The Role of Canada’s Military in International Affairs
A look at the recent past decades indicates that global powers are using their supremacy in military to extend and enforce their foreign policies. International affairs are being run and executed by the military as the global security has become more polarized and the international system has become characterized by a series of military interventions. Compared to other developed nations, Canada’s military has played a subtle role in pursuing the nation’s foreign policy. There have been a number of instances though that it has been at the forefront in fight against terrorism and contributing to peace keeping missions abroad.
The United States has had a long history using combining both soft and hard powers as a foreign policy tool. It has been engaged in a number of military engagements and interventions especially in the Middle East and Latin America. To the contrary, the situation has not been similar when it comes to Canada’s forces. Canada has had a lackluster approach to foreign policy preferring to use soft power or diplomacy to enforce its policies. The events of the September 11th, 2001 however changed this and made Canada an active participant in the war against terror. The terror attack against the United States indeed changed the approach that many global powers had in foreign policy; this was in clear consideration of the powers and influence that the US had in the international politics. An analysis of President Bush’s address both to American and the world indicated that the US would use its diplomatic ties to urge the developed nations assist in the war against terrorism. The now unpopular clarion call, you are either with US or against us, went a long way in garnering support for the war against terrorism. Canada’s role in this war has been a point of interest for analysts especially putting into consideration the close ties and regional proximity that Canada enjoys with the United States (Roach 48).
Canada’s forces played a proactive role in the invasion of Afghanistan. The period to the post 9/11 attack drew large support of the US efforts and there was solidarity between Canadians and their American counterparts, as Thobani (218) observes, “‘we are all Americans now’ was the boldly declared sentiment expressed overwhelmingly in and by the media immediately following the attacks.” This was in an apparent attempt for Canadians to support their neighbors in the trying moments of grief as well as conforming to the belief that terrorism was growing in strength and was meant to annihilate westerners. Immediately after this, the liberal government outlined an elaborate policy against terrorism and crowned this by sending troops to Afghanistan as requested by Bush’s administration.
It is important to point out that the commitment of troops to Afghanistan by the Canadian government was not an easy decision though backed by a majority of the public. A look at Canada’s foreign policy indicates that it is mainly leaning towards diplomacy and military engagements are at subtle level compared with the large number of interventions carried out by the untied states. Cowen has captured this noting that “caught between longstanding Canadian commitments to international law and order, equally long-standing commitments to bilateral trade and defense relations with the United States, Canadian leaders struggled to straddle the widening gap.” (240) Indeed Canada’s military has played an active role in Afghanistan both at toppling the Taliban regime and also in the futile efforts with the US to maintain law and order. A look at Canada’s military indicates it has been constantly increased since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001. Canadian forces have been involved in a number of missions and operations in Afghanistan both at an offensive level and for international aid assistance. Operation Athena saw Canadian forces play an active role in rebuilding and aiding the democratic efforts of Afghanistan and also in reconstruction. In sending the troops in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister Harper maintained that the military engagement was for a number of reasons, “to defend Canada’s national interest, to show Canadian leadership and to help Afghanistan.” (Thobani 219). Indeed this was in line with the history of Canada playing an active role in peacekeeping and in the defense of democracy.
