Both concrete external threats and more diffuse internal trends threaten Canadian security, expert says.
In a podcast from the University of Calgary, professor Rob Huebert speaks about what is Canadas place in a changing world.
After decades of relative stability, the Western world is experiencing a time of political upheaval. Populism is on the rise, major powers like the U.S. and the U.K. are in turmoil, and the very concept of liberal democracy is under threat from hostile governments.
Multi polar system
"The world is engaging upon one of the greatest changes we have seen since the Cold War and probably before that. What we are entering into is an era that many in the academic field refer to as a multi polar system", Huebert says in the podcast, .
After the Cold War, American and Canadian interests, for the most part, were nicely aligned and the two countries shared a common vision on what security in the international systems meant. However, in an era with a rising Russia and a much more powerful China, which are both trying to challenge the US in one way or another, this alliance is under pressure.
"We can no longer count on the many alliances and friends we have had, because the US and Great Britain seem to be facing challenges from within. We are also seeing clear evidence that there are states that are trying to change the very nature of these societies".
He divides the new external threats against Canada in two:
"In 2019 the new external threats against Canada are in fact increasing in both intensity and in the number of states that are in fact threatening Canada. The two at the forefront of the list are of course Russia and China"
Russia vs the West
Since Putin consolidated his power within Russia, he has made it clear that he does not see the West as a cooperative entity.
"As such, Canada, just like the rest of the West, is now starting to face a Russia that is willing to utilize military force both overtly and behind the scenes," Huebert argues.
Russia’s actions are a threat to Canada’s stability and security which depend on a cooperative and peaceful Europe as well as the NATO alliance.
"But we are also starting to see indications that Russia is starting to interfere directly in elections and by that undermine Canadian democracy," according to the professor.
China is flexing muscles
When it comes to threats from China, they are more nebulous.
The Chinese, as they become more powerful, are disrupting international stability in the Asia Pacific region as is demonstrated by their show of aggression in the Pacific, including buzzing Canadian vessels, and – of course – the more recent Huawei incident.
"The Chinese have made it very clear that when Canada takes actions that the Chinese view as against their interests, they will take whatever steps necessary to force Canada to change that behavior"
On top of all of these external threats towards Canada - both as a part of the West and directly - there are the Trump-issues.
As mentioned, the USA and Canada have had a shared security relationship since 1940, throughout World War II and the Cold War, which has served both countries very well.
"I challenge you to find any other countries,that are neighbors to each other, that have been able to have the degree of cooperation, shared values and joint effort to maintain national security that favors their mutual interests," Huebert says in the podcast.
What is changing in 2019, and terrifies many observers, is that these shared interests are not as strong as they used to be.
Donald Trump represents something different within the US. The country is moving away from its core values and its commitment to democracy is being challenged. Some link it with Donald Trump becoming president, but there are, however, different opinions on whether Donald Trump himself is the facilitator and creator of the new direction the US seems to be going in, or just symtomatic.
“The forces of populism, as they are being expressed within the Trump administration, are of course being considered by many as an existential threat to Canada. Part of the problem that we face in the challenge, is a US that seems to be moving away from its core values. The values that are also shared by Canada. So, we have a twofold threat that now is emerging to our security because of this new development in the US,” Huebert explains.
First: A USA that moves towards isolationism could leave Canada out and vulnerable to countries such as Russia, China and Saudi-Arabia.
Second: Is America’s commitment to democracy, to equal values, to the rights of individuals, regardless of their religion, their gender, their cultural orientation, challenged? This could threaten the shared interests that are the backbone of the traditional relationship between Canada and the US.
Isolation is contagious
The trends in the US are also visible in Europe, with Great Britain pulling away from the EU, and populism, nationalism and isolationism on the rising.
All of this is creating pressure on the NATO alliance whose philosophy is "if you attack one of us, you attack all of us".
"What we are seeing now, beyond what we are seeing in the US, is that countries such as Great Britain, Hungary, Poland and Turkey, are all facing pressures that seem to be distracting them from their commitment to the common cause," professor Huebert says in the podcast.
He describes a Boris Johnson who seems to be following Donald Trump’s example:
"… a leader who seems to prefer to lie instead of tell the truth, one that seems to be committed only to their own personal gain and the achievement of power.”
"Question marks arising over the US. Question marks over the western Europeans. The traditional security environment that Canada has been able to enjoy, is now truly under question.”
Divide and conquer
The politics of division seem to be taking root also in Canada to some degree, Huebert says.
“…we seem to be able to a stand up to a better degree than some of our other western allies, but I don’t think we should be complacent. We will see increasing efforts, through the internet, to pitch one side against the other, and once that ball starts rolling, as we have seen in Great Britain, it is very hard to contain it,” he warns.
Regardless if it is externally created or if it is coming from within, this has to be one of the greatest security threats Canada has faced in a very long time, according to Huebert.
When asked what steps Canada needs to take to respond to these threats, the professor is very clear:
“We need to start thinking for ourselves, regardless of whether or not this change within the American political system is permanent or simply a passing phase. How do we define our security?We also need to get much more serious about our defense structure, how it is developed and funded.”
Engagement and discussions
And last, but not least, professor Huebert advocates more engagement and discussion, including with those who might feel uncomfortable.
“There are individuals and entities out there that want to challenge our commitment to democracy and human rights. We cannot take these things for granted.”
What is feeding populism, is that parts of society feel they cannot speak out because what they have to say is defined as “politically incorrect”.
“What we have in Canada is unique and we have to be willing to push back at those who would love to see the end of the Canadian virtue,” he concludes.