Canada Pursues U.S.-Style Security and Foreign Policy

In the last number of years, there has been a dramatic shift in Canadian security and foreign policy with regards to continental, hemispheric and global issues. While Canada is working with the U.S. on a North American security perimeter deal, there are also efforts to strengthen defense relations with Britain and other allies. Canada has also elevated its status in NATO and is playing a more prominent role in military operations overseas.

Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay recently met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to discuss bilateral security cooperation issues. In a news release, Minister Mackay praised the Canada-U.S. partnership as unique and explained, “Our binational command in NORAD, as well as the daily operation between our military and defence teams is a tangible demonstration of how we stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the defence of North America and in addressing common global challenges.” He went on to say, “We are proud to work alongside our U.S. friends in the Americas, in Libya, in Afghanistan, and as transatlantic partners of NATO.” At a press conference following their meeting, Secretary Panetta acknowledged that both countries are looking to improve their bilateral engagement in the Western Hemisphere. He stated, “If we can develop better capabilities and partnerships throughout the hemisphere, that’s something that I think both of us consider to be a real step forward in our relationship.” Future plans could also include expanding a security perimeter framework beyond North America.

While addressing North American security efforts during a news conference with Secretary Panetta, Minister Mackay brought up the Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD) which was created in 1940. The PJBD, “is the senior advisory body on continental defence. It is composed of military and diplomatic representatives from both nations.” Over the years, it has, “served as a strategic-level military board charged with considering, in a broad sense, land, sea, air and space issues.” This includes areas concerning, “policy, operations, financial, logistics and other aspects of Canada-U.S. defence relations.” Although the PJBD has been used as an alternate channel of communication, it appears to have once again become more relevant as a venue for bilateral security and military dialogue. In a move which represents its growing importance, President Barack Obama recently appointed former Congressman John Spratt, chairman of the U.S. section of the PJBD. In the coming years, the board could play a significant role in plans for a fully integrated North American security perimeter, as well as in other facets of the evolving Canada-U.S. partnership.

Released in 2008, the Canada First Defence Strategy remains the blueprint for rebuilding a modern military with clearly defined missions and capabilities. This includes increasing Canadian Forces recruitment levels, raising military spending, as well as improving and replacing equipment. The goal is for Canada to, “be a strong and reliable partner in the defence of North America, and project leadership abroad by making meaningful contributions to international security.” It goes on to say that Canadian-U.S., “armed forces will pursue their effective collaboration on operations in North America and abroad. To remain interoperable, we must ensure that key aspects of our equipment and doctrine are compatible.” It also outlines a strategy which will work towards the, “ability to conduct six core missions within Canada, in North America and globally, at times simultaneously.” Besides promoting continental perimeter security, the document lays the foundation for a more aggressive and ambitious foreign policy which increasingly represents U.S., as well as British interests.

In a recent bilateral visit to Canada, British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and addressed a joint session of parliament where he proclaimed, “We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values.” Both leaders issued a joint declaration entitled A Stronger Partnership for the 21st Century which committed to renewing bilateral relations in areas of prosperity, security and development. They pledged to, “create greater interoperability between our defence forces and deepen cooperation on procurement and capabilities.” This included strengthening cooperation on counter-terrorism issues. They also agreed to, “work toward a reinvigorated Commonwealth.” In conclusion, the leaders stated, “We commit ourselves and our governments to achieve what we have set out in this declaration to collaborate on our commerce, foreign policy, defence, security, development and intelligence relationship.” In a move which some have criticized as a step backwards, Canada has re-established the connection between the monarchy and its military by renaming Maritime Command and Air Command back to the former titles of Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force.

In September, Canada’s Defense Minister Peter MacKay was in Australia and New Zealand for separate meetings to further build bilateral security relations in the Asia-Pacific region. While in Australia, he met with several ministers where, “they discussed defence reform, procurement practices, general Asia-Pacific defence issues, and the transformation of the Australian Defence department.” Minister Mackay, “emphasized the strong military ties between both Australia and Canada and Canada’s ongoing interests in the Asia-Pacific region.” During his trip to New Zealand, Mackay met with his counterpart and discussed, “the state of current defence operations, defence reform and procurement.” The meetings in both countries were, “an opportunity to deepen Canada-Australia and Canada-New Zealand bilateral ties, to discuss military operations and defence transformation, and to exchange views on regional and international matters of operational and strategic importance.” This is part of Canada’s ongoing efforts to further expand its global influence and it could be directed against China who has gained much power in the region.

While in the past Canada has exercised a more independent foreign policy, in many ways, it has now succumbed to the imperialistic aspirations of the U.S. and NATO. The war in Afghanistan and the continued bombing in Libya have demonstrated Canada’s willingness to use military force to advance foreign policy. It appears as if they have also turned back the clock by further embracing the monarchy and renewing its strategic partnership with Britain and the Commonwealth at large. Under the influence of a declining Anglo-American Empire, Canada has shed its peacekeeping image in favor of a more aggressive and militaristic doctrine. In the coming years, Canada will be expected to contribute even more to global security including participation in future U.S.-NATO military operations.

Dana Gabriel is an activist and independent researcher. He writes about trade, globalization, sovereignty, security, as well as other issues. Contact: Read other articles by Dana, or visit Dana's website.