Canada’s military has also played a role in the US led war against Iraq. This has remained a controversial topic in Canada. The enthusiasm exhibited during the invasion of Afghanistan was lacking when it came to Iraq. It is important to observe that the Iraq war was dogged with lackluster support by the major global powers with most insisting there were no rational reasons for the war. The Iraq war was largely being characterized with skepticism as there was no clear link between Saddam’s despotic regime and terrorism. The weapons of mass destruction that were being touted by Bush as rationalizing the invasion proved elusive and watered down efforts to garner full scale support and commitment from the western powers. Only handful nations sent their forces to Iraq in the midst of raging international criticism. Canada was facing stiff opposition from home; this explains the decision reached by the government not to engage the military at full scale allaying the lack of UN involvement as the core reason. This decision conforms to the long held tradition in Canada of the respect of the international laws and the belief that its involvement can only be sanctioned by the United Nations. This was a decision that was largely hailed as it indicated that Canada was asserting its position and not willing to act as a mere pawn in the international politics, it was a bold step considering the long ties that Canada has enjoyed with its most important and influential global partner. Analysts have examined this decision and found that it was the most prudent to make. A massive involvement of the Canada’s military in Iraq would have presented a feasibility challenge to the military due to its existing commitment of the two thousand soldiers in Afghanistan; it would have been detrimental to the overstretched Canadian forces. This decision notwithstanding, Canada’s military has made contributions to Iraq in several significant ways. In 2003, Canada’s government allowed a few hundred troops to be sent to participate in the raging conflict terming it as an exchange program. This is a decision that has been a source of immense criticism with the opposition accusing the government of hypocrisy. This remains a controversial issue especially to the significant number of casualties in the Middle East affairs in the last five years, number that is rumored to have hit 200 officers (Catley, Mosler 111)
In additional to these recent international engagements, Canada’s military has had a history of playing a peacekeeping role abroad; it has also come to the aid of a number of countries especially its core partner. A trace of the highlight of the Canada’s military engagements indicates Canada has played a major role in shaping global politics. One monumental accomplishment lies in its joining of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, this saw Canada become a member of a major military alliance. This was a period that was characterized by tension between western powers and the communist Russia. The Soviet Union was advancing its influence across Eastern Europe and conquering everything in its yoke and slowly progressing to Western Europe. This was disconcerting to the western powers and also to the United States which was stretched thin militarily (Kaim, Lehmkuhl & Heise 104).
The entry of Canada into the picture strengthened the West’s position. This marked the start of Canada’s tenure of making immense contributions to NATO. Though there may have been a decline in these contributions in the recent years, Canada has been a constant supplier of both naval and ground forces when requested. Canadian forces have served in Europe on peacekeeping missions right from 1951 when the posted in Rotterdam. These troops also served in Korea. The presence in Europe was supposed to fend off soviets influence which was gradually building. By then, Canada’s military spending was unrivalled by no other in NATO apart form the united states, curiously, it was one of the highest military spender not within the precincts of US aid. This was a big expense for Canada and would lead to half-cutting of its forces in Europe by the close of the 1960s amidst home support for complete withdrawal. A look at the cold war era indicates that Canada’s forces were more engaged in peacekeeping missions more than in war situations. In the 1990s, Canada had contributed close to 5000 soldiers and lost the lives of more than a hundred military peacekeeping officers. Its role in these peacekeeping missions has been largely illuminated with majority decrying that it is being given subtle role and that only in Yugoslavia that Canadian forces were actively engaged. This lack of a say in NATO’s has been interpreted by analysts to mean that its position as a global player has been on the wane (Kaim, Lehmkuhl & Heise 106).
Indeed, Canada’s military has played a crucial role in international affairs both in the cold war and post cold war era. Canada joined NATO in 1949 and has since been engaged in conflict zones on peacekeeping missions both in Asia and also in Europe. It played an active role in Yugoslavia where Canadian forces were in a peacekeeping mission. It is only as the cold war era ended and the influence of the Soviet Union went on the wane that the Canadian forces in Europe were slashed by half. The September 11th terror attack in the United States brought Canada back to the international scene. Being a longtime ally and a neighbor of the United States, Canada committed its 2000 troops to join the allied forces in Afghanistan. These forces are still in the Middle East even after the toppling of the Taliban regime and assisting in the reconstruction process. Although the government had pledged not to commit forces in the war in Iraq due to the growing criticism of the attack, it currently has less hundred than a hundred forces stationed in Iraq amidst the raging controversy. It is apparent hence that Canada’s military continue to play a major role in ensuring global security throughout the 20th century and also at the turn of the 21st century.
Catley R., Mosler D. The American challenge: the world resists US liberalism. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
Cowen, Deborah. Military workfare: the soldier and social citizenship in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2008
Kaim, M., Lehmkuhl, U., Heise M. In search of a new relationship: Canada, Germany, and the United States. VS Verlag, 2005.
Roach, Kent. September 11: consequences for Canada. McGill-Queen’s Press – MQUP, 2003.
Thobani, Sunera. Exalted subjects: studies in the making of race and nation in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2007