Several years ago I co-authored a piece in another forum which suggested that NATO had gone from being a cornerstone of Canada’s foreign and defence policies to being a stumbling block, preventing us from thinking in global terms. My basic views are unchanged.
I believe, and I have alluded to this several times, that we must anchor all our policies in North America. We are, I have said, again more than once, bound by what some wag called TINA²: we are Trapped In North America and There Is No Alternative. (TINA X TINA = TINA²) That’s the crux of it … no matter what some romantics might wish we are and must remain for generations anchored in North America. We are not big enough and rich enough to be powerful enough to face the world on our own, treating the USA as just another great power ~ as, arguably, Australia does. Geography, economics, personal issues ~ we are kith and kin ~ and the power imbalance make us dependent upon America to a degree that some, including me, find unhealthy.
But, until we can grow our population to 100 million, until we can grow up and appreciate that we need substantial hard (military) power in order to promote and protect our vital interests around the globe, until we can become a global free trader, and until America’s decline is more marked then There Is No Alternative … we are Trapped In North America ~ trapped in Donald Trump’s America, for now, anyway.
NATO, as I have said, was the cornerstone of our foreign policy (and of our defence policy, too) from about 1950 until, in about 2010, Prime Minister Harper actually wanted to expand Canada’s influence in the world, beginning with Asia. Prime Minister Harper’s outreach, however, was often hesitant and even hostile as he confronted the need to placate an anti-Asian, especially anti-Chinese element in the Conservative base. But, Stephen Harper was right: Canada needed to cement its warm relationship with the USA, remain connected to Europe through NATO and become even better connected through the CETA which Prime Minister Harper negotiated, and expand trade globally, especially with Asia. He used Canada’s limited military resources skilfully, in the national interest, and continued with the Liberal initiated (in 1997) F-35 programme and launched the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy aimed at reequipping the RCAF and the RCN for the 21st century. NATO figured in all these areas: Canada fought in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission; part of the requirement for new jet fighter aircraft and new warships was based on NATO threat assessments. NATO remained at the forefront of our foreign policy and defence policy thinking … sometimes equal to, sometimes even a bit ahead of the USA and always ahead of e.g. issues in Africa or Asia.
The Stumbling Block
But as my friends and I wrote back in 2006, NATO had changed. A lot had changed since NATO was a 12 members alliance with Canadian soldiers faced off, directly, against the best the Warsaw Pact had to offer on the North German Plain. The NATO that had emerged in the early 21st century was huge and intensely bureaucratic and had lost its raison d’être. The NATO which emerged after the Clinton years was, arguably, one of the things that drove Vladimir Putin to power. The Russians thought that they had a deal with Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush: the Warsaw Pact would be disbanded, a “new” Russia would cooperate with the West but there would be a “buffer zone” between the old NATO and Russia composed of the former Warsaw Pact states which might well enter the EU but would not be part of NATO. Now, to be clear, the Americans never actually promised that in so many words but that was what the Russians (and many in the West, too) understood. By the time NATO was engaged in Afghanistan the 25± members who were actually involved ranged from a few (America Britain, Canada and Denmark) who were actually engaged in fighting the Taliban to most, including the Germans and French, who, mostly, hid behind walls of legal caveats that were more effective than thick, physical walls. The “burden” ~ measured in caskets sent home ~ was not at all equitably shared.
NATO had, in fact, become part of the problem. But, still, that was where our defence policy focus remained and our foreign policy was decidedly centred on the Euro-American axis when, in my opinion, it should have been much more global.
Put most simply: we need to remain anchored to America for at least another two or three generations because There Is No Alternative; we should remain in NATO but it should be just one locus of a global foreign policy; and we need more cornerstones …
… of which NATO (Europe and the North Atlantic) is just one.
Prime Minister Harper did not like “big ideas,” he was, at heart, an incrementalist; thus we have not had a White Paper ~ an official government statement of policy and intent ~ on foreign policy since Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government released, in 2005, a policy paper entitled “Canada’s international policy statement: a role of pride and influence in the world.” For a dozen years, in other words, Canada has been ‘winging it,’ more or less … now, in fairness from 2002 until 2014, Canada was engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Canadian diplomats and trade officials were busy on many fronts, including negotiating the CETA with the European Union but no one, not Canadians, not foreigners could ‘see,’ easily what our goals were.
Canada needs some big ideas again, and while foreign and defence policy are almost never big vote-getters ~ not compared to taxes, health care and child care, for example ~ they matter, too. The Trudeau Liberals, to their credit, issued a White Paper on defence ~ Strong, Secure, Engaged ~ but implementation is either lacking or delayed until after the 2019 election because the Liberals understand that their base doesn’t want to spend on the military. It is time that Canada had a coherent, challenging but achievable foreign policy backed up by defence and trade policies that work.
At the top level Canada, like the whole world, must wait, quite possibly until after 2024, for Donald J Trump to leave the White House … until then he remains another HUGE stumbling block for Canada and a stepping stone for Vladimir Putin and, especially for Xi Jinping, as he (Trump) offers him (Xi) a clear path to being a global superpower. America might not be the indispensable nation after President Trump has shredded America’s alliances and agreements with its traditional partners, allies and friends, but it will still be, for some time in the future, the greatest military power the world has ever seen … until it isn’t any more. It will also remain rich and will be a fountain of creativity ~ economic and social ~ for generations to come. America will still matter and Canada is Trapped In North America as a small, somewhat diffident country that shares a continent with a huge, powerful and supremely confident one.
Canada needs to negotiate new trade agreements and military alliances with Asia ~ in the case of trade with, especially (difficult) China and (very protectionist) India but also with Malaysia and the Philippines. Canada also needs to reach out to Africa which is the fastest growing region in the world.
Canada also needs to reach out to the other CANZUK countries for a bigger, better free(er) trade (plus) agreement. A CANZUK (+) alignment (not a formal alliance) might be a much better tool than NATO for coordinating and leading peacemaking and peace restoration operations that are beyond the capabilities of the United Nations. The very existence of NATO is being called into question, some European countries want a, separate, EU, military force. NATO might just wither and die, Canada should understand that it needs (not just wants) multilateralism as a bulwark against American (or Chinese) domination.
Before it can “reach out,” effectively, Canada needs to reform and rebuild its military power. Fewer admirals and generals, are needed, but more ships, more sailors, more soldiers and more air force members, more tanks and trucks and attack helicopters and more modern jet fighters (not used F-18s) and transport aircraft are needed and they will costs more, tens of billions more, than the Trudeau regime has pledged. Canadian voters will not like that but it is the price we need to pay to survive in the 21st century.
Before any of those desirable, even necessary things can happen, however, Canada needs a new, responsible, Conservative government that is willing and able to think strategically … and Canada needs it next year.