Formulating Canada's Grand Strategy in Asia

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Canada will have to escape the mire of the mid-Atlantic mindset and develop a comprehensive economic and political strategy for the Asia Pacific. Daryl Copeland, 1999(f.1)

SINCE THE END OF THE COLD WAR, Canada has made important contributions to the peaceful development of Asia's security environment, largely in ways that reflect what might be called a liberal internationalist approach, with stress on such things as building international institutions, international law, and multilateral co-operation. Canada's impact can be seen, for example, in the growing number of multilateral security dialogues or 'track-two diplomacy,'(f.2) which it helped to initiate with the North Pacific Cooperative Security Dialogue in 1990. Non-traditional concepts of co-operative security and human security have become a part of policy language spoken by security specialists in those multilateral forums, and Canada has been a leading promoter of these policy ideas.(f.3) It could be argued, however, that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, track-two diplomacy has run out of steam in the Asia-Pacific. Although a degree of trust among Asian nations has been built up under the auspices of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) and the Regional Forum (ARF) of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations),(f.4) it remains to be seen whether that will translate into concrete and meaningful agreements on preventive diplomacy which can then be implemented.(f.5) This problem is compounded by the fact that traditional security problems involving military weapons and threats linger on in northeast and south Asia, with which the multilateral dialogue exercise is ill-equipped to deal.

Canada now has an opportunity to reassess its national interest in Asian security affairs. To do so, it should step back from the liberal internationalist approach that it has pursued thus far.(f.6) What, then, might Canada's long-term strategy look like through an alternative, realpolitik framework of security analysis? The exercise can help to clarify Canadian interests and the challenges Canada must face if it is to maintain its liberal internationalist approach in Asia. Only by clearly understanding where Canada stands in the Asian geostrategic environment, in other words, can an effective strategy be formulated to promote further the non-traditional concepts of security in that environment.(f.7)

Canada needs to articulate the geopolitical logic of its Asia policy for another reason: it has not yet fully succeeded in persuading Asians (particularly northeast Asians), who typically employ the realpolitik frame of reference in understanding their regional security affairs, why it is in Canada's strategic interest to get involved in Asian security affairs. Canada's 'physical remoteness, negligible military capability, and relatively minor stake in the region (compared with that of virtually everyone else), mean that other Pacific Basin states naturally have difficulty thinking of Canada as a player.'(f.8) Canada aggravates this situation by using the language of liberal internationalism to describe its interests in Asian security affairs, which merely reinforces the existing Asian view that Canada does not have 'true' (that is, geostrategic) reasons to be involved in Asian security affairs.

Let us start by frankly acknowledging that Canada is a status-quo power, enjoying the world order established by the victors in the Second World War and the cold war, and that its liberal internationalist approach to global security affairs has worked, in the final analysis, to sustain that world order. Canadians may want to see themselves as honest brokers or as problem solvers with clean hands, neutral in the power struggle between the defenders and the challengers of the world order. But the truth is that Canada is in the middle of the power struggle, and Asia is one of the theatres where the struggle is taking place. Canada's global strategic goal is to maintain the current world order dominated by the Anglo-American powers, the core victors in the Second World War and the cold war, by co-opting potential challengers and by consolidating its coalition with other status-quo powers within and beyond the Anglo-American circle. …