Canada’s defence on right track

Looking back, one feels almost nostalgic about the comparative stability of the Cold War era. Yes, there were tense times and hot proxy wars, but the world’s two superpowers were constrained by the prospect of mutually assured destruction.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal (shown with Canada’s then Chief of Defence Gen. Walter Natynczyk) was NATO’s commander in Afghanistan. Gen. McChrystal said that, if he could, he’d put his troops under Canadian command because Canadians understood counterinsurgency.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal (shown with Canada’s then Chief of Defence Gen. Walter Natynczyk) was NATO’s commander in Afghanistan. Gen. McChrystal said that, if he could, he’d put his troops under Canadian command because Canadians understood counterinsurgency.

Today, acts of terrorism kill thousands and cost billions; cyber-attacks can cripple a country or an industry in a nanosecond; and unstable countries with nuclear options and brazen leaders could create catastrophe.
Canada’s security challenges are global, so defence in a time of restraint demands new thinking and keen leadership. Canada must safeguard the recent lessons learned in Afghanistan and Libya and ensure we don’t degrade our operational capabilities and readiness. We cannot allow another “decade of darkness” such as we witnessed in the 1990s, when our men and women were left desperately ill-equipped to venture into harm’s way.
Our new Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Tom Lawson, says this won’t happen again. He intends to make readiness a priority, and told the Senate’s national security and defence committee that, “We are consolidating from a position of strength that is founded on rich operational experience, world-class training and an ambitious capital acquisition program.”

Canadian military policeman Cpl. Eric Belanger stands guard with a C7A1 assault rifle while humanitarian aid is unloaded from a CC-130 Hercules in Afghanistan.

Canadian military policeman Cpl. Eric Belanger stands guard with a C7A1 assault rifle while humanitarian aid is unloaded from a CC-130 Hercules in Afghanistan.

