Language selection

Search

Video: Geopolitics and National Security Series: Margaret MacMillan on Canada, Geopolitics and Learning from the Past

Description

The world-renowned Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan discuss the similarities and differences we now face in comparison to previous eras of global instability, how contemporary international political relations link to the past and how Canada might approach the world today based on insights from history.

Duration: 01:31:31
Published: March 16, 2022
Code: LPL1-V14

Event: Geopolitics and National Security Series: Margaret MacMillan on Canada, Geopolitics and Learning from the Past


Now playing

Geopolitics and National Security Series: Margaret MacMillan on Canada, Geopolitics and Learning from the Past

Transcript | Watch on YouTube

Transcript

Transcript: Geopolitics and National Security Series: Margaret MacMillan on Canada, Geopolitics and Learning from the Past

[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]

[Alex Dalziel appears in a video chat.]

Alex Dalziel, Canada School of Public Service: Good morning. My name is Alex Dalziel, and I am the Director of the Geopolitics and National Security Learning Programme at the Canada School of Public Service. Welcome to our third and final event in our inaugural Geopolitics Series. We are thrilled today to have the opportunity to present you world renowned historian, Margaret MacMillan. This will follow up on our previous sessions where we looked at the evolving geopolitical environment in which Canada finds itself. And then the second one where we looked a little more deeply at how Canada might adjust. So, you're in for a real special event today.

Put before we get into the session, I do have a few housekeeping items for you to improve the quality of the event. So first off, would like to acknowledge that we are coming to you from Ottawa, the traditional and unceded lands of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. I recognize that we have people from all over Canada and other parts of the world today in attendance. I do encourage you to reflect on the traditional and historic custodians of the lands where you find yourself. For the best possible experience, please turn off your VPN. If you prefer to hear this in French, we're happy to provide services in both official languages. I encourage you to connect to the interpretation for French translation. We also provide real time captioning through the cart service. So please take advantage of that if that will benefit your involvement. And throughout the event, we encourage you to think critically about what you're hearing and pose questions by clicking on the icon that looks like a raised hand. We are monitoring that inbox and throughout, we will be submitting those to our moderator for this event, who is Jill Sinclair. So, with that, Jill, I'll turn it over to you.

[Two more chat panels appear. On the bottom panel sits Jill Sinclair and on the top right sits Margaret MacMillan. As she speaks, Jill’s panel fills the screen.]

Jill Sinclair, Canada School of Public Service: Thanks very much, Alex. Well, I'm delighted to be here today, and I couldn't be more honoured and delighted than to be sharing a screen with Margaret MacMillan. As Alex has said, we're in for real treat. Margaret's going to give some comments, probably 20, 25 minutes. We don't want to constrain her because she has so much to share with us, but I really would encourage you, even as Margaret is speaking, to be putting your comments or questions or observations in the chat, we will be mining those constantly. And we really do want to make this an interactive session. I think that you all know Margaret MacMillan, that's why you you've signed up for this session. As Alex has said, not just a historian and a scholar, but an author and a commentator. And I would add to that, a voice of reason and wisdom rooted in history, but looking very much to the future. Margaret, with that, I'd like to pass over to you.

Margaret MacMillan, University of Toronto: Jill, thank you so much. And thank you Alex. And it's a real pleasure to be with you even virtually. I hope that you in Ottawa, are withstanding the siege of Ottawa and we'll have some war stories to tell after it. As I say, I'm sorry I can't be there though, because think it's always fun to be able to talk to people in person. I love talking about history, not just because I enjoy it and I like it, but I do think it's an important subject. And so, what I want to do today is talk a bit about why I think history is important, how it can help us understand what's happening today and say some things about what I think is happening today. Historians are notoriously bad at predicting the future, but I might even venture a few words on what I think is likely to happen.

Well, first of all, why is history important? And I think it's important for a number of reasons. And I think we all instinctively know that. We know that the more you know about an issue or place or person, the more knowledge you have, the more you can deal with that issue, place or person. So, history, I think, is important, both in personal relationships, but also in understanding others and understanding other nations and understanding other groups. I mean, impossible, I think, to understand the demands that President Putin is making today and the position he's taking without understanding something of Russian history, without understanding how he sees Russia in the world and how many people in Russia support him. There is a Russian perspective on the world, and I think we need to understand that. Just as there is a Canadian perspective on the world.
I think history also helps us to understand the context within which things happen. It helps us to look beyond the immediate events and ask questions. What are the economic issues perhaps that are affecting Russia's foreign policy today? What might be the demographic issues? How important is it, for example, that the Russian population is declining? Is that affecting Russia's capacity to project its power? Is it affecting policy makers within Russia? And so, what history does, I think, is open our minds to possibilities, helps us to ask questions. And without being able to ask questions, and of course we're not even going to be able to begin to look for solutions to some of the issues with which we're dealing.

I think what history can also do, and I think it's becoming actually increasingly important, is it can be used to challenge false histories. And there are great many false or very one-sided histories out there. I think we're actually seeing an increasing use of history, possibly because other sources of authority, whether that's religion, whether it's our political leaders, whether it's tradition, other sources of authority are perhaps less trusted these days. And I think that we tend to look at the past and believe that it has some sort of answers, that it's some sort of authority. How often have you heard when people say, "I want to be on the right side of history,” as if history is some sort of judge, some sort of final decider of what is right and what is wrong.

"Ukraine..." Says Putin, and he said it repeatedly, "... is part of Russia. Has always been part of Russia. Is not separate from Russia." And I think we need to know enough of the history of Ukraine to be able to say, "Well, wait a minute. There are other ways of looking at Ukrainian. And that history that Putin and his supporters are putting forward may not be the only history of Ukraine."
China makes claims to Taiwan based on history. It makes claims to the South China Sea based on history. And I think we need to be able to challenge those claims. We need also, I think, to be very wary of the ways in which history's used to promote nationalism. And that a sort of nationalism that often involves hatred of others. And I think governments in authoritarian countries often take history very seriously because they see it as a tool or a way in which they can manipulate public opinion and promote a certain view of the country and of course of their leadership. In Hungary, for example, Viktor Orban has brought in a new Hungarian national curriculum, which focuses very largely on the great Hungarian victories of the past and makes almost no mention of any Hungarian defeats or mistakes. And this is a view of history, which is being used, so he hopes, to try and create a Hungarian view of the world, a Hungarian and support for him and his policies.

I think to understand the ways in which history is being used and to be able to challenge those ways sometimes is something that is taking on increasing importance. We also, I think, look back to history to try and find parallels to current situations. When we're dealing with fluid and rapidly changing situations, which I think we are today in many parts of the world and in many cases, then we cast around for ways of trying to think about them. And one of the ways that we try and think about difficult situations is to look to the past. We look for analogies. Is what's happening, for example, with Ukraine today, because I keep mentioning Ukraine because I think it's very much on all of our minds, is what is happening with Ukraine in any way comparable to what was happening in 1938 when Hitler was making demands on Czechoslovakia, demanding territory, demanding that the Germans and the Sudetenlands be reunited, as he put it. They never actually had been united with Germany, but he wanted to bring back in, as he put it, to Germany. Is there a parallel? And if there's a parallel, what can we learn from it?

Now, analogies are tricky things because we can get them wrong so often. But they can be very powerful ways of thinking about the present. We look to the past, and the appeasement one, which of course first became the term first really became used in the 1930s, the appeasement one is one that has had a tremendous influence on decision makers right down to the present day. And I think you'll notice how often in the commentary in Parliament, for example, or in the media, the appeasement analogy is being used. Are we in danger of appeasing and thereby making a dictator stronger and thereby leading to even more trouble? As I say, we have to use these analogies carefully.

Misused, they can also get us into trouble. Prime minister, Anthony Eden in the 1950s thought that Nasser was like the dictators whom he had dealt with as foreign secretary in the 1930s. He believed that Nasser, the President of Egypt was another Mussolini or another Hitler, which led him into the disastrous Suez event, Suez adventure, which was, for Britain, a real blow to its position in the world and caused long term consequences for the British position in the Middle East and elsewhere in the developing world. Analogies: we will use them, we have to use them, but as I say, we need to use them with care.

