I have good genes … my Mother and several aunts and uncles lived into and then beyond their 90s. Thanks to a few good habits and modern medical care, I can (reasonably) hope to see my 100th birthday … in just over 20 years.
I also expect (I guess I very reasonably fear) that there will be a major war involving the great powers before I celebrate my 100th birthday.
I don’t mean more of what the outstanding American author, historian and strategic policy analyst Max Boot called “The Savage Wars of Peace,” I mean a large scale war ~ one likely to see the use of at least some chemical and even nuclear weapons ~ involving many, likely most of the great powers.
I suspect that none of the world’s leaders wants such a war; I expect that it will start because of miscalculation. I believe that the Chinese are the people least likely to miscalculate and that the Americans are also unlikely to make the kinds of miscalculation that lead to all-out war. Four of the ‘leaders‘ that I suspect are more likely to miscalculate and plunge the world into a full scale world war are:
Happily, for us all, a great many very reputable scholars and analysts say that I am wrong. They suggest that while the conditions that I fear could lead to the sorts of miscalculations that I anticipate are very real, we, America, China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, amongst others, can and will find ways to coexist in something reasonable close to peace, as the American-led West and the Soviet-led East did for two generations between the late 1940s and the early 1990s.
Unfortunately, for all of us, about that same number of expert strategic analysts and scholars agree with me ~ they think that there is something called the Thucydides Trap which says that when a great power, say the USA, is confronted by a rising power, say China, then war is the most likely outcome. History appears to be on their side.
That ought to be enough to worry the leaders of every nation, including Canada but, I think, it is not the most pressing strategic problem facing Canada. In addition to being ready to try to help to prevent a major war ~ and being prepared to be part of the winning side if prevention fails ~ I think that Canada faces (but tries to ignore) and existential problem: maintaining our sovereignty over the lands that we claim as our own and the waters contiguous to them and the airspace over both.
But no reasonable person thinks that China or Iran or North Korea is going to attack Canada. First, our American friends would not tolerate a foreign power taking over Canada … which many Americans regard as a client state. But many very reasonable people can see major threats to Canada’s claimed sovereignty over, at least, its territorial waters and the seabed under them by major powers like China and Russia and, perhaps above all, by the United States of America.
The other day, I saw this article in the Globe and Mail. The authors are anything but fools. They are all experienced and some are well recognized experts in foreign policy and grand strategy. (I have had the please of meeting two of the authors many years ago. I’m sure neither will remember; in each case I was near the tail end of the entourage of an important person ~ the only people father back in the line were those with jobs like open the door and call for the car.) Anyway, one fo the things I noticed was that the authors (I’ll call them the “gang of five” a bit later) …
… former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworth, Former Premier of Québec Jean Charest, former Ambassador (multiple posts) Jeremy Kinsman, Ben Rowswell who is President of the Canadian International Council and Jennifer Welsh who is a noted scholar and former foreign policy advisor to Prime Minisiter Paul Martin … managed to avoid saying even a word about Canada’s defences. That’s not surprising. A. recent Angus Reid Institute poll says that Canadians don’t care much about foreign policy (12th out of 15 key issues) and almost no one cares about defence:
I am also not surprised that in its 166 page election platform the Conservative party of Canada devoted only 3½ pages to National Defence and managed to studiously avoid repeating Mr O’Toole’s promise to spend 2% of GDP on defence ~ instead they say they plan to “move closer to” that always elusive aspirational goal. As I have often said, Canadians’ support for their military may be a mile wide but it is less than an inch deep. I don’t expect the Tories to promise something in a election campaign that Canadians don’t want.
But Mr O’Toole does touch on some key points:
- Defending Arctic Sovereignty;
- Modernizing NORAD;
- Being a Trusted NATO Partner: Reinforcing the Cornerstone of Canada’s Defence Policy, but please see this ~ my last line is probably applicable to the majority of Canadian voters;
- Defend Our Partners in the Indo-Pacific; and
- Investing in our Armed Forces and our Economy.
Those are all important issues, and I will address them later.
Something the “gang of five” (above) said ~ “For three generations, Canada has had the luxury of a powerful neighbour assuming responsibility for upholding the international order, even as we disagreed with U.S. goals and tactics from time to time. “Foreign Policy By Canadians” showed us that Canadians recognize that simply deferring to the U.S. is not a viable approach, and domestically puts our economy at risk.” ~ reminded me of something that Prof Francis Fukuyama wrote in The Economist almost two weeks ago: “The horrifying images of desperate Afghans trying to get out of Kabul this week after the United States-backed government collapsed have evoked a major juncture in world history, as America turned away from the world. The truth of the matter is that the end of the American era had come much earlier. The long-term sources of American weakness and decline are more domestic than international. The country will remain a great power for many years, but just how influential it will be depends on its ability to fix its internal problems, rather than its foreign policy.“
It is a helluva lot more than just our economy that is at risk IF, and I suggest it is an open question, America is in real, strategic decline. Our very existence as a sovereign nation is at risk because, since about 1970 ~ when Pierre Trudeau published his nonsensical Foreign Policy For Canadians ~ we have decided that defence doesn’t matter and Uncle Sam’s military muscle will always protect us. As I have explained before, that’s rubbish.
Canada must get its strategic aims right. If America is changing (and the Trumpian notion that foreign policy is a zero-sum game still seems to be alive and well in America) and if Dr Fukuyama is correct. in saying that America “ will remain a great power for many years,” then Canada must use those many years to develop and implement its own grand strategy. That grand strategy must aim to preserve Canada as a sovereign, free and independent, liberal-democratic and prosperous nation that is a reliable and trusted trading partner and ally for other democratic states. Canada should aim to grow bigger ~ I suggest that our goal should be a population of 100 million by the year 2100. Canada should also aim to have a credible military force, one that can help to keep the peace until, I fear, a major, global war comes unavoidableb … but more about that in a day or two.
For now, foreign and defence policy are not likely to be very much on anyone’s mind in this month’s election. I expect that Justin Trudeau’s platform, when it is, eventually released, will be a pale imitation of Erin O’Toole’s with a few bits of loony-left dogma stolen from Jagmeet Singh added in and it will say even less about foreign and defence policy. Canada’s domestic situation is markedly worse after six years of Justin Trudeau’s government. Priority 1 for most Canadian voters should be to elect a Conservative government that will put us back on the right track. We must hope that the Conservative party will also think seriously about foreign and defence policy, even if most Canadians do not.