““There is no way you can look at the global landscape and see [anything] other than increased indicators of danger and threats … [but] … The level of real and actual danger will depend on how it is that nations around the world hold China to account, and the same can be said for Russia.”” Hmm, sounds a bit like me, huffing an puffing again about Canada’s lack of robust foreign and defence polices, doesn’t it?
But it wasn’t me, it was General Jonathan Vance, who was, until just a few hours ago, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, speaking, undoubtedly with the personal approval of the prime minister or his chief-of-staff, with the Globe and Mail. I am about 99.9% sure that General Vance said nothing to the Good Grey Globe that he has not said, probably more forcefully, to Harjit Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence and to Justin Trudeau, too. An interview like this, with a retiring defence chief, which is mildly critical of the government-of-the-day, is normal in most democratic countries. It would be surprising and newsworthy if, for some reason, General Vance was not “available” for such an interview. It would be more surprising if he was not (mildly) critical.
Here are some highlights:
- ““What is interesting about this era is that nothing has come off the table” … he said] … pointing to continuing violence in the Middle East, civil wars and border conflicts, terrorist attacks in Europe, a rise in political repression and climate change;”
- “President Donald Trump’s leadership and his undermining of U.S. allies, including withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and even Germany, deeply troubled Western political leaders … [and he believes that] … It makes it more difficult to design a grand strategy to deal with Beijing and Moscow;”
- “The “U.S. military has stayed rock solid” in support of NATO and other Western alliances … [to the point that] … the Pentagon gave Ottawa a heads-up on its plans to kill top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani so it could put in “force protection measures” in case of Iranian counterstrikes;”
- “Western political leaders must develop a ”grand strategy” to confront Chinese expansionism, including their militarization of islands in the South China Sea, a key shipping lane through which 30 per cent of the world’s trade passes … [and, he said] … “You can’t look at this and say this is a nation that is operating by the standard rules of international behaviour. The same I think can be said to some degree with Russia with its posture in Crimea and the Black Sea;”
- On the subject of ‘The Quad‘ (Australia, India, Japan and USA) ~ ““Not my call. … Those are things for Canada to decide and not for me to decide,” he said, but he added: ”We don’t need to be part of the Quad to be able to train with all of those people and we do”;”
- “At this time, Gen. Vance said, there is no indication China will invade Taiwan, even though the People’s Liberation Army has stepped up cyberattacks and used its warplanes and navy to harass the self-governing island of 24 million almost on a daily basis … [but] … he said the West needs to put plans in place to make sure Beijing understands that there will be consequences if it uses force against Taiwan … [he said] … “What is important now is what will the rest of the world do about all of this. … What might the political levers [be] to try to prevent that and what would be the military strategies to underpin that”;”
- “Gen. Vance said it would be wrong to allow a state-sponsored entity such as Huawei “which is entirely owned, operated and penetrated by the state” into Canada’s communications networks … [and he said] … he sleeps “absolutely” better at night knowing that major telecoms BCE, Rogers and Telus have announced that they will use secure suppliers, such as Finland’s Nokia, Ericsson from Sweden and South Korea’s Samsung, to supply 5G equipment;”
- “From a military perspective … Russia remains the greatest threat to Canada because of its proximity, particularly its massive buildup in the Arctic to take advantage of rapidly melting ice that will open those waters to shipping … [and] … Russia has built modern military bases equipped with thousands of troops and stationed modern fighter jets, advanced hypersonic cruise and intercontinental missiles, as well as having icebreakers and nuclear submarines in Arctic waters … [General Vance said] … “They are not building up the Arctic for nothing,” he said. “They are posturing themselves militarily to be adjacent to what will become in the future a very busy sea route, and they are co-operating with China in some respect on that matter” … [and] … Canada still does not have new icebreakers, while the Russians are building a fleet of 13 polar icebreakers. Canada’s new Arctic and offshore patrol vessels can’t operate in the Far North during the winter and have limited icebreaking capabilities.”
While none of these concerns are new it is nice to se them all put together in one list. He is speaking, through the Globe and Mail, to two audiences:
- Political influencers who, he hopes, have the ear of key decision makers; and
- Five of those decision makers …
… who all have the capacity to shape Canada’s strategy.
