Looking back, we can see that a proactive Canadian grand strate- gy was there when our European and American friends needed us most. Our early Cold War contributions to security were disproportional. We were present at the creation, helped shape the structure of the NATO Alliance and saw it through its early years with fairly sub- stantial contributions to North American and European defence.
However, in the period of the late 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Canadian governments of all stripes made a conscious decision not to play at the same level as we had in earlier decades. We maintained a smallish NATO contribution and took up UN peacekeeping efforts with great enthusi- asm. These contributions were not with- out substance and, in many quarters, helped add luster to Canada’s reputation in the world. Unfortunately, some of the mythology around decades of peace- keeping has convinced many Canadians (mistakenly in my view) that peacekeep- ing is all we can or should do. This view misses the fundamental point that Canada, like all other nations, has inter- ests to be protected and responsibilities to discharge which require the applica- tion of hard military power.
But, from a national interest standpoint, it is also important to con- sider the flip side of the question. It is not unreasonable to ask why we would spend large amounts of money on defence and sacrifice other public pol- icy priorities when the results of Canada spending a lot of money ver- sus a little were largely the same.
On a political level in terms of the consumption of resources and the need for the public to support those expendi- tures, it became a fairly easy question to answer for politicians ”” both Liberals and Conservatives ”” in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. If at least part of grand strategy lies in a policy to preserve a country’s long term economic and financial interests, it is, if nothing else understandable why some would argue that, based upon outcomes, Canada was right not to spend huge amounts of money on defence during this period.
My view is that we should have and could have devoted more resources to defence and diplomacy. I believe we must also view investments in Canada’s military on the basis of means and ends. Defence spending is not, and should never be, an end in itself. Weapons sys- tems are not art ”” we don’t buy them on the basis of their own intrinsic beau- ty ”” we buy them for a purpose. All of that to say, we have to make very clear and well informed decisions about what our ends are, and make similarly clear and well informed decisions about what means we are going to acquire and employ to achieve them.
Like the rest of our NATO allies, Canada looks to the United States for leadership on strategic issues. When that leadership is absent, Canada’s strate- gic objectives suffer. Whether we like it or not, on a geo-strategic level, we are joined at the hip with the Americans. We succeed when the Americans succeed and attempting to de-couple ourselves from this equation is an absolute and utter waste of time. It was tried before in terms of the Third Option in the 1970s and failed miserably. That is not to say that we should cease trying to diversify our trade and economic relationships ”” quite the contrary. We should always be attempting to expand our trade and diplomatic engagement globally. However, it is to emphasize that we must understand where our fundamental interests currently lie and where they are likely to lie well into the future.
You will recall I made the argument that during the St. Laurent/Pearson era of the ”œGolden Age of Canadian Grand Strategy” Canada had a grand strategy within the larger grand strategy of con- tainment. The absence of an American grand strategy presents a challenge for Canada because, as the early Cold War demonstrated, we are at our best when we are working synergistically as part of a larger scheme with allies toward a common objective. Containment was spectacularly successful because it was based on the fundamental principles I just referred to a few moments ago which were of course entirely consis- tent with St. Laurent’s principles of lib- erty, the rule of law and human values.
Is it possible to have a Canadian grand strategy in the absence of an American grand strategy? I would have to say yes it is, if only to drive home the point that we should be focused completely upon working with our allies to have the Americans construct, in conjunction with their allies, a grand strategy that we can rally behind and support. This, in many respects, goes back to my fundamental agree- ment with Haglund’s view that the North Atlantic Triangle is absolutely critical to Canadian grand strategy. It remains the focal point of where ”œwe find our friends” based upon the concept of that ”œcommunity of shared val- ues” and first principles.
But it probably won’t come as too much of a surprise when I say I don’t believe we possess a fully formed grand strategy at this moment. American strategic ambiguity is clearly part of our problem, but it goes beyond that large and important factor.
If we go back to our criteria in regard to grand strategy, of course, the first involves having a substantial amount of political support for what you are attempting to achieve both diplomatically and militarily. In terms of current foreign policy, I don’t think we have that political support today in Canada. And that can be traced back to a lack of public understanding of why we are doing what we are doing in Afghanistan and how it fits into the larger picture of Canada’s strategic inter- ests and international peace and securi- ty. Like it or not, for many Canadians Afghanistan is linked to Iraq and what has become one of the most unpopular wars in US history.
