Does Canada need a national security strategy?

As part of the Ipolitics coverage of the upcoming budget issues,  former G&M security correspondent Jeff Sallot, who now teaches at Carleton moderated a panel discussion with former Ambassador Ferry De Kerchove, and Carleton security scholar David Perry and CDFAI Vice President Colin Robertson on the subject: Doee Canada need a national security strategy? .  The podcast can be found on the ipolitics video website


Comments Off

Stephen Harper’s World View

Excerpted from October Policy Options ‘Harper’s World View’

…Argue with the taxonomy, but there are essentially three traditions in Canadian foreign policy. The first is the realist, power-and-interest tradition that holds close to the hegemon, initially Britain and then the United States. The external counterpart to Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy, it has been followed, in varying degrees, by Macdonald, then Sir Wilfrid Laurier through to Brian Mulroney. The second is the Mackenzie King tradition, nationalist, regional in outlook, and both cautious and skeptical about international entanglements. It also appealed to populist, regional third parties from the Progressives through the Bloc Quebecois. The third is the St- Laurent-Pearson tradition, further refined by Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien: strongly nationalist and internationalist – assertive, energetic, with an emphasis on international law and institutions.

Looking at Harper’s record suggests his approach to foreign policy fits comfortably within the realist, power-and-interest tradition.  At the outset the new PM promised to “build the relationships and the capabilities which will allow us to preserve our sovereignty, to protect our interests, and to project our values…In a shrinking, changing, dangerous world,” he declared in his first major foreign policy speech in October 2006. He continued: “our government must play a role in the world. And I believe that Canadians want a significant role – a clear, confident and influential role…they don’t want a Canada that just goes along; they want a Canada that leads. They want a Canada that doesn’t just criticize, but one that can contribute. They want a Canada that reflects their values and interests, and that punches above its weight.”

The debate within Canada around energy and the environment is symptomatic of another rule of politics. What may constitute good public policy – taxing carbon, ending sales of asbestos, abandoning supply marketing, permitting foreign investment in our resources, is not always good politics. Regional differences make national consensus difficult. National unity comes with a price and there is more than a little wisdom to F.R.Scott’s lampoon of Mackenzie King: “Do nothing by halves/ Which can be done by quarters.”

While putting on the blue beret has considerable romantic appeal, Canadians have not led in peacekeeping for a couple of decades and contemporary circumstances make it unlikely we’ll do so again soon. In part, there has been an effort to ‘regionalize’ peacekeeping pools and in part, as Denis Stairs points out, contributing to UN peacekeeping operations is “a source of badly needed foreign exchange” for the main source countries – Bengladesh, Pakistan, India and Nigeria.

Technology and more failing states means what is required is less peacekeeping than peacemaking or peace enforcement or acting as a first responder to disasters. To echo historian Jack Granatstein, we owe former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier a great debt for “changing the conceit that Canadians were peacekeepers first, last and always.” Our experience in Afghanistan has given us the ‘best little army’ in the world and the skills we’ve developed proved adaptable and effective in the relief of Haiti after the hurricane. This is a much more realistic role for Canada and while Canadians wanted us out of a combat role in Afghanistan, there is strong public support for the Forces.

Rather than flog the dead horse of peacekeeping, the bigger policy question for Canadians is how far, and how much, should we commit to duties beyond our border that actively involve us in other people’s conflicts with significant risk to the lives of Canadians. Observes Australian diplomat-scholar Owen Harries: “The successful promotion of democracy calls for restraint and patience, a sense of limits and an appreciation of the wisdom of indirection, a profound understanding of the particularity of circumstances.”

As we have learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, liberal democracy is not an easy transplant and any policy of imposing it through force will also fail. Acting with the best of intentions is inherently difficult to translate into significant change because of the extent to which they depend on other people and other, often intractable, societies.

The  2008 Canada First Defense Strategy gives teeth to our ambitions in homeland defence and in making a necessary contribution to collective security.: “`A handful of soldiers is better than a mouthful of arguments,”’ said Harper in Trapani, Italy the base for RCAF CF-18s flying over Libya, “For the Gadhafis of this world pay no attention to the force of argument. The only thing they get is the argument of force.”
Restoring the traditional designations – Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force – to strengthen their identities as national institutions is a positive step.

