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“Canada First” Defence Strategy

May 13, 2008

Conflict is changing: While the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) impatiently waits in Thailand, hoping to be allowed into Burma to help with humanitarian aid after Cyclone Nargis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveils his “Canada First” defence strategy. Major components of the plan involve automatic increases in defence spending, a commitment to Arctic sovereignty, improvements in Canadian Forces infrastructure, and adding 5,000 troops to the regular force (bringing it to 70,000) as well as 6,000 reservists. The CBC and Globe and Mail both observe that most of these commitments have been made before, but quote Prime Minister Harper that this represents a “long-term plan” rather than a piecemeal approach.

The Toronto Star claims the lack of detail in the plan will generate skepticism among critics – and they may be right. Bloggers over at The Torch call the “Canada First” defence policy a complete disappointment, criticizing it as lacking substance. The National Post, however, quotes a reservist who claims the policy might be enough to convince him to join the regular forces.

In the five-page document outlining the policy, there’s no mention of specific goals or initiatives, though at the press conference the Prime Minister did say that defending the country and protecting Canadians at home are the main priorities – hence “Canada First”. How would this type of thinking play into decisions about, say, what to do with the DART if it’s not allowed into Burma? And what would a “Canada’s World First” defence strategy look like? Let us know in a comment on our blog, or on the forums on our website.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Roland Arbour permalink
    May 22, 2008 2:56 am

    Canada’s Arctic frontiers seem to have been taken as a starting point, when really they are a questionable assumption. But Canada’s population and economy have never really occupied the High Arctic. We inherited our Arctic claims from the most part from the legacy of British exploration and empire.

    Few other countries fully recognize our sovereignty over that area. Our claim of territorial waters up to the North Pole is particularly contentious.

    Prior to the recent climate change, nobody seriously challenged our claims. During the Cold War, our American and European allies tacitly allowed us our Arctic pretensions because the Russians were considered an enemy. But it’s not hard to see that in future, all bets might be off.

    So before we rush to defend our claims, maybe we should examine them first.

    1. Does Canada really need to hold sovereignty over the High Arctic?

    2. Are there options to administer the region which could avoid international rivalry or conflict with the USA, Russia, and EU?

    3. Have we Canadians ever considered the possibilities of internationalizing the administration and demilitarization of the High Arctic? Can we conceive of the Arctic as being a region of global interest that goes beyond the territorial claims of the bordering states?

    Let’s be serious about things military. Any of the proposed measures, of either Harper or his predecessors, are merely token. No conventional military force which Canada can afford, could prevent or even much discourage intrusions by other interested powers.

    Theodore Roosevelt once said the key in world affairs was to “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Canadians seem to want to do the opposite in the High Arctic–talking loud, while bearing a wee twig.

    We’re a weak power with huge pretensions in the upper latitudes. That should be the starting point of any discussion, but it seems that most Canadians take for granted the nice big coloured patch on the maps we grew up with.

    But if there was ever a country that could explore new ways of dealing with territorial claims, and if there was ever a region where such new ways could be tried, it would be with Canada in the High Arctic.

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