On August 15, 2021, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to the new Governor-General Mary Simon, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, asking to dissolve parliament and call an election two years ahead of schedule. Trudeau asserts that Canadians must vote on a vision for the country’s recovery after the turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency measures implemented by his minority government. Trudeau and his Liberal Party of Canada are attempting to emerge from this election with a majority government that they were unable to attain two years ago, in 2019. Since then, the Trudeau Liberals have been governing with the support of the other parties in parliament, such as the New Democrat Party, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party.
The Canadian Arctic is typically not a major issue in federal election campaigns. In the 2019 federal election, only one candidate for Prime Minister (out of five) visited the Arctic, with Arctic issues only mentioned twice in nationally televised debates. Despite the Canadian Arctic’s absence from the previous federal election, there is reason to believe that the Arctic will play a greater role in the 2021 campaign. The Canadian Arctic is important to Canada’s national identity as “The Great White North” and Canadian’s identity as Northerners. The Canadian Arctic represents 40% of Canada’s total landmass and is inhabited by some 150,000 people, over half of whom are indigenous peoples. Canada’s Arctic population is not highly urbanized and pales in number to other Arctic states—Russia’s largest Arctic city, Murmansk, has at least double the population of the entire Canadian Arctic. Despite this fact, Canadians are likely to pay greater attention to the region as voters’ priorities shift. Ipsos polling shows that COVID-19 is no longer the most prominent issue for Canadian voters and that issues such as climate change, healthcare, cost of living, as well as indigenous issues, will outweigh the pandemic in voters’ minds.
The Canadian Arctic is an essential component of any national strategy regarding climate change as the Canadian Arctic experiences the effects of climate change far more acutely than the other parts of the country. Increased accessibility to natural resources as a result of climate change will also be a challenge for any future federal government seeking to balance economic development with mitigating the impact of climate change. Indigenous issues will also draw the North into greater focus following a series of discoveries at Canada’s former residential schools where the unmarked graves of children were unearthed earlier this year. Northern communities, in particular Indigenous northern communities, live far below the standard of living enjoyed by most Canadians. Just under 70% of Inuit households in Nunavut are food insecure, and life expectancy for Inuit Canadians is 72.4 years whereas Canada’s non-Indigenous population stands at 82.9 years. Besides, infrastructure in the North is well below the national standard, with many communities having no access to reliable drinking water or electricity grids. Security concerns in the Canadian Arctic are also becoming more prevalent in the Canadian political discourse. In large part, due to the impact of climate change and geostrategic concerns about Russian and Chinese activities in the Arctic region, Canada has been forced to re-evaluate its limited military and security presence in the Canadian Arctic.
What will the 2021 Canadian federal election mean for the Canadian Arctic? How do Canada’s main parties seek to approach the Arctic and how will the results of this election impact Arctic stakeholders at home and abroad? This article will evaluate Canada’s three largest parties and their party platforms and commitments for the Canadian Arctic. Canada’s smaller parties, namely the Green Party of Canada, The Bloc-Quebecois and the People’s Party of Canada, will not be considered for this article. The Green Party has yet to release any information on its Arctic platform at the time of writing, the Bloc-Quebecois is a regional party dedicated to Quebec nationalism, and the People’s Party of Canada does not have any presence in the Canadian Parliament.
Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party of Canada has been in government since Justin Trudeau won the 2015 federal election, defeating the incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Back in 2015, the Liberal’s sought to differentiate themselves from Harper’s approach to the Canadian Arctic which was largely predicated on security issues and resource extraction development. The Trudeau government intended to focus less on military and security issues—instead, Trudeau made climate change mitigation, indigenous rights, diplomacy and cooperation hallmarks of his party’s Arctic policy. This approach culminated in the 2019 Arctic and Northern Policy Framework Through 2030, a policy document similar to the Russian Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic Zone and Ensuring National Security through 2035. Both documents identify government priorities and strategies for achieving socio-economic development in the Arctic region and outline government approaches to national security concerns.
In both Russian and Canadian cases, these policy documents are intended to provide a long-term strategic outlook to stimulate investment and streamline government spending into priority areas. The Liberal government has outlined 8 priority areas for the Arctic, some of which are more domestically-oriented while others point to Canada’s geopolitical role as an Arctic state. In the case of domestically-oriented goals, the government aims to improve the resiliency of Northern communities, to strengthen infrastructure and close the infrastructure gap that persists between Arctic Canada and other more developed areas of the country, to create sustainable and inclusive regional economies, knowledge- and understanding-guided decision-making, protecting and promoting the health of Northern and Arctic ecosystems as well as self-determination and reconciliation with indigenous and non-indigenous communities. In terms of geopolitics, the government states it will actively promote maintaining rules-based international order in the Arctic to address new challenges and opportunities and ensure that Canadians in the Arctic are well-defended. The government’s Northern Policy Framework also makes note of territorial sovereignty and of maintaining Canada’s sovereignty over the entire Canadian Arctic region—namely, protecting Canada’s claims over the Northwest Passage and its territorial shelf claims currently under review by the UN.
