What Kind of Friends Does America Need?

By Major David Last, PhD | 2002-10-01 12:00:00

To judge by our newspapers we grieved with the Americans over 9/11, to be snubbed by an insensitive president. Worse yet, Americans did not seem to share our national grief following the death of four soldiers in Afghanistan, serving under American command and killed accidentally by an American aircraft. Americans seemed oblivious; Canadians were irked. (Actually, I received thoughtful messages from many American colleagues.) Now Bush seems set to take on Saddam Hussein, and Canada appears reluctant. Time to cool our tempestuous north-south friendship? I argue the opposite. Not only does Canada need the United States more than ever, but paradoxically, the United States needs Canada in a way that Americans might find surprising. America needs us to go on being uncomfortably Canadian, whether they notice us or not. But we have to expect to pay for influence.

Bush's war on terrorism can never yield victory while the teeming slums of the Third World produce alienated youth who hate America. America is deeply divided. Its qualities make it the savior of the Western World, the victor of the Cold War, and a great neighbor for Canada. But the political and economic freedoms making it an engine of the global economy have produced the modern equivalent of the 19th century robber-baron capitalists, with a global reach. Worse, the spirit that moved the Marshall Plan, the Helsinki compromises, and the Peace Corps has retreated. An Asian human rights activist can claim, "I am now convinced that American democracy requires the suppression of democracy in the rest of the world." The war on terrorism won't be won without allies who demonstrate that this is not so.

America needs allies to help it stay engaged globally, to stand up for it in democratic circles, and to stand with it against authoritarianism and terror. It needs friends to tell the American people, in their own language and their own media, what is going on in the world around them and why. Canada is singularly well placed to do this. But we cannot do it by "little-Canada" policies, by anti-Americanism, or by skimping on our international obligations. Our niche arises from the American response to disorder, and the decisions of Canadian governments over decades.

the New World Disorder

For more than a decade military planners have tried to redefine national security in post Cold-War terms. But the factors undermining international security have not really changed. Beneath the superpowers' nuclear stand-off, most of the violence in the world since 1945 has been intra-state protracted social conflict. Even in the privileged West, deaths from poverty, disease, and domestic strife dwarf those from international conflict. But these threats have not been defined in national security terms, nor have they won allocation of "national security" resources. Terrorist attacks will encourage further spending on military solutions.

The Quadrennial Defence Review Report (QDR), published in September 2001, sets lofty goals for American policy. Their aim is to "promote peace, sustain freedom, and encourage prosperity." Who could complain? Americans intend to contribute to economic well-being through encouraging the vitality of the global economy. Distance provides no safety. New threats in weak and failing states will diffuse power to non-state actors, resulting in unpredictable new conflicts, possibly involving weapons of mass destruction, and competition in space and cyberspace. In response, the QDR states, the United States will abandon the old doctrine of preparing for two major regional conflicts and aim instead for military dominance across a full spectrum of capabilities. There will be forward deployment, readiness to act quickly, and "intellectual, social, and technological" transformation of the US military.

In the US Department of Defense, thinking has shifted since the 1984 Weinberger doctrine, which sets limits on military deployment. The United States would only get involved if there were vital national interests at stake, if there were clear and achievable objectives, if there was the intent to win, if there was popular and congressional support, and if there was no other option. The change started under Clinton and Albright: military power was there to be used in support of globalization, democracy, and freedom:

"As a rationale for the role of the United States in the world, 'Globalization' today has become the functional equivalent of the phrase 'Free World' during the 1950s and 1960s. The apparent inevitability of globalization would seem to permit the United States to relax, while NAFTA, the WTO and the APEC forum pry open new markets for American entrepreneurs to exploit. In fact, nothing is more likely to endanger the project than passivity on the part of the United States."

Active American military engagement is a price of stability in the global economy. In the United States, critics on the right and left equally condemn this zeal to remake the world. On the right, the Cato Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations warn of over-extension, abuse of executive powers, and the undermining of the constitution, but justify the narrow pursuit of American national self-interest. On the left, NGOs and anti-globalization activists warn of the military industrial complex, corporate domination, and expanding government powers. What is a neighbor to make of it? Do we like the way the global economy works? Would we be better off if it didn't? Both the triumph of globalization and American military supremacy require a level of effort to which the American public seems not wholly committed.

The Canadian opportunity lies in this American ambivalence. A rules-based international order is unquestionably in our interests. We need the United States to feel secure enough to abide by the rules political and economic and to work actively to expand the global economy. But Americans need to understand how the global economy feels to other countries. They must not be, as Andrew Bacevich puts it, "diverted by gaudy prosperity and insulated from the moral and political ambiguities that accompany United States intrusions abroad." With 85 percent of our trade going to the United States, we are more dependent on the global economy than any part of the United States.

Military Friendship

The US population is about 300 million; Canada's is about 30 million. But US forces include about 22 divisions, and Canada's not quite one. Size is less important than capability. In military circles in Canada, we debate whether it is necessary for Canada's army, navy and air forces to be able to work together. We assume that they will only be deployed in coalitions or within alliances as in the past, and therefore they must work well with allies, but a Canadian pilot may never have to talk to a Canadian army forward air controller in operations. We contribute ships, fighter aircraft squadrons, and battalions to allied army divisions. We contribute staff officers, intelligence officers, and signallers to the multinational, but mainly American, headquarters that direct complex operations. With a tiny fraction of the deployed force, Canadians often do not occupy many key positions.

Full spectrum dominance, however, will give us new ways to contribute, whether our government chooses to buy the latest military equipment or not. New military thinking, spurred by experiences of post-Cold War conflict management, acknowledges multiple "centres of gravity," each with critical targets and vulnerabilities. Military headquarters in Bosnia, East Timor, and Afghanistan are introducing instruments of national influence -- political, economic, social and military. This poses challenges for officers who have not yet undergone the intellectual transformations demanded by new strategies.

Peacebuilding, not combat

Canada can still make significant contributions at the margins in these operations, particularly in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. Closer cooperation between the Canadian Forces, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and non-governmental organizations with official support can help fill a gap that Americans approach only at the risk of greater vulnerability. Thus we are deploying a CIDA peacebuilding officer with the Canadian combat team in the UN Mission in Eritrea-Ethiopia. Even if we could deploy larger quantities of the latest weapons and equipment, bridging the gap to long-term peace might still be a better use of Canadian military and police resources.

The choice of peacebuilding over combat is rational for the Canadian Forces because they are comparatively small and weak, by the conscious choice of successive governments, which have had to juggle priorities demanded by Canadian citizens. These choices have stategic implications. Existing arrangements within NORAD represent a compromise of both American and Canadian sovereignty. Americans accept senior Canadian officers in decision-making positions within their strategic early warning system. Canadians accept joint decision-making about our airspace. We surrender some sovereignty in continental defence in exchange for decision-making roles in NORAD. But we must also be prepared to pay with combat personnel and equipment. Early indications are that Canada will not join a continental defence plan addressing land and sea approaches, because threats on land and sea materialize more slowly than air and missile threats, allowing time for a national response. But negotiations are in progress to permit US and Canadian troops to serve together in either country under a common command.

If we cannot defend Canadian territory, we must accept assistance or risk becoming a vulnerability to our neighbor. We must then manage the assistance our neighbor feels necessary. Increasing our payments towards common security is one approach. However, the bills for missile defence and the militarization of space may be very large indeed. Buying into these programs could eclipse our conventional military budget, at the same time as it makes Canada unwelcome with many of her diplomatic allies. We stand to lose military and diplomatic leverage. Canadians might be better served by increasing our conventional military and foreignaid contributions.

David Last teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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