Canadians: The New Military 'Hawks' Of The Western World (or) How Stephen Harper Militarized The Nation
"Behold the new Canadian militarism. It’s everywhere.
Hardly a week goes by without the government gushing about our troops, or bowing to a DND wish. It has become politically incorrect, practically unpatriotic, to question the military. Our government’s Afghanistan propaganda makes it sound like it was mission accomplished. And everyone is expected to be gung-ho on the war in Libya.
The government is moving ahead on the purchase of the zillion-dollar F-35 super jets which yet another study has just criticized, saying they’re unsuitable unless we’re trying to build a Pentagon-styled war machine. We now take a harder line in the Middle East than virtually any other country. We’re seldom heard on the disarmament front. We’ve lost our traditional honest broker standing at the United Nations.
The first thing on the itinerary of Prince William when he arrived was a visit to the tomb of the unknown soldier. Our smallish foreign aid output is increasingly tied to military adventures – war projects as opposed to long-term development. The military is for the first time starting to take part in our citizenship ceremonies. Our foreign policy is now, arguably for the first time, to the right of the United States.
For a country that has long prided itself on a reputation as a peacemaker, it’s a remarkable turn. Hawks of the western world? Who would have thunk it?
It’s a play to our baser instincts, instincts that are more primitive than progressive. The Conservatives’s lock-‘em-up law-and-order policy is one example of this. The glorification of the military is another.
Prime Minister Harper said recently he sees Canada’s role as that of “courageous warrior.” When interviewer Ken Whyte of Maclean’s suggested that with their post-WWII bridge-building history Canadians aren’t used to that kind of thing, the PM countered by reciting the country’s role in earlier times, beginning with the war of 1812.
Canada’s older military history was a proud one, the PM noted, and it’s something he’s bent on reviving. Of all the policy changes he has brought to Canada, the new militarism may well be the most profound.
Paul Robinson, a University of Ottawa professor who served as an officer in both the British and Canadian armies, wrote in the Ottawa Citizen this week that the government is elevating the military into a moral elite of super-citizens. This helps, he said, legitimize war and militarize foreign policy. It has become “near impossible to criticize any aspect of military operations without incurring shrieks of ‘support the troops.’” War in this country used to be something to avoid. Now, said Robinson, it’s becoming “almost the option of first resort.”
Whether Canadians accept the new militancy remains to be seen. But losing our collective reputation as peace-seekers doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much so far. Though the opposition parties campaigned in the recent election against the new fighter jets and other hard-line aspects of Tory foreign policy, their efforts – foreign policy is seldom a major factor in the country’s political calculation – didn’t register strongly with voters. One reason might be that, despite the tough noises, the Tories are ceasing the fighting role in Afghanistan.
In the broader context, Harper’s glorification of the armed services appears to fit his goal of stirring a new Canadian patriotism. Canada Day was an example as crowds of unprecedented size, displaying hero worship for non-heroes, turned out to cheer on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. As Harper beamed, Prince William spoke in superlatives about the work of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan.
The turnaround from the Liberal years is striking. Canadians supported Jean Chretien as he cut the military budget, maintained strong civilian control over the military and kept the country out of war in Iraq. In the mid-1990s, owing to a massive deficit, most every department took a big cut in spending. Defence was no exception. The Cold War had ended and that was a further justification for the cuts.
But there was more to it than that. For Canadians, defence spending was not a top of line priority. They appeared to be proud of their post-war tradition of urging restraint on super powers, whether it was with respect to the Suez Crisis, or Vietnam, or the Cold War, or arms-stockpiling, or Iraq. The country’s reputation abroad was that of a do-gooder. American Defence Secretary Cap Weinberger once quipped that you could put the entire Canadian military on a football field and still have room for the game.
Under the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, there was a closer alignment with American foreign policy. But at home budgetary deficits prevented big defence outlays and in Joe Clark the Tories had a foreign minister who was cut from the Pearsonian tradition. Clark now takes a dim view of the loss of the Canadian middle role.
Despite today’s large deficit the Defence Department is not expected to face cuts to its $21-billion budget. Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie is looking at the bloated military command structure for possible savings but is meeting heavy resistance.
Stephen Harper’s father and grandfather were military buffs and the prime minister is no different. He has a genuine passion for matters military, as do many red-meat conservatives.
To those who complain that he isn’t far enough to the right, he can point to his foreign policy. This new militancy is a far cry from the Canada we have known for the last 60 years."