Defence Policy Review Presents Questions for Canada

The following appeared in the Times Colonist newspaper on July 20, 2016.

The seventh defence review in 52 years, now underway, reflects four important issues that Canadians need to address – Sovereignty and Security, Prosperity, Global Stability, and Protection and Promotion of Canadian Values.

What are the priority roles for Canada’s military? Defend the sovereignty and security of Canada, North America, and treaty allies (NATO) – in that order. Support continued prosperity through the trade that is vital to our economy, by maintenance of an open land border (remember the disruption in the aftermath of 9/11) and protection of the maritime approaches and – working with allies – of the high seas.

How should Canada’s military be structured to meet these priority roles? Canada’s military cannot be expected to maintain Sovereignty and Security over our vast land mass, coastline, and maritime approaches unaided. However, with a credible military force that meets realistic capability expectations, including seamless interoperability with NATO allies, we can expect assistance from those allies. Assistance is, of course, primarily from the US – NATO wants our troops in Eastern Europe to counter developing Russian threats.

We cannot expect US assistance to defend our homeland if we do not have a sound defence capability to aid it defending its homeland. The major approaches to the US cross our territorial landmass, maritime zone, and air space, so we must maximize our security relationships with the US and ensure seamless interoperability with its air, naval, and land forces. Our defence contributions must be sufficient to overcome any American concerns about the adequacy of our capabilities, including against cyber or terrorist attack – homegrown or other. Without this, we risk a US defence that may take the battle to or over our major populated areas.

We cannot expect help, it we don’t come to the table with the means to defend ourselves and our allies against both traditional military and terrorism threats and developing threats, such as cyber and space. The global nature of, particularly, increasing terror, cyber, and space threats requires a global response with all of our allies to maintain prosperity and global stability. Only a broad-based capability to work seamlessly with allies against such threats, and traditional threats, enables us to work with the US to defend North America. Without such capability and seamless interoperability of forces, we will almost certainly be left out in the cold in the event of any military or non-military attack.

How should Canada’s military be structured to meet other roles? Canada’s historical role for 60 years has been, in major part, to pursue global stability through NATO and coalition interventions with allies. “Peace-keeping” in its original conception is increasingly limited. It is now, as anyone can see from the past 25 years, “peace-enforcing” between warring sides with interest only in military victory (e.g., Balkans, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia), together with roles as trainers and advisors to one side or the other in sectarian conflicts (e.g., currently in Iraq). For these, and UN Chapter 7 deployments (e.g., Mali and Congo), we need larger numbers than for simplistic “peace-keeping” – including the ability to fight to defend ourselves and other UN forces (ask Generals MacKenzie and Dallaire).

Contributions are needed from non-military government departments through efforts related to nation-building work and to pre-empt warfare in troubled zones through early economic, political, and bureaucratic aid. Both these approaches can promote Canadian values.

The underlying roles for the military have not changed in the 52 years since the 1964 review – protect Canadian sovereignty and security first, contribute to global security, be a force to promote Canadian values in the world. The strategies and practices change as the threats evolve – we now have more terrorist and cyber attacks – both organized and independent – and much more serious technological threats (cyber and space). We cannot know what type of threats we will face in coming years, or over the operational life decades of equipment that we are now buying. So, we need to cover, to the best of our ability, the full spectrum of threats that we see now and can reasonably foresee. In the end, only well-equipped, well-trained, and flexible Canadian Armed Forces will protect our country from what is becoming, in places, a more hostile world, while we contribute to maintaining an uneasy global peace. As British PM MacMillan said when asked what kept him awake at night – “events”.

The Defence Policy Review submission prepared by the Royal United Services Institute – Vancouver Island is also online on this website.

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