Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

The Geopolitics of Canadian Defense White Papers: Lofty Rhetoric and Limited Results

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

The Geopolitics of Canadian Defense White Papers: Lofty Rhetoric and Limited Results

Article excerpt


Throughout its history, Canada has struggled to develop consistent defense rhetoric and policy to match its lofty rhetoric about promoting international peace and security while being a valued member of the world's free nations. While Canadian military personnel have frequently fought and died for freedom, their government has been inconsistent in ensuring Canada has the military force structure and political and fiscal support necessary to remain a militarily credible member of the world's free nations and a valued ally of the U.S. This has been reflected in oscillating Canadian political attitudes and levels of public participation in the defense policymaking process from willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in continental and global security matters to a sanctimonious and utopian rhetorical idealism seeking to delusionally distance Canadians from hard power realities of human nature and international politics and security. This national security freeriding has occurred due to Ottawa's geographic proximity to the U.S. and close integration with U.S. military policymaking structures such as North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).1

Frustration over Canada's uncertain attitudes toward defense policy and spending was reflected in a February 3, 1947 speech in Canada's House of Commons by MP John Bracken (1883-1969) (Progressive Conservative (PC)-Neepewa, MB) attacking the Liberal Government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (18741950) (Liberal (LIB)-Glengarry, ON):

We have been placed in a ludicrous position. From the point of view of effectiveness we were the fourth striking power in the war, and we were in it from the time it began. We were welcomed on the battlefields, but we are excluded from the peace talks. Our soldiers were asked to fight, occupy a place in decisive battles and help to win wars. When it comes to peace making we are gracefully accorded only the privilege of submitting our views. Either we are a part of this world organization or we are not, and until all the mysticism is cleared away about what we are - a little, middle, or great power, a power on our own, a power working in cooperation in cooperation with other British countries, a North American power in association with the United States - until our government makes up its mind on some such questions as these, who can say whether our defence money is wasted or not?2

Canada was one of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) founding members with Foreign Minister Lester Pearson (1897-1972) (LIB-Algoma East, ON) signing the original agreement on April 4, 1949 in Washington, DC. Pearson, who would later serve as Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 also personified the idealistic utopian strand of Canadian security policymaking winning the Nobel Peace Prize for proposing and sponsoring the creation of a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula following the 1956 Arab-Israeli war which also involved France and the United Kingdom.3

Demonstrations of realism in Canadian national security policymaking during the 1950s were provided by Ottawa's participation in the Korean War in which more than 26,000 Canadians served and 516 were killed4 and by the May 12, 1958 NORAD agreement. This pact began in 1955 and sees U.S. and Canadian military forces engaging in aerospace warning and control of North American aerospace by monitoring man-made objects in space and detecting, validating, and warning of attack against North America by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles. NORAD is part of the U.S.' Northern Command (NORTHCOM) force structure and an April 28, 2006 extension to this agreement expanded this coverage to include maritime approaches with this arrangement being headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB), CO. These objectives are accomplished through networks of satellites, ground-based radar, airborne radar, and fighters to detect, intercept, and engage any air-breathing threats to North America. …

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