Directions in Canada's International Security Policy: From Marginal Actor at the Centre to Central Actor at the Margins

By Dewitt, David B. | International Journal, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Directions in Canada's International Security Policy: From Marginal Actor at the Centre to Central Actor at the Margins


Dewitt, David B., International Journal


INTRODUCTION: DEFENCE AND SECURITY

For some time now, Canadians have not been overly concerned about national defence.(f.1) They have felt no threat of imminent invasion; they have not seen their core values or institutions under challenge by some foreign, or even some domestic, force; they have not been coerced into domestic or foreign policies inimical to their preferences.(f.2) Indeed, the idea of national defence seems to be of decreasing relevance to most Canadians, except for the perception by some that the movement for Quebec sovereignty directly challenges Canadian security.(f.3)

But that does not mean that there has been no activity in this sector of public life. Since 1993 a series of government documents has emanated from the House, Senate, and the Departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and of National Defence (DND);(f.4) parliament has convened hearings; and the informed public has offered its assessments of foreign and defence policy.(f.5) To this list can be added the special reports commissioned to address specific concerns, including the Reserves, the Somalia Inquiry, maritime and naval issues, United Nations rapid reaction capability, procurement matters such as fixed wing and helicopter aircraft and conventionally powered submarines, the military justice system, and the 'quality of life' concerns of the families of members of the Canadian Armed Forces. What animates many of these efforts is a need to reorganize, reform, and refocus the Canadian military in the post--cold war world and to relocate it within Canadian society.

Both DFAIT and DND undertook internal assessments in the late 1980s of their respective capacities to formulate and implement policies attuned to the dramatic changes unfolding during the period, especially around East-West relations. Already, then, some analysts in Ottawa and in the academic community were keenly aware of the need to rethink their ideas about international security.(f.6) But even with well informed reviews and reports, the analyses and sentiments have still not been codified or consolidated into an overall strategic view of Canada's place in the world of war and peace. This is not the place to pursue the larger issue, but it is worth noting that, in spite of much effort by people within and outside of official circles, no single statement or document clearly articulates for Canadians what it means today to have a professional Canadian Armed Forces. Why should a significant, albeit decreasing, proportion of the government's budget and taxpayers' dollars go towards maintaining a military force?(f.7)

From Bosnia and Kosovo to Chechnya, the Great Lakes Region to Sierra Leone, Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, and Algeria to the Gulf, the use of organized force does not seem to have diminished. Enduring rivalries and protracted conflict and violence, whether intra- or interstate, are indicative of both the continuing utility and the perverse misuse of military force. It is equally obvious that none of these or, for that matter and to our good fortune, any other example directly threatens Canada - or at least only so far as it offends Canadian values and, for some, Canadian interests. Canadians and their government make that determination. For reasons ranging from the normative to the instrumental, they present these activities in ways that link Canadians to the event or to the outcome. These are not, in and of themselves, national defence concerns, though they are issues that are potentially within the mission and mandate of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Of course, some analysts have perceived palpable threats to Canada or to Canadian interests in a number of recent cases: fish and maritime zones on east and west coasts; Arctic issues; questions about the penetration of Canada by non-Canadian cultural forces, which are at least as relevant as they were thirty years ago; and who really controls the economy. The same issues, with their own particular colour, inform much of the nationalist debate around Quebec and federalism. …

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