That program — the core of the Canada First Defence Strategy — is real. Canada, at last, bought its own strategic airlift capability with the powerful CC-177 Globemaster. We purchased new Hercules J tactical lift aircraft to replace our aging fleet. We’re about to take delivery of new Chinook F medium-to-heavy lift helicopters, restoring a capability we forfeited years ago. And an entire new surface fleet for the Royal Canadian Navy is on the books, along with a next generation fighter capability.
As for our “rich operational experience,” the Canadian Armed Forces is incorporating that into training for tomorrow. That experience comes largely from combat in Afghanistan and Libya, where our troops and senior officers justifiably earned the great respect of our allies. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then NATO’s commander in Afghanistan, said that if he could, he would put all his troops under Canadian command because Canadians “got” counterinsurgency — that they were not only fierce fighters, but humanitarians with heart and skill. Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, praised “the ethical Canadian Forces” and declared the need for “more Canada” in future coalitions of the willing. And of course, NATO entrusted leadership of the entire highly successful Libyan campaign to a Canadian, Lt.-Gen. Charlie Bouchard.
Our military has been thinking smart about how to do things well, with less. For example, three operational commands were collapsed into a single Canadian Joint Operations Command. The navy has consolidated its training and other operations. Our air force and navy are making greater use of flight and ship simulators for training — saving on costly fuel and reducing wear and tear. And our air force wants to get into drones in a big way because they are cheaper and more versatile than piloted aircraft for a range of duties, and could prove a real game changer in the North.
Yet, the Boston bombings and the foiled plots of visiting and homegrown terrorists here remind us that terrorism remains very much a threat — “the primary threat to Canada’s national security,” as the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Richard Fadden, told our Senate defence committee. He particularly noted “the danger from al-Qaeda-inspired extremism, both domestically and internationally.” Given his perspective, Mr. Fadden’s recent move from CSIS to the deputy minister role at DND will be invaluable in keeping our troops in a state of readiness.
We have no idea when or if this Islamist terror threat will be contained or subside. But it won’t be soon. The list of lethal attacks was already long by 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists took down the Twin Towers and destroyed a wing of the Pentagon, obliterating nearly 3,000 lives. And they continue to take their toll.
The security challenge is enormous and twofold — to watch for and disrupt Islamist terrorists operating abroad and to carefully look out for budding jihadists at home, such as the Toronto 18 or the alleged VIA Rail plotters, who are radicalized and hell-bent on killing or maiming civilians.
On balance, I believe Canada is focused on both while retaining perspective on the threat, so that terrorists do not push us into unreasonably restricting the very freedoms we cherish and they despise.
There is another, overarching security concern as the world rapidly becomes completely reliant on networked computer systems. We are all connected, and therefore all vulnerable. And while the price of becoming a nuclear power is high, there is almost no cost to becoming a cyber power. Those who want to disrupt and destroy need only write or buy the computer code needed to do the job.
Some are hackers, breaching firewalls simply to prove they can — a kind of geek sport. But others seek a truly destructive, disabling cyber-attack on the control systems of our critical infrastructure: electrical grids, transportation systems, banking and finance, orbiting satellites, military command and control systems and more.
The Pentagon created Cyber Command to fight in the new military domain of cyberspace so they can defend the U.S.’s military networks, use cyber to enhance conventional military operations, and develop cyber responses to warlike cyber-attacks that damage property and kill or injure people.
In Canada, our military’s Cyber Directorate also views cyber as a new military domain and while defending their own systems, DND and the CAF are also building cyber capabilities and working with operational decision-makers on real-time command and control in the cyber realm.
When it comes to the more traditional good guys and bad guys, there are still some powerful players with which to be reckoned. Despite running trade deficits with them, we value our trading and investment relationships with China. It’s the world’s most populous country; it already has the second-largest economy (if you don’t count the European Union) and may soon top the United States. Even in these troubled economic times, China’s GDP growth was nearly 8 percent in 2012, far outpacing Canada and the United States. And while China represents an almost endless market for the world’s resources, we cannot ignore the fact that it is an authoritarian one-party state whose global intentions remain obscure and sometimes troubling. By extending its military reach, and by asserting ownership of land far into the South China Sea, China has unsettled its neighbours and caused the United States to change strategic direction — the “Asian pivot.” China is also securing land and other strategic resources whenever and wherever it can, and has set its sights on the Arctic, too, conducting “research” and sending an icebreaker through Russia’s northeast passage. China even signed a free-trade treaty with tiny Iceland as it lines up allies in its bid for permanent observer status and influence on the Arctic Council.
We need not be alarmist about China, but the West’s “pivot” toward the Pacific was prudent. So Canada is pursuing the right course, being careful, not confrontational. We want greater trade ties and a secure market for our resources. But we now have a submarine on the west coast, joining the rest of our Pacific Fleet and we are the second biggest player of the 22 nations who take part in the world’s largest maritime military exercise — RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific). This massive multinational exercise simultaneously sends signals and fosters mutual understanding and the ability to work together on common goals. Wisely, the United States has invited China to take part in RIMPAC in 2014 and the Chinese have accepted.
There are the rogue and unstable states that have, or are seeking, nuclear weapons. North Korea has the bomb and has threatened to use it. Iran continues its push to develop a bomb despite international condemnation and strict sanctions. Pakistan and India, mutually hostile, both have the bomb, and Pakistan faces serious internal security challenges from extremists.
Canada, as a middle power, is limited in what it can do about nuclear proliferation. We use persuasion, and, in the case of Iran, we have invoked a strict regime of sanctions to slow their progress towards a bomb. Still, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India and others have either not signed or have not ratified the non-proliferation and test-ban treaties, prompting some to quite rightly renew consideration of a missile shield program.
All told, I believe Canada is dealing well with the main challenges to our security — we’re thinking smart about smaller budgets; working closely with our allies to thwart jihadist terrorism; taking action to protect ourselves from cyber threats; trading with China, but carefully watching her rise; and working to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons.
Canada is no longer a spectator nation. Our recent military missions have helped put our country back at the table of international players. Canada can again be counted on to be a courageous warrior and confident and willing partner.

Pamela Wallin is the independent senator for Saskatchewan, former chair of the Senate national security and defence committee, and honorary colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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Pamela Wallin is the independent senator for Saskatchewan, former chair of the Senate national security and defence committee, and honorary colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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