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  • 7/27/2019 Comparative Strategy - Canadian Strategic Culture



    Getting It Just Right:

    Strategic Culture, Cybernetics, and Canadas Goldilocks Grand Strategy

    David S. McDonough

    This is an Author's Original Manuscript of an article whose final and definitive form, the Version

    of Record, has been published in Comparative Strategy 32, 3 (2013) [Copyright

    Taylor and Francis], available online at:

  • 7/27/2019 Comparative Strategy - Canadian Strategic Culture



    Canadas post-war strategic behavior combined two seemingly contradictory behavioral

    tendencies. On one hand, Canada has proven to be a loyal American ally since the onset of the

    Second World War, when security guarantees were verbally exchanged and an alliance cemented

    with the 1940 Ogdensburg Agreement. This security alliance took an even more formal

    institutional expression in the context of the North American Aerospace Defense Command

    (NORAD) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On the other hand, this loyalty

    has been tempered by a degree of ambivalence with our superpower ally, reflecting the fact that

    Canadian and American strategic preferences on key politico-military issues from missile

    defense to the 2003 Iraq War occasionally diverge. In such cases, Canada reverts to an arms-

    length approach towards the United States, often expressed with reference to multilateral or

    internationalist principles that tend to resonate in Canadian society.

    It is certainly easy to disparage this strategic ambiguity as being indecisive and

    vacillating. Some in Canada will criticize bilateral relations as being overly intimate, irrespective

    of any disagreements that may arise, while other will see far too much distance almost regardless

    of how much cooperation actually exists.1 Yet such subjective assessments should not obscure

    the fact that Canadas position rarely embodies either proximity or distance to an absolute

    degree. Instead, officials have often been very adroit in balancing these competing inclinations,

    in which close cooperation often masks a subtle element of ambivalence while explicit

    distancing is offset with low-key cooperative measures designed to allay any American ire.

    David Haglund has even labeled these competing inclinations the iron law in Canadian

    politics, in which Canada must avoid drawing too close to the United States, while always

    1 My thanks to Frank Harvey for bringing this point to my attention.

  • 7/27/2019 Comparative Strategy - Canadian Strategic Culture



    ensuring that relations do not deteriorate to such a degree that Canadas prosperity and survival

    might be placed in jeopardy by American wrath.2

    This principle is best illustrated by how Canada has approached the question of strategic


    On one hand, while accepting air defense cooperation with the United States early in

    the Cold War, officials in Ottawa also consistently sought to attach reservations and conditions

    designed to safeguard Canadian sovereignty or at least offer a semblance of independence. This

    can be seen in how Canada attached conditions on the construction and operation of early

    warning radar lines on its territory, attempted to limit (unsuccessfully) American requests for

    cross-border interceptions, and exchanged diplomatic notes that retroactively approved NORAD,

    even as it created a nominal linkage with NATO that made this bi-national air defense

    arrangement domestically palatable. On the other hand, while consistently refusing to officially

    participate on ballistic missile defense (BMD), Canada was always careful to offset such explicit

    distancing with an often overlooked degree of support by accepting NORAD early warning

    use in Safeguards brief operational life, ensuring joint air defense cooperation was accelerated

    when participation in the Strategic Defense Initiative was rejected, or eschewing an official role

    in President George W. Bushs BMD deployments but then assigning an early warning role for

    NORAD while substantially increasing national defense and domestic security funding. Such

    2 David Haglund, The US-Canada relationship: How special is Americas oldest unbroken alliance? in

    Americas Special Relationships:Foreign and Domestic Aspects of the Politics of Alliance, eds. John Dumbrell

    and Axel R. Schfer (London: Routledge, 2009), 72.3 It is also visible in other areas, from how Canada approached NATO defence strategy during the Cold War to

    Americas military interventions in Korea and Vietnam. See David S. McDonough, Canada, Grand Strategy, and

    the Asia-Pacific: Past Lessons, Future Directions, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal (forthcoming). For a full

    exposition of this grand strategy principle, see David S. McDonough, Ambivalent Ally: Culture, Cybernetics, and

    the Evolution of Canadian Grand Strategy, (PhD diss., Dalhousie University, 2011).

