Foreign Policy Challenges for Paul Martin: Canada's International Security Policy in an Era of American Hyperpower and Continental Vulnerability

By Ross, Douglas A. | International Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview
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Foreign Policy Challenges for Paul Martin: Canada's International Security Policy in an Era of American Hyperpower and Continental Vulnerability


Ross, Douglas A., International Journal


Irrespective of his field of study, the strategist, who is today's somewhat more scientific counterpart of the sorcerer and soothsayer of yesteryear, should in time be able to recognize at what point and to what extent the dynamics of a system shifts from a familiar earlier world to a relatively unknown new world.

-Albert Legault and Michel Fortmann(1)

CANADIAN PROBLEMS WITH AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY are unlikely to fade, even in the improbable event that the Democrats unseat the president in November 2004. Global political-strategic relationships are in the midst of a profound transformation that will end in either an essentially democratic, environmentally sustainable global community by the middle of this century, or a hell on earth, as a beleaguered, affluent, mostly white minority fight to protect their privileged, apartheid-like existence. George W. Bush's "imperial," "hegemonic," and "primacy"-seeking America is currently attempting to take charge of the core security issues of this process by demanding that the United States be given the primary legitimate authority to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the continuing threat of international terrorism. It is far from clear that Bush's foreign policy will be politically sustainable in the US. His administration's conduct of the Iraq war is not popular at home and deeply distrusted abroad. Bush has defined his task to include the democratization of Iraq, which is almost certainly beyond his army's abilities, given their too small numbers, lack of cultural familiarity with Iraq and inexperience in "peacebuilding."(2) A few thousand more war dead and the transparent failure of "Iraqi-ization" might damage Bush so badly that reelection will be impossible. A precipitate American withdrawal from Iraq coupled, perhaps, with another major terrorist attack against the US--one far worse than 9/11 involving a WMD--could pave the way for an era of neo-isolationism in American foreign policy.

A neo-isolationist America would be just as, if not even more, consequential to the outcome of the global transformation process. A critical debate has been occurring within the American national security policy community involving the most fundamental choices about US "grand strategy" for over a decade. Canadians will be powerfully affected by the outcome, and have more than a little interest in promoting a moderate, multilaterally inclined result--the selection of an American geopolitical strategy that does not entail a quest for permanent military superiority over all potential "peer competitors."(3) It is one thing to end up after an evolutionary historical process with military dominance, but it is quite another to set about as a matter of declared national policy to perpetuate that dominance indefinitely. Such hubris has already inspired fear among allies and rivals, and if continued will lead to "balancing" behaviour from other major powers and future crisis instability.(4)

Largely because of Canada's 15-year-long extraction of a deficit-fighting "peace dividend" from the Canadian Forces, Ottawa's ability to influence American grand strategy choices is minimal to nil. Canadian international security policy challenges, at their most basic, derive from the severe fiscal myopia of the national political elite, as well as Canadians' wilful ignorance of global geostrategic relationships. In effect, Canada's self-imposed disarmament has said "no" to the Bush team's appeal for help in Iraq far more effectively than "dino" Chretien's skeptical insistence on a legitimating UN framework as the sine qua non for Ottawa's direct involvement. Chretien's careful underreaction and studied avoidance of the language of crisis was part of a broader foreign policy approach that eschewed military involvement--and by implication rejected the American call for an international policy on counterproliferation. If Canadians were to fight for reasons of "alliance solidarity" (i.

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