No amount of platitudes can make up for our under-investment in our armed forces. We have no reached the point at which our allies are rightfully expecting tangible action.
After winning the 2015 federal election, the Liberals went around telling everyone that “Canada is back!”
It was meant to express that Canada had supposedly returned to our usual place on the world stage, after apparently abandoning that place under the Harper Conservatives.
Of course, that was mostly just partisan spin.
Canada played a decent role on the world stage in the Harper years, contributing to the mission in Afghanistan, nearly catching up to the United States in per capita GDP, winning plaudits for our response to the global financial crisis, speaking out against Russian aggression, and taking a strong stand in support of Israel.
Many of those ‘Harper era’ policies were actually continuations of policies that began under the Chretien-Martin Liberals, with some tweaks. Harper spoke more about the military (though military spending remained relatively low), and was more principled in speaking out in favour of freedom and democracy around the world.
Some of Canada’s core foreign policy goals have continued under the Trudeau Liberals, largely because of the force of public opinion and our ongoing presence in the NATO alliance. Justin Trudeau clearly wanted to distance Canada from the United States & the United Kingdom and move our country closer to the orbit of China, but Canadian public opinion and China’s aggressive actions against our nation and against our allies made that impossible.
This demonstration of the power of public opinion is why democracies often have more consistent foreign policies than authoritarian states, even though the constant turnover of parties in power makes that counterintuitive. A radical foreign policy shift would generate significant blowback in a democratic nation, because the foreign policy of a democratic country has been built up over a long-period of time and has often settled largely into place. In an authoritarian state where a leader is less constrained by public opinion, more radical shifts are possible.
Unfortunately, while the Liberals have not been able to radically shift our foreign policy, they have shown themselves unable or unwilling to recognize the significant ways in which the world is changing, and this – combined with their overtly partisan approach to foreign policy and defence policy – has led to Canada being taken less and less seriously by our allies.
For example, the Liberal approach to China would have made sense in a world in which China was becoming more democratic, more open, and more respectful towards both its own citizens and its neighbours. Of course, China has gone in the opposite direction, and the Liberals are now facing their most serious scandal because of their willingness to let China interfere in our democratic institutions and their refusal to recognize the true nature of the CCP regime. Inaction is a form of action, and the Liberals have allowed China to expand their influence in Canada at the expense of our core institutions.
Additionally, the Liberals have often tried to merge foreign policy and domestic policy on issues like the carbon tax, where they could claim to be taking ‘global action’ to ‘save the planet’ by imposing a tax on Canadians. This has proven divisive domestically, and doesn’t really resonate with our allies. After all, the United States has reduced emissions more successfully than Canada despite not having a carbon tax.
In essence, the Liberals have taken Canada’s mediocre foreign policy and made it worse through a mix of neglect, arrogance, and incompetence.
Our allies have woken up
While you would expect those who oppose the Liberals to be critical of their foreign policy, it’s surprising to see tacit criticism come from within the government itself. It’s even more surprising when it comes from the Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister, Melanie Joly.
“Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says Canada needs to bolster its influence on the world stage, especially in the face of a shifting global context, with the war in Ukraine, and a complex relationship with China.
Joly told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in a wide-ranging interview airing Sunday, she’s working domestically to make sure Canada’s diplomats “are well tooled to do their job,” while also focusing on key issues abroad, namely when it comes to Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific region, and the Arctic.
“What we’re seeing is that the world’s power structures are moving, and therefore we need to be there to defend our interests without compromising our values, and we need to increase our influence,” Joly said.
She also said much of that fluctuating power structure stems from China and the Indo-Pacific region.”
Of course, this is not overt criticism of the government. But it begs the question: Why would Canada need to ‘bolster’ our influence if the Liberals had been effective in terms of foreign policy during their nearly 8 years in power?