This, and the general ambiguity and lack of clarity surrounding American strategic objectives, have had a spill over effect for all of the allies including those operating in Afghanistan under ISAF. Notwithstanding that, there has also been a general failure to communicate Canada’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan. And regrettably I think the responsibility for that is shared by both Liberal and Conservative governments. And of course, the political problem has become more acute for the Conservatives because of the increase in casualties.
The second criterion involves hav- ing a clear understanding of threats, interests and values. Again, I am not at all confident that we have in Canada a clear grasp of these concepts. As St. Laurent said, there will always be differ- ences of opinion in public debate about what constitutes fundamental interests. However, I think the public debate to this point ”” especially as it relates to the Afghan mission and its wider strate- gic implications ”” has been largely superficial. The entire discussion requires a deeper and more rigourous analysis by all concerned ”” the Government, the Opposition and the national media ”” to lay the groundwork for a more informed discussion. One can only hope that a better under- standing of threats, interests and values will lead to the establishment of a broader consensus.
Third, a grand strategy must convey a unity of pur- pose that provides clarity and predictability for allies and rivals. Despite backsliding on defence invest- ments, by and large, during the Cold War Canada did display a unity of pur- pose within what could be described as the traditional tenets of Canadian for- eign policy and support for the NATO alliance. Caught up as we are in a com- plicated post-911 world, however, there does not appear to be nearly the same political support for the general thrust of current foreign policy. A broad con- sensus around threats, interests and val- ues simply does not exist. The clarity and predictability of the Cold War is no more. Even in the post Cold War peri- od, however, our allies came to expect Canadian support for NATO when the chips were down as was the case in Kosovo and in the former Yugoslavia. The current prospect of a unilateral Canadian withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, would seriously undermine the unity of purpose Canada has displayed in the past and would do serious damage to the Canada-NATO relationship which, as we have seen in the past, has been the cornerstone of Canadian grand strategy since World War II.
Finally, the last criterion is being willing and able to apply elements of both hard and soft power. Once again, I think we can say Canada has been will- ing to apply elements of hard power consistent with its ability. The problem we have is that our ability is not what it should be based on the size of our econ- omy. Canada still ranks at the bottom of NATO in terms of defence expendi- tures as a proportion of GDP. And that is not likely to change soon. Still, if we see NATO in the years ahead as the pri- mary instrument for international peace and security, future Canadian governments are going to have to be seen to be contributing more than just rhetorical support to the Alliance. The fifth criterion, involving flexibility and re-assessment, presumes the existence of an operative strategy which I believe does not currently exist.
All of that sounds pretty negative, but I think we have to realize that there are some positives as well.
Our newsletter about the public service.
Nominated for a Digital Publishing Award.
First, despite the declining state of our forces in recent decades, Canadian involvement in the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo kept us current with NATO and demonstrated our continuing com- mitment to the organization. At a time when the Alliance faced some stresses and strains, that was important.
Second, Canada’s Afghanistan com- mitment has, over the last number of years, demonstrated our willingness to take our commitment to the next level and accept some of the heavy lifting especially in regard to the current deployment in Kandahar. Again, although costly in casualties, this has been very positive. Third, Canada’s deci- sion not to lend diplomatic support to the war in Iraq, has helped us in terms of our credibility with certain European allies. This places us in a good position if we think back to the metaphor of the ”œlinchpin” and the potential for Canada to play a role in Alliance unity. Fourth, the commitment of recent governments ”” Liberal and Conservative ”” to invest more in Canada’s military, diplomatic and development efforts is a very posi- tive development, but obviously it is one that has to be sustained and increased.
And finally, fifth, for all its short- comings, I would have to say that the most recent International Policy Statement of 2005 entitled ”œA Role of Pride and Influence in the World” was also important because of the unprecedented manner in which it attempted to integrate foreign, defence, aid and trade policies. Indeed, it could probably be said that the document made substantial progress towards assembling some of the basic building blocks of grand strategy.
So what lies ahead? Earlier in this lec- ture, I said that there would come a time when Pax Americana would pass into history. For some very good reasons, we, as Canadians, have a vested interest in seeing that happen later rather than sooner. This process will take some time and it’s really anybody’s guess as to whether or not it will occur in this cen- tury or the next. And notwithstanding American exceptionalism, history tells us it most certainly will happen.
