One immediate impact of the falling-out between America and the countries that the US secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, branded ”œold Europe” has been a reconceptualization of Canada’s own geopolitical situation. Not so very long ago, it was commonplace for observers to note how much more integrated Canada and the US were becoming in military and secu- rity matters. One word, interoperability, summed up the process of enhanced cooperation ”” a process that its sup- porters believed would enable Canada to retain combat capability at minimum cost, by weav- ing Canadian units operationally into American (and other) allied deploy- ments across all three services (or ”œenvironments,” to use DND jargon): the army, navy and air force. Critics of interoperability focused on the risk to sovereignty and other dangers they associated with a deepening of conti- nental defence integration. Proponents countered that sovereign- ty’s very preservation required such deepening. Besides, they asked, would any Canadian government be pre- pared to spend on defence what a more genuinely autonomous military requires? Would the Canadian public support such spending levels?
Both critics and proponents agreed that the integrative trend was well in place. Never, or so it seemed, had Canada become more of a North American and less of a ”œEuropean” strategic entity than at the start of the current decade, a trend enhanced by the terrorist attack on America on 9/11 and the ensuing anxiety, on both sides of the border, regarding homeland security. And then came the Iraq War, which has given every appearance, if only temporarily, of reversing the integrative pattern, at least insofar as concerns the ”œaway game” ”” military interventions out- side of North America. Indeed, for the core group of old Europe, the Iraq War convinced them that Canada, situated on the far shores of the Atlantic, might continue to be a ”œEuropean” place after all. The Germans positively enthused about Ottawa’s eagerness to take their side, and the French similarly welcomed Canadian participation in the coali- tion of the unwilling.
In fact, the Germans misconstrued Ottawa’s position on the war: far from joining them in their count-me- out stance on the war, Canada adopted a position more in keeping with long- standing tradition, one boiling down to ”œintervention if necessary, but not necessarily intervention.” And what could make a war against Iraq neces- sary? Nothing other than the blessing of the UN Security Council (UNSC), which in the run-up to the war 60 per- cent of the public deemed to be a requirement if Canada were to head off into combat (15 percent took the German position, and another 15 per- cent thought Canada should join the war even without UNSC approval).
But if the Germans misinterpreted Canada’s stance as being identical to their own, things were different when it came to the French. For a short time during the late winter of 2003, Canada’s position was so closely aligned with France’s as to become vir- tually identical with it; and though few would actually state things as boldly as I am about to, just prior to the outbreak of the war you could say that Ottawa’s grand strategy had very much become hostage to France’s preferences. For, given the position of the Chrétien gov- ernment, namely that Canada would only join in military action against Saddam if the UNSC approved. [I]t was obvious that what really stood in the way of Council authorization was the threat of a French veto. If Paris decreed the war to be justified, Ottawa would snap to attention. Thus when France’s president, Jacques Chirac, announced during a nationally televised interview on March 10, 2003, that France would not approve the war that everyone saw coming, he not only settled his own country’s policy on the war, but Canada’s as well.
Now, there is nothing truly remarkable about a Canadian reluc- tance to march off into combat with- out UN blessing; generally, getting the latter is thought to be highly desirable. And if the 1999 Serbian war demon- strated that we could go to war without such blessing (after all, Russia would hardly allow the UNSC to authorize bombing of Serbia), the view in Ottawa was that the Kosovo action could not be taken as any ”œprecedent” and, besides, did not the overwhelming majority of UNSC members agree that Milosevic was due for a whipping, and who better than the ”œhuman security alliance,” NATO, to administer it?
What was truly remarkable about the Iraq War was how out of step Canada could be with its two long-standing security partners in the ”œEnglish-speaking” world, the UK and the US (to say nothing of its strategic cousin, Australia). For sure, there have been moments ever since the historic rapprochement between the US and UK when Canada would line up with only one of the two (e.g., when it entered both world wars on England’s side at a time when the US officially was trying to remain neutral, or in 1956 when Ottawa supported Washington against London during the Suez crisis), but never on a matter of such global import did Canada dis- tance itself from both of its so-called ”œAnglo-Saxon” partners at once. Some in France could be forgiven for think- ing that, at long last, Canada had freed itself from the embrace of those Anglo- Saxons who had so vexed Charles de Gaulle and countless others in Paris.
For the past few years, it has become more and more common to hear those Anglo-Saxons being dis- cussed in the context of something known as the ”œAnglosphere.” This was especially so during the Iraq War, when it seemed to many commenta- tors that there existed a close, if curi- ous, fit between a country’s maternal tongue and its proclivity to engage in military interventions. After all, were not the big three of the intervention- ist coalition all populated mainly by native English speakers? Could there be some link between this ”œcultural” characteristic and the willingness of America, Britain, and Australia to engage in combat? Some thought there was such a link.
