North Korean Crisis and the Trump-Trudeau Meeting

By Danny Lam

President Trump first met with Prime Minister Trudeau in February, 2017.   The agenda from that meeting was dominated by Canadian priorities like maintaining NAFTA, Canadian oil exports, environment, followed by afterthoughts to American priorities like border security and international security.

Next week’s summit, added as an afterthought to PM Trudeau’s Washington schedule, according to the PMO, will see US priorities in international security at the forefront, replacing trade and economics despite high profile disputes over US tariffs on Bombardier.

PM Trudeau, rather than a new face to President Trump, is now a known quantity, having been exposed to the full plethora of Canadian tactics used to manipulate the US government and get their way that included intense lobbying at all levels of the US political system, ganging up with allies, and intransience at the bargaining table on core issues.

President Trump will also be very well briefed on issues that traditionally dominated US-Canada relations like NAFTA.

Back in February, the Canadian Super Hornet procurement was a priority to fill an urgent “capability gap” that warranted demanding the Trump Administration’s cooperation for “immediate acquisition” in the post summit joint statement.

When the Bombardier ITC case was filed, Canada’s urgent need for “interim fighters” evaporated.  

Instead, the Trudeau government switched gears and made the Super Hornet acquisition conditional on Boeing dropping the ITC complaint against Bombardier. This included explicit threats made by the Prime Minister, Foreign and Defense Ministers, and Ambassador MacNaughton to cut off trade (business) with Boeing.

Canadian officials persuaded PM Theresa May lobbied President Trump and UK made similar threats against Boeing.  This was due to the peculiar nature of May’s governing coalition in which Northern Ireland is really crucial to her grasp on power.

PM Trudeau personally lobbied Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens warning him that Canada is his state’s largest trading partner and how they depend on the Hornet purchase for jobs.

This is in addition to intense lobbying of Administration officials, Congress and governors reminiscent of the Harper government’s efforts at getting Keystone XL approved.

Despite all these efforts, Boeing and the Trump Administration did not budge.

The consequence of this episode is to fully expose Canadian tactics for what it is and familiarize the Trump Administration with how to deal with them not just for Bombardier, but for NAFTA and many other bilateral issues.

If Canadian tactics failed on a modest issue like Bombardier, it is unlikely to do any better for bigger issues like international security or NAFTA.

PM Trudeau now bears the burden of having his government tightly tying Canadian national security to trade – and focused the Trump Administration on Canada’s 1% GDP defense spending despite having made pledges to improve spending to the Obama Administration during the Wales NATO summit in 2014.

President Trump will be unamused when he discover how Canada “raised” defense spending from 1 to 1.3% with accounting tricks, in the process, undermining the decade long Administration campaign to encourage allied defense spending to at least 2% GDP.

The de facto abandonment of the Super Hornet purchase willy-nilly without alternatives only add to Canada, and the Trudeau government’s credibility challenges.  

It is in this context that Canada’s top NORAD official, General Pierre St-Amand, publically announced to a House of Commons Committee hearing in September: “The extent of the US policy is not to defend Canada. [Against North Korean ICBM attacks] That’s the fact I can bring to the table.”

While this fact is widely known to reputable members of the Canadian defense community, it was met with shock, feelings of betrayal and virulent anger by Parliamentarians and the Canadian public.  

Successive Canadian governments encouraged the delusion that the U.S. is compelled under NORAD and NATO to shoot down ballistic missiles even as they sharply cut defense spending and withdrew from being a full defense partner of the U.S. since the ending of the cold war.

Before the DPRK threat materialized, Canada got away scot free with being a free rider.

Canada decided in 2005 to not join the US ballistic missile defense system. What’s more, Canada’s present threat assessment and outlook against North Korea precludes this decision from being changed.

Canadian DND regards North Korean missile attacks as a “hypothetical scenario” that do not fit with a regime “primarily motivated by… survival”, while Global Affairs saw “no direct threat to Canada”.

Stephen Fuhr, the Chair of the HoC Standing Committee on National Defense (NDDN), regarded missile defense as a low priority among many competing priorities in a defense budget of 1% GDP.

The schism between the Trump Administration and Trudeau Government on the DPRK threat cannot be more sharp or, for that matter with the Pacific allies of Canada, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

DPRK is the No. 1 foreign policy and military problem for the Trump Administration and the Pacific allies to address before 2019 when North Korean capabilities will preclude a low risk military solution.

Canada not only see no threat, but expect the US to defend Canada gratis anyways if a threat materialize.

Being a defense free rider in the absence of imminent existential threats (e.g. between 1990-2008) is one thing.

Allies cannot claim a “special relationship” with the US without spending 2% GDP on defense, and disdain like “Free riders aggravate me” comments from President Obama are forgotten quickly.

Canada, however, have gone far beyond being just a free rider with the emergence of the DPRK threat to North America.

Canada is rejecting the US view that North Korea is the No. 1 imminent existential threat to the liberal international order that must be addressed before they can reliably strike North America with thermonuclear weapons.

In parallel, Canada rejects the US view that China is the greatest security threat to the US by 2025 – exceeding the threat from Russia.  While it is Canada’s prerogative as a sovereign state to hold these views, they are fundamentally incompatible with being a close ally of the United States of America.

A crucial issue to address at this summit will be for the US to impress on Canada the severity of the present DPRK thermonuclear ICBM threat against Canada and the consequences of having no defense going forward.  

Even if the US elected to defend Canada against DPRK ICBMs for political reasons, there are not enough US capabilities in situ to do so.   It is hard to imagine POTUS choosing to defend a Canadian over an American city in the absence of iron clad alliance obligations which presently do not exist.

Restoring a consensus between Canada and the US on the DPRK issue will enable Canadian defense posture and policy changes to deal with this imminent existential threat.

With US support and cooperation Canada can affordably and quickly plug the vulnerability to DPRK ICBMs within six month.

All other issues, including NAFTA, Bombardier, and others, pale before this one.

Editor’s Note: One can contrast the Australian view with the Canadian one with regard to working with allies in the Pacific to deal with the North Korean threat.

In mid August we publish this article which highlighted the Australian perspective:

In this video, the Australian Prime Minister discusses the North Korean situation and its seriousness.

He also reaffirms the ANZAC agreement and the common US and Australian response to North Korean aggression.

Diplomacy and statecraft are clearly a key part of the refocus of public attention on the nature of the evolving threats to liberal democracies.

Australian PM on the North Korean Crisis August 11, 2017 from on Vimeo.

The current leadership equation among the liberal democracies can be conceptualized as T3, M3 and A1,

The three Ts, are Trump, Trudeau and Turnbull; the three Ms are Merkel, Macron and May and the A stands for Abe.

In many ways the policies of the liberal democracies on defense and security policy are emerging from the interaction among these leaders rather than being driven by a single superpower.

But for Trudeau on the Pacific side of the equation perhaps the only support he would have would from the PRC, rather from the other two Ts or from A

Bookmark this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *