Canada's Functional Isolationism and the Future of Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Ross, Douglas A. | International Journal, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Canada's Functional Isolationism and the Future of Weapons of Mass Destruction


Ross, Douglas A., International Journal


HELPING TO CONTAIN AND TO REVERSE THE PROCESS OF 'HORIZONTAL' proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is the most important security challenge facing Canada and the world community. Twenty-first century international security relations should comprise four elements: international security community-building through redistributive assistance; and the widespread inhibition and elimination of military capabilities for aggressive warfare under an ever-widening regime of verified self-restraint; ever more reliable arms control and disarmament verification that leads quickly towards disassembled 'virtual' nuclear arsenals; and, finally broadly collaborative, collective security enforcement of the world's emerging anti-WMD norms.

The threat of WMD can be tamed only through co-operative international measures. A closer, more intimate security relationship with the United States is inescapable - but that alone may deter responsible, out-ward-looking military reform in Ottawa. A Canadian retreat into hemispheric isolation militarily would only support those conservative forces in the United States who argue for American strategic disengagement from the world's troubles. Deciding to try to do something useful and responsible about proliferation and the rising risk of the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons would be a large and innovative step for any Canadian government. It would require farsighted political leadership able to develop a national consensus on political and strategic objectives. Clear goals for stability enhancement would have to be related to plausible and collectively affordable foreign aid and military capability. The temptation to yield to domestic political inertia and short-term economic self-interest is powerful. Without skilled, strategically sensitive leadership to explain how an active Canadian role might help to achieve radically improved international security, public support for military spending will remain low.(f.1)

Canada's population is half that of Britain, France, or Italy, and more than one and one-half that of Australia. It is almost three times that of Belgium, and more than 20 per cent larger than that of the four Scandinavian countries combined. In 1996 Canada's gross domestic product (GDP) was still larger than China's and India's and over half the size of faltering Russia's. Per-capita income is among the highest in the world. Thus, an easily accessible tax base has long been available for spending much more on international security than recent governments have been willing to contemplate. Negotiating the landmines ban, discouraging trade in small arms, promoting the United Nations arms register are all worthwhile, popular activities that polish the national self-image. But they should all be supplements to, not substitutes for, a proportionately equitable commitment of resources to the management and prevention of international conflict - and thus the containment of the WMD threat.

Future American governments will not 'police the world' alone. For almost fifty years the Soviet threat compelled disproportionate military expenditures and sacrifice by the United States. That world is gone. Only by enmeshing the capabilities of the United States and other leading powers in a co-operative security management regime where the burdens are widely shared does the world community have any plausible hope of avoiding warfare involving nuclear or other WMD.

Canadian international security policy does not require much innovation to justify force expansion and improvement. Over the past decade Ottawa helped pioneer the notion of co-operative security that involves substituting multilateral security dialogue, confidence-building measures, regional security co-operation, defence policy transparency, and so forth for traditional approaches based on narrow conceptions of national self-interest. By promoting alternatives to security through unilateral military build-up, co-operative security offered the hope of ameliorating or even ending the classic 'security dilemma' (wherein the efforts of individual states to improve their military security threatened neighbouring states, thereby triggering arms races, mutual suspicion, and often conflict). …

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