Strategic Thinking


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Towards a More Strategic Future? An Examination of the Canadian Government’s Recent Defence Policy Statements

by Andrew Richter

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Does Canada think strategically? Is there an identifiable body of Canadian strategic thought? These questions have puzzled observers of Canadian defence for decades, and continue to do so in the early years of the 21st Century. As many scholars have noted, there are no simple answers to these queries, and much depends on how one defines “strategy” and “strategic thought”. In this article, I will argue that recent defence policy statements produced by the Government of Canada mark an important step forward in the articulation of both a national strategy and a national security strategy. Unfortunately, however, this process has been marred by recent policy decisions – decisions that run counter to some of the recommendations in the policy statements themselves. In particular, I will focus on the case study of missile defence in Canada, and the long debate that ended in February 2005 with the decision to decline involvement in the American initiative. Ultimately, there needs to be greater consistency between the theory and practice of strategy in Canada if this country is to think – and act – strategically.

This article will be divided into three sections. The first will review the two recent policy statements on defence in Canada, those being the 2004 report, entitled Securing an Open Society: Canada’s National Security Policy, and the 2005 International Policy Statement, sub-titled A Role of Pride and Influence in the World.1 It will also examine briefly some background material with respect to Canadian strategic thought. The second section will discuss the missile defence debate in Canada, and emphasize the confusion and inconsistency that plagued the government’s decision-making process. The third section will itemize the article’s findings and conclusions, and consider whether the recent governmental statements go far enough in re-conceptualizing Canadian defence policy in a post 9/11 world.


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The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 have profoundly influenced the course of world events.

Part 1 – Strategy, Strategic Thought, and the Government’s Recent Defence Statements

Prior to examining the two aforementioned documents, attention should first be directed toward the terms strategy and strategic thought. Strategy is a word that has many meanings, and it can be used in a wide variety of contexts. Although it is often associated with military and security issues, a strategy can reflect goals or objectives, an understanding of the environment, and the means by which resources are organized or applied to achieve those objectives.2 Thus, strategy can mean different things depending upon the context in which it is used.

However, for this article, a traditional definition will be adopted. The core concern of strategy is the element of force, which is the most critical factor differentiating it from other forms of human activity. Here we will adopt the definition offered by Colin Gray, who has noted: “Strategy is the art of employing or of threatening to employ force for political ends.”3

Strategic thought refers to the ways in which strategy is utilized in a country, and particularly insofar as a body of thinking can be discerned and identified in pursuit of national goals. A brief history of Canadian strategic thought might be helpful in putting the later discussion into its proper historical setting. Several scholars have argued that Canada has historically not produced much in the way of strategy or strategic thought. In the 1960s and 1970s, a series of studies was published suggesting that Canada lacked an independent capacity to articulate its interests in a variety of areas, of which ‘defence and security’ was only one national interest.4 However, for our purposes here, the key claim was that Canada had no tradition of strategic thought, a failure that had left this country with little protection against foreign military doctrines and their resultant defence policies. This argument was advanced by Canadian security scholars Adrian Preston and John Gellner, as well as by the British strategist Colin Gray.5 According to them, Canada’s failure to identify its own strategic thought was attributed to Ottawa’s long dependence on foreign militaries for organization, discipline and philosophy, and to the nation’s practice of identifying national interests in larger alliance terms.

In my 2002 study, Avoiding Armageddon: Canadian Military Strategy and Nuclear Weapons, 1950-1963, I examined these assertions, and concluded that, in fact, Canadians did think strategically during the Cold War, and that defence officials reached independent understandings of some of the most critical concepts of the nuclear age. Specifically, I demonstrated that the Canadian appreciation and understanding of both deterrence and arms control were conceptually distinct from the consensus view(s) in the US, and ultimately foreshadowed key changes in the manner in which many analysts came to think about these terms.6 I also showed that national interests, not those forced on Canada by the external environment, were the primary influence upon Canadian thinking about air defence and the domestic acquisition of nuclear weapons, the two most controversial defence issues of the 1950s. Lastly, I pointed out that such thinking influenced Canadian defence policy of the period, focusing on NATO commitments and decisions made by the Cabinet Defence Committee.7 I concluded by noting that Canada’s defence alignment with the US through these early years of the Cold War helped advance the nation’s primary international goal, which was global stability and order.