What history can also do is help us to understand what might be different and what isn't that different. How different are the times in which we're living? And this is tricky because again, we tend to overemphasize what is new. Sometimes, I think we need to remember that we have had similar situations before. And we may be able to draw, not clear blueprints, but we may be able to draw some useful lessons, useful warnings. And so, for example, looking at our own times, I think we can see that we're in a time of transition internationally. That's happened before. And we can look at those times before 1914, for example, and try and understand where they might have gone wrong, where they might have done something that was sensible. How important are domestic factors in forcing leaders to do certain things?

We've seen that happen in the past. And how much do leaders use domestic opinion? We need to look at the types of leadership we have. And again, I think looking at the past can help us. I myself believe that, of course, the great factors in history matter, the objective forces, economics, demography, resources, geography institutions, ideas, all these things shape the foreign policy of states. But I think what also can play a part at certain times is the person actually in power. And of course, the more authoritarian the state, the more the person in power actually matters because that person can wield very great power indeed. We have to constantly, I think, attempt to understand and not just the context and what it is that leaders are operating with, but I think we also need to try and understand the psychology of leaders, particularly those who have very great power.

And again, in our time, which I think is a tricky one, and I think we are in transition, a global transition, and new issues coming up to the fore the whole time. I think we also need to take warning from the past. We need to be weary of brinkmanship. I think what we're seeing again in Ukraine is a very dangerous kind of brinkmanship. And what I'm always a reminded by with history is that accidents happen. And when people go to the brink, they get themselves into position where it can be very difficult to back down. And questions of pride, prestige, I mean, these things matter. Emotions matter in international relations as much as anything else.

So, what would you say? And you probably have more idea of this than I do because you specialize in so many different things. What is different today? I would say that we're seeing some things in a very similar, great power rivalry, for example. But what we are seeing that is different, I think, is the global nature of challenges, far more even than there was in the globalized world before 1914. The pandemic, I think, is a very good example of that. Climate change, of course. And movements of peoples on a vast scale. This is something which is now truly an international problem and is going to go on being one.

We also, I think, are still coming to terms of what the impact of the internet is. What it is doing to the formation and movements of public opinion, what it's doing to the types of leadership we have. I think we're also beginning to understand the potential perils and advantages of artificial intelligence. This is something which there has just been a very good series of lectures on the BBC, the Reith Lectures, on artificial intelligence and humanity and what it means for our future and what it means actually for war. Because increasingly self-guided weapon systems, automated self-guided weapon systems are going to be used. There's a huge amount of research going on, and Jill will know much more about this than I do. But the use of artificial intelligence in warfare is something that is really facing us all with serious questions. How do we control it? How do we stop self-guided systems once they're set in motion? How do we build in ethical restraints? How do we build in the rules of war? I mean, these are all discussions, which I think we have to have.

But as I say, we also have similarities to the past. The US-China rivalry is the sort of rivalry we have seen before. Two nations, both of which think that they are models for the rest of the world, both of which are convinced of their own moral rectitude, both of which have great power, both of which have ambitions to play, at least if not a global role, certainly regional roles. Although, I would argue that China increasingly now is seeing itself playing a global role. How do they deal with each other?

Now, as you probably know, there is a theory and I always have trouble pronouncing this Greek name, this Thucydides Trap, which has been promoted by a number of people, including Graham Allison, in a very interesting book and in articles. The Thucydides Trap argues that when you get a rising power and a declining power, you almost inevitably get war. And I would argue that this is not as clear cut as that. The argument starts with a line from Thucydides that Sparta feared the rising power of Athens, and so there was war. And it's one line and a very long series of writings. I think if you start looking at it, it's rather difficult actually to see which was the rising power and which was the declining, because both were rising in some ways and both were declining in other ways. And it raises all sorts of questions about what is actually power.

I think also we can look to the past and see that there have been cases where nations have very successfully managed the transition of power. The British and the Americans managed the transition of power between their two countries. In the 1890s, there was serious talk of war over the Venezuela border issues and cooler heads in both Washington and London said, basically "This is absurd." And they came to an understanding that the United States would be the dominant power in the Western hemisphere. And the British would, although they continue to invest heavily, no longer take a strategic role there. And that was, I think, a very successfully managed transition. I would argue the British and the Germans, Britain and Germany. Germany, the rising power, Britain, perhaps the declining power by 1914. Although again, it's not entirely clear, also we're managing their transition. And in fact, needn't have gone to war in 1914 if things had turned out slightly differently. And there was people on both sides in Britain and Germany who said, "We need to work with each other." Germany, the biggest land power, Britain, the world's biggest naval power, it was an obvious match. And they were each other's greatest trading powers.

So, I think we are dealing with issues that we've dealt with in the past, as well of course, these new ones. And we're dealing, I think also when they had this again in the past, we're dealing with the crumbling of international institutions. I think we have less faith in many of those institutions. I think we are taking them for granted, which is very dangerous. And I think as the generation that remembers why we wanted the United Nations, why we wanted Bretton Woods organizations, that generation has largely disappeared from the scene. My generation, which came of age after the Second World War, still understood. Because the Second World War was very much in our parents' memories, I think we still understood the importance of those institutions. But as time goes by, people forget just how important such institutions are. And we tend to underestimate their importance. We tend to devalue them.

And so, I think we need to be wary of what we ourselves are thinking in any time, because what we think is normal may not be normal. And we need to worry, I think, about out how crises can develop. Now, crises come, I think often without us expecting it. The COVID pandemic, we should have expected, and certainly people who were in medical circles were warning about the possibility of a pandemic. But we tended not to take it seriously as nations. We tended collectively not to take it seriously. Our preparations were partial. We didn't really think through what we might need if there was a serious pandemic. And I think that is reflected in the ways in which we responded, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. And I think on the whole, we've managed to respond. Although we can all think of ways in which we didn't respond that well.

Will we learn from it? And that is of course, always a possibility, we can learn from crises. We did set up the various international organizations which have served us well after the Second World War, because we didn't want to repeat that Second World War. And I think that was important. We did learn. We are, I think, beginning to learn painfully and too slowly about how to deal with climate change. But sometimes when a crisis is over, we forget. And I think the danger with the pandemic, for example, is that we will be so glad that it is over or that it's subsided, that we will not be prepared collectively to the steps to prevent the next one. And I think it's almost certain there will be a next one.

So where are we today? I think we're seeing, as I say, great power rivalry. Not just between the US and China, although that is probably the most worrying one, but between China and India, those two nations still have unresolved border issues on their borders. And I think that is something that we should all worry about. There have been conflicts on the common borders between India and China, not so serious yet, but the potential I think is there. I think we have tended to assume that major state to state war is something that isn't going to happen again. And I'm not so sure we can be that confident. I mean, we're seeing a considerable arms race at the moment. We're seeing plans being made for potential wars. And of course, the military make plans, that's their job and they should make plans. But the danger always is that planning moves into assumption.

And so, if you start to plan for a possible war with a possible enemy, the danger is psychologically, I think, you begin to assume that that war is probably going to happen. I was very struck by a PhD thesis that I examined in the UK about American Japanese naval rivalry in the Pacific. Both those navies were beginning to think, in the First World War, that they might one day be rivals for domination of the Pacific. And so, a lot of their procurement and their planning actually began to move in the direction of preparing for this possible conflict. Now, that is not the only factor that contributed to the war between the United States and Japan, but I think it helped to put both countries on a path where significant people of influence felt that a war between Japan and the United States was probably going to come.

And when you get the United States and China talking in terms of preparing for a possible war between their two countries, people arguing in think tanks, as they are doing in both China and the United States, that a war is probably going to happen, likely to happen, I think you are moving into dangerous territory. That you are assuming something, and therefore you begin to interpret what the other side does in light of what you are assuming. And you begin also to make preparations for something you think might happen. This is not to say that either country wants war, but I think their focus on the other as a potential enemy does carry with it perils.

So, think we still see the possibility of state-to-state war. And as I say, accident. You think of what's happening in the South China Seas today where there is an American Naval present, both on the water, under the water and in the air. And of course, a significant Chinese naval presence. There will be, I think, dangers, they've come close to it, of accidents. And there was something last year where I think an American and Chinese ship came very, very close to each other, dangerously. And I think we can all ask ourselves what would happen if someone gets shot down, something gets sunk and then nationalist opinion in both countries begins to put pressure on leaders. Now, China’s an authoritarian state, but they have promoted a patriotic education now for generations. And this has helped to create a new and fresh generations of highly nationalistic Chinese. Nothing wrong with that, except that this is a type of nationalism which sees China's prestige tied up with being a great power. And this does, even in an authoritarian regime, put pressure on governments.

