January 25, 2005

The War of 1812?

Andrew Olmsted and Jim Henley go at the "necessary wars" question. This one could go on a while, but I think Olmsted was down a point after the clunker in his first post:

"We could have ended the Revolution at any time, but at the cost of losing a war for our national existence, so it seems fair to say we had to fight that one. The War of 1812 saw British troops burn the White House, so we probably had no way out of it."

It should go without saying that the American invasion of Canada in 1812 can hardly have been a "necessary" war, even if it did lead to British attacks on the homeland two years later. It was characterized then as a war against Royal Navy impressment and blockade, but the American maritime states, reliant on British trade, blanched at the prospect; much more significant was British support for Indian claims in the mid-West and South. The Brits had their own geopolitical reasons for backing the Tecumseh and Creek confederacies, of course, but the opposing position of Harrison, Clay et al, that the Indians were bereft of human rights altogether is clearly as repugnant today as the Confederacy's armed defense of slavery is.

As to the Revolution, well, the entire fact of English Canadian existence is premised on the argument that there was another way in 1776...

Olmsted goes down another point today, with his suggestion that Henley feels the Americans should only have fought Japan in WW2. Since that was never a historical option (Hitler declared war with Japan, and hostile U-Boats were in action off the Carolina coast within a week) I was surprised it was brought up at all, and I know without asking that that's not Henley's position. Pearl Harbour forced the U.S. hand. The more interesting debate to my mind is the preceding Lend-Lease question, where FDR struggled with his own "necessary war" question in detail.

I'm bullish on necessary wars, or at least more bullish than Henley, I suspect. In the Canadian example I'd say the necessary battles post-Revolution were 1812 (foreign invasion), the 1837, 1870 and 1885 rebellions (internal insurgencies), WW2, Korea, GW1 and Afghanistan. The question marks in our history have always been South Africa and our early entry into WW1, both deserving of more thoughtful posts some other day.

In the American frame, I'd also say the Barbary Pirate wars, the Civil War and the late entry into WW1 (if only on the basis of resistance to unrestricted sub warfare and the Zimmermann telegram) certainly would qualify, as well. After that it gets harder: the better Canadian record with the Indians gives us the natural predisposition to think that the Americans could have done better there; the early-20th century Latin-American interventions, as imperialist as they were, hardly qualify as wars; and the Mexican, Spanish-American, Vietnam, Grenada and Panama conflicts were all in part exercises in U.S. brinkmanship diplomacy that failed (or succeeded, depending if you wanted a war in the first place... and Henley's point is that one should never WANT a war).

Hell, I'd even be willing to consider the Boxer Rebellion as a just war, if only due to the nascent internationalism of it. But even though I agree with Olmsted more than Henley, Olmsted's definitely going to have to raise his game if he wants to get back into it.

Posted by BruceR at 02:10 PM

Why are we paying? (part 2)

Further to the below, it should be noted that Prof. Granatstein is subtly changing the subject rather, from the initial Bush question of how Canadians could be convinced to support continental missile defence, to how Canadians could be induced to spend more money on defence, period.

Canadians will be convinced of the need for missile defence when three things happen:
1. The American missile defence system appears to actually work;
2. An identifiable threat it could mitigate emerges, i.e., one whose first name is not "Kim"; and
3. If and when Canadians are convinced of point #1, when they realize that interposing yourself in between a real threat and an actual working defence system is kind of like hanging around outside the walls of Troy with that nice Hector fella.

To a degree, all these conditions applied to the creation of NORAD, when the threat was Soviet bombers (the ICBMs only came later). We could be 1) reasonably confident that jet fighters could shoot some of the bombers down, 2) the Communist threat seemed plausible, and 3) people accepted that Americans unilaterally shooting polar route bombers down before they reached the States meant the resulting wreckage would almost certainly land on our territory anyway unless we got in on the deal, never mind the annoying way fallout from the States would almost certainly follow acid-rain patterns of distribution. Which is why we have a large number of abandoned radar stations in the Canadian North today. NORAD membership was a perfectly rational, self-interested decision. Canadian participation in American missile defense today would not be.

The answer to Bush's second question, therefore is, "yes." As things stand today, nothing my Prime Minister said could convince me of the value of missile defence, and I'm a lot more ready to hear that argument than most. The continuation of NORAD into a new era really doesn't, really shouldn't, seem that important.

The answer to Bush's first question, decoupled from the missile defence question, is much thornier. America certainly has it within its power to short out most of our international intelligence gathering, through the termination of intelligence-sharing agreements, effectively blinding our diplomacy and our defence policy; it could also, if it chose, torpedo our own defence industries overnight. We have already effectively ceded arctic sovereignty to American submarines; the coming loss of our own subsurface capacity will be a significant degradation in the ability to surveil our other two ocean-coasts, with American patrollers taking up that slack, as well. Our army, air force and navy can't actually operate in even a medium-intensity theatre without significant American assistance. We have no real control over our own airspace, at least in terms of shooting something down if we had to. And any major natural disaster in Canada could only be responded to with significant U.S. help.

Other than that, we could get along without the Americans just fine. But all of these things are bestowed on us, by them, by virtue of Americans spending 3% of their GDP on defence, and Canadians spending 1%, and they can all easily be taken away (and by virtue of our geography, it would take roughly 3% of our own GDP to get them back for ourselves). That is the definition of free-riding. There are cost-benefit calculations behind every item in that list above that have made them, in the past, worth American effort. But none of them are permanent or necessary conditions of their sharing a continent with us.

American altruism in these other areas has enabled Canadians to use their own limited military spending for exclusively "good things," like support of UN peacekeeping. The left and right of the arc for this nation would thus seem to be (the traditional Liberal policy of) currying American favour on the defence side and then leveraging that into some greater influence abroad and a positive influence on world events (but accepting greater U.S. influence on us), or rejecting defence cooperation entirely and lapsing into a forced deaf, blind isolationism. You can argue where we should be within that spectrum all day, and each of the three national parties has its own equilibrium point, but those are the two extremes.

Posted by BruceR at 10:19 AM