As I have been saying over the past few days and weeks … and months, the global strategic situation is changing, as it always does. In the last 500 years we have watched the decline Spain, then the rise and fall of the Netherlands, France, Britain, Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union and the rise of America and, now, China, as well. America is not finished, nor was Britain in, say, 1885, but Britain had reached the apex of its power 50 years earlier and I would argue that the apex of American power was just before 1960. Britain’s decline wasn’t readily apparent until the 19th century turned into the 20th; America’s decline has been talked about since the Vietnam debacle, but America is, and will remain for another generation or so, a mighty force … but not the only might force.
Some theorists, most notably Professor Graham Allison of Harvard, believe that a war between America and China is almost inevitable because of what Professor Allison calls the Thucydides Trap. But, as professor Allison points out the Truman/Kennan strategy of containment prevented a war between the US-led West and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact for about 45 years. Some variant of that he suggests, can work between the US-led West and China, but, he warns that a “Coherent strategy does not guarantee success, but its absence is a reliable route to failure.“
My personal appreciation (assessment or guesstimate) of the situation says that China does have a coherent, long term strategy while, for the moment, at least, America and the West do not. I think that beginning in about 1978 when Deng Xiaoping began to “open” China for business, the Chinese set a fairly clear long term plan in motion. Its aims were, and remain, to become THE dominant power in East Asia and to become a major, global power in every sense of that word: diplomatic, economic and military. Initially, China followed Deng’s dictum “hide your ambitions and disguise your claws” which many people, mistakenly, in my opinion, took to mean that China would focus on economic development and not get too involved in foreign affairs. But that’s not what happened; it was under Deng, and then under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, that China began to expand into Africa and started the so-called “string of pearls” ~ a series of naval bases connecting China to the Persian Gulf, and began building military bases in the South China Seas. So Chinese assertiveness was readily apparent before Xi Jining made it official. I think that the main constant in Chinese strategic thinking has been the centrality in the power structure of the misnamed Chinese Communist Party ~ which I believe that Zhou Enlai, Deng, Jiang, Hu and Xi all believe(d) provides the best way for China to have a merit-based government. (Mao is not on my list because I think he was an aberration. I’m only half joking when I say that I think that the closest thing to Mao’s political philosophy is found in Abbie Hoffman’s ‘Revolution for the Hell of It‘ (1968).)
The Chinese leadership, since Deng Xiaoping, seems, to me, to have been and to still be quite consistently convinced and determined that China can be governed, effectively and even well, for the benefit of the Chinese people, by a self-sustaining meritocracy that can be developed, maintained and sustained best, by a single agency: the Party. This notion goes all the way back to the founding of the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924 by Dr Sun Yet-sen and the Dutch communist Henk Sneevliet. Very soon after it was founded the Whampoa Military Academy became both a military school, under Chiang Kai-shek and a political academy, eventually under Zhou Enlai. The notions of Zhou Enlai’s political department, in the mid-1920s, still, it seems to me, animate the Chinese Communist Party, today. The basis for this view seems to be that the leaders believe that China is too large, too diverse and too complex to follow the Western path of liberal (or even conservative) popular democracy; the country, I have been told, needs a steady hand which a dynastic system, which produces leaders, generation after generation, based on merit and proven performance, can best provide.
All that to say that there is not much light between the aims of Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s and those of Xi Jinping, today, forty years later … one might say that Deng and Xi are/were much, much more alike in their aims and methods than are/were, say, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump.
America is stumbling. It’s not all, or even mostly Donald J Trump’s fault. He’s just an expression of a long-standing, since at least the 1960s, deep-seated malaise in America that propels political fringes towards the mainstream, and vice versa, and silences the voices of moderation and reason.
