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Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Conservative Standpoint Part 5: The Conservative on Military Affairs


This is Part 5 of the Conservative Standpoint a serial post by Cole D. 


This essay is going to cover the topics of the nature of the armed forces, Canadian military readiness and our prime minister, as well as foreign policy under the paradigm of both traditional conservatism and neoconservatism, and try to expunge the wrongs of the neoconservative foreign policy from the minds of otherwise reasonable conservatives.

The reason these topics will be covered in such broad strokes is to indict the neoconservative proliferation among the Canadian conservatives of the Conservative Party of Canada/Reform/Alliance Party (which subsumed its adversary the Progressive Conservative Party). In addition, I will make an effort to provide a conservative doctrine of foreign policy, which is both realistic, practical, and efficacious; this policy should from a theoretical standpoint sublimate all the major conservative principles and apply their epistemological foundations to the nations beyond the subject nation state. To do so we will turn the axioms of conservative thought and use their application—in sweeping analysis— to criticize the proselytization of the American order by the neoconservative heterodoxy. My goal is not to slander neoconservatives; in fact, I take great joy in the reading the followers of both Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol, however their principle of American exceptionalism is far from pragmatic, and far from conservative, and it is my goal to explain why. Therefore, this analysis will be limited to the Neoconservative and Traditionalist positions, and the goal of showing the Neoconservative positions as both antiquated and specific to the tribulations of the Cold War; we will not extend our scope much beyond for the term of this positional essay.

I will also diverge in order to convey the fatuous positions of those who would advocate the pacifist’s position. What I mean specifically is that a conservative who is principled will not accept a universal pacifism and a limitation of military action to the frontier of the national interest. The true conservative will be emboldened by his compassion toward mankind and his ability to see threats to his civilizational frontier and react to such threats as they become existential. This is not to say that a haphazard application of force becomes the norm, but rather that judicious multilateral exercises of force may be of necessity if the global order and well being may be preserved and a conservative should not shy away from such obligations.

Edmund Burke was first among analysts to posit that obligations are what define liberty and that our emancipation is contingent upon a network of mutual duties, both to family, society, church, nation, and man in general. He was able to posit this because he saw man as inherently unique, crafted both in god's image and with a unique capacity to reason: therefore, the Burkean understands that a call to arms may be necessary to ensure the protection of a man's many fellows. This statement is of great difficulty to the pacifists who are really cowards who shirk their obligations when challenges arise, and see only the sustenance of liberty as inherent and unquestionable arising from the natural world and not from the fixtures of mankind. This as we will see is specious, but for now, we continue onward.    

Neoconservatism has infested Canadian politics under the Harper regime. The leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, newly formed in 2003, was contingent upon the expansion of the Canadian armed forces and the modernization of our military equipment. The party, when in opposition, was boisterous in its rhetoric about engagement in the Iraq War and remains so as it proposes extensive interventions. The CPC is notorious for its bellicose posturing and yet, despite promises to the contrary Canadian military capabilities remain impotent.

Canada has a total population of approximately 35 million. How do Canadian capabilities compare to a nation of similar population and (economic) development? For this comparison I will turn to Poland, first to display the disparity and secondly to indicate why this is so. Despite the rhetorical flourish of Canada's war party we remain, a feeble and bootless power among many second rate nations of the world: such a status is dangerous.
Poland has a population very close to that of Canada’s: 38 million. Theoretically, Canada should have a force reasonably close to parity with this other NATO power assuming both nations would intend to spend at least 1% of GDP, the NATO minimum, on their respective militaries. However, we know this to be inaccurate. Canada at present spends approximately 1% of GDP according to the World Bank and Poland approximately 1.8% however a comparison between the Polish and Canadian armed forces unveils a startling deficit. Canadian active military personnel measure about 92,000, Polish 150,000, a ratio of 391:1 for Canada and 253:1 for Poland an almost 50% difference on a man to man basis. Meanwhile total numbers of aircraft are similar according to Global Firepower; however, Canada has no attack helicopters and Poland fields 29. Canada fields only 64 fighter aircraft to Poland's 99. Poland also fields ten times more tanks that Canada. This may to some seem like an unfair comparison after all Poland is on the frontier of Europe and much of the Polish hardware is likely as dated as Canadian equipment, but even this nearly landlocked country fields a much larger Fleet than Canada. A nation, which has the largest coastline in the world, and at the closing of the second world war ranked in the top five navies of the world with over 400 commissioned vessels . If we were to compare Canada to nations with similar oceanic boundaries, again we see deficiencies:  Denmark, Russia, and Indonesia. All heavily outweigh Canada in naval terms on the Global Firepower Index. This should not be surprising as Canada currently operates a single Iroquois class destroyer and twelve Halifax frigates as a two ocean, blue water navy, although we know it is far from the truth.

