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visions and illusions

by Martin Shadwick

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In the final paragraph of the final chapter of Campaigns for International Security, a blunt and sobering analysis of Canadian defence policy at the turn of the century, Douglas L. Bland and Sean M. Maloney appropriately – and adroitly, given the lineage of the incumbent prime minister – draw attention to an insightful observation by a Canadian politician and statesman of an earlier generation. “In 1967, Paul Martin Sr., then minister for external affairs, proudly set out Canada’s position in international security matters. Many nations, he said, ‘had an appetite for power without teeth,’ but Canada in the Cold War period ‘had developed both the appetite and the teeth for a new international role.’”

“After 1970,” lament Bland and Maloney, “other Canadian leaders misunderstood or cared less about the critical connection between appetite and means and the teeth were intentionally allowed to decay. This heritage of decline from the high confidence and purpose of Canada’s place in the world before 1968 has come to a predictable, dispiriting conclusion. Time will tell whether Canada can find a leader able to retrieve the country’s tradition of leadership in world affairs or whether the nation will permanently settle into the general assembly of toothless, rhetorical powers.”

bookcoverThis assessment is not surprising in a study that sets out a defence policy framework aimed at reconstituting and transforming policy, defence management, and the Canadian Forces (CF) “to meet the challenges of the world order era and the stability campaigns of the future.” In its fundamentals, however, it is somewhat reminiscent of the conclusions reached by Andrew Cohen in While Canada Slept, another recent – but much broader – analysis of Canada’s role in world affairs. “Do we want,” asks Cohen, “to remain a country that starves its military, rations its foreign aid, and dilutes its diplomacy? Do we want to remain in the councils of the world, refusing to pull our weight, content to recall our glory days as the world’s helpful fixer?”

By rebuilding our military, replenishing our aid, and renewing our foreign service, suggests Cohen, the country could fashion “a new internationalism which respects its history, understands its geography, and exploits its diversity.” The “possibilities are exciting. They include exporting federalism, writing constitutions, safeguarding rights, monitoring elections, training police forces, writing legal codes. To this we bring benefactors, diplomats and soldiers. Our mission...may mean reconstructing shattered societies as peacebuilders, if we can, or fighting to defend them, if we must.” In time, “the world will become our mission again, and it will give us pride and purpose, again.”

Some observers scoff at such rhetoric, and dismiss it as a well-intentioned but romanticized and unrealistic attempt to re-create Canada’s foreign and defence policy “golden era” of the 1950s. In the Bland and Maloney (and similar) constructs, some critics may perceive an agenda for the militarization and ‘securitization’ of Canadian public policy. Still others may worry that a resuscitated, and presumably more interoperable, defence establishment would inevitably bind Canada to the “global imperial adventures” of the United States.

Such issues demand a thoroughgoing national debate, although it could be argued that a little vision in foreign policy is not necessarily a bad (or unrealistic) thing, that increased political sensitivity to security and defence in a tumultuous age need not mean the neglect of other public policy objectives, and that the mere possession of a revitalized defence establishment need not automatically tie Canada to the foreign policy imperatives, or the national style, of its southern neighbour. Indeed, in the nearer term, the key question may be whether Canadians truly desire, and are willing to underwrite the cost, of “the new internationalism.”

A strategy of neo-isolationism would allow us to “stay home”, “close embassies, quit international clubs, and contract out our diplomacy,” as well as “abandon peacekeeping, outsource our defence to the Americans, and settle for a gendarmerie to keep order at home,” but Cohen concludes that “surely Canadians would reject it. Surely they’d think that a little Canada with a toy army and a sack of grain isn’t worthy of the world’s second-largest nation, the eighth-largest economy, [and] one of the oldest, most successful, most complex democracies in the world.”

Bland and Maloney are more circumspect. In the Winter 2003-2004 issue of Canadian Military Journal, Bland acknowledges that “informed Canadians” have become sensitized to “the precarious state of the CF on active service today” and to “the stresses on members of the armed forces and on military capabilities caused by an unprecedented operational tempo and by policies which have demanded for a decade that members of the Canadian Forces ‘do more with less.’” Ominously, however, “what is not as well understood by Canadians and Canada’s political community is the national crisis of ‘the future force.’ This is a burgeoning crisis caused by insufficient attention to, and funding support for, the people, equipment, training establishments and logistical support facilities...that will provide credible military capabilities tomorrow.” This is worrisome enough, but “the real national security and defence crisis is revealed by the fact that there is not much the [Paul Martin] government will be able to do to solve the military capabilities crisis and consequent foreign policy crisis. Trying to manage future national defence and foreign policies and Canada–United States relations without core military capabilities is...the real crisis sitting on the doorstep” of the new government.

In this environment, it is no longer sufficient to note, as if it were merely some quaint Canadian custom, the embarrassing and hypocritical disconnect between public opinion polls showing strong public support for a meaningful Canadian role in the world and a marked reluctance to pay for such a role. Either Canadians do, or do not, desire such a role. In a country where it is too easy to bask in the reflected (but mythologized) glory of “Canada as peacekeeper”, where DND’s ability to cobble together resources for overseas operations leads some Canadians to doubt the warnings of military decay, and in a country preoccupied with domestic issues, we may well have settled for illusions rather than visions.


DND photo ZN2004-002-010 by Master Corporal Bernie Tessier

Members of B Company of the Royal Canadian Dragoons Battle Group preparing for their last operational mission in Bosnia, 7 February 2004

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Martin Shadwick teaches Canadian defence policy at York University. He is a former editor of Canadian Defence Quarterly.