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.

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.

Several key essays in this collection stake out the case for enhancing hard power policy in clear terms. In “NATO and the EU: Canada’s Security Interests in Europe and Beyond,” Alexander Moens argues that NATO remains a “vital interest to Canada” – of greater importance then the EU – “because it is the only effective vehicle through which to launch forward-based defensive actions.” He also isolates Russia as a potential new threat to Canada and NATO owing to its “autocratic tendencies” that have ushered in “a new type of ‘Cold War Lite.’” NATO is, moreover, a better vehicle for Canadian policy than the United Nations because the UN cannot mount effective military action. To support his point, Moens notes that without NATO, the United States would not have been able to put together its “coalition of the willing” in Afghanistan.

Thomas Adams makes a similar type of argument with regard to Canadian interests in the Asia-Pacific region, except that he sees Europe as of even less significance then Moens does. What makes the Asia-Pacific region important is not its economic potential (a matter drawn to Canadian attention in mainstream media) but its potential for war. After noting the volatility of this region, Adams explains that it “has been likened aptly to the powder keg of Europe prior to the outbreak of the First World War.” Here the real issues are North Korea’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and “the China-Taiwan situation is the flashpoint most likely to bring American and Chinese military forces into direct conflict with each other.”

For Adams, Canadians should not neglect this threat even though this potential conflict seems distant, because it “can nonetheless wreak havoc for Canadians at home.” Of even more importance is that the United States is involved in the Asia-Pacific, providing “a modicum of security and stability in an otherwise volatile region.” Because the United States is Canada’s largest trading partner, whatever affects it is, of necessity, of interest to Canadians. Adams does not mince words. In cases of conflict, Canada should “be prepared to stand firm with the United States and other allies against China.”

The most determined advocacy of hard power militarization, however, comes in J.L. Granatstein and David J. Bercuson’s chapter “From Paardeberg to Panjwai: Canadian National Interests and Expeditionary Operations.” The benefits of militarization, the authors contend, are many:

Doing so wins Canada diplomatic recognition, political acceptance, entree into arrangements, treaties and alliances that are important to Canada and Canadians, and a voice on how future international policies will be pursued. Were Canada not to take part in such missions abroad, friends and enemies alike would have concluded long ago that Canada is of no consequence, does not deserve to be heard, and ought not to be accorded any favours in bilateral or multilateral negotiations over any matter of consequence.

But according to Granatstein and Bercuson, not all foreign military missions are created equal. They suggest a series of rules to guide Canadian military deployment. It should be confined to situations where there are clear and achievable political objectives that are in Canada’s interest (hard power should never be used, they contend, for “chimerical aims”); hard power should be used only after being “authorized” by Parliament; Canada must retain control over its forces; and “Canada should not send forces abroad into combat operations … without some firm commitment of support … by the United States.”

The various chapters of Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World, then, make the case for a hard-power-based foreign and security policy and suggest its key foci in terms of geographic areas, specific branches of the military and international relations. What we need to ask is whether or not this is the best course of action for Canada and the most effective role Canada can play on the world stage. In other words, should Canada continue – indeed, even enhance – remilitarization, the foreign deployment of Canadian forces and aggressive confrontational international rhetoric, and follow the American international military and foreign policy lead? There are good reasons to question such conclusions.

First, the idea that hard power secures interests, maintains friendships and wins international concessions lacks both substantive and historical support. We’ve heard these arguments before. The Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute’s In the National Interest: Canadian Foreign Policy for an Insecure World (2003) argued a decade ago that Canada’s efforts in the 1990s to address its massive deficit and huge public debt by taking advantage of the so-called post–Cold War “peace dividend” were a mistake. Instead of cutting spending to rein in the debt, the government should have increased it to modernize and expand the military. In the National Interest was one of a series of works claiming that lack of military power hurt Canada on the international stage, and particularly with the United States. In fact, these two issues – sway with the United States and international reputation – were treated as if they were synonymous. Canada’s refusal to participate in the invasion of Iraq and the Martin government’s decision to finalize Canada’s de facto rejection of the BMD shield were supposedly other examples. The costs, we were told, were low, and the repercussions of rejecting the United States were grave.

One interesting characteristic of McDonough’s collection is that it ignores the recent history of hard power advocacy, perhaps because that history fails to demonstrate many of the points it takes for granted. The invasion of Iraq turned into a morass and the United States now concedes that the BMD shield does not work. What has been either ignored or forgotten by Canadian hard power advocates is that both decisions – not participating in the invasion of Iraq and rejecting the BMD shield – ended up being the right decisions. Both policies were deeply unpopular with Americans who turned to a government interested in regenerating multilateral foreign policy and finding ways to bring American troops home. To have embraced the invasion of Iraq and BMD would only have saddled Canada with foreign and military policies designed to mirror those of the United States after the Americans had determined that neither policy was viable. Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World indicates how quickly this history has been forgotten.

The same thing might be said about the use of the military to win U.S. and international respect today. Hard power advocates believe this point so uncritically that they do not even bother to provide evidence to sustain it. However, this position ignores a number of important questions: With whom does militarization win respect? Whom does confrontational international rhetoric actually influence? What concessions are actually earned?

