Hard power an outdated concept

Reading conservative newspapers lately I found one resounding consensus: Canada’s foreign and defense policies are in very rough shape. There is a measure of truth found in such articles.

Canada has not issued a white paper (a position paper describing government policy) on defense policy since 1994. This is a long stretch to go without updating our policy. Although the current white paper does not need a complete overhaul, there are sections needing attention, such as Canadian-American relations after September 11.

More interesting than complaints about white papers is the strange thrust of most arguments put forward by conservative pundits, specifically that Canada must search for opportunities to recapture its international reputation. One commentator of this ilk is David Bercuson, a professor of military history here at the University of Calgary.

On Tue., Sept. 9, Bercuson contributed a story to the National Post arguing Canada needs to restore its hard power–hard power being a euphemism for things that go boom. In short, he wanted more military hardware and more military personnel to use it.

Soft power, on the other hand, is economic and social power, like culture and trade. Soft power is seen to be Canada’s strength.

Bercuson gave six points detailing how the Canadian government has dismantled our armed forces. Among these points were statements the government has convinced Canadians "it is immoral for Canada to have national interests" and "Canadians’ real international duty is to export Canadian values, i.e., to instruct the rest of the world how to be nice, like us."

He went on to lament the lack of hard power in Canadian defense policy and detail how hard power would help us to "open foreign doors," and "protect access to U.S. markets."

The reason Bercuson thinks hard power is so necessary to ensure access to American markets is that the White House wants us to protect "northern approaches." In other words, we need hard power because the States wants us to have it.

As long as we are able to keep the commitments we have already made to the U.S., we should be in no danger of further sanctions. We must realize we need not be America’s lapdog to ensure access to their markets. George W. Bush is against free trade when it doesn’t work for Americans, but the mutual benefit accorded both states by NAFTA should be enough to safeguard access to the American market. Softwood lumber disputes started in the 1980s and have more to do with a powerful lobby than with Canada-U.S. security relations. The current beef crisis has more to do with American ability to export beef to Japan than security relations. The point is security relations have little impact on mutually beneficial trade.

As for opening foreign doors, I would be interested to know how Canadian hard power has ever opened foreign doors. It may have kept the doors of our allies opened, but never opened closed ones. There are no Canadian parallels to Commodore Matthew Perry’s landing in Japan in 1853, and subsequently opening Japan to the world.

International reputation and hard power will have little effect on the policies of any power, major or middle. Furthermore, Canada cannot create enough hard power to dictate terms to any country. Even further, there is nothing to indicate Canadians are into dictating anything to anyone.

The French, a country with significant hard power, could not convince the U.S. to delay their second venture into Iraq. Most of their hard power is focused on cleaning up messes they left behind in Africa.

Bercuson’s thinking ignores the realities of the Canadian predicament. Canada is not in need of any more hard power than it already has. We live isolated from the rest of the world excepting the United States. We need not commit ourselves anywhere except out of generosity or goodwill. There is risk of terrorist attack, but hard power will never protect us from terrorism.

Israel, for example, has hard power like none of its neighbors and is not afraid to use it, yet it is constantly a target for attack. In fact, excessive hard power could be said to be a source of terrorist attacks. When a people knows it has no chance of beating a state in war, they are driven underground to wage war by other means.

Pride may be the main reason, other than pleasing the U.S., for Canada to acquire hard power. Having toys to blow things up is of major importance for many regimes around the world, the bulk of them despotic.

We need not have pride in our ability to kill others, it is below us.

The politics of pride belong on the playground, not in an international system where interdependence and mutual benefit has superceded the need for threats. Hard power, at least in Canada, is a ghost of the Cold War, which is exactly where the military historian’s mind is stuck.

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