Although my study was confined to the period from 1950 to 1963, several scholars have considered more recent developments regarding Canadian strategic thought, and, in general, their findings have not been encouraging. Critics have concluded that the combination of constant reductions in defence spending, the “commitment-capability” gap of the 1970s and 1980s, and the general lack of attention directed toward Canada’s military resulted in a (renewed) Canadian failure to think strategically. It has been further suggested that Canadian defence policy became entirely reactive in that it was framed largely by the available resources, rather than being used in combination with foreign policy in the pursuit of national objectives.8

In the aftermath of the enormous defence spending cuts made by the government of Jean Chrétien between 1993 and 1998, and following the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks on the US, attention has once again centred on whether there is an identifiable strategy guiding Canadian defence policy, and on what the core interests of that strategy might be. Such concern led to the 2004 National Security Policy (NSP), the first such document ever produced in Canada. In general, the NSP is a thoughtful statement on security policy, and it is certainly helpful in determining where Canada’s strategic interests lie.

The NSP addresses the steps that the government has recently undertaken to combat terrorism – important consideration, given the widespread criticism of Canada’s counter-terrorism efforts in the aftermath of 9/11.9 Thus, the NSP reviews actions taken in terms of emergency response, public health, and transportation and border security. The NSP also adopts a rather aggressive approach in dealing with new security threats, and, in particular, the possibility of terrorism in Canada – a prospect that the Canadian government has downplayed frequently in public statements. Thus, the policy paper notes that “the new and more complex security environment requires Canada to deal frankly with the reality that in an open society, tensions can develop among communities. There is a risk that the seeds of conflict and extremism can take root even in the most tolerant of settings.” In addition, the report specifically recognizes the importance of not allowing Canada to become a “base for threats” to our allies, a surprisingly frank statement given the serious allegations in this regard that have been made against Canada in recent years.10

Much of the NSP discusses the need to integrate – or, at a minimum, to coordinate – Canada’s defence and security policies with those of the Americans. For example, in the section on intelligence, the importance of working with allies is discussed, while the section on emergency planning notes the 2002 creation of the Bi-National Planning Group (BPG) to develop coordinated Canada-US responses to terrorist attacks and natural disasters.11 Perhaps most importantly, with respect to border security, the NSP calls for steps that Canadian nationalists have been warning about for years, including the use of biometrics on Canadian passports, the need to streamline the refugee determination process, and the introduction of an RCMP electronic fingerprint system. Further, the NSP is quite explicit about the need for greater cooperation with the US regarding coastal defence and the protection of territorial waters.

Many of the same themes were addressed in the 2005 International Policy Statement (IPS), a document that contained four separate reports, one of which was Defence.12 The Defence document, however, was much more specific than the NSP with respect to its recommendations for Canadian defence policy and the future of the Canadian Forces (CF).

With respect to the CF, the IPS reiterates the three primary roles that have been recognized in successive defence white papers – that is, to protect Canadians, to defend North America in cooperation with the US, and to contribute to international peace and security.13 However, the IPS acknowledges that the operational tempo of the post-Cold War period has been ‘demanding’, which has led to the ‘over-stretch’ of Canada’s armed forces. It warns that the funding the military receives “can no longer support the level of operational activity that we have come to expect”. At the same time, the report notes that CF units are interoperable with the forces of other Western countries, and, in particular, those of the United States. It states: “This explains why our military continues to be one of the first to be called upon to participate in international missions, and why Canadians are often asked to fill the most demanding command and staff positions.” As a result of these present capabilities, and the need to maintain operational flexibility in the future, the IPS repeats the key recommendation of the 1994 Defence White Paper in calling for “modern, combat-capable maritime, land, air and special operations forces.”14

