ in matters of international peace and security. That means that no one really takes of foreign policy seriously ~ no matter how well conceived it might be seen to be; that means no one takes Justin Trudeau or Canada seriously.

3 thoughts on “Foreign and defence policy problems

  1. Re: “Too often too many of the generals in Canada’s too numerous and too large and too highly ranked headquarters decide that, for whatever reasons, they want some new or additional feature on a system”, watch the Kelsey Grammer film “The Pentagon Wars” on how exactly that happened at one point with the Bradley fighting vehicle.

  2. I admit to having initially dismissed much of Roland Paris’ early writings, given that he came across as an unrepentant believer in ‘PEACEKEEPING uber alles,’ common to many in the academic world. Yet it is apparent from following him that his world-view is evolving, as an increasing melding of hard power and security considerations have flavoured his publications over the past decade or so; in my opinion this has greatly improved the usefulness of his research.
    The chapter you cite, and indeed the entire book, sounds a valuable warning of how the country is not benefitting from governance based upon a track-record of selfies and unfulfilled promises (even the more idealistic and/or designed to appease specific interest groups).
    Thank you Ted, for bringing this work to wider attention.

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