China is not united. The rapidly growing middle class is, I suspect, less willing to “go to the wall” for the leadership than it was a few years ago. It might not take to much, perhaps a Great Recession, spurred on by President Trump’s trade war, could be enough to shake what has, since 1949, been pretty solid support for the misnamed Chinese Communist Party ~ misnamed because any semblance of communism has pretty well disappeared; I think the Canadian NDP has more communists than the CCP does.
But, even for optimists, like me ~ who believe that it is entirely possible to avoid Graham Allison’s Thucydides Trap, the situation is tense and dangerous. America is declining, in relative terms, at least, when compared to Asia, led by China, and Europe, too.
Canada is tied to America … by geography and deep, familial bonds. About a year ago I wrote about Canada and America and I used someone else’s clever formulation of TINA². TINA squared was, I said, “the product of squaring Prime Minister Thatcher’s famous line: “There Is No Alternative” because we are “Trapped In North America.” Some folks, mostly the Laurentian Elites who still worship at the altar of Pierre Trudeau, really want to cut Canada adrift from North America and anchor it to Europe, while some others, another minority, want to erase the Canada-US border. Neither is possible … first, notwithstanding what Pierre Trudeau’s acolytes might wish, we are Trapped In North America and, second, unless we want to totally disband Canada and join the USA, There Is No Alternative to making our federation work.” I said then that “we are blessed amongst the nations by having a strong dominant culture and equally strong liberal, democratic institutions. If we cannot make this work then, maybe, we are not as good citizens as we would like to believe … [but, I concluded] …It requires, I believe, a little leadership from across the political spectrum.” But, just a few days ago, on the topic of leadership, I also said that “We have seen, over the past few weeks that Justin Trudeau is NOT a leader, not in any useful sense of that word, he takes and Takes and TAKES but he gives nothing in return. Jagmeet Singh has, thus far, failed to impress … [and, in my opinion] … Andrew Scheer remains out of focus.” In that same post I said that “In this time, as we face divisions in Canada and as we cope with a seismic shift in the global political power structure, Canada needs leaders who will stand on principle and who will give good, solid leadership, even if (and, perhaps, especially when) the consequences of their words and deeds will be painful.“
That “seismic shift” is underway right now, today, and it is having very direct impacts on Canada as we are attacked, simultaneously, by President Trump, who, rather like Justin Trudeau, wants Canada to give unquestioned, even slavish obedience to his idea of what’s good for America, and By Xi Jinping who is using us as an example to others who might dare to cross China.
We have some friends, like Australia, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and South Korea, but none of them is really big, and our man-child prime minister has managed to alienate some of them, and one of the world’s rising great powers ~ India, by trying to harness the wrong horse, international trade diplomacy, to the wrong cart of parochial, domestic vote buying. At some point, as I have said, Canada needs to recover its self-respect, which, I suggest, it (willingly) gave away circa 1970, when Pierre Trudeau convinced many, perhaps even most Canadians, that the world didn’t really need Canada, except as a loud-mouthed hectoring “conscience,” a role we had played too often, as Dean Acheson noted when, in 1966, he used Wordsworth’s line about us acting like the “Stern Daughter of the Voice of God,” in a typically clever and ambiguous comment that might be praising us for having principles or chastising us for our (already well known) smugness. There is little doubt that in the St Laurent and Pearson years Canada was both (sometimes, to the Americans, annoyingly) principled and a bit smug, too. But we could be a bit of both because we pulled our weight, did more than our full, fair share to help manage the world. We were a leader amongst the middle powers. By 1970 that had all changed …
Now, given the changing global, strategic situation, it needs to change back … urgently.
First, we need to recognize that Lord Palmerston was right, we have neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies …
… President Trump has reminded us of that. We are, for the moment, part of the G7 (America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada) that dominates the world, but according to a report from PwC, the global consultancy firm,* by the year 2050, the E7 (the Emerging 7) (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey) will have a combined GDP that is double that of the G7 (the E7 is about half as rich as the G7 right now).
