Canadian Foreign Policy and the International Environment

By Segal, Hugh | Canadian Speeches, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Canadian Foreign Policy and the International Environment


Segal, Hugh, Canadian Speeches


Since the end of the Cold War and September 11, the world has changed in several critical ways. Current foreign policy conditions create a spectrum of risks, but with proper assessment and change, they can be avoided. Canada must have the will to pursue, fund and project foreign policy national interests, support our allies, and sustain sovereignty through economic strength. Speech to the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, Toronto, June 13, 2002.

It is almost axiomatic that the nature of the foreign policy opportunities and threats Canada and our allies now face has changed dramatically. Of course, in strategic terms every time a fundamental shift becomes conventional wisdom, that is a particularly good time to reflect on whether we are creating an orthodoxy as confining as the last.

The historic decision not to deploy another military rotation to Afghanistan -- a decision I view as tragic but likely unavoidable, is a watershed in Canada's defence and foreign policy. It is a watershed because it is the first post-war departure from what I have liked to refer to as the Sokolsky Principle, enunciated on various occasions by Joel Sokolsky, the dean of Arts and Science at the RMC [Royal Military College] and an advisor to the IRPP Research programme on National Security and Military Interoperability. Simply stated, in response to the unending concern about armed forces that are under-financed, below necessary complement or insufficiently equipped, Sokolsky always arrayed the historic fact that every time Canadian forces were dispatched to do a job, they did it exceedingly well, punched well above their weight, brought honor to Canada and the flag and returned from their task with

kudos all around. As every deployment seemed to be extremely well-charged, why Sokolsky would ask, would the "gove rnment du jour," take the lament about insufficient sources seriously? Now while those who care, including Sokolsky, understand that the cost of being understaffed in terms of families and training time was huge, from the politician's perspective Sokolsky held that when Canada had a foreign, domestic, or security reason to deploy armed forces, they would be deployed. The outstanding men and women in uniform would do a great job. The problem seemed perpetually manageable.

Well, the Sokolsky principle only holds water if a deployment can actually be made. If the general staff and government determine that we lack the capacity or flexibility to make a deployment or a rotation then the Sokolsky Principle no longer applies.

What this particular watershed lays open for the broad public and even the most complacent of politicians is that we now cannot do anything like our fair share in support of like-minded allies and coalitions even when confronting a particular threat to our national security is an absolute national priority; so when any prime minister says in good faith, "we will stand shoulder to shoulder" with our allies we must add the qualifying phrase, "from time to time.

The outstanding, most recent reports of the Standing Committee on National Defence, the work of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, the work of David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein, recent research reports by the C.D. Howe Institute and the IRPP, all underline what I needn't repeat here.

So as we look at the spectrum of external opportunities and threats and the way they have changed, we must be mindful of how our lack of political capacity, our lack of will to face the threats directly with genuine resources is at least as central to the threat we face as the actual threat itself.

The recent analysis of the needs of the army of the future distributed by the Commander of the Army, General Jeffrey, is clearly impacted in some considerable respect by this lack of political will. The commander of the army is a realist -- precisely what Canadians would want a commander of the army to be; so his report is both a strategic design around special forces, rapid deployment and enhanced and specialized training and cutting the cloth to fit like budgetary reality. …

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