It’s called “Beyond AUKUS: Canada May Not Need Nuclear Subs — but It Is in Dire Need of a Strategy,” and it suggests that while the hype over Canada’s alleged exclusion from the recent Australia-UK-US security pact has been significantly overblown, Ottawa has a lot of work to do on the foreign and security policy front.
Most important to Carvin – and what makes the essay original in the context of an analysis of AUKUS – is a significant investment in the modernization of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).
Carvin interprets AUKUS as part of a broader American response to the rise of China that calls on US allies to take greater responsibility for their own defence.
I don’t disagree with her analysis of American thinking, nor with her policy recommendation per se, but I see the value of NORAD modernization through a different lens.
Whereas Carvin, among many others, emphasizes the centrality of the very real Chinese threat to global security, I’m less convinced that the impact of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive posture fundamentally alters Canadian geopolitics.
Consider the following statement:
“We, too, have our obligations as a good friendly neighbour, and one of them is to see that, at our own insistence, our country is made as immune from attack or possible invasion as we can reasonably be expected to make it, and that, should the occasion ever arise, enemy forces should not be able to pursue their way, either by land, sea or air, to the United States, across Canadian territory.”
The comments were first made in 1938, and then reiterated in the House Commons in 1939, by Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
King was famous for his aversion to concrete commitments of any sort, but even he recognized that the greatest threat to Canadian interests was a successful attack on the United States that had been planned in, and/or launched from Canada.
As much as the global dynamic is changing, it seems to me that King’s words are equally true today: the greatest threat to Canadian national security, political autonomy, and economic prosperity remains the collapse of the Canada-US geopolitical partnership.
Canada doesn’t need to commit to NORAD modernization because of increasing threats from China or Russia; it must do so to reassure Washington of its reliability as a responsible defender of North America and, by extension, the US-inspired liberal world order.
In that context, I take issue with Carvin’s operational policy prescription.
She wants Ottawa to lean forward and articulate an explicit strategy to “signal to our allies what Canada’s priorities are. This would help them identify issues of mutual interest and opportunities for collaboration.”
To her, “Ad hoc foreign policy is rarely good foreign policy.”
I am inclined to disagree. If, as I see it, the greatest threat to Canadian interests comes from our American ally losing faith in our reliability, then it’s critical that Ottawa understands exactly what Washington wants from it.
(For example, it is enough that Huawei technology is never used in Canada’s 5G network – a security issue – or must the company’s involvement be explicitly banned – a diplomatic one.)
Leaning too far forward requires the Canadian government to make assumptions about those wants. Inevitably, some of those assumptions will be wrong, and will limit Ottawa’s political flexibility.
Better, I think, to build a nimble foreign and defence policy establishment that can to respond to our allies’ shifting security priorities as they are made clear.
Doing so forgoes any possibility of national leadership on this particular part of world stage, but that shouldn’t matter.
Canada has no business leading the Western response to China. We are too vulnerable, and insufficiently powerful.
A genuine “we’re ready to contribute when asked” posture (here Carvin is absolutely right: we aren’t close to there yet) is more realistic, and more responsible.
On NORAD modernization, it’s always worth paying attention to what the University of Manitoba’s Andrea Charron has to say.
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