The question then is not why Canada is so deficient in its military capacity and readiness, but why as a NATO member and a warden of a massive coastline is it capable of being so? Why is it that the most interventionist Prime Minister in living memory, who promised to open deepwater ports and revitalize the nation's military has failed to do so?  My assertion is that we can attribute the ineptitude of the Canadian government in military matters to the explosion of Neoconservative rhetoric and leadership in the United States. The United States has seen an unbroken lineage of activist conservative leadership since the Reagan ascendancy, and even when the democrats held the executive, pressures from Republican congressmen newly revitalized by an ethos of American moralizing and custodianship successfully pressured the presidency into unilateral action.  Instead of asserting real pressure on the NATO countries to build local defenses and adopt ownership of the European frontier America has carried the burden. This stance had been guaranteed up until recently, and the close alliance between Prime Minister Harper and George W. Bush is evidence. It is only with the Obama administration that we begin to see a concern for the foreign policy in Canada. The Neoconservative ethos lives on in Canada however, waiting for the likely return of a Republican administration to authenticate our Prime Minister's paper tiger: only with an assertive America does Canada have teeth.  

This reality seems to signify that the western nations of the world are becoming not only weak in autonomy but malleable toward war aims beyond their own interest. This is because not only is there defence contingent upon American activism, but also subject to American needs and given the vacillation of American administration it is difficult to establish a long term national security plan for any individual nation. Without a dependable American hegemony, we put ourselves at risk, but the Neoconservatives were responsible for propagating this ethos and therefore are culpable for the risks of the world. Furthermore, the Neoconservative doctrine of Wilsonian intervention, and the belief that most people are crying out for American democracy and liberalization is specious at best and subjects the conservative to numerous entanglements that are otherwise avoidable.
What our modern day Neoconservatives’ fail to realize is that the ethic that drives them was founded in a specific time and place, something the traditionalist recognizes. 

Neoconservativism was born out of the existential struggle between the communist nations of the world and their associated revolutionary doctrine, and the liberal, Judaeo-Christian, democratic civilization, that had finally vanquished the totalitarian regimes of Europe and Asia only to find an even greater threat emboldened by its own wartime success. The Trotskyites who found themselves ‘mugged by reality,’ as Irving Kristol phrased it found themselves on the frontline of the battle against communism. The Neoconservatives knew that the evils of communism could not be understated, because they themselves had been immersed in its thought, and this drove the competitive and dogmatic ethos of opposition to undemocratic regimes; these Neoconservative fathers though, could not anticipate the same application of reasoning to the Islamic world, or the Russian Federation among many current examples. The mutagenic nature of the Neoconservative ideology in modern foreign policy is evident in the missions to bring democracy, the supposed panacea of Neoconservatism, yet democracy is only capable of mollifying the interventionist impulse of these politicians if the democratic outcome is one desirable to the west: Chavez, Putin, and Hamas, though all vile. Are examples of when democracy favours outcomes that befuddle and startle the hawks of the American right. These examples make up the fundamental framework  by which we as conservatives can ascertain that this interventionism is far from conservative. The conservative recognizes that electoral outcomes, governance, culture, democracy, civilization in all of its nuances, are unique to time place and people, and though we may disparage the actions of specific regimes we recognize our limited capacity to dictate the nature of a society and tradition in which we have not been a part.

 Conservatives realize we are subject to an alien view, therefore we must be critical of our own assessments, and from our distant vantage cannot determine what best constitutes civil society for those people who have their own histories and institutions.

The conservative knows change originates in an organic need from within a society; the Neoconservative in the foreign policy realm does not. He makes the fundamental error of utopian thinking. He sees democracy as the good regardless of the conditions, which brought its genesis; in fact the Neoconservative would rather manufacturer the genesis and import its institutions whole cloth in order to expedite the process.

The respect for the individual nation however, brings the conservative closer to a secondary danger nearly as reckless as the Neoconservative position: to a conservative who respects civilizational differences it is simple to lapse into isolationism and pacifistic thinking. Patrick Buchanan serves as a key example of this superficial rationale. By engaging in pacifist thinking, we are bypassing our obligations to the human brotherhood. Immense ignorance is implied in the abandonment of military action because again it lapses into the utopianism that is always of great danger. First, it ignores reciprocity. Second, it takes a view that human nature is good; in fact, it is so good, to the pacifist, that atrocity cannot or need not happen unless driven by circumstance and that it must necessarily resolve itself. T.E Hulme recognized such dangers in his Essays on War where he spoke of the danger posed by the pacifists during the Great War. He recognized the specious belief that liberty could not be endangered through military means because democracy and liberty are part of a linear civilizational path and not something precious within its historical context. Hulme recognized that liberty required stability and unique conditions to flourish and that occupation and strife would put liberty at risk. Again, the conservative disposition must stand as the enemy of optimism, utopianism, and idealism, and check the premises underlying the assumptions for faulty reasoning. Moreover, how can a popular democratic order not be precious when it disappeared from classical Athens only to resurface and stabilize in the 17th century? 

This is the nature of the conservative disposition on military affairs, we must both be a steward of our democratic heritage and simultaneously aware of the error of carrying such a heritage beyond our borders by force.

Finally, I propose three principles, which shall govern the conservative in future interventions overseas.

First among the three is self-defense. However, this implies a realistic definition, should a nation canvas the world with military alliances of mutual protection then it is putting itself at risk from the outset. A nation however strong can only act in self-defense when a reasonable case may be made for the endangerment of the state itself not solely its allies, but critical interests: the interests that sustain its peoples. If a nation in our ever globalized world cannot satisfy the life needs of its population without access to certain markets, then intervention may be a proposition worth consideration, however not before due diligence is applied in ascertaining future partners to alleviate any material deficit. In our modern age, most nations should be amenable to trade and able to facilitate the procurement of foodstuffs and essentials to life and therefore under this criteria intervention in foreign conflicts should be highly infrequent.

Second among the principles is the humanitarian obligation. In peacetime, the majority of military activity serves to ensure peace and provide disaster relief. Such a function should be extended beyond our borders to encompass humanitarian relief, which may only be provided by soldiery. I implore the leaders of the civilized world not to neglect the suffering of those who lie beyond our borders, but rather to provide the intervention necessary to guarantee stability.

For example, I would advocate foreign intervention in Darfur, Somalia, Iraq, and The Gaza strip. However unpalatable the idea of putting soldiers on the ground overseas this reluctance must be tempered by the capacity to do good. If we are acting in prevention of genocidal circumstances, the purposes can only be just. Nevertheless, to ensure legitimacy a network of multilateral action is a requirement for such action, specifically a large body of local, regional, and indigenous forces, which would prove critical to liaison with the peoples in question. The African Union and NATO have begun to fill these roles, but remain, in many cases, content to let suffering abide.

In essence, the U.N has removed the burden of humanitarian conduct with its peacekeeping forces and a deep bureaucracy and the Security Council have handicapped this force despite its merits: Rwanda, and Bosnia both attest to this. There must be an effort to establish an alternative autonomous body accountable to a collection of nations but no to the U.N establishment, one that is activist and not solely a defense force unwilling to engage. If not then a heavily restructured United Nations Peacekeeping force is necessary. Nevertheless, in recognizing and treasuring, the peoples of the world the conservative cannot reasonable justify an isolationist stance that neglects the stability overseas, because not only is such instability contagious, but it is also a vice to let it go unchallenged. However, with this affirmation of the need for humanitarian intervention, we must be cautious for this definition may easily be extended to circumstances where intervention is not merited. We must insure that human catastrophe and or genocide is the only means by which intervention becomes mandated lest we rupture the stability of foreign nations or spur tumorous growths of violent insurrections in an already suffering land.  Likewise, to ameliorate the ailments of foreign peoples we must cultivate a willingness to stay and to stay a long time. If forces abandon such places before their native institutions can be reconstituted and the people have received sufficient succor, we only facilitate future crisis.

The final principle, and the most difficult to endorse is a conservative obligation under select circumstances to do its best to repel an aggressor and restore the status quo ante. This is elusive, because it is in our nature to seek revenge, every major war, even when the defensive power is the victor, leaves the borders changed. The conservative should take an interest in preventing the revanchism that comes with such remapping by ensuring that both in negotiations and in military engagement we are careful not to enforce unjust terms on the capitulant. Only in the direst circumstances must we engage to enforce the status quo, but in doing so we must allot evidence that gives credence to the certainty that by ensuring a resolution amenable to combatants we ensure the reduction of future bloodshed.

In conclusion, of these statements I wish to point out that the fundamentals of conservative thinking in foreign policy should be governed by a moral instinct toward our fellow man, and a natural criticism of any Universalist, optimistic, utopian, or idealist creeds. We have seen how the American ascendancy and Neoconservative order has jeopardized world security by facilitating the abandonment of local solutions to sovereign defence, and we outlined the principles, which govern a conservative military policy. These terms are mutable and always will be, military, foreign policy is an area where oracles fail, and complexity reigns. And in this sphere the best the conservative can hope for is a convention of what I call Moral Realism. Moral Realism recognizes the realist stance of foreign policy, while simultaneously providing for a virtuous exercise of power for the defense of mankind. This I believe is the lens that should govern the conservative perspective on war making.