Government is a matter of creating a pyramid of priorities that will influence the drafting of policy. This pyramid is mounted, one stone at a time, bearing in mind the needs of the population, at the point in time in which policy will be developed and applied. It is an increasing concern in Canada that policy is becoming less of a “supply and demand” matter, and turning into an ideologically-driven endeavour. Among the clearest examples of what could be considered “social neglect”, one may find Canada’s militarization trend.
As Europe struggles to keep its head above financial water, Canada finds itself surrounded by economic turmoil. In this climate of insecurity, it is definitely ill-timed to start considering changing Canada’s long-standing peacemaking tradition towards a more militarily-oriented foreign policy.
The exercise of soft power as foreign policy entails pushing governments to invest on the executers of such policies: diplomats, and everything directly related with the exercise of their offices. Imposing a hard power stance, on the other hand, involves similar expenditures, with the added costs that involve military equipment, training, maintenance of military bases, and missions abroad.
The foreign policy path that Canada seems to follow under the Harper government is becoming harder in substance, which inevitably brings with it an influx of costly military procurements. It is not my intention to argue against investing in the military. In fact it has been shown that the military can play a central role in a number of situations where the use of conventional civilian forces is deemed insufficient to ease human suffering. The aid provided by the military during the Richelieu Valley floods of 2011 illustrates this logic. It is nonetheless imperative to make these investments when the state of the economy allows them, and when these investments become necessary for the well-being of the nation.
Given the often publicized state of Canada’s weak economic recovery, and the military’s relatively small role in missions abroad, it is ill-conceived to increase the country’s military spending. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that in 2011, Canada’s military expenditure was close to 24.5$CAD billion, a 7.429$CAD billion increase from 2006, the year that the Conservative Party took office.
It seems the alleged trend followed by the Harper government is that of restraint, but one should be able to find coherent uniformity in that restraint. At a juncture when Canada is signalling its intentions to diversify its trade beyond the confines of the U.S market, it seems puzzling that the government decided to cut 29.1$CAD million off the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. It also seems confusing to see that the Canadian government is cutting the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) budget by 319.2$ million, while announcing the opening of a new embassy in Burma, a country whose slow democratic transition could have benefited greatly from CIDA funds.
During times of economic uncertainty, hard power is an ill-conceived policy solution, and in the case of Canada, signifies a substantial shift in priorities. The persuasive nature of soft power not only makes it an effective policy solution that does not carry with it significant military costs, but it also embodies the very heart of Canadianism.