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by Dr. Scot Robertson and Dr. Michael Hennessy


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As the 1994 Defence White Paper approaches the 10th anniversary of its release, DND is engaged in anticipating its future direction. The recent CDS-sponsored symposium, The Canadian Forces of Tomorrow: Maintaining Strategic Effectiveness and Relevance in the 21st Century, is one step taken toward that end. In recent years, NDHQ has examined how the CF must tackle the RMA, and Strategy 2020 was published in 1999 to help clarify the Department’s way ahead in light of evolving demands. The symposium was called to facilitate the drafting of Strategy 2025 and related work. Undeniably, in the decade since the 1993-94 defence and foreign policy reviews that culminated in the current White Paper for Defence and guidance for Foreign Affairs, a number of issues have emerged that have added to the defence-related lexicon, but not necessarily the defence budget. A decade ago ‘peace enforcement’, ‘asymmetric war’, ‘terror with a global reach’, ‘globalization’ and ‘human security’ were not terms in common use. Equally absent were considerations of NATO’s ‘19’ nations, or the Office of Homeland Defence or even DND’s own Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection (OCIPEP). This symposium aimed to take stock of many of these new developments, emerging threats, opportunities and risks, while weighing old and enduring challenges among those now emerging. Thus, over the course of two days some 300 participants drawn from the senior ranks of government, defence, academia and parliament heard a series of presentations that explored many of these issues and examined the experience of several other nations in dealing with them.


The presentations and discussions at the symposium dealt with a wide range of important topics that will need to be addressed in drafting Strategy 2025 and in the conduct of any future reviews of defence policy, foreign policy and, perhaps, national security policy. While it is impossible to cover the full range of themes and discussions, the major points that emerged included the following:

  • Confronting New Threats: The broad range of new threats and challenges that must be considered.

  • National Security Architecture: The need for new ways and means of dealing with these threats and challenges, including a new national security architecture for effective intelligence and inter-agency cooperation. There was a profound sense that our national security architecture, based as it is on a 19th century model, is woefully inadequate in the 21st century.

  • Force Structure: The critical role of task-tailored forces ranging from platoons to larger formations for the land elements, single ships to task forces for the maritime elements, and a range of reconfigurable air elements.

  • Canada–US Relations: The overarching importance of our relationship with the United States cannot be overstated, but we also have fundamental differences, and the fine balance between managing both demands careful, concerted attention.


Perhaps it is a blinding flash of the obvious, but the 21st century will confront Canada and the Canadian Forces with a number of new and very difficult challenges. First and foremost among these is the spectre of the new terrorism, as seen most spectacularly in the attacks of 11 September, and subsequently by the attacks in Bali, and as will be evidenced by those that will no doubt come in the days and years ahead. The challenge of the new terrorism will require a degree of fortitude and effort that may mirror the type of commitment that was called for during the Cold War. In contemplating this future, there was considerable discussion of the role of military forces, and whether they should be front and centre in this endeavour. All were in agreement that while armed forces will have a key role, they will be largely supportive. Intelligence services and special operations forces will be called on to take a lead role. In addition, foreign aid and international development assistance will be instrumental in resolving problems. Finally, models of intervention will need to be amended. UN-sponsored intervention may become less relevant, replaced by regionally sponsored interventions and coalitions of the willing.

In short, the government will need to bring more coherence to how we deal with emerging problem areas. Rather than operating in isolation, a more coordinated, cooperative approach should be brought to the full range of issues that constitute Canadian international policy. For instance, there is an emerging awareness that development issues, latent and nascent crises, and crisis intervention should not be thought of as the sole prerogative of CIDA or DFAIT or DND. Rather Canada’s response should be considered as involving all the instruments of international policy in some measure or another, and working relationships between these and other agencies need to be thought through in a more concerted manner so as to avoid problems such as those experienced by DFAIT in contributing to the CF mission in Afghanistan. More to the point, there is a growing recognition that the pace at which situations can change from relatively benign to a full-blown crisis will necessitate more nimble, responsive and considered government action than we have formerly seen.


An issue that pervaded many of the discussions was the adequacy of the current Canadian national security policy-making architecture. Many of the emerging challenges will be dynamic and fast-emerging. Many speakers and commentators questioned the responsiveness of the national security architecture, in particular the analytical and forecasting ability of national-level intelligence bodies and the coordination of national security policy. We have a system that at the very least makes it difficult to know what has been done. Moreover, existing ad hoc coordinating arrangements were deemed by one speaker as ‘dysfunctional’ and in urgent need of reform. Because they are too ad hoc in their structure, there is considerable doubt about their ability to cope with the nature and pace of the new threats, many of which resemble network structures, rather than the traditional state-based hierarchical, bureaucratically structured threats.

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Some suggestions for remedying these deficiencies were offered. One such recommendation highlighted the need for a more permanent inter-departmental planning body with responsibility for assessment, strategic planning and coordination of national efforts, somewhat akin to the US National Security Council or the Australian Office of National Assessment. There have been calls by Canadian commentators and experts for just such a body, yet little action has been seen.


Unusually for such a symposium, prosaic questions of force structure were not central to the discussions. Instead, there were two presentations from allied nations concerning how they have managed the difficult decade of the 1990s, and how they are positioned to meet the demands of the first decade of the 21st century. Interestingly, these presentations were not from what one might call first-tier armed forces that possess the full panoply of military capabilities. Rather, they were from militaries that more or less mirror the Canadian Forces in size. Hence, there was considerable insight to be gleaned from these discussions.