The key point is the General Vance enunciates the pressing need for a Western strategy which still requires active US leadership. That strategy needs to have a familiar aim: containment. And the targets for containment haven’t changed much in 75 years.* Russia, as General Vance says, remains the most likely source of conflict. The Chinese are more powerful and more dangerous, strategically, but less likely to miscalculate and stumble into armed conflict. The geo-strategic festering sore that is the Middle East was a problem in the late 1940s, too, but it has gotten more and more serious as the US-led West has tried, and failed, over and over again, to broker something like peace.
Canada, General Vance hints, needs to be part of the US-led West’s “first string” or “starting lineup.” We are, after all, a member of the G-7 (even if we are, right now, tied with Italy as the least productive member) and we will be a member of British Prime Minister Johnson’s D-10. Our voice ought to be heard and respected. What General Vance, very correctly, does not say,** and what Prime Minister Trudeau and the Laurentian Elites will not allow to be said in their hearing, is that our “voice” is directly proportional to our hard power … and our hard power has been in serious decline since 1969 and may, some analysts say, decline further in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At this year’s G-7/D-10 meeting there will be three superstars …
… Joe Biden is obvious; but, despite some very valid concerns about some of his policies, Narendra Modi is the guy who is facing China and he’s about the only one China really worries about; and Scott Morrison shows the West that appeasement is NOT the only option for those who are not great powers. There will be come lesser ‘stars,’ too, Prime Minister Johnson, himself, having led Britain out of the EU will have a chance to shine, but so will Ursula van der Leyen and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in (who doesn’t get enough chances to show his stuff in the ‘big leagues’) …
… but we all know who will not be shining: Canada’s Justin Trudeau will be, yet again, on the outside, looking in …
… because Canada brings nothing to the table. The Laurentian Elites will bleat, endlessly, about soft power but they cannot bring themselves to admit that soft power works only when people listen to you and few countries, certainly none of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, ever listen to anyone who doesn’t have substantial hard power.
I will not bore you by repeating what I have been saying since this blog began: Canada must have a grand strategy of its own; Canada must have a principled foreign policy; Canada must have adequate defence forces and so on. But, all those things are true.
What Canada needs, before it can have any of those things, is a new, Conservative government. None of those things is possible as long as Justin Trudeau is in power, he and the people who pull his strings don’t want them and will not allow them.
I fear that Prime Minister Trudeau will call and election in late spring for early summer ~ maybe the election day can be as late as 28 June (as it was in 2004) which means the writs being propped in mid May when, I’m guessing, the COVID vaccination campaign will be in full swing ad Canadians will be seeing things swing back towards “normal.” I fear even more that he will win it, with a majority essentially by a combination of demonizing the Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives ~ a campaign which has already begun and in which the mainstream media and the Conservative Party are both complicit, and buying our votes with our own money.
Justin Trudeau and the members of the Laurentian Elites who pull his strings (and the others who pull the strings of those Elites) don’t care about either defence or foreign policy, because:
- They believe, quite correctly, as it happens, that we don’t need to defend ourselves because ~
- The only country that can threaten Canada is the USA, because it will not tolerate any other power on its continent, and
- The fact ~ and it is a fact ~ that if they have to come and defend us the Americans will not leave, our existence as a sovereign nation will be ended, is irrelevant to their interests; and
- The only foreign policy that matters is the one that serves the economic interests of the Montréal – Ottawa – Toronto axis.
Most Canadian voters don’t care about either foreign or defence policy. That’s just a sad but well-known fact. Few Canadians will have bothered to read General Vance’s remarks; fewer still will stop to think about their implications and most of those who do will worry that if anyone pays attention they might want to spend more on defence rather than, say, on a national childcare or pharmacare programme.
It’s sad to say, but what Canada needs and what Canada may very well get in 2021 are two entirely different things.
** The people who need to be saying that are the most senior officials in the Privy Council Office, Global Affairs Canada and in Finance Canada. If they are not then it mans that they are foolish (highly unlikely), negligent (also unlikely), cowardly ~ putting their position and prospects ahead of their duties, or have been politically coopted by the Trudeau Liberals.