But the real test for the Conservatives will be to meet the new recruitment targets, ultimately 100,000 personnel (70,000 Regular Force and 30,000 Primary Reserve), and to meet the procurement timetable for the new ships and planes that will “give us the ability to act.” Our procurement process is inadequate. As the Auditor General and the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries (CADSI) and others have pointed out, the likely result is that new kit will be delayed, abandoned or diminished in quality and quantity. We need to quickly develop a defence industrial strategy and a viable ship building industry.  A useful first step would be to look to the experiences of our British and Australian allies…

Comments Off

In Defence of Tradition

and also in the Halifax Chronicle Herald August 20, 2011 under the title ‘Forces to be Reckoned with’

In defence of tradition

The restoration of traditional names for Canada’s military honours our past and sets the stage for a proud future,

By Colin Robertson, Ottawa Citizen August 17, 2011

Nations draw their character from their history. We draw our shared memories especially during times of conflict, stress and challenge. National cohesion and character are put to the test when the nation faces real trials – during national emergencies or armed conflict. Canadians look with pride to our uniformed men and women and to the service they have performed for our country.

Today, our Rangers are in the midst of this year’s Operation Nanook, actively demonstrating Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. After a decade at the sharp end in Kandahar, the Canadian Army is helping Afghans learn to defend themselves. Our pilots are flying guard over the skies of Libya, and HMCS Charlottetown recently came under fire fending off an attack on Misrata.

For a great deal of our history, our military performed under the identities of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force. The restoration of these identities is a moment for reflection in the importance of memory and the value of tradition.

During the valiant years of the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Navy secured the vital North Atlantic sea-lanes, while the RCAF training of thousands of Commonwealth and allied crew would earn for Canada the title “aerodrome of democracy.” By war’s end, our army had helped to liberate Europe and we possessed the world’s third largest navy. Our three services would enhance their reputation whether wearing the UN blue beret or under NATO command in Korea, Suez, Cyprus, the Balkans, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

There were many positive features to the Pearson government’s decision to reinforce Canadian identity, most notably our maple leaf flag, but the erasure of the three distinct services was not one of them. There was about that decision too much of the central planner.

Doing what works to best stand guard for Canada requires constant effort and investment, with special attention to morale and the men and women who serve. Conditions of service have improved, distinctive uniforms and ranks were restored, bolstering recruitment and confidence in the individual services. The RCAF logo resurfaced as the design for popular clothing and, most recently, on the uniform of the resurrected Winnipeg Jets.

Now we need to ensure our armed services can live up to their distinguished heritage.

The world is a dangerous place. Canadians do not live in a “fireproof” house or waters free of peril. We spend a little over one per cent of our GDP on national defence. The British spend about two per cent and the Americans nearly five per cent. We will need to do more because our principal allies can no longer afford to constantly take up the slack.

Why do we need to spend more?

The Seven Seas are global highways for 80 per cent of world commerce. They are also inherently lawless. We export about half of what we manufacture as part of supply chain dynamics that date back to the Second World War. We have a record number of trade discussions under way – notably with Europe and India – as we seek to sell our goods and services. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just returned from opening doors in Latin America and he visits China again this fall.

Trade by sea is vital to our prosperity. We also have the longest coastline in the world, enough to circle the equator six times. This has special implications for the Royal Canadian Navy.

The Canada First Defence Strategy provides a solid blueprint for the future that includes high recruitment targets and new kit; the Chinook helicopters and Hercules aircraft have already proven their worth in battle and in disaster relief. In the coming years, major projects will range from satellites to ships. We must now develop a coherent industrial defence strategy if we are to meet the procurement timetable.

The challenge for the Harper government will be to deliver on their commitment for new planes, new warships and, for the North, icebreakers. Getting this done will enable the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Army – all proud partners in the Canadian Forces – to build on their distinguished reputations.

Comments Off

Advancing Canadian interests with the US

From Embassy Magazine, May 4, 2011 Advancing Canadian Interests with the USA

Apart from a couple of tropes about the “Americanization” of our gun registration in the French language debate and Ralph Nader’s warnings about “deep integration,” one of the most remarkable features of this campaign was the absence of any reference to Canada-US relations and February’s Washington Declaration.