I think what we're also going to see is a continuance of hybrid war. War that combines war on the internet, denial of service to other countries, but also uses actual weapons. I think we'll also see, as we are seeing around the world, low level, and I say low level only in terms of the weapons that are being used, not in the damage being caused, low level conflict, often civil conflicts in failed states. And I see no prospect of some of those ending anytime soon. Yemen, for example, is not, I think, going to become a peaceful country anytime soon. I think we're going to see war around the world. We hope to avoid state-to=state war because a state-to-state war carries the potential for disaster. So where does Canada fit in all this? And then I'll stop. I think we are facing a number of serious challenges. It may be exaggerated in the media, but it seems to me there is a fair degree of disunity within the country at the moment.

There always has been tension between the federal government and the provinces, and tension among the provinces themselves, but I worry that we are losing sight of any common purpose or commonality. We don't need to have a common purpose perhaps, but some sense that we inhabit the same country and have certain things in common.

And we also face, I think, very serious threats from without. To the south, it may be exaggerated, but reasonable people are now talking about the potential for civil war in the United States. I would like to think that that is alarmist, but I think we have to worry about what's happening in the United States. I think we have to worry about what's happening in American politics, we have to worry about the polarization of American political opinion and what seems to be the polarization of a lot of American society and just the sheer number of weapons that are out there. Probably the most heavily armed populists in the world, perhaps except for Afghanistan or some of the central Asian republics and this is I think, very worrying.

And of course, we have to worry that we are a small people living in a very large piece of land, and a lot of that land is of great interest to other powers. And I think we have to worry about what's happening in the north. And then climate change of course is going to contribute to this as the north becomes more accessible. And as the search for minerals for access for influence goes on, I think Canada is going to have to deal with considerable pressure from powers, from Russia to China in particular, I think that see themselves as Arctic powers.

And of course, we're not very enthusiastic about spending money on potential threats, spending money on defence. We have tended to assume that we can manage, that we're members of NATO, and we're members of NORAD, that we don't need to spend that much, the United States will always protect us. I think we need to be wary of being too complacent, and we need to try and think constructively about some of these problems.

Finally, I would say what we need to do and what public servants need to do, and what people like me need to do is we need to try and enhance our capacity to think constructively about the world. And I worry that partly because of economic pressures, newspapers, CBC, or having to cut foreign bureaus, we're getting less direct interpretation from the news media from abroad. And I also worry very much about what's happening in our universities. I think we're losing our capacity to study and understand very important parts of the world and issues. I was talking to colleagues at the University of Toronto yesterday, and I believe there's no one now doing Russian foreign policy, and there's no course, as far as I know in Canadian foreign policy. And this seems to me very, very worrying indeed, because the university is where we produce the people who are going to be able to help us understand the world. So, on that rather depressing note, I will end. Thank you.

Jill Sinclair: I won't say depressing, Margaret, I'll say compelling. Every word that you uttered was compelling and thanks so much. I mean, a massive sweep from history to the current day, to putting us in a good space to think about how we can think about these issues. The questions are coming in fast and furious, which is wonderful. I'm going to draw on all of them, but what I'd like to start with is you talked about complacency, and I'd like to push you a little bit on that one. You talked about Canada, Canada's assumptions about the world. Do you think that there is a complacency or is it a simplicity, or is it a naivete, or is it just raw Canadian niceness and hopefulness?

What is it that has Canada thinking about the world and the ways that we tend to at the moment? And then I'm going to start to chop to some of the great questions that I have coming in from folks here.

Margaret MacMillan: I think it's partly our history that we have always been part of larger organizations, and we came of age within the British empire. And when the British empire began to fold to pieces, we joined willingly international organizations. We've always been a multilateral power. We've always been a power that believes in multilateralism, plus we have always lived next door to the United States, in the 20th century, the world's greatest power. And living next door to the United States which we know had its problems, and we spend a lot of time thinking about how we deal with the United States and what our relationship is, but nevertheless, living next door to the United States, we have been screened in part by American power. And so, I think we've managed at times, not always, because I think Canadians have looked out at the world a lot. We've managed at times to think, well, someone else will take care of it, or we're safe enough. And I think that may be wearing a bit thin now. I think we need to think more about how we defend ourselves because we can't assume necessarily others are going to do it for us. And spending on defence is, as you know better than me, is never popular with the public because it's seen as something that is not necessary, but I regard it as a sort of insurance and something that we need.

And I think we've looked inwards because we've had very real issues to deal with. And for most of my adult life, the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada, our constitution, have been major issues, and so I think we've been preoccupied with our own internal problems, but the world won't leave us alone.

Jill Sinclair: Thanks Margaret. The world won't leave us alone, that's true. I'm going to draw on some of the questions, very good questions and comments that are coming up right now, and I'd like to start back with the historical connection here.

One of the questions is, are current generation's lack of connection to World War II the main reason for, our questioner here says, “the devaluing of multilateral institutions and international organizations?” And this relates to the point that you made about how visceral the experience was of the Second World War and building on the experience of the First World War to have produced all of those institutions in the UN charter, and the laws of armed conflict, and everything that we come to know and love in our rules-based international order. Do you think that as we generationally become distant from that we have forgotten where they came from and the importance of them? And what do you do about the passage of time and keeping the memories keen whilst not having to relive the experience?

Margaret MacMillan: I know, it's a difficult question. I think the passage of time does matter because the next generations don't feel even as much as I might feel about the Second World War. I had stories from my father who was in the Canadian Navy, so this was something that happened to someone I knew. And both my grandfathers were in the First World War, so I heard stories from them as well. And that doesn't happen anymore. And we don't want to frighten the young, but I think what we need to do is give them a sense of the history and give them a sense of Canada's place in the world.

This is why I worry about universities not having people teaching about the international scene and not explaining other countries and other civilizations, because I think we need to understand that Canada exists in a world, and it's a world which I think is becoming rather more turbulent than less, and that we cannot go on ignoring what's happening outside. So how we do it, I think public education is important, I think that CBC is very important, but it has been systematically underfunded for years, and it's no longer capable of putting on the sorts of documentaries that it once did, which helped to explain to Canadians about themselves and about the world.

Jill Sinclair: Thanks, Margaret. A little bit on the same theme here. We had a very interesting question here about, “do you think that the weakening of international institutions and soft power mechanisms are also inevitable as time passes?” Are those skills atrophying a little bit because of again, complacency or because we felt comfortable or we were making assumptions, and here I'm not talking about Canada, but globally that we wouldn't see state-to-state power?

Margaret MacMillan: I think yes. You probably remember, in the 1990s, there was all this talk about the nation state's gone. The world is so international, the state doesn't matter, that all those big companies just bypassed the state. I think we're realizing actually that state power does matter. And all those big companies are beginning to realize, all the tech companies are beginning to realize that actually state power is something they have to deal with and that it can actually affect their business. The ways in which China has dealt with and limited often foreign tech companies, I think is a very interesting example of that. And so, yes, I think we have to understand that the nation state is still very important, and I think we need to keep remembering that. Soft power, I think is important. I think it has to be combined with hard power, but it's always so easy to cut things; cut foreign aid. Governments tend to do it. The British government has just cut its foreign aid budget. It's cut funding for the BBC World Service, which is probably one of the greatest assets it has in promoting ideas and reaching people around the world. It's very trusted. It's cut funding to the British Council.

The Canadian government used to have an active program of sponsoring Canadian studies abroad and trying to bring Canadians to study in other countries, but also to try and bring foreign academics and others to study and work in Canada, so they understood something of Canada and that's been in abeyance. It didn't cost very much, but in fact, it provided a very useful interchange between peoples in different countries and was a way of promoting understanding of Canada in other parts of the world. I mean, there used to be a Canadian studies group at the University of Edinburgh, for example, which was very important in explaining to the British, and also advising the British because we have dealt with things which they are trying to deal with at the moment. They're dealing with devolution, they're dealing with regional differences, they're dealing with separatism. Canada has a lot of experience in that, and a lot of ways of helping the British think about it, but it's not happening at the moment.

