The arrogance of power could scarcely be more dramatically demonstrated than by the tag team of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announcing that Canada was going to cave in to Donald Trump’s demand that we spend two per cent of GDP on defence. We will be increasing military spending by 70 per cent over 10 years — an obscenity when so many social needs go unmet. Not only does this make a mockery of Trudeau’s election pledge to return to Canada’s historic peacekeeping role but surrenders to the absurd one-size-fits-all NATO imperative. Nothing has changed internationally to justify such an increase. There are no existential threats to Canada on any horizon. As Trudeau said in March, Canada more than pulls its weight in NATO: we are the sixth-highest spender in NATO and 16th in the world.
Giving Freeland the opening role on the announcement raises the question of her disproportional position in changing Canada’s defence posture. Her contradiction-filled foreign policy speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday suggested that Canada is going to somehow fill the vacuum left by an allegedly isolationist Trump regime. In her statement Freeland declared: “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.” Really? Just how do we do that by caving in to Trump’s demand that all NATO members pony up? In fact, the increase in spending — $14 billion over 10 years; $62 billion over 20 — represents a clear loss of sovereignty, abandoning our right to make decisions in our national interest in order to please a rogue U.S. president.
Exactly what kind of global leadership does Freeland think we are now missing? Given that she spoke almost exclusively about defence spending, presumably she thinks that a less military-interventionist Trump requires more intervention from Canada. But intervention where, exactly? Our last enthusiastic intervention — celebrated by our last prime minister — was in Libya. That “humanitarian” project resulted not only in a failed state but also in the creation and arming of ISIS, the flood of desperate refugees to Europe and, indirectly, the terror attacks Freeland rightly describes as “monstrous.”
U.S. “leadership” is known by another name in scores of countries around the globe: U.S. imperialism. In the last decade that term has gained widespread acceptance by the U.S. political elite where it used to be righteously denied. Does Freeland believe that the illegal war on Iraq is an example of U.S. leadership? Would she, unlike Jean Chrétien, have joined in? What about the slaughter in Yemen? Going back a bit further, would Freeland see the literally dozens of U.S. interventions to overthrow democratic governments and install dictators the epitome of U.S. leadership?
The notion that anything Trump says can be taken as rock solid American foreign or defence policy is laughable. The man is willfully ignorant of anything outside his New York penthouse and incapable of formulating, let alone implementing, a coherent policy. While he Twitter-rants, real decisions are made by others. The U.S. has not announced the closing of any of its 800 military installations around the world. Trump is going to go along with the military’s request for thousands of more troops for Afghanistan. And what kind of isolationist president increases military spending — already at $600 billion — by $54 billion?
The increase in military spending announced Wednesday will turn the Defence Department into an unabashed War Department, with Harjit Sajjan playing second fiddle to the militant Freeland. Just what existential threats does Canada face? The terrorist threat is handled by our intelligence agencies and police. Russia and the U.S. are the only two countries in close proximity and whether we have 65 jet fighters (Stephen Harper’s plan) or 88 (Freeland’s plan) will make absolutely not one iota of difference. With respect to the Arctic, where there are conflicting interests, it is obvious to all parties that negotiation is the only possible strategy.
But, of course, it’s not about defence. It’s about war. If we look at the planned spending it seems clear that we are gearing up for more Western adventurism, using NATO to prop up a failing finance capitalism by military threats. Freeland stated: “Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes requires the backing of hard power.” She has a duty to explain exactly what that means in the areas she listed as the focus of hard power: North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltic states. Freeland’s stated goal of “peace and stability” will not benefit in any way from an additional $14 billion in war materiel.
It’s hard to say which is the most outrageous aspect of this budgetary coup by the foreign affairs and defence bureaucracies. The transparent rationalization for the spending is simply shocking. Equally disturbing is the complete lack of a mandate for such an increase: it was never mentioned in the election and erases the Liberal election commitment to peacekeeping, it doubles down on Harper’s aggressive foreign policy, and was done without consultation with Canadians.
There will be blowback to this military build-up. Young people played a major role in electing Sunny Ways Trudeau. They might want to ask how it is Mr. Trudeau can find billions more for war fighting but nothing for reducing the crushing weight of tuition fees. They have the political clout and passion to put him on notice that this is a dealbreaker. Let’s hope they use it.
Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble’s State of the Nation column.