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The questions that hard power advocates don’t ask

David S. McDonough, ed., Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World: Strategy, Interests, Threats.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. 320 pages.

Reviewed by Andrew Nurse

Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World, edited by David S. McDonough, begins by asserting a serious dearth of thinking on Canadian security policy at what its authors view as a pivotal historical moment: the withdrawl of Canadian forces from combat in Afghanistan. This is a matter of no small importance for Canada. Even before 9/11, Canadian scholars, government and military officials, politicians and public figures had been engaged in a long series of debates about Canada’s place in the world, its support for and connection to the United States, the role of the military in security and foreign policy and, in fact, the very meaning of security itself. The international crises – humanitarian, economic, environmental – that unfold in front of Canadians on a daily basis only seem to make this debate more prescient.

In this regard, Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World is interesting for two interrelated reasons. First, it does not really stake out new ground. Its approach to Canadian strategic studies broadly supports the policies ushered in by the current government and urged on Canadians by hard-power advocates over the last 10 or 15 years.1 Nowhere in this collection are the merits of hard-power-oriented policies up for discussion. Their legitimacy is the assumed backdrop against which prescriptions for further developments along the same lines are recommended. Second, precisely because it does not break new ground, this collection ends up replicating many of the mistakes made in previous arguments supporting the use of Canadian hard power as a primary instrument of national policy.

Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World draws together 14 different essays – along with an editorial introduction and conclusion – that consider Canadian security policy through a five-part process: policy frameworks, domestic policy, Canadian engagement with various parts of the globe, the use of the military and threat assessment. Its contributors include academics and public commentators, almost all of who have some direct tie to the rising tide of militaristic scholarship that Ian McKay and Jamie Swift discussed in their book Warrior Nation.2 Some were well-known critics of the previous Liberal government’s approach to international and military affairs. At least one was an enthusiastic supporter of the American war in Iraq who expressed deep disdain for Canada’s refusal to participate.3

The authors urge Canada to focus on what they see as its interests: close cooperation with allies, particularly (at times almost exclusively) the United States, confronting security threats in other countries (or what McDonough calls “robust stabilization”), a stable international environment that ensures the movement of goods, and – sometimes – democracy. In short, this collection represents a “next step” argument on the part of hard power advocates. Having spent almost a decade publishing critiques of Liberal soft power policies, Canada’s rejection of the American ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield, cuts to military spending and the refusal to participate in the invasion of Iraq, the advocates of hard power now have a government that agrees with their perspective and can do something about it. The question for them is no longer the shape of Canadian foreign, military and security policy but how current policy trajectories can be strengthened, refined and enhanced.

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About the Author

Andrew Nurse
Andrew Nurse is Coordinator of Canadian Studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.




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