Jill Sinclair: You talk a lot about the need for understanding and understanding different perspectives. And I'd like to ask you, you mentioned the internet, the digital age. I'd like to probe a little bit on, do you think that that is one of the biggest differences in your... What's the same, where's the continuity and where is the change? We hear a lot about the internet of things, but it seems to me we have an internet of politics, which is really driving change, but I'd welcome that. How do we understand in this world of multiple inputs on a second-by-second basis?

Margaret MacMillan: We're overwhelmed, aren't we? With information. And the danger is, of course we go for the information that can be put in a tweet. Certain limited number of characters or the headline information which tends to catch your attention but doesn't necessarily give you any greater understanding. And we know increasingly that partly because of the algorithm, perhaps largely because of the algorithms that are used on a number of sites, a number of internet providers such as Twitter and all these social media things such as Twitters, the algorithms tend to push you in the direction of more and more extreme statements because it's the extreme statements that get the hits. And this I think is dangerous, and it allows, of course... There've always been conspiracy theorists in the world. This a human trait, we like conspiracy theories. If we can't explain something, we look for a conspiracy, and that's always happened. And we've always had people who have had very dark views or have plotted to overthrow systems. What is more possible now is for them to get in touch with each other. It used to be that the people who assassinated the Archduke at Sarajevo have radicalized themselves by reading books, but it took longer in those days, and they were not in direct communication with fellow radicals around the world. This is now possible, and we get people radicalizing themselves. We get people coming together in groups often with nefarious purposes. Pedophilia, for example, which is I think a very real concern is now enabled by the internet and made more possible that people of like minds can get in touch with each other and feel that they're actually normal.

And so, I think we are living in a different world. I think we're becoming more sophisticated about it, and I think the young are gradually learning that you shouldn't believe everything thing you see on the internet, that it's not all trustworthy, and so I think we are developing, also beginning to develop ways of dealing with some of the more egregious things that are going on on the internet.

Jill Sinclair: Margaret, this whole issue of, you mentioned the outset, we need to understand complexity, we need to be able to challenge false histories. And it seems to me that the new history being created through the internet is something that as you say, maybe we are starting to challenge. That's a little bit of an encouraging thought there.

I have a number of questions now, and I'm going to, I think, take you back into some of the crisis space. So, let's start with COVID a little bit, because before Ukraine and Russia appeared on our screen, it was all about COVID, what could we learn from that? I'd like to take a question from someone here, which talks about, I agree, we're often unprepared for crises, and that includes things like COVID, and don't always take warnings from experts particular seriously. However, they wonder, is it really possible to adequately prepare for all the negative scenarios being forecasted by experts in hundreds of different domains? How do we deal with it all?

Margaret MacMillan: It is a good question. How do we sort it out? But I think there're certain things. We can't insure ourselves everything, but I think climate change is happening. We still have the people who deny it's happening, climate change is happening, which is going to mean we're getting more extreme weather events. And so, countries that near the sea or rivers, or cities near rivers or seas, have to think about how to deal with it. I mean, the Dutch have been doing this for centuries, of course, but New York City, Miami, they are going to have to think seriously because it's already there. When people get saltwater coming up in the gardens of Miami, something is already happening. I think you have to always rate the severity and the potential impact of challenges, but some I think are so pressing that we can see that they have to be dealt with.

And I think pandemics, I think we escaped a bullet with SARS and MERS. Those didn't turn into the full-blown pandemic, but they came out of probably as far as we know, the increasing interaction of human beings and animals and other species, and that's going to happen again because we are pressing as a species on areas that here heretofore have not been inhabited by humans. And the transmission of disease from beast to humans, birds to humans, is something we know that happens, and it is going to happen again.

I think we need to look at what we have learned from this pandemic. Putting aside huge amounts of PPE personal protective equipment is probably not what you need to do, and the British government is now throwing out billions of pounds worth of it. But what you need to do is make sure that you have the research institutes, fund the institutes. Without the Institute in Oxford, for example, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, which had been working on COVID illnesses for decades now, and developing ways of finding and developing new vaccines, we wouldn't have been able to get it so quickly. I think we can do things like making sure we have the research capacity. And I think what countries such as Canada may well want to do is not just the research capacity but look into the whole supply line issue and think about whether there are certain things that we should really be able to produce within our own borders, because otherwise we're going to be dependent on the production elsewhere. And as we saw during COVID, this can actually get us into trouble. I think there are things we can do, of course we can't prepare for every eventuality. We probably shouldn't be preparing for asteroids hitting the earth at the moment, but we should be preparing I think, for another pandemic and we should be preparing for climate change.

Jill Sinclair: Gosh, and that's just after I watch Don't Look Up, my goodness. 90 minutes wasted. But no, I there's a lot of real things that are going to hit us before asteroids, one assumes. We've got a lot of good questions that will delve back into history, Margaret, so I'm going to try to group some of these for you. And also, we'll talk about the current crises. One of them is about Athens versus Sparta, Great Britain allies versus Germany, Eden versus Nasser. And I just finished reading Britain Alone, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to everybody out there if you fancy a good historical romp. And they go on to say, now the USA and partners in competition with China and Russia, what does history have to say about the competition between democracies and authoritarian states, and which system holds the advantage?

Margaret MacMillan: Yes. I'm not sure there's a clear-cut answer to that, although I wish there were. I think democracies have certain advantages in the long run over autocracies. Autocracies can mobilize faster; they can create war economies faster as Stalin did in the Soviet Union. They can impose tight controls on their population. But in the long run, I think democracies can sustain... If their people are persuaded it's worth it, they can sustain a struggle. Autocracy can do so much, but I think a willing participation by publics as you got in the Second World War by the British public, the Canadian public, the American public, I think can show the strength of democracies.

It often takes democracies very long to get to the point where they actually do something, but when they do it with the support of their populations, I think they can be very, very effective. It's a maddening form of government. It often leads to a great deal of wasted effort, we often make many false starts, but I do think that by bringing people along and working with public support, democracies can achieve a great deal. And I think one of the things that Putin is concerned about is the appeal of democracy. He uses historical arguments to claim that Ukraine should be part of Russia, but I think he's also very concerned that the model of a democracy, however imperfect right on his doorstep is not something he wants the Russian people to see. And I think he was shaken also by the recent riots and demonstrations in Kazakhstan, which may have had a pro democratic element, I think we still don't know enough about them.

And I think President Xi Jinping is deeply concerned about the idea that there should be freedom of speech. One of the reasons I think the Chinese have cracked down so strongly on Hong Kong. In spite of everything they said they weren't going to do, they have now repressed Hong Kong and are continuing to repress it, is because of the demonstration effect and the example. And it may not be that the Chinese people will ever want the sort of democracy they see in the West, but it may be that what the Communist Party fears in China is any hint that there should be alternative forms of government or any hint that the people should actually choose the party that rules them. And I think, we will have to see. Democracies, it depends on what they're dealing with, and they don't always deal with it effectively, but I think it will continue to be a form of government that when it works, does work well.

Jill Sinclair: Another encouraging thought. I'm taking note of these Margaret. Can I ask a bit of a follow-up there, though? Which has to do with resilience, the resiliency of democracy. Because you say over the long term, democracies, they have a better chance at things, and that depends to a certain extent on the resilience of society. And do you see any challenges with regard to that? I just think, for example, when we have been talking about extreme sanctions with Russia, Putin has said, "Well, just remember Stalingrad."

Margaret MacMillan: Well, I think what the Russian people were fighting for in the Second World War, the evidence is they were not fighting for the Communist Party, and they weren't fighting for Stalin, they were fighting for Russia, and they were fighting for their families, and they were fighting for their Homeland. And I think that's what really brought the Russians through the Second World War. They lived in a highly authoritarian state, but if they hadn't supported it, I don't think that war effort would've been possible. Even as the Germans were invading in 1941 and the leadership was in disarray or trying to figure out what to do. In Moscow, a number of Russians on the way of the German advance were taking up arms themselves and organizing themselves into groups. And so, I think what you got there was a genuine popular effort supported by the Russian people.