These are not rhetorical questions. Previous discussions of Canadian hard power focused on ensuring influence with the United States as a primary goal and the importance of the United States is an oft-repeated theme of this collection. Granatstein and Bercuson, for example, are willing to accord the United States a de facto veto over Canadian military policy – something that strikes me as a threat to sovereignty and democracy. But whether or not remilitarization or even military support for American policy guarantees influence in Washington is an open question. As Jennifer Welsh notes in At Home in the World, Britain’s support for the American invasion of Iraq did little to win concessions in other policy fields such as trade. In the Canadian case, the long commitment to Afghanistan won U.S. praise, but produced no changes in American policy on contentious issues like softwood lumber trade and Arctic sovereignty.

Nor could it. As David Dyment has pointed out, U.S. policy formulation is complicated and involves Congress, federalism, arms-length corporations, local interests and an extensive range of cross-border and international agreements.4 The U.S. president – however happy he might be with Canada – remains bound by American law and constrained by American politics. Canada, quite simply, is a foreign country and so, of necessity, is of less importance than domestic interests.5

What is equally important to note for those concerned about maintaining access to the American market is the remarkable complexity of Canadian-American relations, a subject that goes without discussion in Canada’s National Security. By 2003, as Robert Wolfe noted some years ago, Canada and the United States had signed something like 270 different treaties and agreements regulating everything from trade to road signs.6 To argue that Canada needs remilitarization to ensure access to the United States requires a belief that the United States would break these agreements – in effect, violate international law – to force Canada into line.

The problem with this argument is its assumption that the United States does not benefit from the Canadian-American relationship (which includes NAFTA) and a relatively open northern border. Cross-border economic integration (such as just-in-time supply and production chains) and the fact that Canada exports important resources to the United States (not the least of which is energy) shows that hard power is only one part of a very large picture. The United States, as a sovereign country, has every right to be concerned about its own border security in the same way that any country does, and Canadians should not be too quick to attribute sinister purposes to American security concerns. But the open border is in the interest of the United States. Even after 9/11, problems with border transit were solved in what in retrospect was a remarkably short time – and this at the height, according to hard power advocates, of Canada’s supposed commitment to soft power.

Beyond relations with the United States, the idea that hard power “wins friends and influences people” becomes even more problematic. Exactly how Canada’s post-Liberal shift to staunch, unquestioning support for Israel, Harper’s original tough talk to China and now the decision to break relations with Iran enhanced Canada’s international reputation is not clear. Nor is it at all clear that Canada’s international reputation suffered during the supposed wrong turn to soft power. Much clearer are Harper’s backtracking on China and the UN’s embarrassing decision to reject Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council. The shift to hard power seems to have produced a response that was the exact opposite of the one its advocates hoped for.

Finally, it is far from clear how the use of hard power will help Canada address its own pressing international problems, such as Arctic sovereignty. In fact, the issue of Arctic sovereignty may illustrate the limits of hard power. Canada’s National Security isolates the Arctic as a site of potential conflict with Russia for which Canada needs to be militarily prepared. But how could Canada be militarily prepared to fight Russia? The level of militarization required, the level of state spending and the need to develop nuclear arms preclude that possibility. Moreover, focusing on a Russian threat neglects that fact that Russia is not the only country that does not share Canada’s views of Arctic sovereignty. Both the United States and the European Union dispute Canada’s position as well, an example of how the world does not break down neatly into categories of friend and enemy, ally and threat.

No one is saying that Canada should not have a presence in the Arctic (although I worry about any rush to exploit energy and other resources in that fragile ecology). What I am saying is that a negotiated solution that protects the Arctic environment and its people is in everyone’s best interest. Because of Canada’s Arctic land sovereignty, Canada must, of necessity, be involved in those negotiations for them to work on an international level. Rogue shipping through the Arctic is neither in Canada’s best interest nor anyone else’s; because of its land base Canada alone is in a position to do something about it. This is an example where the best course of action is to work with other countries and the inhabitants of the north.

Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World is problematic precisely because it does not take advantage of the historic moment it claims to have found. We have already read the arguments its authors make. The difference is tone. Hard power advocates no longer seek to convince Canadians or their government of their perspective. They assume it needs no explanation and so can now argue for an even larger navy or for specific regional military deployment. This is this collection’s real problem as both policy and scholarship. Because it fails to assess the validity of its basic assumptions, it ends up repeating past mistakes and drawing problematic conclusions.

For Canadians, hard power comes at a cost, both human and economic. The human cost has already been well discussed, the economic cost less so. As the Harper government embraces hard power more fully, it outlines major new and potentially open-ended expenditures, further commitments to unproven technologies and long-range plans that seem designed to lock Canada into hard-power politics. This might indeed be a good moment to consider the merits of this policy. But to do so, scholars, at least, need to break new ground, question assumptions, examine history and explore the evidence. In doing so, they would make Canadian strategic studies more important and, I suspect, far less certain of hard power options.


1 Department of National Defence, Canada First Defence Strategy (Ottawa: Author, 2008).

2 Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2012).

3 J.L. Granatstein, Whose War is It? How Canada can Survive the Post-9/11 World (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007).

4 David Dyment, Doing the Continental: A New Canadian-American Relationship (Toronto: Dundurn, 2010).

5 This is, of course, simply recognition of reality and not a problem. After all, would Canadians prefer to have the United States treat Canada as if it were part of the United States?

6 Robert Wolfe, “See You in Washington: A Pluralist Perspective on North American Institutions,” Choices, Vol. 9, No. 4 (April 2003).

Photo by ISAF Public Affairs