A case for the defense

By Shuvaloy Majumdar

“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 a risk of terrorist attack, but hard power will never protect us from terrorism.”

So pens Michael Jankovic, an otherwise formidable columnist at this paper. The "Canada as a fireproof house, far from any flame" philosophy is as dead as those who invented it, especially in the post-September 11 world. Were it not for leading thinkers like Professor Bercuson, Canada’s sole ambitions would be limited to passing futile landmine treaties or hosting conferences where dictators and authoritarian regimes gain both credibility and stature.

Bob Fulford, in a column in the National Post on Sat., Oct. 3, summed up Canada’s most recent foreign policy choices better than I ever could. He wrote, "government-sanctioned thugs in Iran recently beat a Canadian citizen to death, government police in Saudi Arabia tortured another Canadian and the Pakistani dictator dined in our capital with our Prime Minister. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are all dictatorships. We stand on one side of a great chasm of history, they on the other."

I should preface this piece with a disclaimer. I have never been, nor am presently, a student of Dr. Bercuson. But I am a fan of the man’s insights into Canada’s place in the world, and especially of the proposals he advocates. I am a fan because he understands the devastating cost of war, yet is wise enough to know the peace and freedom we enjoy today will continue to exist only if our military meets the new challenges of the 21st century.

Perhaps Jankovic does not understand our current threats to peace because they are largely in a new form. Dictators spread fear, lies and intimidation to quench an ever seductive thirst for power. Terrorists sponsored and trained by corrupt elites of authoritarian and extremist regimes continue to ravage the world in Bombay, Casablanca, Jakarta, Mombassa, Jerusalem and Bali. They prey on the basest of human emotions in times of great pain and suffering to further their mad ambitions. Traffickers sell weapons, drugs, organs, women and children in a lucrative, global and lawless multi-billion dollar black market.

These non-state actors do not play by the same rules we do. They do not respect values of freedom, justice or democracy. They are predators who have hijacked the United Nations and turned it into a tool to strengthen tyrannical and despotic regimes. With Syria on the UN Security Council, Libya as head of the UN Human Rights Commission, and Iraq formerly leading the Disarmament and International Security Committee, the United Nations has clearly become a poor guarantor of international peace and security.

Combine this with the impotent "soft power" Western nations had applied over the pre-September 11 decade, and it is no wonder some of the most haunting moments of world history, Rwanda and Somalia, can be laid at our feet.

Jankovic states that having pride in our ability to kill others is below us. I would submit that standing idly by in our lap of luxury while millions are raped, murdered and tortured is what is truly beneath us.

Totalitarian and despotic regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been heavily influenced by French fascism and Stalinism. Surely, if these terrible ideologies are trans-cultural, then so too are the values of freedom, justice and democracy. The 1998 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Amartya Sen, presented a stunning thesis relevant to us today: no famine has ever occurred in a democracy. Democracy can and should find its roots in every country. From time to time, when all other means are exhausted, there is a pressing need for military action against oppressive, undemocratic regimes.

It is clear Bercuson understands this, and this is perhaps why he is so committed to speaking the language of power that these regimes understand.

The 20th century offers us an important lesson as we chart Canada’s course in the 21st. War has soundly defeated fascism, totalitarianism and Nazism–it is a good thing our country rose to the tests of those times. Thousands of Canadian lives were lost defending the peace and freedom we enjoy today, and thousands more because we went to war unprepared. It is the reputation of Canadian soldiers and the Pearson-era foreign policy mandarins on which Canada has remained afloat for the past half-century.

Under the "Jankovic Doctrine," Canada would never have entered World War II. In both World Wars and the Cold War, Canada had a choice: confront our enemy abroad, or wait to meet the enemy here at home.

Post-September 11, the choice remains the same. If we fail to confront terrorists in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, they will confront us here with a much higher death toll.

The formula for the future is a commitment to effective multilateralism, and that means transcending institutions as they’ve existed during the pre-September 11 decade. The failure of the UN resulted in an order where strategic coalitions of the willing confront regimes of non-state actors around the world. People for and against the recent military action in Iraq would agree that temporary, ad hoc coalitions of the willing need to be complemented by stable and effective institutions that outlast particular conflicts. Whether the UN will be reformed to meet the needs of effective multilateralism or a new institution will rise from the ashes of UN decadence is a story that continues to unfold. By 2006, NATO will have a reformed multilateral initiative, the NATO Response Force, to protect our common interests and promote common values anywhere in the world. France comprises a big part of this new initiative. Canada should too.

It takes a special kind of courage to do or say what needs to be done or said even if it hurts, and Bercuson exhibits that courage throughout his vast body of work. Jankovic’s piece promotes a type of isolationism now haunting the halls of history in times before two world wars and throughout the Cold War. You can hear those same whispers in the vast and hollow chambers of the General Assembly today. While the forms of our enemies are changing, we still have enemies.

Bercuson’s consistent arguments for an expanded Canadian military commitment to confront modern evils with modern solutions are crucial to defending everything we stand for.

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