There probably is a ”œcultural” con- nection here worth noting, though it is not really what usually comes to mind when the Anglosphere is invoked. In fact, there are three different means of construing the Anglosphere, so before we try to answer the question posed in this article’s title ”” namely of how Canada relates to this grouping ”” it is worth identifying these variations upon an Anglosphere theme. Google (and who these days can argue with it?) tells us that the word first appeared in print in Neal Stephenson’s 1995 sci- ence fiction novel, The Diamond Age. But Google is of little help is telling us what we should make of the concept.
The chief intellectual luminary of the Anglosphere is James C. Bennett, president of the Anglosphere Institute, who is associated with the variant we might call Anglosphere ”œlite.” It can be both surprising and insulting to modi- fy in this manner the Anglosphere of Bennett’s dreams, since he really does argue that their possession of a com- mon tongue enables the English-using world to constitute a highly advanta- geous ”œnetwork commonwealth,” whose economic and political largesse its members will continue to enjoy in a world characterized by English- enabled globalization. What could be ”œlite” about such a world?
The answer comes when we try to discover what, if any, relationship this commonwealth has to the issue of mil- itary intervention. And here it turns out that advocates of Anglosphere lite envision an entity that, from the mili- tary point of view, is very much a homebody. Lite does its political work by dint of its serving as the fount of the Western world’s liberal-democratic ”œzone of peace.” As such, its value inheres in its embodying those eco- nomic and political principles whose provenance is said to have been England, and whose propagation mightily depended upon the spread of English ways throughout the world during the period of the first British empire ”” ways whose presence contin- ues to have a major impact upon the global prospects of liberal democracy.
This Anglosphere, founded as it is upon collective identity derived above all else from shared political values, may in many respects be a mighty thing, yet it seems to be a particularly inert beast when it comes to the issue of actually using, instead of refraining from using, military force. In other words, Anglosphere lite may be a mar- vellous device for getting its members to abstain from physically bashing each other; but it is not such a good vehicle if the challenge at hand is to impel them to intervene outside their zone of peace. If culture is somehow correlated with interventionist preferences within the setting of the Anglosphere, we will have to turn to one, or both, of the alternative variants, because in this respect lite cannot even whet, let alone slake, a thirst for military expeditions.
If ones takes inspiration from headier obligations, and insists that the Anglosphere must not just be, it must also do, then a stronger brew is required, something, say, in the nature of ”œAnglosphere heavier.” This variant seeks to establish a con- nection between those above- named political values and a cultural identity that, at the extreme, can be and has been invested with explicitly ethnic (at times even ”œracial” and bio- logical) qualities. In a very real sense the current discussion of the Anglosphere is but a continuation of a debate harking back more than a century, concerning the meaning of Anglo-Saxon identity for international peace and security. To be sure, no one called it by the current name a century or so ago, but panegyrists of this earlier, heavier, Anglosphere made appeal to cultural solidarity ”” specifi- cally to the once and future cooperative vision of a great people, the Anglo- Saxons ”” destined to prevail over the international political arena, and in so doing usher in the ”œuniversal peace” through the establishment of Anglo- American condominium.
From the point of view of collective identity, the Anglo-Saxon idea that was at the heart of the earlier iteration of the Anglosphere was always a bizarre mélange, appealing as it did both to racial and ersatz ”œbiological” cate- gories, as well as to political values that were thought somehow to be carried in the genes. Among the latter values, none was so exalted as liberty, said to be a peculiar possession of only a lucky few peoples, whose sources could be traced back to the Teutonic forests of antiquity. But the rise of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany as Britain’s chief strategic challenger made homilies to Teutonic solidarity awkward, to say the least. Nor was this the only problem that enthusiasts of Anglosphere heavier encountered; for if ethnicity really did determine virtue, then what was a good Anglo-Saxon to make of the United States itself at the dawn of the twentieth century? Had not that coun- try, Britain’s first and greatest spawn, been rapidly shedding its Anglo-Saxon biological and cultural heritage as a result of massive influxes of immi- grants from less wholesome parts of Europe?
