Years of Innocence and Drift: The Canadian
Way of War in the Post-Cold War Era
by Scot Robertson
On the night of November 7, 1989, the Berlin Wall was breached, setting off a wave of informal celebrations that swept across Europe and beyond. The Cold War had ended in a fashion that few had dared to hope possible — peacefully. While it would take several years yet to fully appreciate that the decades long stand-off between NATO and the Warsaw Pact (WP) was indeed a historical relic, it took little time for many NATO member-states to embark upon fanciful planning for a new world order. In doing so, statesmen, politicians and planners were engaging in behaviour with well-established roots, namely wishful thinking. Historically, the end of a major war — hot or cold — often results in the expectation that the settlement will be lasting.
Historically, this expectation is often proven to be false. Armed with this knowledge and understanding, wise statesmen would approach a plan for the future with a degree of circumspection. Expectations for the future, based on shallow and hasty deliberations often sow the seeds for longer-term disappointment.
A sage once commented that the greatest derangement of the human mind is to believe in something because one wishes it to be so. If that is indeed the case, then Canada suffered a surfeit of derangement as it contemplated a future free of the oppressive yoke of the Cold War confrontation. As the Berlin Wall fell, and the Cold War fizzled out, Canadian planning for the future, such as it was, was not based on a sober and cautious understanding of the prospects and pitfalls, but on a mixture of wishful thinking, naïve optimism, and an understandable but reckless rush to slash defence spending.
Perhaps the single best expression of the woolly headed thinking that characterized Canada’s hopes for the post–Cold War order can be