I think democracies that are strong democracies can deal with challenges such as war. Britain in both the First and Second World Wars, France in the First World War, not of course in the Second World War dealt with war, and the population supported that war. There were disagreements the whole time, there were suggestions that the government should resign, and sometimes the government did resign. There were suggestions that Churchill needed to be replaced. But on the whole, the British public continued in both World Wars to support the war effort as did the Canadian public.

So, I think if a democracy is persuaded, if people are persuaded the cause is right, and if the democracy is strong. Not all democracies are as strong as others, and sometimes we find democracies cannot bear the challenge of great crises and they do become authoritarian.

Jill Sinclair: Margaret, just building on again, Russia, now the contemporary crisis that we're in with Ukraine, a couple of questions here. One, again, from our participants, could you comment a little bit more on the situation, Russia, Ukraine, being perhaps more akin to 1914 and 1938 in the sense of a regional conflict in the Balkans at that period, breaking out due to great power ultimatums and great power positioning and alliance structures and all of that. Do you think that we are in a space where the risk of miscalculation is something we should be considering?

Margaret MacMillan: Yes, I think we should be worrying about miscalculation. I think Putin ... It's not clear to me why President Putin has decided at this moment to do this, but he has put himself into a position where if he backs down, what does that say about his prestige authority? But if he goes ahead, can he be sure that he won't meet resistance from the Ukrainians themselves possibly from other powers? I think it's unlikely.

I think President Biden has made it clear, he doesn't want to go to war over Ukraine. But if Putin decides to order his troops into Ukraine, he will meet resistance from the Ukrainians. I think he will be capable of causing tremendous damage of bombing Kiev, whatever, but he will face, I think, determined opposition. And what will happen when the number of Soviet ... Sorry, I'm still thinking in terms of ... When the number of Russian soldiers, the dead begin to go up. I mean, I think it must be in his mind what happened to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and how that really helped to undermine the last vestiges of Soviet authority in the 1980s.

And he is I think making much, and he's about to go off to Beijing, of his support from China. But from Russia's point of view, that seems to me a very tricky relationship. China is bigger, both economically, demographically, militarily. Russia, as we know, has a serious demographic problem and it is particularly acute if you're thinking geopolitical terms in the east. And all those territories that Russia took in the 19th century are underpopulated, and they're an awful lot of Chinese living just south of the border. And the Chinese have not forgotten that some of those territories they saw traditionally as their own. So, I think China is not going to be a friendly big brother. China will support Russia when it's in its own interests. But Russia, if it throws itself into the arms of China, it's putting itself, I think at the mercy of a much bigger power, which will behave like big powers always do in ways that suit itself.

But what I worry about now is, Putin got himself into this position. And what does he do next? I mean, if there can be some negotiated face-saving arrangement, then I very much hope that it will be. But I think that it is possible that the West may have to concede that Ukraine, will probably not become a member of NATO.

NATO has made no move to incorporate Ukraine and I think, no one's talking much about it or was talking much about it. But if Putin insists on open promises, then that may be difficult. But I think there's got to be some role here for negotiation and diplomacy because otherwise we really run the risk of a major conflict, which is going to cause huge misery, not just Ukraine, but I think is going to seriously destabilize the countries around Ukraine, Poland, for example. And I do think we're facing a very serious situation. So, I think we have to hope that negotiation and diplomacy can find some way out of that.

Jill Sinclair: Margaret, I'd like to build on that a bit, because as you were talking about, how do we find a way out of this particular crisis? We have one question from our participants about, is NATO part of the problem or the solution. And I'd like you to touch on that.

But before you get to that, Putin has been basically asking for- demanding in writing- for spheres of influence. And I'd like to bring you back to your reference to appeasement because I think the real challenge seems to be here. How do you find a way of accommodating real Russian concerns without sliding into appeasement and giving a great power, a droit du regard over the life of other powers? I don't know if others read the Russian documents that they sent to NATO and to the United States. But for those of you that are interested, they're fascinating.

And I must say when I read it, Margaret, the only thing I thought that was missing from Putin's wishlist is, "And we want to demilitarize neutral Canada. But maybe they think they've got that already anyway. But what do you think about this slippery slope of appeasement and all of that? And can things like sanctions work as a deterrent or do they start to turn up the temperature pro- proactive pre-conflict sanctions?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, on sanctions, it depends whether you're serious about them or not, I think, and I don't think we've been serious about them. Britain has got a real problem now with oligarch money. Huge amounts of Russian money have flowed into Britain. British banking system is called the laundromat, and all sorts of properties is now owned in the UK, including football clubs, but also, very expensive real estate is owned by money which is of very dubious origin, which has come out of Russia. And one way, if you're going to get serious about sanctions, we would actually need to do something about it. But the government in Britain has just dropped a bill which would have pushed for greater transparency on who actually owns things. So, it clearly isn't concerned about ... It's probably just going to go off and have another party. I don't place much faith on that.

So, I think sanctions could bite if they really hit the people around Putin and Putin's own family who buy all accounts, have a good deal of money invested abroad. And Putin's friends who have invested huge amounts of money, which probably they got from- are holding for Putin himself.

As far as appeasement goes, if we call it appeasement, we think it's a bad thing because we look back to the 1930s and say, they tried to appease the dictators and they were wrong. If we call it an attempt to try and come into an accommodation and deal with the concerns of a country, then I think we see it in a different light. And I've always felt that containment, the policy during the cold war, was in fact ... had strong components of appeasement. The West basically said that there is a Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, and we're not going to try and roll it back in spite of the rhetoric times. And when the Soviets used tanks to put down peoples in Hungary, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, the west did nothing. And that I would say is appeasement. But it's what we call it. Now, if you try and deal with Russia's, I think, legitimate concerns that it wants a friendly Ukraine on its borders just as the United States wants a friendly Canada on its borders, then they be some way of meeting those concerns, not at the way in which Putin is doing it at the moment. `

But I think if we think of the Finland example, Finland is a very successful democracy, a very vigorous democracy, but it has followed a policy of neutrality, which it has been, I think, reassuring first to the Soviet Union and then to Russia. The idea of spheres of influence, I think we have to accept. It's a fact that has always been there in history, just as empire has been there throughout so much of history. Now, you will have great powers who want to make sure that their borders are secure. And I think, again, we have to remember just how insecure Russia's borders have been for much of its history. You think of the invasion in the First World war, the invasion, the Second World war earlier on the Napoleonic invasions, Mongols invasions. I think you have to understand that Russia is deeply insecure and concerned about security. And so, for Russia to want at least a neutral country on its borders, if it could accept Ukraine like Finland, I think this might be a way out of it.

But it may be that it won't accept it because as I said, there's a demonstration effect of Ukraine. If Russians can see a Ukraine which has a free press, which has free debate, which has a developing democracy, then they may well want the same thing in Russia. And Putin's own approval ratings as far as we can tell are going down. And so, it may be that he feels his own position is insecure. And all these things come together, I think.

Jill Sinclair: Indeed, and as you know, I do spend a bit of time on Ukraine and with Ukraine, but Ukraine as a prosperous thriving, dynamic democracy, do you think that may be more the threat than the threat of NATO? And this question that we have from our participants, do you see NATO as more the problem or the solution?

Margaret MacMillan: I suspect it's a threat of a thriving prosperous Ukraine that is really disturbing Putin, but who knows? I don't see NATO as the problem, although I do think NATO expansion was unwise and it's easy to say in retrospect, that I think we should have thought it through more. But in the 1990s, everything seemed open, and the Soviet Union was finished, and Russia was apparently going to cooperate with the west.

I don't believe there was ever a promise made on Putin claims there's not one-inch promise Eastwood was made by President Bush Senior and baker in 1990, and that's rubbish. Nope such promise was ever made. But I think NATO possibly could have been more careful in expansion because if you're going to expand, then you got to be sure that you can actually defend the countries you're expanding to. And if you are going to include the Baltics, what are you going to do to support them? And I'm not sure that that necessarily- I mean, you would know more about this than me Jill, but I'm not sure that was thought through in the 90s enough, but that is passed and done with.

