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October 11, 2002

Uncle Sam, global patsy: Canadian blogger and military guy Bruce Rolston asks the interesting question:
Arguing solely from the position of rational, national self-interest, I’d like anyone to give me one reason why, in today’s world, with the recent American policy statement that they will never allow another nation to become militarily competitive with them ever again, Canadians NEED to spend one more dollar on defence. Need to. No altruistic, or “for the good of the world” arguments allowed.
[09:22 PM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Uncle Sam, global patsy::

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 05:33 AM:

That policy statement didn't say the US wouldn't allow anyone, or everyone else, to not be militarily competitive with Canada. Of course, if Canada wishes to not spend a single Canadian dollar on military spending ever again, in a few years, Togo will be "militarily competitive" with them. If, say, Togo seizes some Canadian shipping, Canada can always send a stiff diplomatic note.

More realistic scenarios abound vis a vis somewhat larger powers that are economically comparable with, or superior to, Canada.

The underlying factor is that Canada has never needed to resort to military threats, in the 20th century and since, because it has had alliances to be the iron fist within Canada's velvet glove. If Canada wishes to withdraw support from such alliances, it might suffer the problems of, er, being an empty glove. Of course, one option would be construction of new alliances. Maybe such could be constructed without spending a single dollar ever again on defense. I'd never say never.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 06:16 PM:

With all due respect to Gary, I doubt that any recent Canadian government's response to state-sponsored piracy by Togo would involve the direct use of armed force. A stiffly worded diplomatic note would undoubtedly be sent, and the Canadian government would undoubtedly pursue remedies through the World Court and the UN.

Given that Canada does not pursue policies of armed aggression against other nations, does Canada needs to be maintaining a navy beyond a Coast Guard to deter piracy on its own coasts (which could become part of the apparatus of the Attorney General, like the RCMP, and not a matter of defence spending)? An army for more than search and rescue and disaster mitigation efforts? Any air force at all?

For one thing, in terms of traditional concerns of neighbouring nations on a single land mass, Canada would not be allowed to develop defences against invasion by the United States. And any other nation invading Canada would presumably make the USA rather nervous, which would be even more of a deterrent in the "Pax Americana" world than it is now.

So, Canada's foreign policy already obviates an army except for participation in internationally sponsored peacekeeping efforts. Domestic policing doesn't require a Ministry of Defence. Foreign invaders are either the USA pursuing "regime change," somebody the USA likes enough to allow them to replace Canada as a neighbour, or somebody who's about to be at the bottom end of a lot of bomb trajectories in their home countries if they keep pushing their luck. In any of those cases, US self-interest is the only factor of importance in the Newest World Order.

Why should Canada spend one dollar on defence that it could spend on health care?

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:15 AM:

Do you think the US would permit Canada to have an independent nuclear deterrent?

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 01:17 PM:

Hi, Jo! The answer to that hasn't changed in fifty years: not a ghost of a chance. Technically and financially Canadians could easily have had one by 1950. Politically there was no way, so we have long made a virtue of necessity.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 05:28 PM:

Y'know, that thing about "alliances" didn't sneak into my comment by some strange alien insertion. Countries can certainly rely on the UN for military protection. Just check with the citizens of Srebenica, or Haiti, or look at Sinai in 1956, and be sure to enjoy that. Trust yourselves to the Human Rights Commission of Syria, Libya, Nigeria, etc. If that works for you -- well, since I'm in favor or armed liberalism, I guess I'd be also in favor of helping you anyway. But if you don't ask, I won't hammer at the point.

I'm sure China will help you with human rights, though. And, after all, look how helpful Russia is with Chechnya and implicitly with Georgia, Urkaine, and particularly Belarus. Who needs the fascist war-mongering nuclear-weapon-using US?

Hey, Jim Henley? Tell me more about this "isolationist" thing?

Naw, just kidding. I wanna keep messing in other countries in favor of this weird "liberal," "democracy," thing. It just makes me feel good.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 05:32 PM:

Incidental to Bob: if all honorable countries use the technique of "A stiffly worded diplomatic note would undoubtedly be sent, and the Canadian government would undoubtedly pursue remedies through the World Court and the UN," but all virtuous countries have disarmed -- and heaven forbid that such aggressors as Canada possess a military, or need one -- who, exactly, will enforce the "remedies" of the World Court and UN? Martians?

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 05:50 PM:

By the way, Jo, to answer your question, I think the question about America "allowing" a Canadian independent nuclear deterrent is answered by the words "France," and "Israel," and "India," and "Pakistan," and, for that matter, "Britain," "Russia," and "China." (We'll let Belarus and Urkaine slide.)

I'm rather at a loss as to what assumptions or knowledge lead you to ask the question. What suggests to you, as something obviously does, that the question is worth asking, or that the answer might be "no"? Is there a threat to the US from the Canadian government we're all unaware of?

Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 07:07 PM:

Canada needs to maintain its armed forces so that it can bomb the Baldwins if Terence and Philip are ever detained in the US and threatened with execution.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 12:25 AM:

Gary, you are the only person in this thread mentioning depending on the UN for "military protection:" it's irrelevant to Bruce Rolston's original point, and even to my own. I have no expectation that Canada would depend on the UN for military protection. And you've also added in the notion that "all honorable countries" would disarm, though perhaps you've just misunderstood the context of the discussion.

Your examples of countries which have "nuclear deterrent" capability are irrelevant to Jo's question of whether or not the US opposed and repressed the development of such a deterrent by Canada. None of those nations were small economies dominated by business with the US in the 1950s.

So far as your direct question to me is concerned, I would think that writs of the World Court against Togo, freezing or seizing the assets of Togo and its nationals in overseas banks could probably be implemented without armed force.

So far as human rights are concerned, you seem to be confused about the purpose of the UN Commission on Human Rights: they would not be able to tell the Canadian government to step up its assaults on human rights, even if the nations with bad human rights records on the commission tried to promote such an idea.

So, to get back to Bruce Rolston's point more directly, perhaps you can explain why Canada should be spending money on defence in terms of some specific and concrete example of what needed function Canada would have to do without in the absence of defence spending?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 12:34 AM:

Extra points for not being so indirect and sarcastic that you need a compass and a Roto-Rooter to figure out what the actual point was.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 12:44 AM:

Gary, the countries you mention don't live next door to the US.

The relationship between Canada and the US is one that, if you don't mind my saying so, Canadians have always had to understand a great deal better than Americans. From the American side I gather it looks pretty easy -- a bunch of people almost exactly "like us", a long undefended border, profitable trade relations, a nearly-always co-operative government that may grumble about a few minor matters but comes onside when it counts -- what's to worry?

And you know, that's exactly how we want you to go on thinking of us. You are overwhelmingly bigger than us, and you're right next door. We need to stay on good terms with you. Too much is at stake to let the relationship turn sour.

Throughout the Cold War Canada was a shield for the US against ICBMs coming over the North Pole. Yes, the armaments were mostly American, but if Armageddon had started, NORAD defense plans called for a lot of explosions to happen over Canadian territory. Probably most Americans didn't think about this much -- but we did.

We don't want any US defense think tanks putting us even at the very bottom of a list of potential US enemies. They would, if we started working on a deterrent of our own, especially now. And there would be consequences.

You'll note that Mexico is not thinking about an independent nuclear deterrent either. We understand their reasoning on that point very clearly; it's the same as our own.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 01:22 AM:

On the question of whether the US "opposed and repressed" the development of a Canadian nuclear capability in 1950: I have no direct knowledge of what was said in the corridors of power at the time, but based on the considerations I outlined in my previous post, the merest hint would have sufficed.

Also, face it, how much difference would our few weapons have made? We were more useful to the interests of the great powers as a moral example of non-proliferation.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 01:40 AM:

Goodness. This seems to fit here, for some reason...


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 08:32 AM:

Sylvia, I suspect you actually mean this link.

(The URL you gave simply leads to whatever Doonesbury strip is today's latest.)

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 11:05 AM:

Oops! Thanks, yes, that is indeed what I meant. (My only excuse is sleep deprivation.)

Nick ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2002, 01:41 PM:

Why should Canada be spending money on defense? Well, I can think of a reason or two...

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2002, 03:54 PM:

With all due respect (i.e. none), the prospect of annexation by the US is about the worst reason imaginable for Canada to spend money on its armed forces and their equipment.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2002, 06:13 PM:

Bob said: the prospect of annexation by the US is about the worst reason imaginable for Canada to spend money on its armed forces and their equipment.

I can think of worse ones without even trying hard:

  • To ward off the hoardes of pixies fleeing the coming chaos in Turkmenistan
  • Because it's the best way to hide the secret pointine expenses in a black budget
  • To hell with health care, we need more guns! and so forth.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2002, 06:24 PM:

Like all the other moral relativists with whom he lives, Kevin Maroney grotesquely underrates the threat posed to the West and Western values by Turkmenistani pixies. When your sons and daughters are sprawled out in front of the Yonkers mosque, their heads in a bag of pixie "dust," don't come crying to us, Mr. Liberal. As George Orwell memorably said, "At pixies, everyone has defaced his reserve." I agree, but you won't read that in Howell Raines' New York Times.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2002, 04:04 AM:

I don't know what I was thinking.

Actually, "warding off pixies" is probably a better reason for Canada to spend money on armed forces than "preventing annexation by the US". After all, the former could conceivably do some good.