Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
Canada in the World: The Restoration of our National Pride and Purpose

Beryl P. Wajsman
Ottawa 23 January 2004  

We at the Institute have often been asked why we have combined a vigorous advocacy of  progressive and compassionate domestic policies, with an aggressive commitment to a strengthened military and a heightened  involvement in democratic development and the expansion of freedom in the international order. It is a question worth answering.


Jawaharlal Nehru once called the advancement of freedom and justice “…the silken bond of history…” The process of engagement in this advancement has always been the most exhilarating expression of what we are about as educated and enlightened people who, by our refusal, in Dante’s words, to “…place ourselves with those cold and timid souls who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis…”, propel our society to lionize the nobility of courage and conscience and repel the decay of hatred, jealousy and greed.


When men first crawled out of their lairs in the jungles and formed villages and societies the seminal motivation was common defence. The realization dawned that we should be fighting the predators together and leave more time to pursue, in the words of the philosopher, “… lives of passion, poetry and purpose…” These were the first cessions of some of the individual liberties accorded us all  through natural law in exchange for a flow of well-being from the “state”.


It was the beginning of what we call  progressive enlightened society. The demonstrated ability of human beings to have the courage to see that co-operation was to be valued over competition and compassion over contempt. It was a saner way to live. Where people showed the generosity of spirit necessary to benefit the commonweal and not just their particular parochial corners of existence. And that generous and courageous spirit was made possible only by the hope engendered from our pledge and passion to our common security. The confidence that we could preserve and protect our lives from the dark and deadly whirlwinds around us.


Those involved in our defence were lionized for their nobility for they embodied the twin characteristics of service and sacrifice so essential to the continuity of the foundational principles of civilization…that we are all mortal, that we all cherish our future, and that threats to the least amongst us endangers us all.


As time went on people realized that by sharing resources they could provide for themselves in other areas as well. Production of food, the education of their children, the caring of the sick. It was a normal and natural progression. But the template had already been forged. It became clear that if we were to have a compassionate response to the issues on the agenda of social justice, it required the same societal commitment to the traditions of service and sacrifice that had been so valiantly manifested before. The soldier was the model. His pride and purpose the testament. The champion guarding the ramparts; allowing each individual the protection necessary to develop the fullest expression of their human potential.


In our world today, where so much is influenced by those of shrivelled spirit and hostile heart who fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past  that in fact never existed, we need a renewal and revival of that testament of service and sacrifice if we are to continue to meet our challenges, at home and abroad, with conscience and character. The stakes are too high for anything less.


We live in a time of instant communication and instant destruction. It is truly a global village. And in this  village each nation is as responsible for the other as individuals were in the first experiments in commonweal  in the long past mists of history.  And if we fail to engage vigorously, not grudgingly, in our obligations in determining man’s common fate…then we will surely compromise the content of our policies and the compassion of our purposes in determining our national fate.


Today’s Foreign and Defence agendas demand activist character and conscience in place of pious excuses for inaction. Our greatest contribution, and greatest challenge, will be to translate the proud sentiments of our national rhetoric into powerful advocacy and action on the international stage.


Canada today is in danger of forfeiting the authenticity and legitimacy of our international voice and our international role.


Ø      We are thirty-fourth in the world in meeting peace-keeping obligations behind even Bangladesh.


Ø      We have never achieved the Pearsonian target of 0.7 % of our GDP to be allocated for foreign aid.


Ø      We are perceived as having thrown in our lot with those who draw inspiration from tin pot dictators and religious fanatics and launch daily barrages against the West in an attempt to display their sympathies for emerging nations' “right to be wrong”.


It is imperative that with clarity, candour and courage we develop the national consensus, and the national will, to make the sacrifices necessary for passionate engagement by our nation on all issues reflective of mankind's transcendent yearning for redemptive change.


In one of his first budgets Prime Minister Martin claimed that the Government of Canada may have lost the moral authority to govern due to the fiscal failures of the previous administration. What can we say then of    twenty years of  foreign and defence policies tied to the bankrupt notions of moral relativism and multilateralism that have given us policymakers rendered senseless by the loss of moral compass.


Canada has often been called a peace loving nation. This is only a half truth. Canada is above all a freedom loving nation. We have sacrificed more sons and daughters for the survival and success of liberty in the past century than even the United States as a proportion of population. We never shirked from this responsibility. We never calculated how many more soldiers there were in the Kaiser’s army. We never worried about the number of tanks in Hitler’s Panzer Divisions. We were never awed by Stalin’s might in Korea.. We supported the values of western civilization because we wanted to live as free men and women even when we had little more to give than “blood, sweat and tears”. We understood, viscerally, that man’s millennia long struggle to break out of the forests of barbarism was a precious quest. We lionized and celebrated those who stood with us in vigilant opposition to any assault on our values of democracy and freedom. We would “rage against the dying of the light” whenever the black night of terror threatened.

Today, sadly, our officials calculate. But what they calculate are not weapons or soldiers. No, they count chancelleries. And on that count they determine policies based on where they can advance their careers. As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, one need not search too deeply for the root causes of injustice in this world. One need not make complicated psychological constructs to explain duplicity and mendacity. One need not question too long why good and gentle people are put upon while tyrants and tyranny triumph. The answers are summed up in four words “…the banality of evil…” The banality of counting capitals on a map.

Too many of our Foreign and Defence policies are tied to notions of respect for physical sovereignty. Too many times we have used that as an excuse for inaction and opposition to policies of our traditional allies. Too often we hide behind that notion to decide when and where to engage. And we do so very disingenuously. From the Middle East to Bosnia and Kosovo, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Canadian policies are viewed as inconsistent and incongruous.