At the moment, I think, I don't see NATO as a problem. NATO is really only a smaller part of the problem, which is the relationship between Russia and its neighbours, and Russia and the West. And that is the relationship I think we have to focus on. And it's not just NATO, it's the EU. I mean, Putin hates the EU. He sees it as a threat. He would like to distort as much as he can. He's doing as best to disrupt it. How do we deal with that? So, they're a whole range of problems, but the immediate one we have to try and think about is Ukraine and how to prevent that from becoming a catastrophe, particularly for the people in Ukraine.

Jill Sinclair: Absolutely. Margaret, talking about catastrophes' intentions and all of that, we do have a question that comes back on the US-China issue. And so, you've talked about the tensions you've talked about the South China Sea. Do you think that there is an inevitability here about conflict, confrontation, between the US and China? Our questioner asks, including not just in the immediate Asia Pacific region, but also in Africa and even Latin America. And here I would add, we know the competition for resources, rare earth minerals, these sorts of things. Do you see this is another source of tension that would take the China-US challenging and confrontational relationship into other parts of the world?

Margaret MacMillan: Oh, I think so. I think it's already there. And the Pacific islands, this is already happening. And I think it's competition for resources, definitely. The argument has always been made by the United States and others that, there are ways of sharing resources. That we don't need to compete for them. But unfortunately, at the moment, I think that the competition is there, and fears that if you don't get them, someone else will.

There's competition for influence. What's interesting I think about the Chinese movements into places like Africa and Latin America as well, is they're now beginning to face a backlash. They're now beginning to face criticism from locals who say, "You're not providing jobs for us. You're basically just bribing people. You're bringing in your own workforces, you're bringing in your own people." And I think there's also criticism that they are suborning governments by offering them loans and then using what they call it, debt diplomacy, putting the governments- as they did with Sri Lanka, into a position where they have no choice but to accept selling off assets such as ports to the Chinese.

And what I find interesting is that they're beginning to find a pushback. Balochistan is very interesting in Pakistan. I mean, they've built that railway down to Gwadar Port. And the Chinese keep saying, we're not going to put security forces in. We just want to trade through Pakistan and into the Indian ocean. If you build a railway through one of the most dangerous parts of the world, you're going to have to put security forces in, which is what they've done. The Chinese are finding that the one belt, one road is not as easy as they thought it would be, I think. And I think they've actually been pulling back some of their investment.

Jill Sinclair: Yeah. I think they perhaps didn't have- They weren't prepared for the complexity of all of those relationships having been so singular and so inward-focused for so long. So, that is a space to watch.

I'd also like to take you back to a passing reference you made to leadership and leaders. Because I think when some people look around myself included, I say, "Hm-hmm, where are the leaders?" And the interesting, sort of... that the power of autocratic leaders versus the challenges that leaders in democracies have in doing anything, just because of the diffusion of information, the internet, digital, can you just talk about leadership and where are our leaders today?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, there're different types of leadership, aren't there? I mean, there's the constitutional leadership where leaders work within certain bounds and have to deal with other institutions or other leaders in their own societies. And then there are the more autocratic societies where the leader, in theory, has a greater power. But of course, even in autocratic societies, leaders have to deal with the realities of what it is they're in charge of. They have to be sure that they have the authority to do what they want to do. And they have to take account in some way of what the public wants, even if they can ignore a public opinion for a lot of the time.

What I find worrying is we seem to be developing this brand of populous leader who play on national feelings, who themselves exemplify often- I must say they're mostly men, and they seem to exemplify masculinity. They remind me some, I think President Duterte who used to go out on gun raids showing what a strong man he was, or Chavez in Venezuela, President Trump in the United States. I mean, they seemed to stress that they were these bold men, not unlike, I must say, although, of course, very different circumstances. Mussolini in Italy, who was always taking a shirt off and going to bring in the harvest and riding on motorcycles or driving powerboats very fast. And this type of leadership I think could be very dangerous because it can give voice to resentments. And every society has its resentments as it should, but the voice it gives is often a misleading voice. And it promises very simple solution, "I'm going to fix things." And Boris Johnson does it as well. I mean, in his statement to parliament, "I'm going to fix it," most unconvincing statement. But I think there is a type of leadership, and that it's magnified, I think, by the internet and magnified by public relations, by public attention. Politics has become a sort of entertainment. And I think people quite appreciate entertaining leaders, but the dangers I think, are very visible.

At the moment, do we have great leaders? You always think your own times is worse in the past, and we look back and we think, "Oh, they had great leaders." I think we do have some very good leaders, sometimes the ones that don't make as much noise. I think what is difficult today is that in democratic countries, the inhibitions or the barriers against going into politics are great. The relentless scrutiny by the press, the ways in which your family come under attack, the ways in which demonstrators go to your homes, seems to me that it's a very high price to pay for people going into politics. And in certain countries, of course, the sheer amount of money you need. Not in Canada so much, and in the UK, where there are limits on how much you can spend on elections, but if you look at the amounts of money that American senators and even people in Congress. Congress people have to raise, they're absolutely staggering. And this means you're constantly fundraising. And of course, you also get into- you owe. I don't mean in any corrupt sense, but you owe favours to those who support you. And just the sheer amount of money that's needed, I think is bad. But I've talked to people, younger people, students of mine, who I think would make wonderful politicians and they say, "I just don't want to do it. I don't want to do it to my family. I just don't want to pay that cost." And that is something I think we should really worry about.

Jill Sinclair: Well, speaking of leaders, we have a question here about commenting on the position of Germany and the Ukraine-Russia conflict. And of course, one of the great western leaders, Angela Merkel, has finally left the scene. So, I mean, could you talk a little bit about Germany? You mentioned the EU, they're the driving force, the driving economic force, along with France, the intellectual authors of it. What about Germany in this particular conflict, Ukraine-Russia, and Germany more generally? I think because as Canadians, I think it's good for us to think a little bit about the EU, not just to think along the pillar of the United States as our reference point.

Margaret MacMillan: Well, the great irony is, isn't it? That we used to fear a too strong Germany at the heart of Europe, and we created or help to create, and the Germans did it themselves, of course, a Germany that was not too strong, which basically has moved away from its military traditions. Certainly, the Prussian military traditions. A Germany which is devoted to peace, a Germany which is democratic, a Germany which doesn't want to take a leadership position, and now we're wishing it did. And I think this is a conundrum.

But I think as much as I admired Angela Merkel, I think there was certain things she did, which weren't necessarily good. I think she too often delayed making decisions on things. She didn't want an aggressive foreign policy. I understand that, but I think there were times when Germany could have taken a stand more. She stopped any investment in development of nuclear power, which I think is now a price that Germany is paying because it's dependent on oil and gas coming from Russia. She allowed the Nord Stream to be built. And there were clear warnings. I mean, I think the United States was right to warn that this would make Germany more dependent or put Germany at the mercy of Russia, which could then turn off the taps or not. And Putin has been using this. He’s certainly been using it with Ukraine. And he's been using the threat of- he’s been raising prices; he's been cutting production as a way of putting pressure on.

And so, I think not everything she did has benefited Germany or Europe. I think the new government remains to be seen. I think it's still feeling its way and we're still trying to understand what this coalition government means. But it seems to me that Germany has moved in the last few weeks from a position of not wanting to do anything in particular, dramatic in Ukrainian crisis, to actually being more supportive of its partners in NATO, and I hope it does. I don't know whether it's changed, Jill, and you may know, but I think the only contribution that Germany was prepared to make to Ukraine a couple of weeks ago was a field hospital. But I believe that it's now looking at military equipment and looking at providing more support. So, we'll have to see. But it is as I say, it's an irony that we're longing for a strong Germany to take the lead in Europe.

Jill Sinclair: Yeah. And your comments too Margaret, remind me that geopolitics- And you've talked about what's continuity and what's changed in terms of the current dynamics. Geopolitics has come back with a fierceness. People thought it had gone away because Germany does sit close to Russia. They have a rich tradition of Ostpolitik in the old Soviet days. And then they have tied themselves into this energy relationship and dependency. And you talked about the importance of all of these other factors, if energy ... And it isn't just one issue, it's many, many issues.