Disappointingly, Joly demonstrated later in the interview that she and the Liberal government still don’t quite get it:
“When pressed on whether failing to hit defence spending targets set out by the alliances of which Canada is a part — namely NATO — impedes the country’s ability to pursue its foreign policy and increase its influence, Joly said it’s important to recognize the work Canada is doing in other countries and regions, not just with NATO members.
Canada has long faced calls to increase its defence spending commitments to reach two per cent of GDP — the agreed-upon NATO goal as part of the Wales Summit Declaration in 2014 — but the Washington Post reported in April that Trudeau privately told alliance members that Canada will never meet the target.”
This brings us to the real problem.
The ongoing avoidance of the need for ‘hard power’
The Liberal government loves to talk about ‘soft power,’ or ‘convening power’ as Joly once put it. When Joly talks about Canada’s work in other countries as a substitute for hitting NATO targets, she’s making a variation of the same ‘soft power’ argument.
The problem with this type of thinking is that ‘soft power’ only works if it’s backed up by ‘hard power.’ Whatever ‘soft power’ influence Canada has is backed up by the hard power of the United States military. And since the United States also has massive soft power through their cultural influence and economic might, they are a far more credible actor on the world stage.
Now, though it can sound dark and cynical, a fundamental point must be made: Human freedom still must be secured through the production of weapons meant to kill other human beings, and the training of people to use those weapons to kill other human beings if necessary.
It’s not ‘nice,’ and it would be great if things were otherwise. But this is simply how the world works.
World War Two could not have been ended without free nations building and then using immense amounts of weapons and killing immense numbers of people.
If a nation becomes hell-bent on seizing territory by force and stealing the rights and freedoms of another nation, then the only choices are to surrender or fight back. And if a country has a credible level of military power, then conflict can often be stopped before it begins, because the cost to the potential belligerent will seem too high.
This unfortunate but undeniable reality of living on the Earth with other human beings means that ‘hard power’ will always be necessary, and ‘soft power’ cannot compensate for it. Again, this doesn’t mean soft power is worthless. Free countries are indeed stronger than authoritarian states because of their emphasis on individual freedom and the creativity/economic power that is generated when people are free to test out ideas and criticize the government.
But ‘soft power’ doesn’t stop an authoritarian state once the fighting has begun, and soft power alone can’t dissuade a potential aggressor.
This is what Joly, the Liberal government, and a significant portion of the country still doesn’t seem to understand.
Canada will not be taken seriously by our allies until we make a significant investment in our military.
We must spend billions more
There is no way around this. Canada must spend billions more on our armed forces. Realistically, we should be nearly doubling our spending from the current $26 billion to at least $50 billion. We need tens of thousands more personnel, we need new planes, new tanks, new ships, new missiles, and more.
This can’t be done on the cheap.
Just look at this:
Kind of embarrassed as a Canadian right now… https://t.co/AjuxrwJq20
— Brock Warkentin (@BrockWarkentin) June 26, 2023
Almost every NATO country is mentioned there, but Canada is left out. Even non-NATO nations like Japan were involved.
At a time when our alliances are more important than ever, we aren’t doing our part to contribute.
We can’t talk our way out of this. If we were really a serious country, we would be freezing spending in most government departments while rapidly increasing our military budget. And our leaders would be explaining why this is necessary, as unpopular as it may be.
Joly can do all the ‘convening’ and all the other ‘work’ with nations that she and the government wants. But that won’t make our nation more influential. Only doing the real work of procuring weapons and military equipment and recruiting and training people to use that equipment can raise our influence now.
The free world is facing its most serious challenge in decades, with a desperate Russia lashing out irrationally in an attempt to destroy Ukraine and quash the growing desire for freedom in the former Soviet states, and a ruthless Communist regime in China trying to assert dominance over a larger and larger swath of the world.
If Canada wants to be a serious part of defending freedom and standing up for the values we claim to hold, then a significant military build up is an unavoidable necessity.
Photo – YouTube