Canada must champion non-military responses to global challenges

20170606_pg1_01On June 6th, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland gave an address to the House of Commons that outlined the government’s approach to foreign policy in the era of Donald Trump.

By and large, the statement drew accolades from media commentators for championing a rules-based international order and Canada’s determination to play a key role within it, particularly as the Trump administration turns its back on the idea of international leadership.

The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.

…we will robustly support the rules-based international order, and all its institutions, and seek ways to strengthen and improve them. (Chrystia Freeland)

As welcome as these statements are, the speech offered virtually no insights into how Canada might actually go about supporting and strengthening the United Nations, other global institutions and international law.

What Minister Freeland did make absolutely clear, however, was the importance of “hard power” and the “billions” needed to sustain it:

Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power. Force is of course always a last resort. But the principled use of force… is part of our history and must be part of our future. To have that capacity requires a substantial investment, which this government is committed to making.

Delivered the day before the release of the new Canadian defence policy statement, Strong, Secure, Engaged’, the speech laid the groundwork for a massive increase in defence spending and renewed emphasis on “hard power” while purporting to champion Canadian leadership on such urgent issues as climate change, gender inequality, and poverty alleviation – not one of which is amenable to a military solution.

And if there is one area where the United States is not retreating from the global scene, it is in relation to military activity.

Trump has pledged to increase the already bloated U.S. defence budget, has augmented American military forces in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and has engaged in reckless sabre rattling with North Korea and Iran.  (Peggy Mason, Rideau Institute)

Even if the USA were backing away from its international military commitments – which it is not – any increase in Canadian hard power, no matter how gargantuan from our perspective, would be a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to replacing the American military juggernaut. In 2016, the American national defence budget was roughly $611 billion. Canada spent roughly $20 billion in that same period. Put in other terms, the new Canadian defence policy’s proposed $62 billion, 20-year budget increase will account for around 10% of what the U.S. spends in one year. Canada will not be matching American hard power anytime soon.

And this is a good thing. Because what is really needed was what the speech promised but did not deliver on – at least in any tangible way – Canadian leadership in non-military responses to global challenges.

With no direct military threat to Canadian territory, we should restore and expand emphasis on war prevention and peaceful conflict resolution and give priority to building the United Nations envisaged by its Charter. Canada can be a beacon of hope in an unsettled world by pursuing and promoting, wherever possible, conflict prevention, the peaceful resolution of disputes and sustainable peace-building. We can press for multilateral over unilateral responses. We can be a constructive, innovative problem solver, striving to bring conflicting parties closer together to resolve their differences. We can thereby stave off or hasten the repair of breaches of the peace, limit human suffering and environment degradation and minimize costly military interventions. (Civil Society Submission to Defence Policy Review)


Photo credit: Prime Minister Trudeau website.


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15 Responses to “Canada must champion non-military responses to global challenges”

  1. Anne StreeterJuly 22, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

    Hard power indeed! Trudeau doesn’t have the guts of his father and the ambitious and scary Chyrstia Freeland seems to have Justin wrapped around her little finger. There will be no blue berets while these two are in office!

  2. Michael C DunneJuly 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    When will the Orwellian language of the warmongers be called out for what it is. Freeman and the generals are not talking of preparation for war when they speak of “Canadian defence policy statement, Strong, Secure, Engaged’

    The invading of other nations and the personal or drone killing of citizens of those nations is NOT an act in defence of Canada and the armed killers we send to carry out these acts are not acting “for our country” but for ideological reasons intended to sell more arms; promote permanent war; and preserve the hegemony of the 0.1% Economic Feudal Lords who direct world economies today.

    • Michael C DunneJuly 22, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

      Correction: Freeland and the Generals ARE talking of preparation for war!

  3. Sue StroudJuly 22, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    We need a greater conversation about this, perhaps from early years in school right up to a dedicated University for Peace and Diplomacy.

  4. DemetriosJuly 22, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    If we try to understand the mindset of military personnel, we might see that they consider arms reduction and the facilitation of peaceful resolution between belligerents as boring or ineffectual. What they want is more cutting edge arms and equipment to make their existence meaningful in preparation for the possibility of war.

    The problem is that Canada has had no enemies until we joined the Americans in the “War on Terror”. We’re not setting up military bases all over the world in preparation for who knows what. We haven’t been agitating and acting in secrecy against other cultures under the pretense of “spreading democracy”, have we? Our involvement with NATO in Libya was to help effect “regime change” of a country that was one of Africa’s leading economies and has now become a fractured hell. We are in Ukraine and Syria as “trainers” right? Someone has to help them against their perceived enemies that America has declared as terrorists, despots and tyrants?

    There are elements in our government and big business that want us involved with the Americans, Israel, NATO and Saudi Arabia so that the world could be made according to their perception, in a way that gives them carte blanche to carry out very questionable pursuits. The Canadian military is only too happy to oblige. We can’t be a bunch of wussy peace negotiators. We gotta get in there and fight the fight with our shiny new war toys. We gotta show our “partners” that we mean business. We are an instrument of our government and the big corporations to carry out the protocol of conflict wherever it may be. We can demonstrate to the world that Canada can push its weight around and create enemies just like the Big Guys can, because a world without conflict isn’t of much use to a military.

    • Sue StroudJuly 22, 2017 at 11:28 am #

      Some military personnel, please do not make blanket assumptions. Many military personnel would like nothing better than to resolve conflicts through peaceful means. Having said that I’ve always felt that those going into policing or the military should be subject to regular psychological evaluation, counselling and retraining.

      • DemetriosJuly 22, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

        Well Sue, you are right. The problem is that those military personnel that want to reach out with an olive branch are unfortunately a minority. The police authorities train their officers in a very military fashion, to take orders from the brass. I too wish that there would be a psychological screening done, but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. Mary GrohJuly 22, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    If global leadership is up for grabs, we can only hope and pray that that mantle will be caught by a power that leads toward peace. Is that Canada?
    Not likely, as long as Canada is stocking up on resources for hard power.

  6. Marie LloydJuly 22, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    “Hard power”? And just where has that gotten Canada, let alone this world? “Hard power” is raging in Syria, breaking bones and smashing families, and all we can do is scoop a few breathing people off the bloody terrain. And, with private donations from citizens, help build an underground maternity hospital in Syria so babies and their mothers won’t be torn apart during the helpless deliveries.
    Just exactly- even with the new heroin injection of billions of dollars-just exactly how much “hard power” are we imagining we’ll possess, and just where will it be getting us?
    Canada is declining to sign the new UN treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. Truly- “hard power” at its mightiest! All Hail Hard Power!

  7. Judith WappJuly 21, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    “Canada must be a refuge from militarism” – Pierre Elliot Trudeau (approximate quote)

  8. jay teeJuly 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

    Indeed Canada should stand away from American hegemony and a servile cog in the NATO war machine. Geographically we have much more in common with Russia than the Yanks… vast boreal forests, huge pools of petroleum resources, grain fields reaching to the horizon, minerals. water …

    • Sue StroudJuly 22, 2017 at 11:31 am #

      Not for much longer will we have these things, we have wasted our resources, failed to address climate change which is the biggest security threat the world has ever seen and we still aren’t planning for the changes we will be facing including massive immigration from the US bringing with it so much that we deplore.

  9. Lavina ShawJuly 21, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

    We need more building towards peace instead of war. Thanks for doing this.


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