In 1549 the scholars of the Church of England amended the ancient Book of Common Prayer, but revealed their worry about of criticism and defended their efforts in the very first sentence of the preface to that work. ”œThere was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised or so sure established which the continuance of time hath not corrupted.” Clearly, if the revisionists of 1549 were among us today they would be startled to find that Canadian schol- ars and politicians have overturned this dictum. They have created a catechism of national interests so well devised and sure established as to be beyond corruption and never in need of change. Or have they?
Five long-standing ideas have defined Canada’s national interests and served as the foundation for our national securi- ty, defence and foreign policies. But can they serve us well into the future? We should begin by assuming that it is not beyond the wit of Canadians to amend these ideas if the circumstances that brought them into being have passed and emerging realities demand policies set in new ideas. Let us consider these five ideas individually and then bring them together in the context of what some see as a fracturing Canadian society.
The continuance of a unified state ”” Canada as a sov- ereign country ”” is the cardinal idea that underlies all aspects of our national interest. But this fundamental idea should express more than the notion that Canada ought to be maintained merely as a secure geographic or political entity. Rather, it should hold to a grander idea: Canada must continue to exist as a secure, liberal democracy, a founding idea embedded in our Constitution, expressed in our laws and in the deliberations of Canada’s courts.
Are the premises behind this declared responsibility ”” that Canada is a nation and that protecting the nation is the cardinal interest ”” much more than standing rheto- ric? The question arises not simply because governments do not provide (by some credible assessments) suffi- cient funds to make the idea concrete ”” by not maintaining the Canadian Forces, for example ”” but also because the ideas that sustain Canada as a nation may be fast fading in the minds of Canadians.
The Liberal defence policy state- ment of 1994 contained this warning: ”œIt may be said, that a nation not worth defending is a nation not worth preserving.” In 2007, one might won- der if the 1994 statement has been turned around to read: ”œIt may be said that a nation not worth preserving is a nation not worth defending.” In other words, why worry about national interests aimed at preserving the nation, if citizens are not concerned about or are drifting away from any meaningful or practical interest in the idea of Canada as a nation?
The second incorruptible idea that serves as the immovable, indestructi- ble and invariable plank in every polit- ical party’s platform on national defence is that Canada is naturally secure. Our national interest requires governments to maintain this condi- tion by encouraging other states to ensure our security at the least expense and bother to Canadians and their domestic preoccupations. This idea, this assumption of natural security, however, may no longer be valid.
In 1924, Senator Raoul Dandurand described Canada as ”œa fireproof house far from inflammable materials.” It is a trustworthy observa- tion, but the good senator discovered another idea beloved by Canadian politicians then and now. When asked what Canada should do to protect its sovereignty, Senator Dandurand advised Canadian leaders ”œto be quiet and give no one cause for alarm.”
These two ideas have comforted prime ministers from Laurier to Chrétien. Indeed, Prime Minister Harper may be in trouble on this file because he broke the rule and is not quiet in mat- ters of national defence and gives some Canadians cause for alarm.
These two notions provide the first timber in Canada’s strategic con- ceptual framework: ”œThere is no threat, and if there were one, the Americans would save us.” This funda- mental idea, this first fact of national life, sustains the notion that Canada is naturally secure. It encourages govern- ments to invent policies that keep flammable material far away, give no one cause for alarm, and look for secu- rity by freeloading on the efforts of our big southern friend. Central to these policies is a foreign policy intended to reinforce in the minds of American defence planners the idea that the defence of the United States is insepa- rable from the defence of Canada. But can we play the great Canadian game in the future?
Free-riding on the American eagle may be approaching the final terminal because the threat to North America has fundamentally changed. Advances in space surveillance and other tech- nologies also continue to erode the assumption of the inseparable interde- pendence of continental security and defence. The plain fact is that the United States has less need of our terri- tory and, therefore, less need to save us.
Throughout the Cold War, Canada provided Congress and senior American officers with credible assur- ances that the United States could not be attacked through Canadian territory. But today, three factors ”” the decline in Canada’s military capabilities; Canadian reluctance to acknowledge the idea of interdependent continental defence, as in the ballistic missile defence policy debacle; and the unending enthusiasm on the political left in Canada for crowing continually that Canada must be defined in every instance as ”œnot the United States” ”” may negate the credibility of any assur- ance we now proclaim in Washington. If Canada is to sustain its natural secu- rity, then political leaders must find credible ways to make Canada relevant to the security of the United States in the face of a changing threat profile and technological defence innovations on the American side of the border.
