On 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.