We've got a good question here, which is a very large one. And it is, do you think that since the pandemic states have become more inward-looking and more nationalistic? What do you see as the impact of the pandemic in those dynamics?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, I think being human nature, being what it is, we can only worry about so many things at once. And I think the pandemic has forced us to look to ourselves, to our families, to our friends, but also to our own societies. And I think we've been focused on what we need to do, where we've been doing it well, where we haven't been doing it well, we all have opinions. I mean, I've noticed how, whenever I meet a friend now or see a family member, it usually takes about five minutes of conversation to get onto the pandemic. It used to be that we'd start with the weather, but now the pandemic comes up almost every- I would say every conversation I have these days, it's somewhere in there. And so, I think, yes, we have been focused inwardly. We've been worrying about the things we have to deal with. And in the meantime, of course, the world goes on. And that is now being brought home to us, I think, with the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine, definitely.

Jill Sinclair: So, I'd like to come back to Canada. We have about 20 minutes, not quite, left. And I have a number of questions here which relate to Canada, and I'm going to group them a little bit. One of them talks about the fact that more people are arguing, and you mentioned this in your comments, for Canada to be a bit more serious about military spending, defence spending, increase its military capacity. This seems to be at odds, our questioner said, with a view of militarization as something that's a little bit unwanted or antithetical to Canada's natural approach to things. What do you think about building Canada's defence and military capacity, being able to offer the hard power to underline the soft power, what do you think about that?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, I think you can have military power without being militaristic. Societies that are militaristic value military values in civilian life. And I don't think we have ever really been like that. I've had disagreements with other historians who say, "Well, we did have a bit of that before the First World War." But I think on the whole, we have always understood the difference between being a civilian and being in the military. And we have never elevated the military as other societies which you could call militaristic have done into some sort of supreme arbitrator of the nation's fate or the best part of the nation, which was the case, for example, with the German army before the First World War. I think we ought to think about spending more on military preparations. I think we have to do this in alliance with others, but I think we need to think very seriously. I can't remember when the last defence review was, but I think we need to be thinking very seriously about what our particular challenges are and what we need to do about them.

And we have to have a hierarchy of what we deal with. It may be that we don't need certain types of equipment. We may not need, I don't know, I'm just saying, we may not need fighter planes as much as we need icebreakers. There will be choices to be made. But I think there has to be a very serious look at what the world is that Canada's living in, what the future challenges will be. We may not get these right, but we have to try and think about them. And then we have to try and think about what we can do. And we have to understand what we can't do, and there's certain things that we can't do as well. But I think when you think of how long procurement takes, we need to be thinking at least 20 years out about what we're going to need, what sort of things we're going to need and what sort of skills and capacities we're going to need.

We're going to need, I think, even more capacity to deal with cyber war. This is a new area that's opening up. We're seeing it the whole time, attempts to corrupt systems, to turn them off. There was an attack, where was it? I think on the Ukrainian Parliament the other day, which we know where that probably came from. And there've been attempts to bust up, I'm not using the right terminology, systems in the Baltic states. So, I think we need to try and figure out what we need. And I think government has to take the lead in this because we're not going to think about it as individual members of the public. But I think there's an important educative role that government can play. It needs to explain to people why it's doing certain things.

I think in Britain before the Second World War, and it was happening in Canada, in the United States and France as well, governments were beginning to explain to their people that the world was looking dangerous, that there were aggressive dictators out there and they were going to have to spend more money. Roosevelt in his famous fireside chats was doing this. We cannot I assume that we live in a safe world. And I think this is where true leadership comes in. You don't frighten people. You simply say, "Look, we think we've got some real problems here and this is what we're proposing to do about it."

Jill Sinclair: Well, you talk about Canada's strategic sense of things and some of the assumptions and maybe be a little bit of a lack of awareness by Canadians as to some of the complexity and the challenges in the international environment. Because this isn't something the Canadians talk about that much. We have had a defence review, Strong, Secure and Engaged, a couple of years ago. But what we haven't had forever is a national security approach that lays out those very high-level challenges that you've talked about, Margaret, and what's important to Canada and where are we going to invest and what are our priorities? And certainly, in the community of national security experts, that's something that people lament a lot, is not really knowing where Canada's situated.

The UK government, as you will know very well, brought out an integrated review that tried to look at everything. But I think some of the questions that I'm seeing from folks are all about is are we better or worse prepared to navigate the current era of geopolitical disruption than we were, for example, before the Second World War, coming out of the Second World War, or I would say even, say, three decades ago? What's your sense as to are we fit for purpose, as the military would say?

Margaret MacMillan: My sense is we're less prepared. And I think there are a number of reasons for that, some of which I've mentioned. I think the weakening of the CBC, the systematic underfunding. Because I think sources of information, reliable sources of information, are very important and having foreign correspondence is very important. What's happening in the universities I think is worrying because I think we're losing the capacity to train the experts of the future in some cases. What I think is also worrying is the way the Department of Foreign Affairs, Global Canada as it now is, has been treated. Again, it's been underfunded. I think too often political leaders have bypassed it or had no respect for it. And I think we need experienced diplomats who know their briefs very well.

Coming out of the Second World War, we had an extraordinary capacity, both in our military and in external affairs to deal with the world, to cope with the world. I'm not saying we don't have very good people still, but I think you have to provide the encouragement, the resources, the leadership that our important institutions need. And I don't think we are as well prepared, quite frankly, for any number of reasons.

Jill Sinclair: And we don't have too much time left, but I want to come back to a couple of themes before I give you sort of a wrap up question that I'm going to ask you. You talked about hybrid war, about the nature of war and conflict changing. And you've just talked about the skillsets that we need. Do these challenges speak to the traditional skillsets, like the military skillset or traditional diplomats? Are we still imprisoned by our experience here perhaps too much of the past and therefore unable to prepare for the future? Could you touch on that a bit?

Margaret MacMillan: Yeah, I think this is probably unfair to both the military and the diplomats to say that they're caught in the past. It strikes me that the military, certainly the ones I've dealt with, and I've done a certain amount of talking in seminars to officers, are extremely conscious of the need to understand the world around them and extremely willing to be adaptable. I mean, they're dealing with a very important issue in war. Probably one of the most important challenges that human beings face, and I think they are very practical about it. And I've always found that the military are actually more open to thinking about where we should be going. And I think the same thing is often true of diplomats. And I think we tend to think of diplomats as people who only do negotiations, only do diplomacy. What diplomats do is provide, when they have deep knowledge of a place when, when they have been assigned to a country, they understand its language, they provide a sort of insight that you can't get if you just visit a place for two weeks.

I think, myself, that one of the unfortunate things that has happened to international diplomacy is the passion that leaders have for summits, it gets them away from the domestic problems. They go off, everyone makes a fuss about them, they're important, they talk to fellow leaders, they get their photographs taken. I think much more important is the sustained sort of diplomacy that experienced diplomats can do. And I know sometimes you get high level meetings which can be very important, but so often when you look at the various G7 and whatever meetings, these have just become formulaic, and there is very little real conversation at them. And I think this is something, as I say, the leaders like. I'm not sure the rest of us benefit much from it.

Jill Sinclair: I think we should have a whole conversation on summits. Having lived a lot of them. I couldn't agree with you more. But back on new challenges, I'd like to ask you about your thoughts on the role of industry and the private sector. Because we do see the Amazons and the Apples and the Googles acting as if they are nation states in many ways. Do you see a partnership here? Do you see a challenge? Where do they fit in this new world order?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, where I'd like to see them fitting is, to begin with, paying the taxes they should be paying. They've managed to dodge. I suspect that Amazon in the UK or Canada probably pay less tax than I do every year. I'm probably exaggerating, but they've managed to move things offshore, they have all these intracompany arrangements.

And I think they also need to look seriously at how they treat their workforce. We're now finding out more and more about what conditions are like for those who work for Amazon. And the story is pretty grim. I think that it has to be at an international level, but I think these big companies have to be regulated. I think the internet providers can no longer go on saying, as Mark Zuckerberg is fond of saying, "We're just here to help people get in touch with each other." I mean this is, I think, rubbish and very dangerous. I think there has to be, and I think there is a move for this.