A third idea: Canadians believe that our security and defence interests are fixed in the image of international conflict as disputes between states that unfold more or less according to an invariable sequence of events. Canadians believe that conflicts result from some immediate cause, occur in some legally identifiable space, and are directed and controlled by legitimate political leaders; and that warfare leads to victory or an agreed resolution of immediate causes, followed by a new peaceful order and some degree of demobilization. Defence policies, strategies and military organizations until now were predicated on the assumption that conflicts have bound- aries in time ”” ”œWe’ll be home by Christmas,” sang the soldiers in August 1914. Thus, today we see our political community’s impatience with even short wars and the public’s demand for ”œexit strategies” before we commit our soldiers to conflicts, no matter the real- ities of the situation.
When conflicts do not unfold according to the expected sequence and when enemies do not follow regular patterns and Western doctrine, we speak in the West of ”œasymmetric war- fare” and ”œirregular warfare.” But reality and experience paint a different pic- ture. The wars we fight today and oth- ers like them we will fight tomorrow are not asymmetric or irregular, they are the real thing: the new regular warfare.
Beginning about 1990 we entered a new era of continuous warfare ”” a con- cept not seen since the Middle Ages. Continuous warfare may be defined as wars that endure in various degrees of intensity without end, simply because no belligerent has the power to over- come any other or no politician has the power and legitimacy to control local conflicts or bring them to an end. This new regular pattern of warfare involves military and paramilitary forces, ”œlow- tech” weapons and devices, intermin- gled military and political authorities, contrasting and contradictory aims, intense fighting interspersed with ”œceasefires,” and truces followed by the resumption of disorder. Importantly, the concept of continuous warfare is joined to the insightful idea General Sir Rupert Smith has added to the dialogue ”” these wars are not only continuous, but they are also, in his words, ”œwars among the people.”
Continuous wars ”œamong the peo- ple” are conceptually different in most important respects from our untrans- formed images of warfare since 1914. Scant consideration is given to non- combatants, traditional icons or cher- ished institutions. Indeed, these very things may be the preferred targets on all sides. The people, no matter their communal status, may be in turn hostages, shields, targets, occasional and situational participants and even willing victims ”” the term ”œnon-com- batant” in most cases has little or no relevance in such conflicts.
By definition, there is no exit strategy from continuous warfare. But even more perplex- ing for Western policy-makers and citizens is the accidental collision of the idea of continu- ous warfare among the people and the new liberal idea that the so-called global community is obliged to intervene in con- flicts among the people. Certainly, that is the commit- ment nations are expected to carry under the UN doctrine of ”œthe responsibility to protect.”
For Canada, then, how do we reconcile this collision of ideas and circumstances with the demands of our national interests? What foreign and defence policies and military doctrines, organizations and structures do we need to construct? More critically, per- haps, what conflicts should we join, on whose side and for how long, and how do we know any answers to these ques- tions before the fact? The transforma- tion of Canadian defence policy and the Canadian Forces has not even begun, because our ideas about warfare and international relations on which transformation must stand have not themselves been transformed.
A fourth foundational idea of Canada’s defence and foreign poli- cies holds that Canada’s national interests are best served by alliances. Since about 1950, this idea has been expressed by a strategy of commit- ments ”” mainly to NATO, to coop- eration with the United States in North America and to the idea of the UN. But military officers today face a different set of problems in an envi- ronment of weakening alliances and loose commitments. They ask, ”œWhat shall we do practically in cir- cumstances of dynamic alliances of the moment and hurried planning for unpredicted operations against unanticipated enemies in places of which we know nothing?” If the national interests are to be served by the idea of alliances, then the crucial questions are these: Alliances where, when, with whom and for what spe- cific national interest?
The collapse of the idea of the strategy of commitments ”” and its the predictable consequences ”” returns us full circle to 1947, the time before the Cold War began in earnest and provid- ed Canada, by 1951, with a list of con- crete defence commitments. Before NATO, Brooke Claxton, the defence minister at the time, defined Canada’s international security interests as a willingness ”œto carry out any undertak- ing which by our own voluntary act we may assume in cooperation with friendly nations or under any effective plan of collective action under the United Nations.”