Notwithstanding the logical dif- ficulties, not to say absurdities, encountered by racial Anglo- Saxonism a century ago, one can still make an ”œethnic” and not simply lin- guistic (though the two are obviously related) case for Anglosphere heavier today. By this I mean that there could well be some societal traits (”œfolk-ways”) associable with denizens of the Anglosphere, and these might be said to put a cultural impress upon inter- ventionist practices. For if the US, notwithstanding the immigration patterns of the past century, remains societal- ly what it always has been, namely a chip off the old (British) block, and if there is an indisputably British folk- way that correlates positively with a willingness to use mili- tary force abroad, then it would not be pushing things too far to descry an ethnic proclivity ”” albeit a social not racial or biological one ”” toward interventionism.
Some analysts do detect such a proclivity, and argue that the folkways carried to America in the 18th century by the ”œScotch-Irish” (sometimes, ”œScots-Irish”) constitute that link between (British) ethnicity and intervention. I argued in this publication a few issues ago that there is much to be said in support of the claim that a ”œJacksonian” subculture has come of late to play a prominent part in American foreign policy. However, can this same subcul- ture be said to influence policy orienta- tions elsewhere in the interventionist Anglosphere? Not really.
So despite its name, Anglosphere heavier turns out to be even more insipid than lite when it comes to assessing the ”œcultural” sources of interventionism. This leaves the default option, which I call ”œAnglosphere heaviest.” There is some- thing inherently improbable about the search for a cultural source of inter- ventionism using this third variant, for Anglosphere heaviest depends upon the claim that the real basis of US, British and Australian interventionism is the coinciding of discrete national interests. This is to say that what is ”œcultural” here is the adaptive rational- ity that goes under the name ”œhistori- cal learning.” Both Britain and Australia will have their own special relationships with the US because they have learned, over time, the value of being able to have America on their side. They will not want to squander, unless forced to, that American back- ing. It would not be rational for them to do so, nor would doing so in any way advance their separate national agendas. Thus, going along with America on matters it deems of the utmost importance, and the Iraq War has been one such, will always be the preferred option, even if it will rarely be a problem-free one.
It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that we can speak of a cultural proclivity toward interventionism, with it being understood that the referent for culture is the special relationship itself, which to repeat is a product of historical learning. This is what Anglosphere heav- iest connotes, and thus we can glimpse, from both the Anglo-American and the Australian-American relationships, the cultural context of interventionism at work. For whatever the specific merits of the intervention itself, the lesson of Iraq for both Britain and Australia ”” and therefore, for an Anglosphere heaviest that shrinks yet at the same time deep- ens ”” is that what was primarily at stake was the conservation of a cultural con- vention: a bilateral relationship judged to be so valuable that its preservation and, if possible, improvement, could and did take priority over any other sin- gle raison d’état.
So why cannot Canada, or why does not Canada, fit into this Anglosphere? Two answers come to mind. First is the Quebec factor. Though much attention is paid to the outsized importance of this province in Canadian domestic affairs, surpris- ingly little has been said lately about the impact of Quebec on the country’s strategic culture. This is so, even though in an earlier era no one could have been oblivious of the role played by what used to be called ”œFrench Canada” when it came to military interventions; from the Boer War through the two world wars, decision makers in Ottawa always had to wrestle with the dicey political and national- unity implications associated with the raising of expeditionary forces.
And whether or not public opin- ion in Quebec really was the reason that Ottawa abstained from joining in the Iraq War, there can be no mistak- ing the linguistic gulf in public atti- tudes toward that war: in English-speaking Canada, the public was initially split fifty-fifty on the mer- its of going to war, though by the time Baghdad fell in April 2003, some two- thirds of the public outside Quebec felt that not going to war alongside the US and UK had been a mistake (this view would change by the summer, when it became obvious just how messy nation-building would turn out to be in Iraq). By contrast, in Quebec near- unanimity ruled, both before the war and after the fall of Baghdad, on the unwisdom of the war.
The second reason for Canada’s opt- ing out of the Iraq War, also ”œcul- tural” in its own way, concerns adaptive rationality. Simply put, there is no major downside risk for Canada in abstaining from American-led interven- tions. Some in the US may have been disappointed, others angered, by Ottawa’s deci- sion, but it is simply not possible to detect any quan- tifiable (especially econom- ic) costs associated with the decision to remain on the sidelines during that con- test. More to the point, and this sets Canada very much apart from Australia, there exists no need to buy into US interventions abroad in a bid to maximize the likelihood that America can be called upon to safeguard the country’s security in the event of dire necessity. For all the inconveniences that can sometimes be associated with living cheek by jowl with the world’s mightiest power, Canada possesses by dint of geography what Australia and other allies have to earn: a well-nigh automatic American security guarantee.
So while Canada may be a partial player in the Anglosphere lite, it is an outlier when it comes to the heavier and heaviest variants of the club. Not only this, but it is also a matter of indifference to most Canadians that the Anglosphere has so little salience to them.