The Liberal government’s Northern Policy Framework differentiates itself from the previous Conservative government’s approach to the Arctic through its focus on reconciliation with indigenous communities and fostering “inclusive economies”. In terms of infrastructure development, the government has made several large-scale investments, including investing $71.1 million for Nunavut transportation projects, expanding hydroelectric projects in the Northwest Territories and committing to providing high-speed Internet connection for remote communities—something seen as an essential component to growing business and improving the quality of life for those living in the Arctic region. In addition to supporting infrastructure development, the Liberal government has also continued to support the resource extraction industry in the Arctic region, a critical source of jobs and economic growth. The Northern Policy Framework outlines commitments to support the mining industry and enforce standards of responsible mining in the region. On the campaign trail, the Liberals have also sought to bolster support for the minerals industry by pledging to create a “Critical Battery Minerals Centre of Excellence” at a cost of $9.6 million and providing $36.8 million dollars for research and development of battery mineral refining and processing.
The Liberal government has also invested or committed to increasing the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Canadian Ranger’s presence in the Arctic region for security purposes. Existing commitments within the Northern Policy Framework include increasing the presence of the CAF, the Canadian Rangers and the Canadian Coast Guard to improve search and rescue capabilities in the Arctic region and defend Canada’s national interests and those of its citizens in the region. In addition to these commitments, the Liberal Party has also pledged to work with the United States to modernize and expand NORAD, a Cold War-era system of detection and defense to protect North America from aerospace and maritime threats. Recently, the Liberal Party has also committed to the construction of two new Arctic-class icebreakers, one to be built in British Columbia and the other in Quebec, which can be interpreted both as a job-boosting initiative in two of Canada’s most important electoral battlegrounds and as satiating Canada’s lack of heavy icebreaker capabilities (Canada’s only heavy icebreaker, the CCGS Louis-St. Laurent, is 52 years old).
The Northern Policy Framework and the current Liberal Party campaign commitments are largely focused on the socio-economic development of indigenous and remote communities in the Arctic region. Existing commitments include $190 million for food processing units, multi-use buildings and harbors to reduce food insecurity while revamping the “Nutrition North” program championed by the previous Conservative government. The government has also supported greater indigenous involvement in multilateral institutions, such as the Arctic Council, and funding the Sustainable Development Working Group within the Arctic Council framework. In the early stages of the federal election campaign, the Liberal Party has attempted to emphasize its commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, which extends to its Arctic messaging. In particular, the Liberals have pledged to supply $125.2 million over four years to mitigate the impact of climate change and extreme weather on indigenous communities in the North and support travel costs of Northerners without employer benefits, totaling a cost of $125 million over four years.
Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)
The Conservative Party of Canada’s new leader and a candidate for Prime Minister, Erin O’Toole, has been a vocal and consistent supporter of Arctic issues in parliament for many years. O’Toole’s position on Arctic issues is more focused on security and infrastructure development when compared to the Northern Policy Framework and the Liberal Party’s campaign commitments. This echoes the approach of the former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper who also ritualistically attended Operation Nanook, Canada’s annual Arctic military exercises, stressing the need to defend Canadian sovereignty in the region. The Conservative Party platform included several references to the Arctic region, including an entire section of the document devoted to defending the Canadian Arctic.