Clearly, there was no commitment here. Rather, the idea sends a strong message that Parliament would decide what is to be done in each and every circumstance, all of which were expected to be different. Mackenzie King’s always useful ambiguity is as helpful today as it was to him in other times: commitments if necessary, but not necessarily permanent commit- ments. In the turmoil of a world of continuous warfare and uncertain bel- ligerents and demands for alliances of the moment, there are only two strate- gic imperatives for Canada ”” the defence of Canada and alliance with the United States in the defence of North America. Beyond these two imperatives, all else is national choice.
National interests based on a strategy of strategic impera- tives and strategic choice demand a federal bureaucratic, military and political structure capable of formulating prompt- ly relevant ”œwhole of govern- ment policies” in the face of dynamic circumstances. But as the fitful struggles in Ottawa today demonstrate as it tries to manage the war in Afghanistan, we have not even begun to understand the government- wide challenges facing govern- ment and Canada’s national interests in the new circumstance of the early 21st century.
The fifth guiding idea follows from the fourth, but it is really a con- fusion of competing visions and directions. Since at least Pierre Trudeau’s time, our defence and for- eign policies have reflected a struggle among three competing ideas: first, that Canada’s economic and security well-being depends on a close, respectful relationship with the United States; second, and the idea that Canada is an Atlantic nation whose interests are inseparable from the bonds joining us to Europe and our like-mindedness with Europeans generally. Finally, both these orienta- tions are challenged ”” especially over the last 12 years ”” by the idea that our interests are better served by alle- giance to the ideas of collective secu- rity managed by the United Nations. We are encouraged to support con- cepts, like ”œthe responsibility to pro- tect,” that demand a commitment to entanglement in the interests of the so-called global community whether there is a direct Canadian national interest at stake or not. In our nation- al interest, which idea should com- mand? Where, if at all, should Canada go in search of security through alliances?
Let me deal with these tensions and this confusion by considering first Europe, then the UN and finally the United States. NATO, since 1950, has been the essence of our defence and foreign polices and the institu- tional link to Europe. It has served us well. But Berlin is secure. The new fractures in international relations are reorienting interests in Europe and in the United States from east- west to north-south and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Indeed, a uni- fied Europe may be turning inward. To most Europeans, Canada is already America or at best a small group of people living in a few acres of snow who dislike the United States. We are of little consequence to European interests and have no influence on where Europe will travel.
Canada can no longer assume that the North alliance is fundamentally strong or that European interests inevitably coincide with ours. We may no longer be ”œlike-minded states.” More impor- tant, our national interests cannot abide policies aimed at pleasing Europe if they threaten to disrupt practically our relations with the United States. Canadian politicians need to consider this question: How does supplementing the defence of a unified European competitor in international trade and investment serve our national interests?
Canada’s interests in the next 50 years will be best served if we remain nominally allied with Europe within the North Atlantic alliance, but immediately begin to reduce and remove any commitment to European Union security and defence. We should, as well, discourage Europeans from any assumption they may have that we would, except in extremis, take a European point of view in opposi- tion to an independent Canadian or pro-American stance in international affairs. European diplomats should expect us to do unto them ”” to ignore their interests ”” as they have done unto us ”” ignore our interests, most recently in Afghanistan. We’ve done our bit to defend Europe ”” so good-bye to all that.
The UN is gradually moving under the control of states that do not share and in some cases are openly hostile to our core value ”” the defence and main- tenance of liberal democracy. The organ- ization is, besides, an administrative wasteland. Every year billions of dollars are swallowed up in unaccountable proj- ects and even the office of the former Secretary General has been implicated in graft and corruption. The UN might be useful to direct some forms of interna- tional humanitarian aid and to provide a grandstand upon which even the most miserable dictator can pretend he is a world leader. Though some true believers may hold to the UN as a parish priest is held to his religion, by faith ”” ”œa belief not requiring proof” ”” Canadians should not expect faith in the UN and the idea of collective security to assure Canada’s unity and liberal democracy.
