Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Canada Has Permanent Interests, Permanent Friends

United States should be considered a permanent ally, but not the expense of Canada's other interests

In part two of the Globe and Mail's "Finding Canada's Place in the World" online series, JL Granatstein contrasts with Lloyd Axworthy's argument that the most important thing for Canada is to ween itself out of the United States' global orbit with a reminder that the role of Canadian foreign policy is to serve and defend Canadian interests, not satisfy the intellectual and political vanity of its progenitors.

Sometimes determining what those interests are can be contentious, even murky. But some of Canada's most basic interests are obvious.

"All Canadians want Canada to play a useful, credible role in the world. We all want us to be as independent as we can be in an increasingly globalized world. And we all understand that we must protect and advance Canadian national interests, even if we tend not to talk very much about them.

What are Canada's national interests? The first, the basic one common to every state, is obvious: We must protect our people, territory, and sovereignty. We must see that we remain united and independent. Then we must advance the economic well-being of Canadians. We must help protect North America and, as we are not now and never will be a great power, we must work with like-minded states to advance freedom and democracy around the world.
Of course, one supposes this relies heavily on how one defines "great powers". If we define "great powers" strictly in terms of their military capabilities then one supposes that Granatastein is spot-on in his analysis.

If, however, we define "great powers" according to the amount of influence they can exert on a global scale -- be it through military means or otherwise -- then Canada certainly has the potential to be a great power.

Canadians have always been at the forefront of leadership in the United Nations. Canadians were at the forefront of the Landmine Ban Treaty. As we speak, Canadians are preparing to lead the charge in negotiating an international agreement (be it a ban or otherwise) on the use of cluster munitions.

While significant (although not necessarily overwhelming, as is the case with the United States) amounts of "hard power" are necessary to back it up, one cannot afford to underestimate the potential of "soft power" to build the foundation of global influence that lies at the heart of great power status.

Simply by exercising leadership on a global scale Canada very much has become a "great power", although there is little reason why it cannot become greater still.

"None of those national interests should be controversial, though the last one may sound so. It's not. In fact, the spread of democracy and freedom has been Canada's basic goal abroad for more than a century and that is the reason we have gone to war against autocrats and dictators in the past. That is why we offer development aid to nations around the world today. Our values, our humanitarianism, our multiculturalism, and our belief in justice at home and abroad, spring directly from our national interests and our long history as a democracy.

To realize our national interests, we need an interested and involved population, strong political leadership, a capable foreign service, and a small but robust military that can operate effectively in benign blue beret peacekeeping, in counter-insurgency campaigns such as that in Afghanistan, and in wars fought by coalitions of our friends and allies.
Granatstein is entirely right about this. While many Canadians wold insist that fighting in wars is purely antithetical to peacekeeping, sometimes they are necessary.

Afghanistan stands out as one example. The Persian Gulf war of 1990-91 stands out as another example. Possessing the necessary hard power capabilities to contribute to these efforts is entirely necessary.

While soft power holds its obvious advantages, it's all too often proven to be ineffectual against those countries who aggress against their neighbours or oppress their own people.

We need the appropriate hard power capabilities to address these situations.

"These aims are hard to achieve, and some might believe that we have failed totally here. Curiously, for an unmilitary nation, we have likely come closest to achieving a small, capable Canadian Forces. Going to war, however, just as sending peacekeepers abroad, must serve our national interests."
And it must always be treated as a last resort, and resorted to only when necessary.

Thankfully, Canadian foreign policy has, to date, passed this test with flying colours. Not all countries can say the same.

"Above all, given our geographic location, we must have close relations with the United States. The U.S. is our best friend, as a now-forgotten politician said 45 years ago, "whether we like it or not." Strong in their anti-Americanism, Canadians took a long time to learn this, and some never have. But unless we can learn to eat grass to survive, we must have access to the American market, the largest, richest in the world. We need Americans' investment, and access to their brainpower and culture. We will need their military support in extremis. And the Yanks aren't going away — Canada is not an island, nor can we hide behind psychological or trade barriers.

Some Canadians foresee the Americans being surpassed in the coming years by others such as China, India, Brazil, or the European Union. If that occurs, and it may, then Canadians must realize that we will inevitably be forced even closer to the U.S. in our own economic and defence interests. The bulk of our trade will almost certainly continue to flow in a north-south direction, and we will only prosper if it does. Who dares to contemplate a future in which Beijing, say, occupies the economic role that the U.S. now plays for us? Could anyone, even the most fervent anti-American, believe that would be better for Canada?
Former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston once remarked "Britain has no permanent friends, she only has permanent interests."

It was once suggested that Canada consider precisely the opposite: Canada has no permanent interests, only permanent friends.

The truth of matter is that Canada has both.

Canada has a permanent relationship -- geographical, economic and defense-oriented -- with the United States. Unless Canada does somehow become an island, we will always have this relationship. It's important to maintain a healthy one, and not allow empty anti-Americanism to spoil it, even if principled anti-Americanism can serve as a guide to what we want from our principle ally.

Likewise, Canada has a permanent relationship -- historical and, again, defense-oriented -- with Britain. And France. And with all the varying members of the Commonwealth and the Francophonie via a shared colonial heritage. These relationships, likewise, must be maintained.

Canada also has important relationships with countless other countries around the world through its membership in other organizations such as the UN, NATO and the World Trade Organization. We should strive to make these relationships as permanent as we possibly can, but we cannot afford to do so at the expense of our own interests.

"We can be as independent as we want to be, as interdependent as we must be. But too much independence or interdependence can carry a high price, and Canadians must weigh their nation's interests — and their own — in making choices about where we go.

Realizing what our national interests truly are may help.
Clearly the most pertinent question emerging out of Granatstein's analysis is: whar are Canada's national interests?

Clearly, promoting international peace and stability is one of them. When the world is at peace, everyone enjoys a so-called peace dividend -- especially prolific global traders like Canada.

The best war is the one you never have to fight. The most effective peacekeeping mission is the one you never have to deploy to begin with.

Advancing international trade policy can help advance this global ideal. Trade, as many economists note, provides an incentive for countries to maintain peaceful relationships with one another: obviously going to war with your neighbour precludes the possibility of trading openly with them.

One of Canada's permanent interests is clearly in advancing free (but fair) trade policies between states.

Canada would also be well-served to reclaim its "honest broker" role in the world, one that certainly hasn't been adequately served since the end of the Cold War. The world is in need of an honest broker in a few problem spots in the world -- between India and Pakistan, between Israel and the Palestinians, between the Sudan and the United Nations, as just a few examples -- and Canada can still fill that role, although that role cannot preclude acting in support and defense of our own interests, even aggressively wherever necessary.

Most of all, Canada needs to divest itself of entrenched dogmas in order to determine what its interests really are and pursue them. This will be a much stickier debate.

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