So, two things caught my eye last week: first, in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson quoted a room full of (mostly young and über-bright) Canadian academics, all of whom are moaning about Canada’s foreign policy being off the rails; then, over in Foreign Affairs, a world-famous strategic thinker, Professor G John Ikenberry, from Princeton University explains why and how we ~ the US-led West, which includes Canada, can “reclaim the two-centuries-old liberal international project of building an order that is open, multilateral, and anchored in a coalition of leading liberal democracies.“
According to Mr Ibbitson, the multitude of Canadian experts see three courses of action open for Canada:
- “One path is the status quo, where we muddle through, in effect,” according to Michael Manulak, a political science professor specializing in international relations at Carleton University. This path, according to John Ibbitson, “was on display in a letter sent in June from 19 distinguished Canadians to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou – under detention in Canada while the United States seeks her extradition – in exchange for the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who China arrested in retaliation. Mr. Trudeau … [correctly, in my opinion, but, almost certainly for the wrong reasons] … rejected their appeal … [but] … The letter reflected old assumptions: that Beijing must be accommodated and that Ottawa can cleave to the protection offered by the United States while simultaneously asserting independence from it.“
- Mr Ibbitson says that “The second possible path of future Canadian foreign relations, which Jean-Christophe Boucher, a foreign-policy specialist at University of Calgary, calls “strategic retrenchment: falling back on the people you can really trust” … [and] … That path, which he favours, would see Canada double down on its alliance with the U.S. – America First isolationism notwithstanding – because our neighbour remains our closest ally and by far our largest trading partner … [a point I have made several times, and] … Strategic retrenchment would also see Canada tighten its bonds with Britain, France and Germany on the Atlantic side, and with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand on the Pacific side, while reducing engagement everywhere else … [and I, broadly, agree with that, but, where I part company with Professor Boucher is his contention that] … Above all, this approach identifies China not as a rising power that must be accommodated, but as a strategic adversary that must be contained.“
- The third path, which Professor Manulak favours, “would seek to preserve whatever is left of the old international order, while exploiting new organizations that are emerging from the rubble.“
Professor Ikenberry looks back to the 1930s, to American grand strategy before it was forced to join the war against the Hitler-Mussolini axis. Then, he writes, “The United States, Roosevelt and his contemporaries concluded, could not simply hide within its borders; it would need to build a global infrastructure of institutions and partnerships. The liberal order they went on to build was less about the triumphant march of liberal democracy than about pragmatic, cooperative solutions to the global dangers arising from interdependence. Internationalism was not a project of tearing down borders and globalizing the world; it was about managing the growing complexities of economic and security interdependence in the pursuit of national well-being … [but, he says] … Today’s liberal democracies … [always including Canada] … are the bankrupt heirs to this project, but with U.S. leadership, they can still turn it around.“
Roosevelt’s pre-war grand strategy wasn’t entirely successful until after his political hand was forced in December 1941. Although he opposed Hitler and Mussolini, he didn’t have the political power to bring America into the war in 1939, when American power might have stopped it before it went too far ~ but, in fact, American public opinion was deeply isolationist, somewhat anti-British and even pro-Nazi in the late 1930s. Some historians argue that Roosevelt actually provoked the war with Japan by refusing to accommodate its rise in Asia as later (wiser?) American presidents, for a half-century, from Nixon to Obama, accommodated China’s (largely peaceful) rise.
John Ibbitson quotes Professor Michael Manulak as saying that “ad hoc coalitions and informal institutions designed to tackle specific interdependence challenges, such as global warming, nuclear proliferation or pandemics, are likely to eventually win market share from postwar institutions that no longer function well, or even at all … [and, it might be wise to] … “Invest in the tools of influencing this more fluid, loosely clustered international system where you try to build shifting coalitions of international actors.”“
The so-called foreign policy realists “advocate programs to educate Canadians in the hard realities of what lies ahead. Some suggest Canada should take a leadership role on a single issue of global concern. In the 1990s, for instance, Canada was a leader in pursuing a ban of landmines. Today’s equivalent issue might be limiting autonomous weapons … [and] … they urge federal and provincial governments to grow Canada’s population – double it, even, to 75 million people … [because Professor Justin Massie of L’Université du Québec à Montréal says that “To have a more independent foreign policy you need self-sufficiency, and for that you need a domestic market,” and that can only come if we have a much larger population. I also sympathize with that view. Mao said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun (枪杆子里面出政权)” but as America, China, Germany and Japan have all demonstrated greater power grows from the barrels of many, many guns. Britain and the Netherlands achieved great power by pursuing a trade based maritime strategy but they could never translate that to continental dominance ~ Britain got close as long as it remained focused on a carefully balanced combination of a swell crafted “balance of power” strategy and “splendid isolation” but both were too hard (too expensive) to sustain in the long term.