If Canadian defence and security policy choices are to escape the clutch- es of the UN true believers, then we must begin by diminishing the power of the four myths of peacekeeping Canadians love to tell each other. Myth one ”” Canada (Lester Pearson) invented peacekeeping and Canada, therefore, must guard forever the holy chalice and participate in every UN mission. Myth two, peacekeeping is a selfless activity undertaken in the interests of the global community. Myth three, peacekeeping is not war- fare which fits Canadian traditions because Canada never has advanced and cannot advance its national inter- ests by waging war or by joining alliances outside the dictates of the UN. Myth four, the mandate of the Canadian Forces is ”œpeacekeeping.”
In place of these myths Canadians ought to substitute and build a con- sensus on this more practical, realistic and useful idea. Canada should join coalitions which support our national interests and those of our close allies after parliamentary consideration of the facts unhindered by the myths of peace- keeping and the assumed requirements of the so-called global community ”” UN missions related closely to our national interests might be among them.
So if Canada is not an Atlantic nation as Canadians once believed, and if the UN is incapable of guarding our national interests, whither Canada? The question, of course, brings us to America, a term used not only to acknowledge the United States, but also to locate Canada in the idea of the western hemisphere as a coherent, political entity.
The United States, though tangled in the duties of a great power and the intractable issues in the Middle East, is turning to its natural and his- toric interests in the western hemi- sphere and the Pacific ”” or more broadly to Latin America, Asia and China. Nevertheless, America, for bet- ter or worse, is the inevitable determi- nant of Canada’s primary interests. We need to understand, therefore, how to become ”œAmerica’s greatest friend” so as to keep inflammable material from our door, give no one cause for alarm and entangle the United States in our primary national interest, the preservation of Canada as a free and secure liberal democracy. How might we do this?
There is one area of mutual interest where Canada might become more rele- vant to Washington; that is, in matters related to western-hemispheric economies, trade, diplomacy and securi- ty. We could be to many Latin American and Caribbean states ”œnot the United States.” We could be in the western hemisphere a second option for states looking for trade and diplomacy and an alliance that better matches their histo- ry, culture, economies and scale of gov- ernment than does their present relationship with the United States.
Canada has a strategic advantage ”” a competitive advantage ”” over most other nations vis-aÌ€-vis the United States because Canada resides within the Monroe Doctrine where most other nations do not and cannot.
By concentrating our policies in the western hemisphere in ways that make Canada useful to American national interests we might find the basis for a true ”œspecial relationship” with Washington. It is a possibility that Canada should explore aggressively.
Canada’s essential foreign policy objective would be directed at enhancing Canada’s self-interests by defining itself as a western-hemispheric nation and holding fast to the United States through the reasonable acceptance of America’s own views of its national interests; by maintaining appropriate national securi- ty policies and resources; and by taking a leadership role in helping to advance a new coalition of stable liberal democra- cies in the western hemisphere. The old jest is that Canada is a regional power without a region ”” perhaps we can find one in the western hemisphere.
But finally, does this discourse matter if the national interest, the continuance of Canada, is irrelevant to Canadians? Ask yourself these ques- tions: Who in a democracy deter- mines the national interest? Who determines what interests express the will of the people ”” Parliament, polit- ical parties, tradition or academic argument? If national interests are arrived at democratically by the actions of citizens or ”” put another way ”” as the outcome of citizens’ actions even in the absence of serious debate, is that the national interest?
The assumption in most public dis- cussions and academic literature is that Canadians want or are deeply commit- ted to the survival of Canada as a uni- fied, political entity. Several distracting trends may be working against this assumption. The first distraction is iron- ic, perhaps even Clio’s joke on Canada.
The nation was founded, so the history books tell us, because Canada was insecure. And the source of our insecurity was the United States. However, since about the end of the American civil war, we have become secure and the source of our security is the United States.
More than that, it’s a pleasant enough security gained at little real cost ”” we just have to go with the flow ”” hardly thinking for ourselves at all or doing anything or spending much to be secure.
The first fact of nation- al life makes it so ”” there is no threat and the Americans will save us if there were one. Our territo- ry, our economy and our culture ”” such as it is ”” are all naturally secure.
So what is it for which Canadians stand on guard? Health care? Are we left with Canada, merely a nation and a parliament devot- ed to domestic and social security cares, worried about CanLit and the CBC?
