Campbell Clark, writing in the Globe and Mail, says that “For much of its history, Canada has been a lucky country, sharing the prosperity of its U.S. neighbour, tucked under its security umbrella, supporting a U.S.-led world order. The divided nation to our south on view during the 2020 election campaign has to make you wonder whether that luck is running out.“
The ongoing US election, he says, “was cast as a turning point for the United States – a “battle for the soul of the nation,” in the slogan of Democrat Joe Biden … [but] … the presidential campaign wasn’t much of a contest about the place of the United States in the world. Let alone what it means for its northern neighbour.”
Campbell Clark explains that “There are the same big-picture trends in the U.S. approach to the world, underlined by the country’s mood: Frustration with the costs of international leadership and the desire to withdraw from it, and the feeling the United States has to assert its own economic interests ahead of global principles. Those things weren’t really up for debate … [and, while] … The U.S. is still wealthy and powerful … [it is] … no longer as dominant as it once was, with others, notably China, on the rise. But its own politics, after decades of foreign wars and job losses in manufacturing, are a force for U.S. withdrawal from world leadership … [and] … One of the few things the supporters of Donald Trump and Mr. Biden seemed to agree on is that the U.S. is in decline. The cliché poll question asking voters if the country is on the right track or wrong track – usually a gauge of satisfaction with the incumbent – lost all meaning in 2020 because Republicans, too, said things are going badly … [which, he says, means that] … Americans just don’t have much time for the world. That’s been the trend for a while.“
Further, Mr Clark writes, “Mr. Trump stymied the World Trade Organization, warned NATO countries they must pay more, pulled troops suddenly out of Syria and has generally given the impression the U.S. isn’t taking responsibility for the world … [but] … His America First promises in 2016 were no accident. Public opinion in the United States was concerned with domestic matters, exasperated that blood and treasure had been lost in decades of foreign wars, suspicious that the U.S. bore the cost of protecting others, and mistrustful of a trade system that cost them jobs … [and] … that trend didn’t start in 2016. Barack Obama also carried out a policy of withdrawing the U.S. from global leadership, in more subtle style … [do we remember, Campbell Clark asks] … how the U.S. decided in 2011 that its role in Libya would be “leading from behind,” while encouraging allies to intervene? In 2013, Mr. Obama pulled back from his threat to strike Syria after it used chemical weapons – an action he had said would cross a red line … [and] … The U.S. body politic still seems to feel global leadership isn’t worth the cost. Mr. Biden promised to work more with U.S. allies, and rejoin institutions, but didn’t campaign on leading the world, not on security, not on trading arrangements. The public was asking leaders to shield the country from the world, especially when it comes to economics and trade.“
It is likely, in my opinion, that Joe Biden, being a Democrat will be at least as protectionist as Donal Trump, quite possibly, even probably more so. Big Labour in the USA, which supports the Democrats, wants jobs to go to American workers ~ Canadian wood and steel and auto-parts will be unwelcome competition.
“Canada is still lucky,” Campbell Clark says, “to have the world’s wealthy superpower as its neighbour. But its mood about being a superpower has been sour for a long time. It is growing a little less willing to share its prosperity, or enforce rules, or lead the world order. Canada, which has framed so much of its own role in the world on its relationship with the U.S., is going to get used to it. The battle for the American “soul,” the turning-point election of 2020, didn’t suggest it will change.“
But, in my opinion, Canada has to be more self-reliant. For a start, the Government of Canada must get its head our of the sand and recognize that it always has one, and only one, overwhelming priority: to secure Canada’s sovereignty and independence. Nothing else, absolutely nothing else, including our nearly sacred ‘free’ health care or even national unity, comes even close.