Dr Ikenberry says that “The rivalry between the United States and China will preoccupy the world for decades, and the problems of anarchy cannot be wished away. But for the United States and its partners, a far greater challenge lies in what might be called “the problems of modernity”: the deep, worldwide transformations unleashed by the forces of science, technology, and industrialism, or what the sociologist Ernest Gellner once described as a “tidal wave” pushing and pulling modern societies into an increasingly complex and interconnected world system. Washington and its partners are threatened less by rival great powers than by emergent, interconnected, and cascading transnational dangers. Climate change, pandemic diseases, financial crises, failed states, nuclear proliferation—all reverberate far beyond any individual country. So do the effects of automation and global production chains on capitalist societies, the dangers of the coming revolution in artificial intelligence, and other, as-yet-unimagined upheavals.” That is, it seems to me, a concise and accurate statement of the current global strategic situation … and it is, indeed, bleak.
It seems to me that, of the three courses outlined by John Ibbitson, course three ~ picking up the pieces and making ad hoc arrangements with them, as suggested by Professors Ikenberry and Manulak is best for the United States. For Canada, on the other hand, I believe that Professor Jean-Christophe Boucher’s second choice ~ strategic retrenchment ~ is the only reasonable alternative.
Professor Bouchard says that Canada must, first, “double down on its alliance with the U.S. – America First isolationism notwithstanding – because our neighbour remains our closest ally and by far our largest trading partner.” The Americans are our best friends, like it or not; they are our closest neighbour ~ and, by and large, a good neighbour, too ~ and they are our most important (actually absolutely indispensable) trading partner. And the USA is the guarantor of our sovereignty ~ again, like it or not. Donald J Trump is a problem, but he’s a transient problem. There is no danger that he will make himself, à la Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, a dictator for life. In either 2020 or in 2024, he will be replaced, perhaps by someone a lot better, likely by someone just a little better, for Canada. But what is unlikely to change a lot is the very normal idea, for Americans, that they should put America First. Canada’s problem is that, since the late 1960s, Canada has, too often, put itself second or third … behind sophomoric ideas like a “just society” and fiscal irresponsibility based on silly bromides like “the land is strong.”
The West is not dead. Liberalism is not dead. America is not dead. All are under attack, but the attackers are not unified, there is no broadly popular or coherent alternative being proposed. Most people do not want to submit themselves to either a cruel Chinese autocracy or to an intolerant Islamic theocracy. Most people still favour the liberal ideas that have dominated the world for the past 75 years … but most people are also selfish and they want to put themselves first. The obvious excesses of Trumpism, which are driving a wedge into the solidarity of the West, are a reaction to the equally obvious impacts of globalization. Globalism is not wrong; it is just a logical response to economic and technological realities that have made geography less important. Giant ships and low wages made coffee-makers built in China cheaper, in Middle America, than similar coffee makers made in the USA. It had nothing to do with ideology and little to do with politics. The strategic decision (Nixon) to accommodate China’s rise was made for the best of reasons ~ to prevent wars (the plural matters, as it so often does). The economic decisions (Reagan) that deregulated America (and the world) enabled China’s economic miracle and hastened the “rust out” of America’s industries …
… which had been underway for decades, pushed by the generosity of American sponsored recovery programmes for post-war Europe and Asia. (Canada was also a major actor in the post-war recovery, being the principal funder of the Colombo Plan, the Commonwealth’s (Asian) version of the Marshall Plan.)
Canada benefitted immensely from its geo-strategic position in the 1940s. Canada became, on a par with the USA, an “arsenal of democracy” and the “breadbasket of the empire.” History, mainly, put Canada firmly on the right side in 1939. Canada wasn’t happy about going to war but, except in Québec, there was broad support for Britain and, unlike America, Canada did not have a large, pro-German faction. Geography made Canada into a major economic (industrial) powerhouse in the 1940s. Ships, tanks and aircraft, built with Canadian steel and aluminium, and even nuclear reactors rolled off Canadian production lines. Canada undertook a leadership role in the world ~ Canadians were not quite at the “top table” when the Bretton Woods agreements and the United Nations were formed ~ Mackenzie King’s strategic (and domestic political) timidity saw to that ~ but we were when NATO was established and when the Colombo Plan got started and for 25 years, from 1945 to 1970, world leaders flocked to Ottawa or invited Canadian leaders to their capitals to make their cases.
That all changed, circa 1970, when Canada lurched towards isolationism and when political anti-Americanism became a mainstream position. There were (successful) attempts to refurbish the Canada-USA relationship …
… but in the 21st-century warm Canada-USA relations are a Conservative idea and one that is opposed. by the progressive (leftist) media and intelligentsia who speak for the Laurentian Elites.
