The Canadian public has always been of two (or more) minds about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but the reasoning behind the ambivalence has shifted somewhat over time. For the first forty years of NATO, there was some constancy amongst the naysayers. After any major military conflict, including both World Wars and Korea, Canadians have had an understandable reaction to draw back from any prospect of armed conflict. Furthermore, we have spent some effort mythologizing ourselves as a non-military people. Plus, many Canadians are just plain cheap, particularly when it comes to security and defence. And others wondered how much effort we needed to put (again) into defending Europe. There was an inclination to fall back on the outdated but visceral sense that our geography might permit a benign isolationism.
On the other hand, most agreed that the Soviet Union and its allies did threaten us, both ideologically and militarily, and NATO was a key element of our response. Ironically,some of those who were rather less concerned about that threat, and who were uneasy about being too close to the United States,saw our involvement in NATO as a partial antidote to what would otherwise have been a defence relationship exclusively with the Americans. Canadians have made multilateralism almost into a religion, and NATO suited that in our sense of self. And for some,links with Europe via NATO helped to maintain a relationship with the lands from which they or their parents and grandparents had come.
But living in NATO was never easy. The consensus requirement in most aspects of NATO governance is notoriously ponderous and frustrating. And then the Cold War ended, a bit abruptly for some. NATO, while seeming on the surface to continue as before, shifted focus. So today, its tool kit doesn't perfectly align with its tasks. And,in its elephantine fashion,NATO now seeks to update its Strategic Concept.
Clearly,Canadians still need NATO to give effect to their 13 John Scott Cowan President Conference of Defence Associations Institute Ottawa R.S. (Bob) Millar President Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute Calgary attachment to multilateralism.Indeed,NATO has in some ways also become the implementation device for UN decisions. But Canadians sense that a renewed NATO needs to become more relevant to Canada's interests and more responsive to the changing security situation. We feel acutely the imbalance in burden sharing in Afghanistan.And while the NATO community is a core grouping that reflects and represents the ideas of the world's developed and democratic states, it risks being too Eurocentric.Securing the Euro-Atlantic community is important,but the Alliance also needs tangible links with a few comparable states or groupings outside of Europe, particularly in the Pacific where Canada has vital interests. Some wonder if a whole new alliance might be the answer but, empirically, one has a better chance of success building on what exists than one does starting from scratch.
Furthermore,some commitment of resources in advance on some agreed ratios is desperately needed to enable more timely responses. Indeed, with the modern evolution of threats, most critical NATO responses lie somewhere between the situations envisioned in either Article 4 or Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. And there is no Article 4.5 to facilitate a robust response to serious threats which are just short of existential.NATO will need to invent both the strategic framework and the rapid response tools to nip such threats in the bud,and to serve the broader ideals espoused in the ringing words of the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Conference of Defence Associations Institute and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute hope this paper, written from a Canadian perspective, contributes to that evolution.