Canada’s politicians – and the people who advise them – have sacrificed the Canadian national interest on the altar of progressive and conservative ideology for far too long.
The foundation of Canada’s security and prosperity – the peace dividend Canadians have reaped because of our special relationship with the U.S. – is a historical anomaly. After 80 plus years of predictability, revisionist powers are destabilizing the international system once more. Naturally, Canada must evolve in tandem to confront the challenges we will face moving forward. The world is changing fast, and reality is catching up to Canada.
Liberal and Conservative governments have neglected the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) for decades. Take it from General Wayne Eyre: the CAF’s recruitment and retention problems, like its access to spare parts and ammunition, will worsen before they get better. Unfortunately, our military is clogged by bureaucracy, poorly equipped, underfunded, short-staffed, and overextended relative to our treaty allies and adversaries.
A strong CAF is crucial for Canada’s national interest: it enables us to project power, deter our adversaries, and pursue a grand strategy. Unfortunately, Canada lacks both the strategic vision and the hard power to do any of the above.
To confront these challenges, Canada needs more realists in the Prime Minister’s Office, the House of Commons, the Senate, Global Affairs, and the Department of National Defence. This will enable Canada to help itself in the international context of anarchy. It will also give Ottawa a louder voice in Washington, the perennial realist, and our most important ally.
Canada’s national interest is intimately tied to that of its southern neighbor. To be clear: Canada has benefited more from the post-World War II order (U.S. dollar reserve currency and American military primacy) than every country not named the United States of America. Canada is a member of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, NORAD, NATO, and USMCA. We share the world’s longest undefended border with the U.S., and each Canadian province trades more with the U.S. than it does with any of its individual provincial counterparts.
In line with a realist reorientation, Canada should increase its military expenditures to two per cent of GDP and ensure that at least 20 per cent of that two per cent is spent on purchasing major defense equipment. While Canada is the 6th biggest economy in NATO, we invest a lower percentage of GDP in the military than 5/6 of our treaty allies. In fact, only Slovenia, Belgium, Spain, and Luxembourg spend less on defense than Canada.
While extremists want Canada to withdraw from NATO and distance itself from the U.S., that is never going to happen. When it comes to navigating great power politics in the international arena, Canada has two options: to follow the U.S. on our terms or on its terms. Thus, a strong Canada is preferable to one that bandwagons behind the U.S. as a deadbeat and a freeloader.
If a great power conflict were to erupt in Europe or Asia tomorrow, Canada’s main contribution would be our most valuable resource: sacrificing bright and brave but poorly equipped young Canadians to the cause. Rest assured: Canada is no stranger to shedding blood on the frontlines of freedom. Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I, World War II, in Korea, and Afghanistan. They will do it again.
Evidently, no country wants to fight a great power conflict. In the event that Canada must, however, our politicians have a solemn obligation to prepare the CAF from beforehand – not for war, but for victory! If Canada’s politicians think that our adversaries are going to stop challenging us just because Global Affairs publishes a press release or because the House of Commons votes on a resolution condemning foreign interference, they are not only naïve and incompetent but also unfit to lead.
Our adversaries are ruthless. Forget their anti-Western sentiment and aggressive foreign policies, just study how they treat their own citizens. Like all bullies, our adversaries only understand the language of power. While weakness provokes their aggression, strength deters them. It’s time that Canada’s politicians read the room and prepare Canadians for what may come. The world is changing fast, and reality is catching up to all of us.
George Monastiriakos is a lawyer licensing candidate cited as a foreign affairs expert in more than half a dozen countries. You can read his published works at www.monastiriakos.com/publications. He can be reached on Twitter @monastiriakos.