The Conservative Party Platform is more detailed than the Northern Policy Framework in terms of specific priorities in the Arctic region for security and critical infrastructure. The platform lists increasing the size and mandate of the Canadian Rangers and Canadian Armed Forces in the Arctic region, refurbishing Royal Canadian Air Force bases in the Arctic for dual citizen and military use, complete the Nanisivik Naval Facility on Baffin Island in Nunavut and establish a new Arctic naval base at Churchill, Manitoba, to ensure year-round access to the Arctic region by the Royal Canadian Navy. The Conservative Party has also signaled its intent to deploy autonomous vehicles for surveillance, detection and deterrence in the sea and air to protect Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic region. The CPC will also expand the RadarSat constellation, a series of low-orbit satellites for telecommunications and defense purposes, having also committed to modernizing and expanding NORAD. The Conservative Party has chosen to focus a large part of its Arctic messaging on threat perceptions from China and Russia. In the Northern Policy Framework, the Liberal government alludes to security challenges emerging in the region but does not single out any individual actor. In the CPC platform, China and Russia are mentioned explicitly as threats to Canadian sovereignty. In its commitment to procuring two armed, heavy icebreakers for the Royal Canadian Navy, the document states the icebreakers will “contribute to our efforts to own our north in the face of increased Russian and Chinese Arctic activity” and suggests establishing a “NATO Centre of Excellence for Arctic Defense” in Canada. Erin O’Toole’s personal statements regarding Arctic sovereignty far outpace statements made by any other party leader as he describes himself as “the most consistent voice on northern issues as an MP”. He also notes that “the biggest study we’ve had in 25 years on northern sovereignty issues was developed by me at the Foreign Affairs Committee,” referring to the report entitled Nation-Building at Home, Vigilance Beyond: Preparing for the Coming Decades in the Arctic and published in March 2019.
The Conservative Party platform also provided ample information regarding infrastructure development in the region. They support the construction of a 230-km all-weather road linking Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, expanding road access near the Northwest Territories diamond mines currently only accessible by ice roads. They also pledged to support the Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Line to deliver both renewable energy and broadband Internet to remote communities in the Canadian Arctic. The CPC has also stated its intent to pursue an “Arctic Gateway policy across the Canadian North,” which is intended to link Canada’s North to international markets despite the challenges associated with infrastructure development in the Arctic. It is interesting to note that in the section of the CPC’s platform on Arctic infrastructure development, China and Russia are also mentioned. The document states that “Russia has refurbished and built over 30 Arctic bases, 14 operational airfields, 16 deep-water ports, and over 50 new military icebreakers. The Chinese government has also increased interest in the Arctic.”
The Conservative Party platform is incredibly detailed in its approach to infrastructure development and sovereignty issues in the Arctic but lacks the depth of the Northern Policy Framework or Liberal/NDP campaign commitments in terms of indigenous issues. The CPC commits to supporting the Nutrition North Program, partnering with Indigenous communities on infrastructure development, and supporting reconciliation efforts more broadly. The most unique Conservative Party platform initiative on indigenous issues in the Arctic is the establishment of the “Canadian Indigenous Opportunities Corporation” with an “initial $5 billion in capital” that would support indigenous communities and organizations seeking to purchase equity stakes in major projects. The campaign promise to establish the Canadian Indigenous Opportunities Corporation is qualified by changing the impact assessment process for mining processes so that communities may not cause “unnecessary delays in providing approvals”.
New Democrat Party (NDP)
The New Democrat Party’s approach to the Arctic region is focused primarily on improving the socio-economic standing of the Arctic region and raising the quality of life for Northern communities. The NDP platform commitments pertaining to the Arctic region are also heavily centered around creating inclusive and sustainable local economies in consultation with Indigenous communities. The NDP did not make explicit mention of security issues in the party platform but did collaborate with the Liberal government in creating the Northern Policy Framework which does make note of protecting Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic region and ensuring the security of Canadian citizens in the area.
The New Democrat’s strategy for supporting northern development includes halting out-population flow through improvements to healthcare, the implementation of tax credits, education programs and bridging the infrastructure gap that exists between the Arctic and Canada’s other more developed regions. Specifically, the New Democrats seek to reduce the infrastructure gap through the creation of a Northern Infrastructure Fund designed to fast-track essential projects, such as broadband Internet access and roads in remote communities. The New Democrats also seek to spur development in the Arctic region by reducing the reliance on diesel-powered generators in remote communities and supporting the construction of new green energy capabilities to reduce energy insecurity in collaboration with local and indigenous partners.
The New Democrat platform consistently references improving the quality of life and fostering a more equitable partnership with indigenous communities in the North. The NDP supports reforming the Nutrition North program and reorienting the program from one that provides subsidies to companies providing food to remote communities to a social program “that benefits communities in the North directly”. Besides, the Party’s platform mentions the prospect of “shared governance” within the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee and the adoption of an Inuit Nunangat policy in partnership with the Inuit leadership to promote economic and social self-reliance within indigenous communities. The NDP has also committed to ensuring that federal election ballots will become more inclusive for Northern Indigenous communities, particularly through the addition of indigenous languages on election ballots beyond 2021. If elected, the NDP will also create a National Crisis Strategy to help vulnerable communities reduce the risks associated with climate change and extreme weather events, including long-term funding for disaster mitigation and “climate-resilient infrastructure”. The New Democrat platform and statements made on the campaign trail at this point are notably absent of specific funding targets and commitments when compared to the more exact figures provided by the Liberal Party and Conservative Party.