Second, we need to reshape our foreign policy so that it does not rest on just one, cornerstone, great and beneficial though it may be. We need multiple partners to help us protect and promote our interests in a globally interconnected world. We don’t need or want to try to be everyone’s friend but we should not go around looking for enemies, either. We are an important trading nation; we are, for now, by most fair measures, one of the world’s “top ten” nations, or, at the very least, in almost every respect, one of the top 10%. That status should make Canadians want a thorough review of our policies and our diplomacy … including how and why we use both aid and trade. That fact should also tie into our immigration policy. One of the attributes of Prime Minister Louis St Laurent’s foreign policy ~ which was, in my considered opinion, by far the very best Canada ever had, under any prime minister ~ was that Canada was a “joiner:” the government sought a ‘seat at the table‘ in as many international organizations as possible … mainly in order to counterbalance the might of the ‘Big Four‘ (which America, Britain, France and the USSR were called in the 1950s) and of the USA, especially. We should look, again, at expanding the number of tables at which we have seats ~ relatively useless ones like la Francphonie, and vital ones like NATO and the WTO ~ by reconsidering the idea of a CANZUK arrangement, which I began to discuss in 2016, and which was based on an idea floated by Dr Andrew Lilico of the UK, and …
… which was, in part, endorsed by Conservative MP and shadow foreign minister Erin O’Toole. While I doubt that CANZUK can be implemented in anything like the scope that Dr Lilico wants, the foundation stones for a free(er) trade arrangement (free(er) than either the Canada/Europe CETA or the TPP) already exist, and other agreements like, for example, freedom of movement and national treatment for bona fide university students and for closer cooperation in defence procurement are possible.
Third, we need to rebuild our soft power ~ our influence ~ which rests also on several cornerstones: political, legal, social, cultural, economic and environmental. If, for example, we are going to go around the world crowing about being a nation built upon “the rule of law,” then we need to act like it … perhaps by having a parliamentary inquiry to examine how this government might have attempted to obstruct justice. Canada’s reputation did not suffer from either of the Somalia (1994-97) or the AdScam (2005-06) inquiries; in fact, the world saw a mature nation that was willing to examine itself against the highest standards of conduct. Our soft power also includes being environmentally responsible and a ‘play-by-the-rules‘ free trader; we have blotted our free trade copy books with India and China, but sector-by-sector, one-at-a-time, mutually beneficial trade deals are still very possible with both, and they can be very useful. But, they don’t provide really good photo-ops so they likely don’t appeal to Justin Trudeau.
Fourth, we must recognize that soft power cannot be exercised unless one has sufficient hard (military) power and is able, ready and willing to use it. That means spending (please don’t say ‘investing’) enough on the military so that Canada has credible armed forces. Good conservatives should admit that military spending is, usually and hopefully, wasted … rather like fire insurance or, in fact, that share of our taxes that pays for police, ambulance and fire services: we pay those bills, not happily, but always in the hope that we will not ever need to use what we pay for. We should look at our military as a tool, something we would, in a perfect world, not need and something we would rather not use, but something that we have at our disposal and that we expect to be ready and effective if, when, actually, we do need it. The military we need will, without a shadow of a doubt, cost us 2%+ of our (ever-growing) GDP for decades into the future … that means that by, say, 2025 the defence budget should grow from about $25 Billion, now, to $35+ Billion and to $60+Billion in 2050 (if PwC’s global forecast, which predicts a $3+Trillion GDP for Canada in 2050, is to be believed). Of course, if Canada adopts an aggressive immigration and growth programme, aimed at having a population of 100 Million by the year 2100 then our GDP might not fall, by 2050, so much as to put us outside of the top 10%, to a level below Egypt or Pakistan, but that will need bold and brave leadership … from both Conservatives and Liberals.
* Caveat lector: my son is a vice president of something or other and a director of something else at PwC in Sydney, Australia, but he did not push this report to me and I have no insider knowledge about PwC‘s analytical methods … they may be first class or deeply flawed, I don’t know.