The shock effect of Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential campaign will reach and shake the bedrock of Canadian national security policy. Maybe not right away, maybe not always visibly, but a Trump presidency has enormous implications for Canada’s security and intelligence system, its capabilities and the protections it can offer Canadian society.
It will have to be added to the long list of other concerns that threaten to overturn Canadian–U.S. relations (climate change policies, NAFTA, other free trade agreements, NATO support, the nature of U.S. global security engagement and on and on). Where to start?
A cornerstone of Canada’s security system is the Five Eyes partnership, a deeply rooted intelligence alliance reaching back to the Second World War, that links Canada to four key allies: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The most important linkage for Canada within the Five Eyes is with the United States, for obvious reasons.
The Five Eyes relationship will not vanish under Donald Trump but it will change. The sense of mutual trust and shared values that is the cultural glue of the Five Eyes partnership will be under threat. Intelligence sharing among the allies will have to be more tightly controlled out of fears about how the U.S. system might use or abuse its partners’ information; greater scrutiny will have to be given to U.S. intelligence reports. Every Five Eyes country will be wondering the extent to which future U.S. intelligence reporting on key parts of the world, such as Russia, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, will be heavily politicized under a Trump government.
This matters especially for a country such as Canada, which wants to play a larger global role but has limited foreign intelligence resources of its own and is highly dependent on U.S. global intelligence capabilities.
A second shock to the system may well come over border security. Here, Canada has gone through significant ups and downs with the United States since the 9/11 attacks as we have tried to find a middle path that allowed for the balancing of security protections and free trade and movement of peoples across our shared border. A Trump presidency, with its highly vocal disdain for NAFTA, its America-first approach and its fears of loose borders, will be a difficult partner for Canada. The idea of a balancing of security and trade interests might well go out the window, even at a cost to the U.S. economy (and certainly at a big cost to ours).
The U.S. under Trump may take a much tougher, more demanding stand on border security with Canada. We may not be treated as an ally, friend, or partner on that file, and the kind of cheerful, informal meeting of the sort that recently occurred in Ottawa between Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and his Homeland Security counterpart Jeh Johnson are unlikely to be a feature of future Canada–U.S. discussions.
A third issue will be the security implications of Canada’s refugee policy, particularly a refugee policy that attempts to assist the most vulnerable victims of war and strife in Syria and Iraq. A Trump White House will not look kindly or with any understanding on Canadian refugee policy. It will demand proof that Canada is not threatening North American security by admitting such refugees; it may even demand change. The tone will be nasty.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the question of how Canadian national security and global security mesh under Trump. Canadian global security policy rests on assumptions of U.S. global security commitments, leadership, and acumen. An America-first president, without knowledge of foreign policy or defence issues, with a team similarly lacking in expertise, with unpredictable instincts but deep suspicions about free-riding and mooching allies, offers few to no reassurances that the standard assumptions about the conduct of a Canadian global security policy aligned with U.S. leadership and interests will hold. The future of NATO is in play; of U.N.-backed global security initiatives; maybe even of NORAD (where Canada is historically a big free rider).
What can be done? The first government instinct will be to wait and see, and assume that things might not be so bad. That is a natural instinct, but not a good foundation for longer-term security policy. We had better start working in earnest on a security Plan B. Should the Trump White House deliver on its worst policies, Canada will have no choice but to do two things:
1) Find a pivot to a renewed and strengthened intelligence and security relationship with the U.K. and Europe, a back-to-the-future moment
2) Invest as a matter of urgency in strengthening our sovereign capacity for intelligence reporting, and own security institutions
Canadian dependency on the U.S. for security cannot be a comfortable, stay-the-course option when the U.S. concept of global security may swerve so far from Canadian aims.
This article was first published in the Ottawa Citizen on 14 November 2016.