But it is the section of the document dealing with the Canada-US defence relationship that offers the most interesting observations, especially given recent events and the challenges in the larger bilateral relationship. It begins by noting that the “United States remains Canada’s most important ally...our defence and security relationship is long-standing, well entrenched and as extensive as any in the world”. It then remarks, in a passage that might strike some Canadians as problematic, that “North America’s security is indivisible”. And it goes on to state: “Our bilateral cooperation continues to provide us with a degree of security that we could never achieve on our own.” While none of these statements is controversial on its own, combined, they suggest that the government remain committed to maintaining Canada-US defence ties, and that no steps should be taken that might jeopardize this relationship.

The IPS also discusses, albeit briefly, some of the recent initiatives that the US has taken regarding American security, and how such actions may affect Canada. Thus, the document notes that “...for Canada, the United States’ more assertive role on the world stage and growing sense of vulnerability at home have implications across the socio-economic, political, diplomatic, and defence spectrum”. The Department of Homeland Security is briefly mentioned, as is the establishment of Northern Command, the latter being one of the key changes made to American military commands after 9/11.15

In a passage that has obvious implications for the missile defence debate, the IPS notes, “ is clearly in our sovereign interest to continue doing our part in defending the continent with the United States”. The document reviews some of the Canadian security initiatives that have taken place since 9/11, including the Smart Border Declaration16 and recent changes to the Canadian defence budget.17 But it categorically asserts, “...these initiatives, while significant, are not enough. As part of our new, more sophisticated approach to our relationship with the United States, we will renew our commitment to continental defence”.18 As part of that commitment, the IPS discusses NORAD, and how this partnership remains central to both nations’ defence plans. But the document says that “more needs to be done” regarding bilateral defence cooperation. It then lists several possibilities for enhanced maritime cooperation, including increased binational surveillance activities and arrangements for the support of civilian authorities during crises. Overall, the IPS makes clear that the Canada-US defence relationship remains vital, and Canada is considering ways of increasing cooperation in the future – a possibility that is likely to be raised in the NORAD renewal negotiations that will take place later this year.

This discussion has attempted to put Canadian strategic thinking in its historical context, while examining some recent developments. Although I believe that Canadians contributed to the thinking surrounding some of the most important concepts of the nuclear age during the early phase of the Cold War, our willingness and/or ability to conduct strategic analysis has declined since then. This has resulted in the repetition of failures that had been evident throughout much of Canada’s early history. However, with the recent publication of the National Security Policy and the International Policy Statement, it appears as if the Canadian government is once again thinking strategically. Most critically, both reports recognize that Canada’s security is directly tied to the US, and in the post-9/11 environment, Canada needs to cooperate closely with its southern neighbour in the defence of North America. Indeed, what is most refreshing about both documents is how explicit they are in recognizing this reality. Given the obvious discomfort the Liberal Party feels toward the United States, the reports are unexpectedly straightforward and unapologetic in their desire to draw Canada and the US into an even closer security alliance.

This does not mean, however, that recent policy decisions are necessarily consistent with these documents. On the contrary, as Part Two will examine, Canada’s decision to decline participation in the US missile defence program runs counter to the (implicit) recommendation laid out in the IPS, reflecting a gap between this country’s strategic theory and its defence policy decisions.

Lieutenant-General George Macdonald

DND photo

Lieutenant-General George Macdonald, former Deputy Commander-in-Chief NORAD and Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.

Part 2 – Canada’s Debate with Respect to Participation in the US Missile Defence Program

Significant Canadian interest in US missile defence dates back to the 1960s and 1970s, when American plans first complicated Canadian participation in NORAD.19 However, more recent concern began with the release of the 1994 Defence White Paper, which offered the first Canadian public statement on the proposed US program. Specifically, it allowed Canadian research and consultation with like-minded nations in order to obtain a better understanding of missile defence.

The question of Canadian involvement in the US National Missile Defence (NMD) program20 became front-page news in Canada in early 1999, when it was reported that the Canadian Forces had requested to spend more than $600 million on space-related hardware and equipment.21 According to The Ottawa Citizen, senior CF officials had been pushing for a role in NMD since 1997, and they were anxious to make that role official. More importantly, it was reported that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted NORAD to take a controlling interest in the system, and that the Canadian military was eager to cooperate. Lastly, the report noted that the US wanted a Canadian response by the spring of 2000 at the latest to the unofficial American offer to participate.

However, as the months passed without a formal announcement on participation, concern began to grow within the military that Canada might decline the American offer, and that the effect on NORAD could prove disastrous. Lieutenant-General George Macdonald, NORAD’s Deputy Commander and Canada’s highest-ranking NORAD officer at the time, warned that if Canada refused to participate in NMD, NORAD could face gradual erosion and possible extinction. As he cautioned: “You have to ask, if [Canada] is not part [of NMD], how can we part of NORAD? ...There would be a serious risk that the closeness of our very successful partnership would be compromised.”22 The concerns that Macdonald raised at this time were to be repeated frequently over the course of the six-year debate with respect to participation.

Lloyd Axworthy

Photo by National Speaker Bureau

Lloyd Axworthy

By early 2000, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) began to take the lead on issuing comments on the question of Canadian participation in NMD. In particular, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who had acquired a reputation for hostility towards the United States, started making statements that suggested that Canada was seriously examining the possibility of declining the American offer. Needless to say, this did little to reassure increasingly nervous DND officials.

Revealing his disdain for the NMD program, in May 2000 Axworthy published a letter that was sharply critical of the United States, and of its perceived willingness to forego multilateralism in order to pursue its interests unilaterally. The letter noted: “ The US should refrain from unilateral decisions on a National Missile Defence system that could jeopardize the integrity of the ABM Treaty regime and have an overall negative impact on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.”23 Further, Axworthy went out of his way to praise Russia’s recent disarmament efforts, particularly its decision to ratify START II, and he placed the onus of responsibility for further nuclear cuts squarely on the Americans.

However, Lloyd Axworthy’s unexpected resignation from politics in October 2000 dramatically changed both the equation of missile defence and the specifics of Canada’s debate. His replacement as Foreign Affairs Minister, John Manley, quickly began voicing policies and opinions far more favourable to the United States. Given that Axworthy was widely seen as the primary Canadian critic of the missile defence plan, his resignation indicated a perceptible shift in the wind, one that was now blowing in Washington’s favour.

By 2001, however, leading members of the Canadian government essentially stopped talking about missile defence altogether, presumably concluding that, if they made no comments, the controversy would simply fade away.24 Incredibly, the strategy was followed for the next two years, during which time Prime Minister Chrétien and members of his Cabinet generally avoided making any direct statements on the issue. This silence was all the more conspicuous, given the enormous changes in missile defence plans that took place during this period. These included the US decision in December 2001 to give Russia six months notification of its intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, the official American withdrawal from it in June 2002, the establishment of Northern Command in October 2002, and the American decision in December 2002 to begin deployment of a missile defence system in 2004.25

In early 2003, the Canadian government finally awoke from its self-imposed slumber, and key ministers began issuing statements suggesting that Canada was, in fact, leaning towards cooperation. The first indication was comments made by Defence Minister John McCallum, who noted in January that, despite Ottawa’s lengthy silence, it still had an ‘open mind’ on the question of Canadian participation.26 A few months later, McCallum followed up by saying that “a good number of arguments can be marshalled as to why [participation in missile defence] might be a good idea for Canada”.27

Additional comments in the spring of 2003 strongly implied a decision pending in favour of participation. Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, who had replaced John Manley in 2002, noted that there was a “long tradition of Canada and the United States working together on the defence of North America, because it’s in our interest... if one is attacked, the other is at risk”.28 Even Prime Minister Chrétien suddenly seemed more agreeable, noting that “the situation is changing... [the proposed US program] is much more limited [than prior US missile defence plans]”.29

Yet at the very time that statements were being made suggesting possible Canadian participation, the government was beginning to back away, thereby illustrating the indecision that has been increasingly the hallmark of Ottawa’s foreign policy. On 6 May 2002, Foreign Affairs Minister Graham suggested that while Canada was prepared to participate in the missile defence program, its goal in doing so would be to prevent the weaponization of outer space.30 The next day, it was reported that the government had decided to postpone a final decision for several additional months – as if a four-year period for debate had been insufficient. With a backbench revolt brewing,31 and many Canadians upset with the Americans over the war in Iraq, the Liberal government decided in favour of further delay.

However, just weeks later, Canada’s position once again appeared to shift toward participation when it was reported that approval had been granted for the initiation of bilateral negotiations aimed at defining the possible Canadian role in the missile defence program.32 The Canadian objectives in the negotiations were reported to be: (1) to protect Canadian territory; (2) to ensure that NORAD remains central to continental defence planning; and (3) to prevent the weaponization of space.33 However, Defence Minister McCallum was quick to note that the start of negotiations did not signify a Canadian decision to participate, stating: “...It is [the government’s] responsibility to ensure that any arrangement protects [Canadian] national interests. This will be at the forefront of [the] discussions.”

In June 2003, a Parliamentary motion affirming support for a joint Canada-United States command of any missile defence system was passed. However, 38 Liberals voted against the bill, thereby suggesting a serious internal division over the issue.34 Not surprisingly, the issue remained unresolved when Prime Minister Chrétien left office in December 2003. The following month, the new government of Paul Martin surprised observers when it agreed to a formal bilateral exchange of letters that outlined Canada’s willingness to negotiate an agreement on missile defence. True to form, however, the government immediately pointed out that the exchange of letters did not mean that Ottawa had decided to support Washington’s plan.35 By this time, the Canadian position seemed to be one of deliberate ambiguity, as opposing, indeed, contradictory ones – were being issued with regularity.

Bush and Martin

PMO Photo by Dave Chan

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and United State president George Bush in Halifax, Nova Scotia, December 2004.

In April 2004, The Globe and Mail reported that the Martin government had reached a decision to participate, but it was waiting until after the upcoming federal election before issuing a formal announcement.36 However, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale immediately denied the story, saying that the government was “absolutely opposed” to the program.37 Not surprisingly, no official statement on the issue was made in the aftermath of the June election, which resulted in a Liberal minority government and an increased parliamentary role for the NDP – a party adamantly opposed to missile defence.

In a development further suggesting a decision on participation was likely, in August, an amendment to the NORAD mandate ensured that it would share information with Northern Command and the American ground-based ballistic missile defence system on missile warning and detection (known as Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment – ITW/AA). This initiative, critics suggested, indicated Ottawa was already cooperating in everything but name.38 The following month, the new Defence Minister, Bill Graham, who, following the June election, had replaced David Pratt, who had, in turn, replaced John McCallum, suggested that Canadian participation in missile defence could have a positive impact on the larger bilateral relationship. He noted that missile defence “is an important program in the context of Canada-US relations”.39

The question of Canadian involvement in missile defence came up briefly at the hastily organized Martin-Bush summit, held in late November 2004. According to press reports, US President George W. Bush pressured Prime Minister Martin to sign on to missile defence, despite prior efforts by Canadian officials to keep the issue off the agenda. However, no decision was made at that time. The issue then remained quiet until 23 February 2005, when Canada’s incoming Ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna, insisted that changes to NORAD the prior summer effectively constituted Canadian participation in missile defence.40 After a seemingly endless debate, it finally appeared as if the verdict was in, and that Canada would participate in missile defence after all.


However, that very evening, rumours, first reported on CBC Television, swirled that Canada was, in fact, poised to decline the invitation. Indeed, the next day, the official word came that Prime Minister Martin had decided against Canadian involvement. In a statement made in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said that while Canada “respect[s] the right of the United States to defend itself and its people...ballistic missile defence is not where [the Canadian government] will concentrate [its defence] efforts”.41 The US immediately indicated its dismay. Ambassador Paul Cellucci stated that the US “simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty – its seat at the table – to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada”.42 Still, in spite of the ambassador’s obvious disappointment, official US reaction was muted, perhaps reflecting the fact that, after such a long debate, American officials may have concluded that the issue was simply too sensitive for Canadian involvement.

