I think that a new cold war, Cold War 2.0 if you like, “managed,” as former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd explained on the basis of Managed Strategic Competition, is the best and most likely way to avoid a real, deadly hot (shooting) war between China and America supported by the US-led West. I believe it is the most likely because I remain convinced that the Chinese, based on thousands of years of history in which strategy has been interwoven with culture, want to avoid armed conflict at all costs. They want to achieve their strategic aims, but they aim to do so without fighting.
The US-led West has concluded, based on recent but decidely limited experience, that a cold war is better, and much, much cheaper than a hot one, especially when nuclear weapons are available. Some people, very often a whopping great majority in most Western countries, Canada amongst them, object to the costs of maintaining the sorts of credible, well-trained and well-equipped full-time, professional military forces that a successful cold war requires … but they do so only because a long, but ultimately successful cold war (1947-91) has allowed them to forget the costs of real, bloody, hot wars. The first challenge President Biden will face will be to persuade Americans and allies, including Canada, that, as they start to rebuild after the global pandemic, they must, also, rebuild their military power too. I am certain that a solid majority of Americans, Brits, Canadians and Danes and so on do not want to hear that.
It seems quite clear to me that the strategic objective of the US-led West, in 2021 must be, as it was in 1947, to contain rather than to defeat the adversary. We ought to be prepared for two equally likely scenarios:
- China may go from success to success and it might create a large and loyal Sinosphere of nations that circles the globe, just as the US-led West does. It will be a socio-cultural, economic and military superpower, greater than the USSR of the 1970s and ’80s could ever dreamed to have been; or
- China may collapse into civil war and even political division ~ it has happened before.
The US-led West should pursue a maritime strategy ~ which has served Britain and America well for almost 500 years. Stripped of the silly “Pentagonese like “Integrated All-Domain Naval Power,”” a maritime strategy simply says that he who controls the sea lanes controls the globe. It is, quite simply, folly to want to fight a land war against China on the Asian mainland. It is better to confine ~ to contain ~ China to its own region, recognizing that is is the regional hegemon in East Asia. That does not mean that Western nations do not need credible, well-equipped land forces, it just means that they are a last resort that will only be used when all else fails ~ so they must be ready and able if required. The primary military tools for containing China will be subsurface, surface and air fleets and the space-based systems that support them.
President Biden and allied political leaders must appreciate that what Kevin Rudd has called “an effective coalition of countries across the democratic capitalist world with the express aim of counterbalancing China collectively” is the key to success. They must also understand that the price of failure is too high to contemplate. We knew that in 1947. Then foreign minister Louis St Laurent, in his not-well-enough-remembered Grey Lecture at the University of Toronto that year, reminded Canadians of the high price they had just paid, again, to bring peace to the world and he promised them that Canada would be willing “to accept international responsibilities,” to prevent another hot war. Canada was ready and Canada did accept both responsibility and a leadership role … until 1968 when Pierre Elliot Trudeau systematically dismantled all that St Laurent had built and replaced it with timid, anti-Western isolationist claptrap.
President Biden’s America cannot and should not be expected to try to shoulder all the burden of containing China by itself. He needs to reach out to other democratic leaders, to the leaders of the great and small powers, to the willing and the unwilling …
… and wrangle many of them, including Canada, into a loose coalition of the willing within which America is willing to listen rather than, as in the past, to just dictate. Canada needs to be high on his “arm twisting” list.
For Canada this means to things:
- We must, finally, after over half a century, find our spine again and stop being immature, self-centred ninnies; and
- We must accept that there is a price to be paid for liberty.
Specifically, Canada needs to stand up to China. I know that China is holding two Canadians …
… Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor hostage ~ and there is no other word for it, they are hostages for the eventual release of Meng Wanzhou, and what China is doing, hostage diplomacy, is uncivilized and no Chinese lies about possible criminal activity can cover that up, if Ms Meng ‘suffers’ so will Messers Kovrig and Spavor ~ and that poses a serious public relations problem for Prime Minister Trudeau and for Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole, too. But two hostages do not justify Canada’s supine attitude towards China. In act, I can think of no good policy reason for the Trudeau regime’s continual kowtowing in front of China. One has to wonder if there is something else … if there are some other reasons why Canada is so conspicuously ‘offside’ from most of the US-led West.
Canada needs a sharp about-turn in foreign policy. Canadian leaders need to go back and study St Lauret’s Grey Lecture and plan to take the country back over 60 years to an equally dangerous time in global affairs when Canada was a leader, not an outsider, “warming the bench.” This will not be easy, but President Biden should not need to tell us to out our house in order. Since about 1970 Canadians have grown accustomed to being on the sidelines. Being leaders was difficult and expensive. We spent money, in the 1950s and ’60s, on defence and foreign aid that many Canadians felt could be better spent on “entitlements” here at home. A substantial minority, likely a majority of Canadians still feel that way. Doing the right thing is not going to be popular with voters. Erin O’Toole probably ought not to campaign on a promise to reemphasize hard power.
But Canadian defence spending needs to grow and so do the Canadian Navy, Army and Air Force. I will not revisit my (many) arguments about a 2% solution except to say that the number was not pulled out of thin air. Sensible men and women, from many NATO countries, examined the threats, circa 2000-2010, and concluded that 2% of GDP was about the minimum that every NATO country should spend on its defences. No one thought that getting some countries, like Canada, to reach or even approach that level of spending would be easy, politically, but everyone, including Canada, agreed that (2% of GDP for national defence) was where all NATO nations should go. Canada started on that road in 2006 ~ slowly, to be sure, but steadily ~ until, I think, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in 2012, lost faith in his own defence department’s capability to think coherently about policy when it ignored his clear direction to cut overhead in order to help balance the budget after the Great Recession. Prime Minister Trudeau, for his own very bad reasons, has continued to starve the defence budget.
The Canadian Armed Forces need renewal, and it will be expensive. The military needs more, new ships, guns, aircraft and satellites …
… and it needs tens of thousands of additional, new people to install, operate and maintain those systems. The current defence budget is about (all figures in Canadian dollars) $22 Billion or 1.3% of GDP. Canada’s GDP is, despite the pandemic, approaching $2.2 Trillion meaning that a 2% defence budget should be about $44 Billion, or double what it is now. A proper defence budget, growing as the GDP grows, year after year and decade after decade, should, by say 2035, buy Canada a Navy with 25+ fighting ships and six to 10 submarines, a properly equipped Army of, say, three mechanized/motorized combat brigades and two light (airborne/air mobile) combat brigades, and an Air Force with 100± first-line fighter jets and 10 to 20 new long-range patrol aircraft and new surveillance, warning and communication satellites, and about 125,000 full time, regular force sailors, soldiers and air force members. And that is what we will need to do a full and fair share, as a rich, responsible country should want to do, to help, as a member of “an effective coalition of countries across the democratic capitalist world,” to contain China for the next 50 years.