Traditional Canadian anxiety about defence relations with the United States has been and remains charac- terized by relative clarity on the part of military leadership and defence department personnel and endless angst on the part of ministers and parliamentarians. The issues of relative size, capacity and proximity make military conclu- sions about cooperation and interoperability almost self-evi- dent. The politics of those conclusions are, of course, quite problematic.
The present Canadian government’s expectations of the Canada-U.S. defense relationship may well have clarified as a result of the events of September 11, 2001””but if so, only in the context of the present allied commitment relative to Afghanistan and the Taliban administration. Canadian gov- ernment expectations of the relationship remain, at the polit- ical level, a mix of logistical realities, political presumption and wishful thinking. In one sense, the traditional Canadian biases, expressed through anemic defence spending, a Potemkin-village approach to broad-based combat capacity, and overstated reliance on multilateral security options, all the while taking comfort in the shade of the American defence umbrella, remain unchanged. The emergence of ”œthe perimeter” on matters relating to immigration control expands on traditional North American air defence assump- tions explicit in the NORAD agreement and in reality seeks only to replicate arrangements that existed in the early years of the Cold War, when Canadian and U.S. customs officials jointly cleared airline arrivals heading on to the U.S.
More contemporary anxieties pre-September 11 were well summed up by David Rudd, at an April 2001 conference:
On the security side, Canada is, on the one hand, motivated by a desire to play as much of an independent role from the US in international affairs as possible, while on the other it is faced with a crisis of means. Canada was at the forefront of efforts to establish an international criminal court, and of the support given to the ban on anti-personnel landmines. But international security does not come cheap. Our foreign aid budget and defence budgets have been scaled back dras- tically. Does our diminished ability to contribute to multi- national defence operations increase our reliance on the United States? Are we at the point where we are just too small to affect US policy?
For the present government, prior to September 11, it is fair to conclude that the tradi- tional ”œcrisis of means” which has been the dom- inant theme in Canadian defence policy since the late 1960s was compounded by the ongoing and never-ending Canadian crisis of identity. That identity crisis, our version of the ”œpoor cousin with noble pretensions beyond apparent affordability” syndrome, is a product of the traditional approach of Canada’s internationalist establishment, best expressed through Liberal foreign and defence policy, which seeks a stand- ing both more worldly and less parochial than that associated by some with American foreign and defence policy.
Whether expressed through Mr. Axworthy’s ”œsoft power” agenda around land mines and per- sonal security, through Canada’s traditional belief in more even-handed relationships in the Middle East, Central America or Cuba, or through the present Prime Minister’s desire in 1991, while Opposition Leader, not to have Canadian troops put in harm’s way during their deployment to the Persian Gulf by the previous government, the notion that we can have more flexibility and independence while still relying on the U.S. defence umbrella is a pervasive and guiding centrist expectation in Canada.
The importance of that expectation’s liberat- ing impact on Canadian domestic policy cannot be overestimated. It facilitates cuts to the real pur- chasing capacity of our defence budget by admin- istrations of all political affiliations. It facilitates budgetary policy that focuses on non-defence issues and priorities. It sustains the illusion that trade and economic policy can be largely discon- nected from defence priorities. And it has a signif- icant impact in allowing Canadian governments of all affiliations to sustain among the lowest defence expenditure-to-GDP ratios in the world”” despite our having three oceans and a huge land mass to patrol and protect.
Before the decision to deploy a naval task force and some modest land and air assets in support of U.S. and UK operations against Afghanistan, Canadian interest in and praise of interoperability had become significant at the official level. Foreign Minister Manley could not have been more explicit: ”œThere are perhaps no two militaries that are more interoperable than those of Canada and the U.S. The Canadian Navy has had frigates replace U.S. warships in carrier battle groups. Canadian CF-18 pilots were among the top contributors, after U.S. pilots, to Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.”