Restoring a good, solid strategic relationship with the USA ~ one based, above all, on shared values, not just on trade or even on security ~ must be the Number 1 Priority of any responsible Canadian government. It is easy to see why so many Canadians, especially in the “chattering classes” dislike America ~ President Donald Trump is everything that we have disliked and mistrusted about the USA for 200 years. He is both a bully and cheat and, doubtless, a lot worse, too. But, as I said, above, he is also a transient problem, one which the American people will solve for us.
Priority 2 must be Asia, but Canada must be selective:
- First, Canada does not need any enemies, especially not a Chinese enemy. As with America, we must accept that China is a great, global power … like it or not. One policy priority must be to restore “correct” relations with China. China is not our friend; China does not want to be our “friend.” It wants us (and Australia and Britain and Chile and Denmark) to kowtow ~ which we must never do. It doesn’t matter, not one iota, what Pierre Trudeau thought or what Jean Chrétien thinks;* China will not be our “friend” but it can be a collegial state in the family of nations, one with which we have normal, correct diplomatic/political and mutually beneficial trade relations. That may become very important when (not if) Sino-American relations deteriorate, as I expect they will, and America will want a trusted ally who can speak (and listen) for it in Beijing.
- Second, Canada must look to India as the leader of the “free world” in Asia and as the rising great power which can ‘contain‘ China. Justin Trudeau has made this dreadfully difficult because he is a stupid man who always, without fail, puts his own personal vanity and domestic, parish-pump politics ahead of the national interest. But it can and must be done. Canada has a long, 70+ year tradition of being India’s best friend in the West. Good politics and skilled diplomacy ~ a whole new team, top to bottom, in the Pearson Building is required ~ can turn things around.
- Third, it is time to revive the Commonwealth. To begin we need to repair relations, which Justin Trudeau and his inept deputy Chrystia Freeland damaged, with Australia and New Zealand, with Singapore and Malaysia and even with smaller countries like Fiji. One key to this might be to get behind the idea of CANZUK …
… which might be a good lever to spur broader, global Commonwealth engagement.
- Fourth, Canada needs to repair relations with Japan (see the Freeland-Trudeau link above) the Philippines and Taiwan … closer contact with the latter will, certainly, annoy China and that may ~ along with banning Huawei ~ actually help in restoring “correct” relations by demonstrating that we are a mature country that will put our own values ahead of our economic interests.
- Fifth, Canada needs to rebuild its armed forces (especially the Navy and the RCAF) so that it can play a more active role in helping to keep the peace ~ really keeping the peace, not the “let’s pretend” stuff that the United Nations tries (and almost always fails) to do ~ in the Asia-Pacific region.
Priority 3 should be Europe. Up close to the top of the page, Professor Boucher of the University if Calgary said we should form stronger bonds with Europe … I agree. He singled out Britain, France and Germany … I disagree. Britain, France and Germany (and Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain, too) are what is wrong with Europe.
What is “right” in Europe includes e.g. the “frugal four” (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden) led by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ⇒ and the so-called New Hanseatic League (Denmark (again), Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden (also again) and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). Those are the European countries, along with non-EU member but NATO ally Norway, with whom Canada should seek much closer political relationships** and with whom we should make common cause in the US-led West and in the United Nations.
Priority 4, and anything more than three priorities is almost impossible to manage well, is the rest of world, especially Africa, the troubled Middle East, Russia, West Asia, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Each region presents both challenges and opportunities. We have “kith and kin” in the Caribbean and we could make a positive contribution to regional security and to Canada-USA relations by stepping up military (especially anti-drug smuggling and anti-human trafficking) patrols in the region. Sadly none of those regions, not even all put together, rises to the level of importance of the USA, on its own, or Asia.
But, Canada has choices. In my opinion, the best choice for Canada is to “retrench” and renew our traditional, trusted alliances ~ some of which are well over 100 years old and, thereby, help the USA which, I suspect, will try to rebuild the liberal world order on a piecemeal basis over the next generation or so.
Canada can, confidently, hope for better US leadership. Canada can, with even greater confidence, expect that most of the world will remain, at best, antagonistic if not downright hostile towards liberalism, even as most countries try to exploit its many and varied socio-economic advantages for their own illiberal ends.
Before Canada can make new, strategically sensible choices about its foreign (and defence) policies, it needs a new, sensible, responsible government, and that means, for now, and for the next decade, at least, a Conservative government.
* And we must ALL underatnd that Justin Trudeau doesn’t think at all … but some dreadfully cynical peole in adjoining offices have convinced him that he does.
** Our trade relationships are already bound by the CETA.