The Chinese of course have taken unilateral action, but I think there's also an international move to bring the big internet providers under control to make subject to standards, regulations, and also to tax them properly, to begin to close off the loopholes, the tax havens. And again, I think the British are at fault with this. They have allowed tax evasion to go on, on an enormous scale and they have not really dealt with places like the Virgin Islands and Jersey, and Guernsey I think as fully as they should have done. So, think myself, that these companies need to be made part of an international system so that they actually contribute something back to the societies in which they're making such enormous profits. And I think more needs to be done. I'm for taxing the very rich. I find the gap that is opening up between the ultra rich and the rest of the world is absolutely terrifying because it will lead to- it already is leading to, social instability and political instability. It's leading to resentment. It's fuelling often the politics of resentment. And I think it's absolutely understandable.

Jill Sinclair: Margaret, two questions as we move towards the end of this session. One, to come back to something you had spoken about in your opening comments, and that was a little bit about the international system. Canada relies on the rules-based international system for everything we do from trade to security relationships, whatever, regulation of health products, everything. What do you think about the health and robustness of this rules-based international order at the moment? And do you have a couple of thoughts as to what we might do to shore it up if you think it is under challenge?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, I think it is under challenge. One of the rules of the international order was that territory should not be seized by force from another country. And we're seeing that rule broken. The United States recognizes Israel's possession of the Golan Heights. And that seems to me was a breach. But far more seriously, Putin seized Crimea and has paid very little penalty for it. And of course, when those sorts of things happen, it encourages others. There's been a general understanding since 1945 that the international community would not respect or recognize the seizure of territory by force from one nation by another. And that I think is breaking down. And as I say, the examples will encourage others to do the same, and so that worries me. I think we also face a real challenge between those nations which see the international order as a sort of anarchy in which states simply try and maximize their power in whatever way they can and those who see it as something which is a type of international community.

And we have to, I think, try and- my view is since we all benefit from a rules-based international order, to go back to the anarchic system where everyone is out for oneself I think is very dangerous. We know where that can lead. But what we have to do is try and enhance and enforce that system. And I think countries like Canada can play a very important part. I'm not saying Canada has no power. And I think with like-minded other countries, the Scandinavian powers, for example, with Australia, with New Zealand, Canada can play a very important part in trying to shore up the international system and trying to enhance the rules and trying to deal with those who would challenge and break the rules. So, I think we do have a role to play. My view, it's a role that we have to play in concert with other like-minded powers.

Jill Sinclair: Canada as part of this system, right? An integrated member of the system. Yeah. You bring me to two final questions and thoughts. The penultimate one is just to get you to reflect a little bit about values and interests in the Canadian sphere, because we often talk about Canada being a values-based country, not versus, but where to interest fit, and this question was prompted by a comment that someone has made about is it possible that we're not seeing Ukraine clearly either? It's a fragile democracy with far-right elements in it. Talking a little bit about our training. Do we feel comfortable? Would we be happy to know that we're supporting forces that may not fully share our interests and values? So, I'd like you maybe not so much on the Ukraine piece, but what about values and interests for Canada and for public servants, all of us who are public servants, what do we need to think about this?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, it's always a challenge, I think, of how to balance them. I think values are important for Canadians and we have done what we can to promote Canadian values around the world. Tolerance, for example, respect for democracy, respect for the voices of those who live in a particular society. I think this is all very Canadian and I think good. But then we have interests and the two don't always mesh together. And we have to just try and work it out. We have to look after ourselves. And if that means sometimes going along, for example, with certain things the United States does that we don't always approve of, then that is something that has to be done. I think all Canadian prime ministers have known that whatever Canada thinks of certain policies in the United States, we have to remain on good terms with it. And you could say that in some ways we perhaps aren't being true to our values always, because sometimes the United States does things we don't approve of.

But we are also thinking of our interests. And the two, as I say, don't always mesh. It's always going to be a tension. And I think that's all right. I think we need to talk about it. And I think we need to understand that we can't always have the world the way we want it, that sometimes we have to deal with countries whose values we disapprove of strongly. But we're dealing with them in order to promote Canadian interests and perhaps one day to promote Canadian values. So, we an imperfect world, and I don't think we can have a pure interest or pure value driven foreign policy. The world is a difficult place, it's full of difficult and nasty people and institutions, full of also some good ones. But I think we just have to accept that, and we have to do what we can.

It's a responsibility of any government to protect Canada and Canadian citizens. And that I think is important. But we also have, I think, an obligation. We are an extremely fortunate country, one of the most fortunate countries in the world. And I think in a way we have an obligation to try and make the world a better place. I know that sounds rather pious, but I do think it's important. We have been enormously privileged to live in this country. We go on about our faults. That's very Canadian. We look at ourselves critically, as we should. But I do think, on the whole, we try to be a decent society. And I think that's important and we're important as an example to other countries. And I think we can also encourage those sorts of things we see as helping to build healthy societies in other places.

And it's true that Ukraine is a fragile democracy, but it has the potential to become something more than a fragile democracy. And yes, there are right-wing elements in Ukraine. Having seen some of the truckers in Ottawa, I'm not sure we are so free of right-wing elements either.

We also should respect, I think just on Ukraine, we should respect the right of the Ukrainians to choose what sort of system they want to live under and their own government. It seems to me that Putin goes on about the history. What's more important to me is the right of the Ukrainians to self-determination. And right wing or left wing, do they want to live under Russian rule or under Russian influence or don't they? And the evidence seems to be is that they most certainly don't.

Jill Sinclair: Margaret, this really is a last question to you. We've got about three minutes to go, and you've just taken us on the most extraordinary tour de raison, tour de force, of history and practical and current reality. You talked about Canadians wanting to make the world a better place. Well, you have a group of participants here you can't see, but out in the ether, I think many hundreds of people who are committed, passionate, Canadian public servants, who join government to make the world a better place and make Canada a better place for Canadians. So, as you reflect on everything that you've just talked about, the complexity, the need for perspectives, the need to understand context, the importance of history, not to relive it or to be literal in what it can teach us, but to learn from it. Would you have two thoughts that you'd like to share with all of us before you leave in terms of what are the lessons most applicable? What should we take away and what can we carry with us in our work?

Margaret MacMillan: Well, let me say something specific about public service, because I think one of the great developments of the 19th century was a public service, the notion of a public service. And the very term, I think, public servants, public services is important. And this idea that you can have a dedicated and impartial public service is a very important one. I think it's something we should defend enormously because I think it helps to provide the framework within which other things can happen. And it also sets a standard. It reassures people that they don't live in a society in which your connections matter and corruption matters. So often when you get the various colour revolutions in different countries against authoritarian regimes, what you get is the people in the streets saying, "Life is so unfair. You can't get a job without connections. If you know someone you do well. Bribery matters." We don't want to live in a society like that. And I think that's where public service is an enormously important part of that.

What we should be thinking about, all of us, I think, and not just public servants, is how we inform ourselves. The temptation is to say, "Oh, the world is such an awful place. I just don't want to think about it." And we all understand that temptation, but I do think we need to think about it, if not just for our own sakes, I think for the sake of those we care about including our families. We need to be engaged in trying to understand what's going on. And when necessary, I think we need to get involved. I mean I think we all probably belong to some sort of volunteer association or other, and I think that's an important part of the strength of society, that we take the time to get engaged, to learn, to be involved. It means also, I think, let's hope, that we're less likely to be hoodwinked by leaders who talk rubbish.

[Jill grins as her panel returns.]

Jill Sinclair: That is just a wonderful way to- I can't say end this session, because it's a conversation that should continue forever. But to wrap up today's session by saying thank you so, so much. You've encouraged us to read, to think, to challenge, to embrace complexity and to understand from the past. You've introduced such humanity into everything that you've talked about, Margaret, which is so, so important these days. I just want to thank you on behalf of everyone and a number of the comments that I've been reading in the chat say thank you for the excellent session. So, I want to echo those thanks. You've given us a marvellous insight into so many things. I encourage, this is an unpaid ad here, I really encourage everyone out there to read Margaret's books, War, and all of the other things that you've written about, and your articles. This is a time to understand more, as you say, take the time, slow down, think. Thank you for taking time with us today, Margaret, it's been an absolute honour and play.

Margaret MacMillan: Yeah, well I can say the same. And thank you very much. And thanks to your colleagues who've managed this all and thanks to all of you who patiently have been out there in the ether. Thanks.

Jill Sinclair: Thank you.

Margaret MacMillan: Thanks.

[The video chat fades to CSPS logo.]

[the Government of Canada logo appears and fades to black.]

Related links


Date modified: