4th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Bring Your Own Lunch (BYOL) Policy Roundtable "Canada’s Walmart-Style Defense Policy: Lessons from a not-so-grand Grand Strategy"

Christian Leuprecht discussed the concept of a grand strategy, evaluated how any grand strategy might relate to Canadian defense policy, analyzed Canada’s strategic culture, and delineated periods in recent military history.

Leuprecht began by pointing to questions of whether Canada currently has a grand strategy or whether it should even have one.  The concept of a grand strategy was extended beyond the traditionally militaristic definition, which he called myopic.  Instead, a grand strategy needs to bring together military and non-military elements of society for the best interests of the nation.  The end goal can take the form of either power or prosperity.  If following this definition, Canada does have an excellent and effective grand strategy, which has manifested itself in the form of prosperity and relative domestic harmony.

Contrary to the common perception that Canada is a free rider on American defense spending, Leuprecht argues that Canada is in fact an “easy rider.”  That is to say Canada’s policy is to provide “just enough” for a robust contribution that is financially responsible.  Given that Canada has “unique threats” that cannot be effectively countered with military spending, this is an effective policy.  Canada’s strategic culture is based on national interests of international security and stability that permit open trade routes.  Its grand strategy is one of “prosperity, harmony and security” that optimizes defense spending while maintaining a full-spectrum armed forces.  The military is thus expeditionary and discretionary – seen widely to have a positive influence.  Canada also has considerable posture abroad, as many EU countries are shifting toward Canada’s lower-cost defense model.

According to Leuprecht, Canada’s recent pattern of defense history can be arranged into four eras.  From 1960-1994, Rationalizing saw peacekeeping, minimal international commitments, off-the-shelf purchases of military hardware and the unification of the Canadian forces.  Reinventing from 1994-2005 was characterized by budgetary constraint, interoperability with the United States, and Lloyd Axworthy’s human security doctrine in the context of a post-Cold War world.  Jettisoning occurred from 2005-2007, where increased military spending and an “unequal dialogue” in civil-military relations led to friction.  From 2008 to the present, Scaling Back has seen popular discontent with expensive and casualty-laden missions lead to a decline in overseas operations.

The conclusion was that countries are increasingly embracing the Canadian model of low-cost, discretionary defense in the face of budgetary constraints and interventionist malaise.  However, not every country can adopt a policy like Canada’s, meaning that a sustainable defense future likely involves a balance between systems.