A central feature in both was the fact that each nation has conducted several defence reviews, including full policy reviews with direction coming from the very highest level of government. Both of these cases demonstrated the importance of early and clear guidance in establishing the bounds of future national security policy and defence policy. Both also demonstrated a similar outcome. The armed forces focused on the following key requirements: readiness, sustainability, jointness, reorganization, modern high-tech equipment and international cooperation. While this does not mean that the CF must follow a similar path, since we do have unique circumstances, the very fact that two similar allied nations have reached broadly similar conclusions regarding policy and force structure guidance for the future, is instructive. Moreover, most defence experts and analysts in this country seem in broad agreement that these are the very issues that the CF will need to address in the future.


The Canada–US relationship was cast in a stark light during the discussion. The new demands of dealing with North American security, which range well beyond the mandate of National Defence, let alone keeping abreast of operational methods for cooperating with US forces in expeditionary operations is a tall order, and one that may be beyond our modest reach. Before 11 September, concern in Ottawa hinged on the apparent rise in unilateralism by the White House. Cancellation of the ABM treaty, withdrawal from Kyoto, tensions with China, softwood lumber and a number of other issues, left Ottawa mandarins lamenting the breakdown of the ‘special relationship’ and the faltering of the intricate multi-lateral matrix within which Ottawa enjoyed entangling Washington to stabilize the international status quo. How will this affect Canada as we look out to a confused and uncertain future?

One of the most important requirements that will face the government and the nation is managing our relationship with the United States. Generally, we as a nation have not thought through all the implications of (1) US predominance in the world, (2) American determination to deal with terrorists and their sponsors by transforming the Middle East and elsewhere, and (3) the realities of our economic dependence on the US economy and geographical proximity to the US. These are not issues to be resolved, rather they require perpetual management.


It should come as no surprise that the issue of an inadequate defence budget featured prominently in the discussion. This note has been sounded by virtually every study of defence in Canada over the past half decade. While it is one thing to simply call for additional spending on defence, it is quite another to determine where existing and new resources should be allocated at a time of significant change. Hence, the question of resource allocation will feature prominently in the months ahead. The bounds of this discussion were set throughout the course of the symposium. There was near unanimity that some areas of the defence portfolio could benefit from the streamlining called for by the Minister of National Defence. In particular, attention was focused on the procurement system, the management of information technology and information systems, and service delivery.

However, there was also universal agreement that any savings to be squeezed out in these areas would be insufficient. In this regard, the symposium identified several issues that will require concerted attention. First, the Canadian Forces must confront the transformation agenda. For too long, modernization and transformation have been neglected. The result of this neglect is that the Canadian Forces lack the breadth and depth of capability to confront the broad range of challenges that the future will hold. Recognizing that for the short term, and barring a major calamity, any additional money made available will be short of what is required, choices will have to be made. Having said that, however, guidance and direction will be required, and this should form the basis of a meaningful defence review.


All in all, the symposium proved an extremely useful consideration of the challenges that will confront the country, the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence in the first decade of the 21st century. A number of general conclusions are possible as the CF and DND move ahead in formulating Strategy 2025. First, strategists must reconsider their preconceptions and embrace a more comprehensive definition of security. Second, we must take note of a range of non-traditional security threats that demand the attention of the CF (terrorism, WMD, narcotics, transnational crime and people smuggling, among others). Third, we need to acknowledge in a clearer fashion than heretofore that the defence of Canada will be much more complex due to the ‘globalization of security’. Fourth, we will need to question the contemporary relevance of some of the long-standing underpinnings of strategic policy – that challenges to Canadian security are only found in far away places and that we always have a choice about how we respond.

The initiative to develop Strategy 2025 is timely. It should herald a re-examination of planning principles to ensure that habit and tradition do not prevent necessary change. Defence must remain able to implement the tasks set by the government and meet the public’s expectations of professionalism and technical excellence when called upon to employ deadly force within a wide range of missions on a national and global scale.

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In the months ahead, as CF and DND planners commence work on Strategy 2025, they must address the issues and concerns that emerged at the CF symposium. In particular, they must incorporate the following considerations:

  • that we need an ability to conduct short or no-warning crisis-response operations in a timely fashion;

  • that territorial defence must take on a broader meaning, and that this might entail contributions to offshore collective defence;

  • that joint and combined operations will become the rule rather than the exception and that, in many instances, other government departments and non-state actors will be an integral part of any response;

  • that transparency in defence, foreign and national security policy will be critical to building understanding and support;

  • that efficiency and effectiveness are not the same, and that the quest for efficiency must be balanced by the need to ensure effectiveness and even a degree of redundancy in capability; and

  • that additional defence spending will be necessary in areas that support transformation to ensure short-, medium- and long-term relevance.

This is a tall order, made all the more difficult by the fact that the CF and DND have suffered from a decade of downsizing and fiscal retrenchment. The symposium illuminated some of the challenges that lie ahead and began to form some suggestions for navigating the path forward. It was a first step in an arduous journey and will demand hard thinking by all those with an interest in national security policy.

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Dr. Scot Robertson is Associate Professor of Politics and War Studies at Royal Military College. Dr. Michael A. Hennessy is Head of the Department of History at Royal Military College.


To encourage free and uninhibited discussion, the symposium operated under Chatham House rules, so no attribution has been made.