The unbridled optimism of this approach speaks to two political needs which ”œinteroper- ability” answers extremely well. First, by convey- ing our capacity to be interoperable with the best-equipped and most technically advanced military in the world, ”œinteroperability” is a response to those who are critical of chronic underinvestment in defence. And, second, for those who worry that Canada is disengaged from her real alliance and hemispheric defence priori- ties, ”œinteroperability” with the U.S. demon- strates that we do know where our real opportu- nities and responsibilities are to be found.
Even when the United States goes on record to complain about insufficient Canadian com- mitments to defence priorities””as it did recently in the first speech made by the new U.S. Ambassador, an echo of similar early-mandate speeches by previous U.S. ambassadors to Canada”””œinteroperability” and joint Canada- U.S. military operations become the perfect polit- ical foil to the accusation. Before September 11 these traditional Canadian ripostes, together with the ministerial assertion that the ”œrevolu- tion in military affairs” has radically reduced the need for traditional complements or expenditure levels in defence, formed the main pith and sub- stance of government justification for the wither- ing away of the Canadian Forces.
In terms of the continuing relationship, how- ever, Canadian expectations surrounding interop- erability are more central to the overall mix. Over the long haul a number of interoperability issues need to be assessed, a process we have begun at the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Interoperability has served as both a bridge to pub- lic reassurance and a shield against public criticism of the defence policies and ministers of the present government. The events of September 11 and beyond will likely enhance the political salience of interoperability for some time to come.
It would be pleasing to be able to point to criti- cal aspects of the present government’s attitude to the U.S. defence relationship and outline some significant new points of departure. Sadly, the only real point of departure is the vastly dimin- ished level of expenditure. The apparently contra- dictory combination of a spirit of interoperability and joint enterprise in defence matters, on the one hand, together with angst over independence and differentiation, on the other, is not actually new:
We are constantly reviewing our territorial defence with the U.S. services because the defence of the North American continent is a joint operation. Our security does not depend exclusively on what Canada does or what the Americans do, but on the sum of our joint effort. Every cent spent in Canada helps to defend the United States and vice versa. We have the same interests in our common defence and from day to day we are making arrange- ments to strengthen that defence.
That was how Brooke Claxton, Canada’s Minister of Defence, expressed our common defence approach and perimeter policy in the early 1950s. Here is how a high-ranking Canadian public servant gave early expression, during the same era, to the other side of the Canadian expectation:
We should be careful not to transfer the suspi- cions and touchiness and hesitations of yester- year from London to Washington. Nor should we get unduly bothered over all the pronouncements of journalists and generals, or politicians which we do not like, though there may be some, indeed, are some, on which we have the right to express our views … More importantly we must convince the United States by deeds rather than merely by words that we are in fact, pulling our weight in this international team …
The diplomat was, of course, Lester Pearson, and he spoke these words long before becoming external affairs minister or prime minister of Canada. Even in the 1950s and the heat of the Cold War, there was a sense that the Canadian- U.S. defence relationship could tolerate Canadian divergence””so long as U.S. vital interests were not engaged in any serious way.
Denis Stairs, a distinguished scholar of Canadian foreign policy, put it this way some three decades ago:
[W]hen Canadian policies have in fact collided with those of the United States, they apparently have not produced serious or permanent ruptures in the important Washington connection … [T]he evidence suggests that within the range of realistic choices Canada enjoys a genuine free- dom which she can exercise without fear that her fundamental interests will subsequently be muti- lated by Uncle Sam.
This sense of freedom without consequences was of course shattered briefly when the Kennedy administration actively conspired to bring down the Diefenbaker government in 1962-63 over the Bomarc missile dispute. Mr. Pearson, faithful to the principles of deed and word he had articulated many years earlier, was victorious, and aside from differences on Vietnam, the Canada-U.S. relationship was sub- stantively cooperative during the Pearson era. Mr. Trudeau sought a third way, broadened Canada’s connections to the Third World and Cuba, and began the chronic cycle of under- spending on defence. Many of the forces that drive the intellectual roots of the present admin- istration can be found in the Trudeau years”” during which our present Prime Minister served in many portfolios.