Domestic and International Impact
Although the Canadian Arctic is unlikely to be a prominent ballot box issue for voters in the 2021 federal election, there are potential ramifications for domestic and international Arctic stakeholders depending on which party (or parties) forms the next government in Ottawa. Domestically, all three parties have committed to reducing the infrastructure gap that exists between the Canadian Arctic and Canada’s more developed regions. The strategy to achieve this goal is also broadly similar between the three largest parties, including improving access to broadband Internet for remote communities, investing in the construction of roads and other critical infrastructure, and improving the resilience of remote communities. All three parties have committed to reducing food insecurity in the Arctic through continued support for the Nutrition North program or through reforming the program as in the case of the NDP. The Liberal Party and the New Democrats have expressed support for improving the quality and access to healthcare in the Arctic region, although the Liberal Party is the only party to provide specific funding commitments to achieve this goal. The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have demonstrated a much greater commitment to large-scale infrastructure projects intended to facilitate increased trade and resource extraction in the Arctic region. Both parties have committed significant funds to the development of deep-water ports, roads, and incentives for the resource extraction industry that currently drives Northern economies. The New Democrat platform did not include references to specific infrastructure projects beyond roads, green energy development and broadband Internet access in the Arctic or to the resource extraction industry. The Liberal Party and New Democrats both included direct references to improving collaboration between the federal government and Indigenous communities in the Arctic region. All three parties committed to investing in indigenous communities in the North, although the Conservative Party platform’s promise was qualified by the reform of impact assessment processes for mining and other resource extraction projects.
The 2021 Canadian federal election is unlikely to have a significant impact on international stakeholders. The Conservative Party platform and Erin O’Toole’s personal statements on the Canadian Arctic are the most robust of the three parties. The CPC made explicit mention of threats to Canadian sovereignty in the region, namely Russia and China, and put forward distinct policy proposals and funding targets to augment the Canadian military’s presence in the North. Both the Liberal Party and Conservative Party committed to the construction of two new Arctic-class icebreakers and to modernizing and expanding NORAD in conjunction with U.S. partners. The Conservative’s rhetoric surrounding Russia and China likely indicates that, if elected, the CPC will take a harder stance on both actors than is currently demonstrated by the Liberal government. The Liberal government did outline a commitment to continued dialogue with Arctic actors through multilateral institutions, such as the Arctic Council, and enhancing the Arctic Council’s mandate to some degree, although they did not signal any willingness to expand the Council’s mandate to include security issues.
It is also important to note that taking a harder stance against China is a widely bipartisan issue in Canada that enjoys widespread public support in the wake of diplomatic disputes over Huawei official Meng Wanzhou and two Canadians detained in China.
Irrespective of who forms the next federal government in Ottawa, it is likely that national security reviews of Chinese investments in the Arctic region will continue similar to a deal in 2020 that was blocked by Ottawa due to national security concerns. The New Democrat Party platform did not go into great detail regarding foreign policy priorities, and foreign policy or security issues related to the Arctic region were not mentioned. As Gregor Sharp notes in his paper on the Canadian Arctic following the 2015 federal election, the parties rhetorically present different proposals for the Arctic region but there is a great deal of continuity on the Arctic policy despite changing dynamics in parliament. Sharp attributes this lack of significant change to Canada’s lack of clout on Arctic issues. Although Canada is the second-largest Arctic nation, it lacks the population density, military power, or economic influence of some other Arctic states, such as the U.S. and Russia. Canada must work in concert with Arctic allies and like-minded partners through multilateral institutions, such as the UN and the Arctic Council, to achieve government priorities in the Arctic region. Canada must also continue to maintain dialogue with other Arctic states, such as Russia, to achieve common goals such as continued national control over the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route or avoid conflict over continental shelf limits in the region.
From our partner RIAC
Early Elections in Canada: Will the Fourth Wave Get in the Way?
On August 15, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, announced an early parliamentary election and scheduled it for September 20, 2021. Canadian legislation allows the federal government to be in power up to 5 years, so normally, the elections should have been held in 2023. However, the government has the right to call early elections at any time. This year, there will be 36 days for the pre-election campaigns.
At the centre of the Liberals’ election campaign is the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and the economic recovery. The coronavirus has also become a motivator for early elections. In his statement, Justin Trudeau emphasised that “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. Canadians deserve their say, and that’s exactly what we are going to give them.” Thus, the main declared goal of the Liberals is to get a vote of confidence from the public for the continuation of the measures taken by the government.