  • 7/27/2019 Comparative Strategy - Canadian Strategic Culture



    behavior demonstrated Canadas continued commitment to continental defense and security and

    therefore helped make the requisite distancing action more palatable.4

    By so successfully balancing proximity and distance, officials have proven adept at

    following a strategic principle designed to safeguard Canadas national security and ensure that

    sovereignty and independence are maintained. Rather than merely accepting it as an iron law, it

    might be more appropriate to call this strategic principle the defining characteristic of a uniquely

    Canadian grand strategy one that seeks to balance proximity and distance towards the United

    States while avoiding the extremes of either inclination on a range of different strategic politico-

    military issues. As such, Canada has essentially pursued what can be termed a goldilocks

    grand strategy. Contrary to the claims of critics (and much like Goldilocks in the fairy tale),

    Canada is neither too close nor too far from the US, but rather pursues policy responses that are

    just right.

    Undoubtedly, Canadas unique structural position within North America represents an

    important underlying influence on its strategic behavior one that could perhaps shed light on

    how successive Canadian governments and political leaders, rarely seen as being strategically

    astute, have come to follow such a consistent grand strategy. As Patrick Lennox notes, with this

    asymmetry in material capability, Canada is placed in a position of dependency on the United

    States for its physical and economic security.5

    The differences between these Two Siamese

    Twins of North America could not be starker.6

    America remains a continental-sized

    superpower, with roughly ten times the number of people as Canada since the 1950s; an

    4 See David S. McDonough, Canada, NORAD, and the Evolution of Strategic Defence, International Journal, 67,

    3 (2012), forthcoming.5 Patrick Lennox,At Home and Abroad: The Canada-US Relationship and Canada's Place in the World

    (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2009), 5.6John Barlet Brebner,North Atlantic Triangle: The Interplay of Canada, the United States and Great

    Britain (Toronto: Ryerson Press 1945, reprinted by McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1966), xxv

  • 7/27/2019 Comparative Strategy - Canadian Strategic Culture



    economy roughly thirteen times the size of the Canadian economy; and most notably, military

    spending at least thirty times higher.7

    Yet material and otherwise realist conditions also retain an important degree of

    indeterminacy. This can be partly attributed to the complex economic interdependence that exists

    between Canada and the United States. After all, Canada represents the leading market for 38

    American states, while 80 percent of Canadian exports and two-thirds of its imports flow across

    the border.8

    One should also not discount the high degree of convergent interests and values

    within North America, at least since the slate cleaning period at the turn of the last century

    resolved most of the outstanding issues between both countries.


    Rather than representing a

    threat to Canada, Americas presence has actually served to further alleviate Canadas own sense

    of insecurity. R. J. Sutherland calls this an involuntary American guarantee, in which the

    United States is bound to defend Canada from external aggression almost regardless of whether

    or not Canadians wish to be defended.10

    Of course, there were also concerns that the United States could in extremis move

    towards the unilateralimplementation of its own security measures, with possibly negative

    consequences on Canadian sovereignty. To avoid such unwanted help, Canada had to ensure it

    did not become a strategic liability to the United States through military weakness or

    7 Lennox,At Home and Abroad, 5, 7. On homeland security issues like intelligence, the difference becomes closer to

    the 10:1 ratio one would expect from their respective populations. See David Haglund, North American

    Cooperation in an Era of Homeland Security, Orbis 47, 4 (2003): 690.8 Fen Osler Hampson, Negotiating with Uncle Sam: Plus ca change, plus cest la meme choise, International

    Journal65, 2 (2010): 306.9J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer,For Better or for Worse: Canadian-American Relations: The

    Promise and the Challenge (