If one doubts this image of the fading social contract ”” the irrele- vance of defence and security created by the efforts of Canadians ”” look at the 2006 federal election. Where was the emphasis in debates, policies and popular concern? National security, economic strategy or daycare? Who addressed Canada’s national interests in any credible or practical way? In eight hours of televised leaders’ debates, there was not a single question about foreign or defence policy.
But why should political leaders speak beyond rhetoric about preserv- ing and defending Canada? There is no threat and the Americans would save us if there were one. And so, the country and Canadians live on in nat- ural security, a condition that, ironical- ly, makes the idea of the nation ”” the idea of Canada ”” insecure.
Our natural security makes discussions about bolstering national security through independent defence and eco- nomic policies irrelevant to most Canadians and their leaders. Canada as a protectorate of the United States serves the people’s concept of their personal interests well enough. As Roy Remple explains in his award-winning book, Dreamland, remaining a protectorate of the United States at as little cost as pos- sible is the vital national interest and Canadians confirm this interest in every federal election and in every federal budget ”” whether they know it or not.
The second distracting trend presents another wicked irony. The idea that Canada is a welcoming coun- try open to immigrants from across the world and that they together with ”œnative Canadians” can build a strong, multicultural nation may be seriously flawed. It may be that the policies of multiculturalism that follow from this idea may be one of several concepts weakening the idea of the nation as community in the minds of citizens to the point of threatening the long-term cohesion of the country. Canadian research published recently shows a general trend away from attach- ment to Canada in the recent immigrant population. The broad conclusion is that the very celebration of multiculturalism has weakened the sense of a common national culture or shared national iden- tity and set of traditions.
Besides immigration, research sug- gests that other social trends are creating unintended, uncontrollable fractures in our society. A wider national unity problem may be build- ing from the dysfunctions of diversity rooted in culture, ethnic demograph- ics, the movement of populations from rural to urban life, the growing imbalance between age groups, the dangerous unrest in the Aboriginal communities, the clamour in cultural communities about their self-per- ceived grievances and rights, and the shift in the traditional economic struc- ture of the country ”” Ontario’s colonies in the west and in the Atlantic provinces are restless.
One can see the effects of this trend in action in Ottawa every day. It glares at Canadians as they quarrel with each other over who pays for social programs, who taxes, who spends, and in fractious political arguments over ”œequalization payments” and ”œthe fiscal balance,” and in special interests scavenging after defence contracts, and in nasty asser- tions by provincial leaders who churn bad blood as they claim their province is being taxed to support another unwor- thy province. Cities campaign against provinces, provinces against the federals. Who speaks for Canada? Who speaks for the supposed cardinal national interest, the continuance of Canada as a unified, liberal democracy?
Where the idea of the nation is not strong and especially where it is absent, we should not expect citi- zens to jump to defend or support it. The idea of the nation in European founding cultures implies in some measure a ”œsocial contract” between the state and the citizen that implies, fur- thermore, a mutual interest in and an obligation on both parties to make sig- nificant sacrifices (if necessary) to pre- serve the state. In many other cultures ”” including, in many cases, the source countries for Canadian immigration over the last ten years ”” the linked ideas of nation and service to the nation may not be strong, or even pres- ent at all. Indeed, in many cultures the state is the source of personal insecurity and something to be feared.
In some respects, this clash in interests is reinforced by policies aimed at supporting and encouraging multi- culturalism which can aggravate frac- tures between the interests of the cultural community and the idea of Canada. Citizenship in Canada today demands no heavy obligation. In some cases, the nation may be merely a facil- itator, an address, and the source of one of any number of reliable passports a citizen might hold for emergencies.
The dilemma for those few politi- cians who carry national responsibilities is to discover how to make Canada’s national interests relevant to Canadians who may be moving rapidly away from thinking of themselves as a coherent community, as a nation, in the tradi- tional sense. But leaders cannot do this if they and Canadians hold tightly to uncontested concepts and unchal- lenged assumptions about Canadian society and Canada’s place in the world. Perhaps leaders should heed the warn- ing: ”œThere was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised or so sure established which the continuance of time hath not corrupted.” If they did so, then maybe they could lead Canadians together to a new framework of ideas to sustain our most critical national inter- est, the preservation of a coherent nation ”” Canada as a secure, liberal democratic nation in as the 21st century.