The goal, which the prime minister did not voice, is the desire of the Liberal Party to win an absolute majority in the Parliament. In the 2019 elections, the Liberals won 157 seats, which allowed them to form a minority government, which is forced to seek the support of opposition parties when making decisions.
The somewhat risky move of the Liberals can be explained. The Liberals decided to take advantage of the high ratings of the ruling party and the prime minister at the moment, associated with a fairly successful anti-COVID policy, hoping that a high level of vaccination (according to official data, 71% of the Canadian population, who have no contraindications, are fully vaccinated and the emerging post-pandemic economic recovery will help it win a parliamentary majority.
Opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians approve Trudeau’s strategy to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Between the 2019 elections and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau’s government was unpopular, with ratings below 30%. Unlike Donald Trump, Trudeau’s approval rating soared after the outbreak of the pandemic to 55%. During the election campaign, the rating of the Liberal Party decreased and was 31.6% on September 16, which reduces the chances of a landslide victory.
Trudeau left unanswered the question of whether he’d resign if his party fails to win an absolute majority in the elections.
Leaders of opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party—criticised Trudeau’s decision to call early elections, considering the decision inappropriate for the timing and situation with regard to the risk of the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They stressed that the government’s primary task should be taking measures to combat the pandemic and restore the economy, rather than trying to hold onto power.
The on-going pandemic will change the electoral process. In the event of a fourth wave, priority will be given to postal voting. Liberal analysts are concerned that the registration process to submit ballots by mail could stop their supporters from voting, thereby undermining Trudeau’s drive to reclaim a majority government. However, postal voting is the least popular among voters of the Conservative Party, and slightly more popular among voters of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The timeframe for vote-counting will be increased. While ballots are usually counted on the morning after election day, it can take up to five days for postal voting.
One of the key and most attractive campaign messages of the Liberal Party is the reduction of the average cost of childcare services. Liberals have promised to resolve this issue for many years, but no active action has been taken. Justin Trudeau noted that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue.
As in the 2019 elections, the Liberal Party’s key rival will be the Conservative Party, led by new leader Erin O’Toole. The Conservative Party’s rating a five days before the election was 31.3%. Conservatives suggest a different approach to childcare—providing a refundable child tax subsidy that covers up to 75% of the cost of kindergarten for low-income families. Trudeau has been harshly criticised by the Conservatives in connection with the scale of spending under his leadership, especially during the pandemic, and because of billion-dollar promises. In general, the race will not be easy for the conservative O’Toole. This is the first time he is running for the post of prime minister, in contrast to Justin Trudeau. Moreover, the Conservative Party of Canada is split from within, and the candidate is faced with the task of consolidating the party. The Conservative will have to argue against the billion-dollar promises which were made by the ruling Liberals before the elections.
The leaders of the other parties have chances to increase their seats in Parliament compared to the results of the 2019 elections, but they can hardly expect to receive the necessary number of votes to form a government. At the same time, the personal popularity of Jagmeet Singh, the candidate from the New Democratic Party, is growing, especially among young people. The level of his popularity at the end of August was 19.8%. Singh intends to do everything possible to steal progressive voters from the Liberal Party and prevent the formation of a Liberal-majority government. Singh will emphasise the significant role of the NDP under the minority government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight that it was the New Democratic Party that was able to influence government decisions and measures to support the population during the pandemic.
Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose popularity level was 6.6%, intends to increase the Bloc’s presence in Parliament and prevent the loss of votes in the province of Quebec in favour of the Liberal Party. According to him, it is fundamentally important to protect the French language and the ideas of secularism. The Bloc Québécois is also not interested in the formation of a majority government by the Liberals.
Green Party leader Annamie Paul is in a difficult position due to internal party battles. Moreover, her rating is low: 3.5%. Higher party officials have even tried to pass a no-confidence vote against her. Annamie Paul’s goal is, in principle, to get a seat in Parliament in order to be able to take part in voting on important political issues. The Greens are focused on climate change problems, the principles of social justice, assistance to the most needy segments of the population, and the fight against various types of discrimination.
Traditionally, foreign policy remains a peripheral topic of the election campaign in Canada. This year, the focus will be on combating the COVID-19 epidemic, developing the social sphere, and economic recovery, which will push foreign policy issues aside even further.
The outcome of the elections will not have a significant impact on Russian-Canadian relations. An all-party anti-Russian consensus has developed in Canada; none of the parties have expressed any intention of developing a dialogue with Russia.
From our partner RIAC
Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow
It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.
The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.
It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.
Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.
The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.
America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.
That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.
Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.
Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.
In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.
From our partner RIAC
AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy
On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.
Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.
Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.
This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.
Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.
Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.
Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.
In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
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