There are, I think, three issues which should be on the radar from standpoint of immediate American grand strategy.
The first of these is America’s moral leadership. I think this has taken a severe pounding in the last few years and I believe the US must make significant efforts to re-take the high ground. From a strategic stand- point, this goes back to Sun Tzu’s moral and intellectual considerations within conflict. It is also consistent with Kennan’s admonition about not allowing ”œourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.”
The invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are not fatal blows to American moral leadership, but there is no doubt they have done damage in the short term. In my view, the United States absolutely must adhere to and become an advo- cate of international law and, more particularly, international humani- tarian law. This was the case in the early 19th century when the US was an advocate for the Law of the High Seas and when it was subject to the unilateralism of the Royal Navy. The day will come when the United States will benefit from having solidly established norms in international law which will protect its interests. Grand strategy must always be about playing the long game.
The second issue relates to the cur- rent US financial position. As of the end of 2006, the total U.S. public debt including intra-government debt obliga- tions was about $9 trillion. In 2005, the public debt represented 64.7 percent of GDP. If unfunded future obligations are included such as Medicare and Social Security, this amount rises dramatically to a total of $59.1 trillion. By contrast, Canada’s total government debt-to-GDP ratio is estimated at 27.6 percent for 2006. The current forecast is that Canada is on track to eliminate its net debt by 2021. There is a temptation to be smug about our good management, but as I’m sure all of you know, if the US has signif- icant economic and financial problems, Canadian problems won’t be far behind.
The third issue is the rise of China. We all know about China’s incredible economic performance and its 10 percent growth rates. But contrast the US finan- cial position with that of China. At the end of last year, it was estimated that China’s foreign-exchange reserves would exceed $1 trillion. That is twice their level of two years ago and more than one-fifth of global reserves. This is the result of its large current-account surplus, signifi- cant foreign direct investment, and big injections of speculative capital in recent years. This influx of money would normally push up the yuan, but the government has forced the central bank to buy up the surplus for- eign currency. The growth in reserves has slowed but is still averaging a hefty $16 billion a month. China holds over one 1 trillion in dollar assets (of which $330 billion are U.S. Treasury notes). As you can imagine, if China ever decided to dump its US dollars, it would wreak havoc on the value of the greenback.
It is also worth noting that, accord- ing the International Institute of Strategic Studies, China’s defence expen- ditures have risen nearly 300 percent in the past decade going from 1.08 percent of GDP in 1995 to 1.55 percent in 2005. In just the last year, Chinese defence expenditures increased by 15 percent. In the years ahead, there is no doubt that China is going to require substantial amounts of foreign natural resources to feed its economy and, in some places, it will need troops to protect its interests as is currently the case in Sudan where 4,000 Chinese troops are deployed.
As we consider the growing promi- nence of China as a strategic player, it is important to ensure that the ”œcom- munity of shared values” as represented in the North Atlantic Triangle remains strong from an economic, political and military standpoint. Certainly an unde- sirable scenario would be to have China assume the mantle of world economic and military leadership as an authoritari- an capitalist state. The only way to pre- vent that from happening is to ensure that China is encouraged with soft power to become part of a broader ”œcommunity of shared values” that entails human rights, democracy and the rule of law. But all of this must be done by the Western allies from a position of strength and will require significant investment, political resolve and a carefully crafted and truly grand strategy for the decades that lie ahead. I am reminded of a quote from the writer Giuseppe Tomas di Lampedusa who wrote in his novel The Leopard that ”œif we want things to stay the same, things are going to have to change.”
As the focal point for Canadian grand strategy and hopefully within a larger grand strategy, this country should strive, in the first instance, to be a unifying force between Europe and North America. But Canada, like other countries, also has a role to play in engaging China and helping them make the transition from they are now to where we would like to see them in 40 or 50 years ”” stable, prosperous and democratic. In addressing both our short term and long term security challenges and strategic interests, we must, as St. Laurent would say, ”œaccept our international responsibilities” with all that that entails.
This is an edited excerpt from the Ross Ellis Lectures Series presented June 12-14, 2007, and spon- sored by the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Pratt’s three Ellis lectures are at www.cmss.ucalgary.ca/vents/rossellis