In the final days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reminded Canadians that one in five Canadian jobs is linked to our trade with the US. He reaffirmed February’s pledge to reduce cross-border congestion through the creation of a perimeter security shield and tackle the regulatory thicket that impedes our shared competiveness. Now he and President Obama must act and get it done.

With Parliament likely to return to pass the budget, we should make passage of the copyright legislation a first order of business. This, the top American “ask,” is essential to attracting continuing foreign investment, especially given the challenge of our rising petro-dollar. Copyright protection is also a trade policy key to both the Canada-EU trade deal and our entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The original intent for the perimeter security agreement was to have an action plan by mid-June. This week’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate is a reminder that the US electoral clock is ticking and with it the window of opportunity for the border deal. To re-ignite the process, the leaders should appoint personal envoys to run interference and keep the schedule on track. Former ambassador to Washington Derek Burney or former BC premier Gordon Campbell both know how to get it done.

Premiers, who played a critical role in securing last year’s procurement reciprocity agreement, must be brought into the tent because they share constitutional authority for implementation. This would be a good opportunity to resurrect the First Ministers conference and demonstrate visibly to Canadians why this deal is in our interest.

Success in the US will depend on the support of state governments and premiers are our bridge to governors. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nova Scotia counterpart Darrell Dexter have a special mission: to convince Opposition Leader Jack Layton on why US trade puts bread on the table and sustains union jobs. The return to profitability of GM, Ford and Chrysler—the auto sector is our most integrated industry—is a case study in sensible collaboration between labor, business and government.

The Canadian business community is already onside and they’ve done valuable homework in laying out what needs to be done.  But the American business community needs to step up to the plate. Their participation is necessary because they are best placed to point out to Congress and state legislators the 8 million American jobs and billions in investment that depend on trade with Canada.

Then there’s the irritants and crises that require the full-time attention of our capable ambassadors, Gary Doer and David Jacobson. For American “wise man” George Shultz, former US secretary of state, managing the Canada-US relationship is like tending a garden. “The way to keep weeds from overwhelming you,” he wrote in his memoir, “is to deal with them constantly and in their early stages.”

On the American side, President Obama must be satisfied with the election results. In Prime Minister Stephen Harper he has a proven, reliable partner who has been returned to power with a stable, secure government. His Administration has dilly-dallied on the XL Keystone pipeline permit but it now appears that this will happen by the fall. We should learn from this lesson and invite the administration to look at all our connections: rail, electrical grids, pipelines, roads and bridges. Our mutual international competitiveness requires us to take these beyond the control of narrow interests.

Nowhere is the abusive power of special interests more perniciously illustrated than in the protracted opposition by the operator of the Ambassador Bridge to the construction of the Detroit River International Crossing. With a quarter of our trade passing through this gateway, it is time for President Obama to intervene.

There are other “weeds” that need tending, including the New York State ballast water regulation that would effectively curb shipping on the Great Lakes and the ongoing pollution risk to the Red River from Devils Lake.

Prime Minister Harper has practiced Brian Mulroney’s golden rule for the conduct of relations with the US: We can disagree without being disagreeable.  Now he needs to follow the second Mulroney dictum—Canada’s influence in the world is measured by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.

Influence requires a vigorous diplomatic and intelligence service bringing perspective on issues like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change and the continuing economic crisis. It means more effort in regions where we have shared interests, especially the Americas. Or where we can bring special insight, as in China and India, where smart immigration policy has given us so much of their diaspora. Or fora where the US is absent and we have the ability to lead, like the Commonwealth and Francophonie.

Real influence also depends on being a reliable partner in collective security and helping the US bear the global burden of primacy, as we did by putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan, planes in the air over Libya and taking a lead role in the reconstruction of Haiti. The Canada First Defence Strategy will maintain our capacity by investing in new kit including ships and fighter jets.

With his win, Stephen Harper achieves new place and standing amongst global leaders. But our international leverage hinges on tending the garden next door. With his strong mandate, Prime Minister Harper can move quickly to advance Canadian interests and North American competitiveness. Now it’s up to President Obama to demonstrate his commitment to good neighbourliness.

Comments Off