Canada's Media a Perfect Example of Our Country's Lack of Strategic Thought

  • National Newswatch

Germany's chancellor – the most powerful politician in the European Union – met with our prime minister last night to discuss one of the most important issues of our time: a confrontation between two eastern European states crucial to the stability of global geopolitics and the long-term security of Canadian interests. And our country's top columnists and political commentators are writing almost exclusively about a floor-crossing and a cabinet shuffle.This serves as yet another reminder of how we as a country are unwilling to think big when it comes to international issues. Let's face it: Our country has virtually no columnists in the mainstream media who write regularly and authoritatively about Canadian geo-strategy, Canada's particular interests in given theatres across the globe, or new ideas for a distinct Canadian role in contributing to world order.The reason for this isn't because we lack the ability to think strategically. Thanks to our history, we have become a world leader in the practice of federalism. And because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have become a constitutional superpower in the domain of human rights. When push has come to shove, we have found a way to accommodate differences, solve complex challenges, and embrace contradiction without compromising our values. We have done so because of necessity, either to found a country to thwart American Manifest Destiny, or to keep it together to ensure our continued diversity and strength.And when it comes to foreign policy, that necessity has been lacking, particularly in recent years. Our geographic isolation and superpower protection (either by Britain or America, depending on the era) have provided us with a security that few other nations enjoy. We have a vast land mass, an enormous natural resource endowment, and an immigration model that is among the most successful in the world. What we lack is psychological emancipation.This intellectual poverty in the field of international relations, in my view, comes from two principal factors. First, the segment of the electorate that votes is tired of thinking big. They associate it with heart-wrenching fights over national unity and marathon first ministers' conferences. But fatigue can be overcome with time.The second source is systemic, and thus far more difficult to surmount: We have become Americanized over the past twenty-five years. The fall of the Berlin Wall roughly coincided with the advent of free trade between Canada and the United States. The resulting American influence over Canadian culture eventually permeated our foreign policy discourse. America's unrestrained commitment to the spread of democracy and human rights in the post-Cold War era became our own, and the lack of imagination in Canadian foreign policy has become increasingly noticeable.Because of Washington's post-1945 nuclear umbrella, Canada has enjoyed prolonged security. Now, thanks to free trade, we benefit from prosperity as well. What else is there to want? What need is there to think strategically about international affairs?The trend of integration with the United States appears to be growing with time. Indeed, the challenges of the coming decades – from developing the Arctic to pivoting through complex alliance structures in a potentially multipolar world – require deeper economic and geopolitical cooperation between Ottawa and Washington. Furthermore, our two political cultures are also converging, from healthcare, to gun control, to the public's expectations on fiscal and economic policy.But the post-Cold War era appears to be drawing to a close. America is finally beginning to become a more cautious superpower, privately acknowledging that a major power extends its period of pre-eminence by manipulating the balance of power, not by engaging indiscriminately in military interventions across the globe. Interests are beginning to take precedence over values. In other words, Washington is beginning to craft its first strategic map of the world since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The challenge will be for our country to do so as well, despite our overwhelming dependence on the United States.This challenge must be met, for our country – like any country – has its own distinct interests and capabilities, no matter how many goals we share with our neighbour to the south. On several fronts, the globe's major powers are in a state of ideational and geopolitical confrontation. In this international context, Canada needs to determine whether it wants to be a builder of world order or, in effect, a bystander.If the answer is the former, we need regular, authoritative and engaging commentary in our country's front pages on the matter. After all, Canada's mainstream media already have enough columnists capable of writing about floor-crossings and cabinet shuffles.Zach Paikin holds a Master of Global Affairs degree from the University of Toronto's Munk School.