Canada’s tortuous debate on missile defence reveals Ottawa’s reluctance to agree to any proposal that calls for closer defence ties between the two countries. Simply put, the fear of the negative political fallout that might result should Canada be seen as being too cooperative, even subservient to some, with the United States was more than reason enough to decline the offer. At the same time, though, the decision is inconsistent with the IPS, which, as noted, called for closer bilateral defence cooperation. Thus, there appears to be a disconnect between Canada’s declaratory strategic interests and key defence policy decisions. The implications of this gap will be the focus of the concluding section of this article.

Part 3 – Findings and Conclusions

In recent years, several reports and studies have concluded that Canada’s military is in decline, and that unless steps are taken immediately to reverse this process, the damage may be irreparable.43 Despite the alarming nature of these findings, until recently the government appeared to pay little attention. However, beginning in 2002, governmental reports were released similarly concluding that Canada’s military was in crisis, and that the defence budget needed to be increased substantially if the military was to retain its core capabilities.44 Indeed, so widely reported and recognized is Canada’s defence crisis that foreign governments, particularly, although not exclusively, and our partners in NATO, increasingly worry that Canada is no longer able to carry its share of the defence burden, even in North America.

Such pessimism partly explains why the two recent defence policy statements have been met with such a positive response. Together, the NSP and the IPS suggest that Canada is committed to modernizing its military, and, indeed, in the February 2005 budget, more resources were pledged for DND – a spending increase that might total $13 billion over the next five years. Critics, however, immediately suggested that most of the money is unlikely to be realized. As previously noted, both the NSP and the IPS documents call for closer bilateral defence cooperation, thereby suggesting a realization that Canada and the US share similar international goals and objectives. Thus, there is reason to believe the situation is improving.

If that is the case, it is not a moment too soon. The terrorist attacks that took place five years ago this September brought attention to the declining capabilities of the CF, and to a series of debates that had been taking place behind departmental closed doors for some time. These debates highlighted the long-running question of general purpose as opposed to ‘niche’ or closely tailored military assets. They also included discussions on the fragile state of Canadian intelligence, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism capabilities. And they raised critical questions with respect to the CF’s ability to participate in ground combat missions abroad. Perhaps most importantly, the attacks pushed, or perhaps more accurately, should have pushed, the government to re-examine the basic principles underlying defence policy in Canada – principles that had gone unexamined since the release of the last Defence White Paper in 1994.

However, it is that need – and the overall failure to adequately meet that need – that largely accounts for my frustration with both the NSP and the IPS, for while they both update the last White Paper, neither fundamentally challenges it. In particular, while the IPS discusses the new security environment, the challenge of terrorism and the need to ‘transform’ the Canadian Forces, a reference to the rampaging Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that, in my view, threatens to reduce Canada’s military to third-rate status, it largely refrains from questioning the pillars of the 1994 Defence White Paper. Thus, it does not call for the prioritization of one service over another,45 and, as noted, it concludes that Canada still requires multi-purpose forces. In addition, the IPS describes operational missions that may – or may not – be possible given the limited fiscal environment.

Therefore, in the final analysis, I do not believe that the IPS goes far enough in recognizing and appreciating the political and strategic changes that have taken place over the past few years, nor does it fully come to grips with the severity of Canada’s defence malaise. If it had done so, it surely would not have concluded that the military status quo – or some variation of it – is an acceptable option. Similarly, a willingness to recognize the altered strategic environment should have resulted in some difficult decisions with respect to what form of military forces Canada should pursue.