In more recent times, Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador in Washington and chief of staff to the Prime Minister during the free- trade negotiations in the mid-1980s, summed up the contemporary relationship during his time this way:
We may want many of the advantages of our proximity but are leery of being consumed by it. We want our relationship to be friendly, coopera- tive but not too cooperative. We want Canada to have a distinctive role in world affairs, a distinc- tion which for some is determined solely by the degree of differentiation with the U.S.A.
The long-held Canadian desire to be within the American defence perimeter but not the American policy perimeter is historic and tradi- tional. It not only shapes the political culture of our foreign and defence relations but also the conflicted sense of opportunity vs. reality which dominates the defence debate in Canada. No more recent or relevant indication of the core ambivalence can be found than the debate over National Missile Defense. Canada was, as so often, caught between a desire to move President Bush off NMD and a realistic concern about the costs to Canadian military and industrial priori- ties of being outside the circle.
As is usually the case when hard reality con- fronts the shibboleths of wishful thinking and nostalgia, the events of September 11 have forced the beginning of a rethink of Canada-U.S. relations in a host of ways. If within the broad context of homeland defence the border between our two countries is transformed from ”œjust in time” to ”œjust in case,” then Canada will face pro- found economic challenges and risks. It is clear that evolving homeland defence plans in the United States will impact directly on the defence relationship. Canada simply cannot afford to be outside the perimeter, even though the terms and conditions of that perimeter are not yet fully knowable.
The Canadian deployment of a naval task force clearly benefits from interoperability exer- cises and training between the two navies that have gone on for some time. Canadians have done intelligence and related training at U.S. bases over the years and interoperability and command alternation at NORAD are pillars of the ongoing Canada-U.S. relationship. What is not yet known is how the exigencies of homeland defence will affect the two countries’ expecta- tions about one another.
The past does give us some insights in this respect, however. Most activities pursued by Americans in the European theatre since Korea have involved Canadian deployments, both under NATO and UN auspices. In the end, even when there were difficulties between Canada and the United States on issues like Bomarc nuclear warheads, America has ultimately prevailed”” especially in matters of continental defence.
To the extent that homeland defence affords the American administration some time to reflect on NMD, and as the war against terrorism argues for ever closer cooperation between Russia and the United States, the potential irritant of Canada’s ambivalence to date may well be attenuated. In many instances in the past, Canada has been able to ignore the American lead on foreign policy and defence and to do so with relative impunity. On the issue of homeland defence, however, that option is not likely to exist. The links between homeland defence, border issues and economic outcomes are simply too tightly woven.
The context for our new relationship with the United States was nicely””and presciently”” defined by the Royal Military College’s Joel Sokolsky at a conference many months before the mass murder in New York and Washington:
If the enemies cannot strike back at the U.S. con- ventionally abroad, they will seek to strike at the U.S. at home. Therefore for Canada, as for no other ally, homeland defense becomes a major issue. Put bluntly … where is the perimeter of the American homeland? Is it the same as North American Homeland? That is the issue we will have to face. Moreover, as we remain active abroad as part of that community that the U.S. represents, we too become vulnerable.
Canada’s expectations in the present context are traceable through the statements that have been made by the Minister of National Defence, the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. In return for being 100 per cent onside relative to military operations abroad, Canada hopes to be inside the perimeter both with respect to homeland defence policy and the economic and strategic issues and challenges that emerge as part of that process. Prime Minister Blair may be America’s most stout and activist ally abroad, but homeland defence is far more a Canadian prior- ity””and what Canada does and how Canada cooperates will have a far more direct impact on America’s interests. Nostalgia for past episodes of cooperation with America””in the Cold War, in Korea, and in other hot spots””will inform the spirit Canada brings to this arena. One can hope that Canada’s contribution in the current con- text will involve, as it so often has, sorting out the important from the only apparently urgent, and looking to the long haul and the enduring as we proceed to plan our joint security. The nature of the present threat, and its mismatch with traditional and existing military assets, may represent an opportunity for innovation in con- tinental defence that earlier, more conventional threats did not.