So, yesterday, I said I disagreed with the Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson about how much we should “welcome” a Biden-Harris administration in Washington. He was right to point out that, in general, Canada fares better when Republicans (Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush) are in the White House rather than Democrats (Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Obama). Donald J Trump is sui generis; he appeals to one quite large and very fearful segment of the American electorate but, eventually, he will be gone … but not before he will have helped unleash Cod War 2.0.
In another recent column in the Globe and Mail Mr Ibbitson quotes some Canadain academics and declares that “Ottawa should also make it emphatically clear to Beijing that this country remains firmly allied with the United States, NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other nations and institutions that operate within what is left of the rules-based international order … [but, he says] … we must also be careful. People who blithely accept that China and the West are in a new cold war forget how dangerous such wars can be.” He is correct on both counts, but the headline of his column is wrong.
His column is headlined: “Canada must resist the temptation to sink into a new cold war with China.”
I’m sorry to tell everyone this fact, and I assert that it is an incontrovertible fact, but Canada has no choice. Cold War 2.0 is here and we’re in it.
I think it’s fair to say that President Trump started the new Cold War, possibly, even probably by accident. It is equally fair to say, as John Ibbitson points out that China is a much bigger, more formidable adversary than the old USSR (Russia, Warsaw Pact etc) ever was and it decided to go along. China clearly thinks that it can “win.”
Cold Wars can be won.
There has always, since at last Thucydides’ time, a spectrum of conflict that has for thousands and thousands of years, looked like this:
For most of human history we lived through “Cold Wars,” and while some did, indeed, become “hot,” most were settled.
A noted Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan reminds us, in a timely article in Foreign Affairs, “Humanity survived the original Cold War in part because each side’s massive nuclear arsenal deterred the other from starting a hot war and in part because the West and the Soviet bloc got used to dealing with each other over time, like partners in a long and unhappy relationship, and created a legal framework with frequent consultation and confidence-building measures. In the decades ahead, perhaps China and the United States can likewise work out their own tense but lasting peace. Today’s unstable world, however, looks more like that of the 1910s or the 1930s, when social and economic unrest were widespread and multiple powerful players crowded the international scene, some bent on upending the existing order. Just as China is challenging the United States today, the rising powers of Germany, Japan, and the United States threatened the hegemonic power of the British Empire in the 1910s. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an economic downturn reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s … [and] … The history of the first half of the twentieth century demonstrates all too vividly that unchecked or unmoderated tensions can lead to extremism at home and conflict abroad. It also shows that at times of heightened tension, accidents can set off explosions like a spark in a powder keg, especially if countries in those moments of crisis lack wise and capable leadership. Had Archduke Franz Ferdinand not been assassinated in Sarajevo in June 1914, World War I might not have erupted. One can only imagine the chain of potentially catastrophic events that could be set in motion if Chinese and American naval ships or airplanes collided in the South China Sea today.“
So how did we survive the last Cold War?
First, Eisenhower had a plan ~ long before he became President of the USA, back when he was NATO’s first Supreme Allied Commander, he is reported to have told a group of political leaders that he didn’t want ten million American, British, Canadian, Danish and so on troops facing tens of millions of Russians. He wanted all those American British and Canadian soldiers back home, out of uniform, in overalls, working on farms and in factories, growing food and making cars and refrigerators. Ike didn’t care if the Russians deployed tens of millions of soldiers, that ~ wasting their most important resource in the military ~ would be their mistake.
Secondly, Truman had a plan, a grand strategy, actually, to “contain” Stalin and his Warsaw Pact. Ike’s plan to use allied soldiers as a “tripwire” and nuclear weapons to destroy Warsaw Past forces if they crossed the inner-German border was part of it.
Thirdly, the US-led West coalesced, willing, around first Truman and then Eisenhower. Nations ~ tired of war as they all were ~ rearmed to be ready for what became known as the “come as you are war.” Ike’s tripwire depended on just enough well equipped forces, positioned near the likely battle area.
For Canada, that meant nothing short of a military revolution. For eighty years (1870 to 1950) Canada had pretended that its military reserves would be enough to serve as a mobilization base and that mobilization could be a stately, even slow affair. Now Ike asked for (and Louis St Laurent told his finance and defence ministers to provide) well equipped, professional soldiers, thousands of them, to be stationed, full-time, in Germany. Despite considerable reluctance from a war-weary nation and some of his own ministers, bureaucrats even his service chiefs, Prime Minister St Laurent persevered and Canada became a leader amongst the small and middle powers, always “punching above its weight” as the saying goes.
No one wanted Cold War 1.0. but Russia forced it upon us (1848), hoping that they could scare the war-weary Europeans into submission. Truman’s America gave the West the kinds of strength and resolve it had not had in the 1930s; America was, clearly, ready to defend its friends. Canada stood, shoulder-to-shoulder with Truman and Eisenhower, adding to the security that the Europeans (and Asians) felt as they rebuilt their societies in the face of a hostile “Eastern block.”
We won the first Cold War by being, clearly, prepared for a hot one ~ we were prepared for a nuclear war with all its implications. That included Canada. Canada’s armed forces were equipped with nuclear weapons in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. There had been hard decisions taken, decisions that almost destroyed the Diefenbaker Conservatives, but, finally, Canada was committed, fully ~ lock, stock and nuclear-tipped barrels ~ to stopping Soviet aggression. And we could be, and we were sure, despite a few nay-sayers, including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, that the USSR and the Warsaw Pact were aggressors who wanted to subjugate free, democratic nations to their authoritarian rule.
Some Canadians, like Pierre Trudeau, felt that we had gone too far, done too much; they ~ always a minority, but a vocal one ~ said that the Russian communists were not aggressors, they were just trying to make a better world for the oppressed peoples of the world, maybe even a “post-national state,” a sort of socialist nirvana. That was arrant nonsense, but it was popular nonsense, especially when, in the 1960s (Kennedy and Johnson), America began to lose the plot and see a “red menace” everywhere.
America regained control of its global priorities in the 1970s and beyond, and that included trying to entice China into a cooperative arrangement. But, as always happens …
… events transpired and “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.” So it has been with China. What Nixon and others thought they might do ~ first to drive a wedge between China and the USSR (the Russians did a good enough job of that, themselves) and then to bring China, willingly into the liberal world order ~ all fell apart in this decade. Cold war 2.0 is here, like it or not.
Canada is on America’s side; that is indisputable. Canada might be unhappy with the state of American leadership and, as I said yesterday, we are unlikely to be any happier if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris triumph in November, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we have no choice. Cold war 2.0 is the American led West vs China and an array of autocrats. We don’t gt to pick sides. By 2025 we will, I am almost 100% certain, be looking at different American leaders … and maybe different Chinese leaders, too. Xi Jinping may have rejigged the system to make him Paramount Leader for Life, but that doesn’t mean that all the other people in the very opaque Chinese leadership system agree with his plan. I am absolutely certain that Canada’s political leadership will have changed, too.
What Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to do now, for Canada, is to turn the ship of state on to a new course: one which will make us ready to do a full and fair share in Cold war 2.0. That means redirecting spending (and the consequential borrowing) towards projects that, above all, enhance the defence if North America ~ and there’sno reason why many good jobs cannot be created here in Canada, especially for First Nations, when we modernize the ballistic missile warning and defence system. Priority two must be to reform joint naval-air and air-land task forces that can deploy, in considerable strength ~ greater then we deployed to Afghanistan for a dozen years ~ anywhere in the world.
Of course, we all know that Justin Trudeau will do nothing of the sort. Canada needs new, adult leadership and we ned it now.