The problem is not that America dislikes us or covets our territory, it doesn’t. But, like it or not, we are a key factor America’s strategic security calculus. We are, to many American strategic planners, rather like a third ocean …
…a huge and, essentially, empty space that keeps enemies away from the American homeland. Canada must ensure that “space” ~ our territory, the contiguous waters and the airspace over both ~ remains secure and in our hands. Canada must ensure that no foreign country can operate in and around our “space” with impunity. If we cannot or will not do that then the Americans will, quite properly, invoke the notion of “force majeure” and they will defend Canada on their own. That will, de facto, reduce us to the status of US colony.
I have zero doubt that the Pentagon‘s positions on continental security and on global security burden sharing will NOT change with a new president. Many of President Trump’s outbursts about allies getting a “free ride” on Uncle Sam‘s coattails were informed by what his admirals and generals and budget officials told him. Those people and their views will not change, they, the people and their well considered views, are part of the “administrative state,” they will still be there are the inauguration and they will still be saying exactly the same thing to Joe Biden … and he will be listening.
What will Joe Biden want?
In a word: More.
He will want more jobs for Americans in US forests and factories and offices and laboratories, He will not, I think, be as willing as Donald J Trump was to impose improper tariffs and so on but he will not discourage legislators from proposing ‘America First‘ and ‘Buy American‘ projects: those ideas cross party lines. He will want more in both continental and global defence from Canada. His advisors will point to Canada’s niggardly support for its military as an example of “free riding” and they will tell him that if Canada gets away with it then everyone else will, too.
What should Canada do?
Well, I’m covering old ground here, but:
- First and foremost, replace the inept and unethical Trudeau regime with an honest, responsible Conservative government led by Erin O’Toole. That will be a government which, as I said a few weeks ago, I suspect will be more appealing to Joe Biden, who is a centrist, moderate Democrat;
- Second, work with a new, friendlier American administration to reform the international institutions ~ especially the WTO ~ on which so much depends;
- Third, reorient our foreign policy to be more supportive of a friendlier American regime; and
- Fourth, reform our defence policy so that it is appropriate for a G-7 nation, by, inter alia ~
- Joining the American continental ballistic missile defence programme which works, contrary to the propaganda campaign originated by the Russian and still believed by too many Canadians. North Korean missiles and those from several other countries remain a very real threat and the US has said, explicitly, that its current system is not covering Canadian cities. Joining is a no-brainer … but we have a brainless prime minister,
- Upgrading our continental defences ~ I’ve gone on about that in the past but we need naval, land and air forces that can, quickly, go anywhere on Canada’s vast, difficult territory and in the contiguous waters and in the airspace above both and intercept and interdict any intruder,
- Building a true ‘blue water’ Navy around 15 new major combatants and an equal number of corvettes and a few supply ships and submarines,
- Rebuilding the Army so that we have the capacity to deploy, fairly quickly, a light infantry battle group of, say, 1,500 soldiers, followed, within weeks, by a somewhat larger mechanized battle group and then, in months, by a mechanized brigade group of over 6,000 soldiers,
- Rebuilding the RCAF so that it has all the types of aircraft needed to protect Canada and to conduct joint operations with the RCN and the Army and combined air operations with commonwealth (CANZUK) and NATO allies, and
- Rebuilding the logistical support base to sustain much bigger and better armed forces.
That’s a big and expensive list. Those who think that spending a measly $60 Billion on warships (over their 30 years lifecycle) will find the final numbers hard to swallow, but I believe that, COVID-19 or not, Canada’s defence budget needs to start growing, now, until, in a few years it reaches $40+ Billion per year, about 2% of our forecast GDP, which is what successive Canadian governments, including the current one, have said is their aspirational goal.
And, There.Is.No.Alternative: The Americans, as Campbell Clark says, are frustrated at the costs of global leadership and want to withdraw, inwards. Who else will protect us? Australia, Britain, China? No, no and no. We have to do it ourselves, as we used to, until circa 1970, and as other self-respecting, independent countries still manage to do without gutting their social safety nets.
The choice is clear: Canada either grows up and accepts the costs of being an independent nation or we become a US colony. Put as simply as I can: There.Is.No.Alternative.