Canada has missed the primordial lesson of the past century. Physical sovereignty no longer matters. Hitler’s Germany was physically sovereign. As was Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. And for that matter so was Kaiser Wilhelm’s Empire. Over eighty million people died in a century characterized by an orgy of blood. But borders and customs guards, flags and institutions offered no protection to the free peoples of Czechoslovakia, Poland  and Hungary nor to the millions of bodies floating in the Yangzte River or frozen in the wastes of the Gulag Archipelago or butchered in the jungles of Rwanda.


The lesson of the twentieth century was not that independent pre-emptive response and participation in international military preparedness would unleash anarchic bloodbaths--to the contrary-- failure to respond, and worse, attempts to appease, would allow time for barbarous dictators to arm themselves to the teeth and embroil the world in a whirlwind of devastation heretofore unimaginable. The road to Auschwitz began in Munich.


What of Canada’s reliance on U.N. approvals before engaging? Again we miss the point, perhaps consciously so. The U.N. was not created as a world government. The obligation of free nations to help fellow human beings unleash the chains of tyranny, is not relieved by its existence. United Nations doctrine itself recognizes the right of self-help when the U.N. cannot, or will not, act. As Robert Tucker  has written in "Reprisals and Self-Defence" 


 " is clear that certainly under customary standards, but even under U.N. definitions, armed response can be utilized as self-help in response to threats  quantitatively and qualitatively different than a traditional invasion by one state of another." 


The United Nations is no panacea. Not only because it is overly influenced by bloody despots and retrograde regimes, but because of the impotence and inaction of its leaders. The current Secretary-General was the U.N.’s point man at the time of the Rwanda-Burundi crisis, and the U.N.'s decisions at that time directly led to the freeze on military action and the subsequent deaths of hundreds of thousands. The blood of their corpses is on the hands of the U.N. leadership.


What then do we replace the old dogmas with and how should Canada act?  Imbedded in every attempt by the free world to enact new codes and standards of international behaviour since the Nuremberg Principles was the concept of legitimacy as precursor to sovereignty. And the litmus test of legitimacy was democracy. Not because it was the ideal system. As Churchill said,”…Democracy is far from perfect, but after millennia of struggle it is the best that man has to offer…” But because it was the price of entry to the table of civilized peoples. At least with a democratic system, open and transparent, a nation would be held accountable not only to its own citizens, but with untrammelled access and communication, the spotlight of free nations would be ever vigilant in reigning in any looming threats.


 A democratic state’s legitimacy would come from its inherent responsibilities to, acceptance of and engagement with the development of freedom in the international order. And respect for a nation’s physical integrity based on a legitimacy grounded  in a commitment to liberty is doctrinally defensible and a far better assurance of  world stability than respect for a nation’s physical integrity based on a sovereignty stemming from bloodlines of familial descent and the accidental arrangement of  geographic barriers which has never had conceptual confirmation in either natural nor moral law and has been nothing more than a specious defence from the witless defenders of despots and dictators.  


As Canadians we must always guard against the smugness and complacency that are symptoms of a preoccupation with parochial interests alone. We must remember that the lessons of our legacy are unselfish ones, imbued with an understanding that, with grace and dignity, we must involve ourselves in the struggle of free men the world over, for their fight is ours as well. We cannot hide behind a curtain of self-satisfaction and rest smugly at harbour, for we will surely be buffeted by the continuing tides of the challenges of our complex time, and our responses will be muted and impotent. 

It is time for a change. And there can be no better change than the strengthening of our international prestige. And no better policy than the pledge of faithful friendship to those allies whose political and philosophical goals we share and who would join us in active advocacy for, and dedicated defence of, democracy and liberty for all. 


Prime Minister Trudeau, recognized that the spread of freedom was the one "legacy" we must leave to the world, the most vital measure of our progress, and the singular hope of man. He once said,

 "...though we as liberals see society as capable of moral progress, being by nature neither essentially good nor perverse, we understand the requirement to cultivate and support  the more positive inclinations of man. While understanding the limits of legislation and law, we do not hesitate advocacy of the uses of the levers of power for the expansion of equity and equality."


We must stand with those who are committed to the expansion of the freedoms we enjoy as Canadians to all parts of the world and who would readily and courageously support our sister democracies, as we have always done in our history, and not with those who hide as cowards behind diplomatic curtains of moral objectivity. We need to bring pride back to our country. For only that pride can arm Canadians with the hope they need to courageously unleash their inherent generosity of spirit that is the sole guarantor of a political culture of conscience and compassion that is the precursor for an expanding domestic agenda of progress and purpose.


Our nation’s pride was never compromised or cudgelled by mountains of munitions and it should never be paralysed or prejudiced by weakness of will. The ambitions of avarice for a higher rating on the bureaucratic pay scale--- and the conceit of cowardice for a few more favours on the diplomatic circuit--- can never be allowed to still our pledge to make gentle the life of this world nor to shake our faith that relief of the oppressed  is the paramount prerequisite for the protection and progress of civilization.


The survival and success of liberty has always demanded such sacrifice. These have been the age-old lessons of history’s incontestable march from repression to renewal, the noble vows of courage of freedom’s champions and the singular hope of man for an era when truth will not be compromised by timidity, honour will not be cheapened by objectivity and hope will not be mortgaged by expediency.


The policy and passion of our nation’s future will be ennobled by this renewed commitment to human dignity, freedom and courage.


If we fail to act we will be complicit in the realization of Edmund Burke’s warning that…


“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”