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Defence and the international policy statement

by Martin Shadwick

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Rolled out on 19 April, the Liberal government’s much-revised, long-awaited and comparatively little-noticed International Policy Statement (IPS) – it’s tough competing with a sponsorship scandal and the selection of a new Pope – outlined an ambitious “doctrine of activism” on the world stage, arguing that “our old middle power identity imposes an unnecessary ceiling on what we can do and be in the world. Canada can make a difference, if it continues to invest in its international role and pulls its weight. We will know if we have done so if there is demand for Canadian ideas and expertise, if Canadian priorities have pride of place on the international agenda, if the institutions we are part of deliver solutions efficiently and equitably, if our efforts to catalyze induce others to follow, and if the partners we support achieve their aspirations.” The approach of the IPS is sensibly holistic, and seeks to leverage the mutually reinforcing dimensions of diplomacy, defence, development and commerce.

The IPS enumerates a plethora of initiatives, ranging from the creation of a Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) within Foreign Affairs to plan and coordinate inter-departmental responses to international crises, the creation of a Global Peace and Security Fund, and deploying more diplomats abroad, to the expansion of trade in both established and emerging markets, the focusing of aid on a core group of 25 countries, and the transformation and expansion of the defence establishment.

The defence component of the IPS is presented in a copiously illustrated, 32-page document (by comparison, the unillustrated 1994 White Paper runs to 48 pages), but will be joined in due course by a follow-on document detailing the requisite capabilities and force structure. The Canadian Forces “will continue to perform three broad roles: protecting Canadians, defending North America in cooperation with the United States, and contributing to international peace and security. To do so, our military must be effective, relevant and responsive, and remain capable of carrying out a range of operations, including combat.” However, in a declaration reminiscent of the early Trudeau years – albeit in a very different geo-strategic context – the Martin government “believes... that a greater emphasis must be placed on the defence of Canada and North America than in the past. This must be the Canadian Forces’ first priority. Current threats demand that we pay increased attention to the safety and security of our citizens at home...”

Concomitant initiatives include increased surveillance of Canadian territory and maritime areas of jurisdiction, including the Arctic, utilizing existing assets (e.g., the Aurora), satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, and additional High Frequency Surface Wave Radars, assigning the bulk of the CF-18 fleet to home and North American defence, and strengthening cooperation with other government departments. The ability of JTF2 and the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Company to respond to domestic incidents will be enhanced, and a single national command structure (i.e., Canada Command) will be created “to respond to national contingencies.” The defence statement posits that the domestic role has traditionally “been treated as a secondary consideration”, but ‘tertiary’ might be closer to reality. In addition, Canada “will examine with the United States a number of security and defence areas in which our two countries could work more closely together,” including increased bi-national maritime surveillance activities.

Beyond North America, the Canadian Forces “will continue to participate across the spectrum of international operations, with a focus on the complex and dangerous task of restoring order to failed and failing states. The ability of our military to carry out three-block war operations will be critical to the success of Canada’s efforts to address the problems of these states. Our experience in the past has shown that democracy and economic development cannot take hold in these societies without the security and stability that only military forces can provide.”

Initiatives in the overseas realm include “effectively” doubling the army’s overall “capacity to undertake and sustain operations” (the vast bulk of the promised 5000-person increase in regular force strength is, of course, destined for the army), enhancing special operations and light infantry capabilities, renewing the navy’s task group sustainment capabilities and providing the navy with the means to lift, and otherwise support, land forces, and acquiring “medium-to-heavy-lift” helicopters to support land and special forces operations. On the other hand, the number of CF-18s earmarked for overseas operations plummets from the wing (i.e., two squadrons) envisaged by the 1994 White Paper to a mere six-pack (i.e., a tiny fraction of the Gulf War contribution of 1990-91 and significantly smaller than even the Kosovo contribution of 1999).

On balance, the “doctrine of activism” outlined by the International Policy Statement appears ambitious but viable, commendably holistic (such a straightforward concept, so long overdue) and, given the political will, affordable. Also encouraging is the comparatively high profile accorded defence and security in its overview document. The “new” international policy – much of which had already been unveiled in other fora – should be able to garner the support of Canadians, although encouraging public opinionpolls in the past 18 months do not necessarily mean that Canadians will wish to back up their declarations of support for an activist foreign policy with the necessary fiscal resources.

Judgments on the defence policy statement are necessarily somewhat conditional given the absence of the follow-on document, but there is clearly much of merit in the offering of 19 April. That said, its repeated references to the additional funding for defence contained in the February 2005 budget are unduly self-congratulatory, given the back loading of the new funds. One wonders, too, whether the fixation with failed and failing states, and the virtual absence of references to inter-state conflict, is prudent.

Strategic lift, particularly strategic airlift, remains something of a black (bleak?) hole. Rather more can be discerned on the sealift front, but here, too, the way forward is unclear. The apparent decision to opt for Joint Support Ships and a more specialized amphibious vessel is potentially sound in that it would permit fewer compromises in the design of the JSS, but the cost, configuration and availability (if the second class of ship is a one-off) remain murky and contentious. On another front, is the absence of a coastal patrol aircraft consistent with a “Canada-first” defence doctrine?

Also less than crystal clear, as David Rudd of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies has noted, is the nature of the government’s commitment to a combat-capable military. “It seems no accident”, he writes, “that ‘war-fighting’ is never mentioned, and the word ‘combat’ (or ‘combat-capable’) is used very sparingly. This may have been politically mandated, and not the choice of the military. Regardless, one senses that the CF of today is undergoing a transformation of its self-image into an [increasingly] post-modern military, and that this is driven as much by external pressures as by internal ones.” It is intriguing to note, in this regard, the assertion of the 1994 White Paper that “Canada needs armed forces that are able to operate with the modern forces maintained by our allies and like-minded nations against a capable opponent – that is, able to fight ‘alongside the best, against the best.’” The new defence policy document most assuredly makes references to ‘combat’ and ‘combat-capable,’ but is that three-block war combat-capable or something genuinely broader?

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Martin Shadwick teaches Canadian defence policy at York University. He is a former editor of Canadian Defence Quarterly.

Two soldiers

DND Photo KA2003-B018A by Captain Jay Janzen, 3 RCR Battalion Group PAO

As members of Operation ATHENA, Sergeant Wayne MacLean, (left) and Sergeant Paul Coppicus, (right) scan an area for signs of movement from their alpine observation post in the mountains surrounding Kabul, Afghanistan.