OTTAWA – Canadians need to spend billions on “hard power” military capability because they can’t rely on the U.S. or others for protection, says Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
In a major foreign policy speech in the House of Commons today, she didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but made an unabashed pitch for the international rules-based order that the U.S. president’s America First policy is attacking.
The speech is meant to foreshadow the release of Wednesday’s defence policy review, which is expected to make the case for billions in new military spending.
“To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power,” Freeland said in her prepared text.
“Principled use of force, together with our allies and governed by international law, is part of our history and must be part of our future.”
She said Canada doesn’t need an inward looking “Canada First” foreign policy, but given that the U.S. is now questioning the worth of its global leadership, it is more important than ever for Canada to plot its own course in the world.
Freeland’s speech is the Liberal government’s attempt to define its military, developmental, diplomatic and trade priorities in a turbulent world that has seen the election of Trump and the rise of anti-trade sentiment.
Her emphasis on hard military power is a tougher expression of the country’s international interests than Canadians are used to hearing.
She said that notwithstanding the “incredibly good relationship” with the U.S., Canada cannot just rely on American military protection.
“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state,” she said.
“Such a dependence would not be in Canada’s interest.”
The speech affirmed Canada’s support for multilateralism and rules-based international systems, human rights, gender equality, fighting climate change and spreading economic benefits more widely.
She said Canada played a major role in shaping the global order after the Second World War because the country – including her own family – suffered heavy losses in two world wars.
The U.S. has been an indispensable nation in leading the world since then, she said, but that is changing and Canada has to adapt.
“It would be naive or hypocritical to claim before this House that all Americans today agree,” she said.
“Indeed many of the voters in last year’s presidential election cast their ballots, animated in part by a desire shrug off the burden of world leadership. To say this is not controversial: it is simply a fact.”
She reiterated the government’s disappointment in the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“International relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question,” she said.
“And new shared human imperatives – the fight against climate change first among them – call for renewed uncommon resolve.
She also addressed the protectionism – again without mentioning Trump by name – that has taken root in the U.S. and elsewhere, suggesting that stance is on the wrong side of history.
“Beggar-thy-neighbour policies hit middle powers soonest and hardest,” she said. “This is the implacable lesson of the 1930s and the Great Depression.”