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Further, rather than giving serious thought to an environment where an assertive and more unilateral United States can be expected to act in its sovereign interest, regardless of global opinion or the constraints of international law,46 the IPS is more concerned with Ottawa’s continued preference for multilateral institutions, and the importance of international organizations. Indeed, the document’s final section is titled Contributing to a Safer and More Secure World, and it features discussions of the UN, NATO and the European Union (EU), but it does not address US-style unilateralism, or how US-led ‘coalitions of the willing’ might play a larger role in ending regional conflicts and humanitarian crises than any of the preferred Canadian alternatives. Given the global convulsion generated by the Iraq war, and the ongoing debate over current US foreign policy, reluctance to address this reality is difficult to understand.

As this article has attempted to demonstrate, Canada has had a difficult time putting its words into action, so perhaps that reluctance should not come as a surprise. In the case of missile defence, Canada’s decision to decline involvement stood conventional wisdom on its head. Participating in the program could have earned Ottawa some badly needed political capital in Washington, while, at the same time, Canada was not being asked to make even the most modest, token contribution to the system itself. And, in return for an investment of essentially nothing, Canada would have received a seat at the table of a military command that might one day be asked to make an extraordinarily difficult and important decision – namely, when and where to shoot down an incoming ballistic missile armed with a warhead containing a nuclear or biological weapon. While, in the aftermath of the decision, Prime Minister Martin suggested that Canada would have to be “consulted” in the event of a decision to shoot down any such missile over Canadian territory,47 it hardly appeared to matter. Canada’s irrelevance in security matters had never been more apparent than it was at that moment.

Lastly, however, it should be noted that, according to Doctor James Fergusson, the most widely cited missile defence scholar in Canada, it is not entirely clear to what Canada said ‘no’. Thus, there is some doubt as to whether last February’s decision to decline involvement is indeed final.48 In this regard, Canadian participation in the missile defence system was never clearly defined, and both states had attempted to distinguish early warning, to which Canada remains committed, from formal participation. Thus, as Fergusson wrote in the Canadian Military Journal last summer: “The possibility that Canada would agree to deploy ‘early warning’ radar on Canadian soil without violating [its 2005 decision] exists, regardless of the government in power.” Indeed, in the days leading up to the January 2006 federal election, speculation emerged that a Conservative government would re-examine the issue,49 thereby suggesting that the matter might not be over.

In summary, the recent release of Canada’s National Security Policy and Canada’s International Policy Statement represents attempts by the government to re-introduce an element of strategic thinking into Canadian defence policy. By emphasizing the important roles that the Canadian Forces play in promoting international security, in defending Canadian values around the world, and in cooperating with the US in the defence of North America, the documents deserve praise for their prudent approach to global politics. In addition, by stressing the defence partnership that Canada has with the US, and the necessity of both maintaining and expanding that partnership, the IPS has garnered praise from some unlikely sources, including the editorial page of the normally critical National Post.50 But as we have seen, the recent decision to decline involvement in the US missile defence program suggests that there is a disconnect between declaratory policy and actual policy, between Canadian strategic thinking in theory and the lack of strategic thinking in practice. Until and unless this trend changes, Canadian defence policy will continue to be marked by inconsistency and drift, and this country’s slide into military irrelevance will continue.

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Doctor Andrew Richter is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Windsor. His most recent book is entitled Avoiding Armageddon: Canadian Military Strategy and Nuclear Weapons, 1950-1963.


  1. Securing an Open Society: Canada’s National Security Policy, (Ottawa: Privy Council Office, 2004) and Canada’s International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World, (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 2005).
  2. W. D. Macnamara and Ann Fitz-Gerald, “A National Security Framework for Canada,” Hugh Segal (ed.), Geopolitical Integrity, (Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 2005), p. 84.
  3. Colin Gray, Strategic Studies and Public Policy: The American Experience, (Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1982), p. 5.
  4. See, for example, John Warnock, Partner to Behemoth: The Military Policy of a Satellite Canada, (Toronto: New Press, 1970) and Stephen Clarkson (ed.), An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968).
  5. See Adrian Preston, “The Higher Study of Defence in Canada: A Critical Review,” Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3 (1968); Colin Gray, “The Need for Independent Canadian Strategic Thought,” Canadian Defence Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1971); and John Gellner, “Strategic Analysis in Canada,” International Journal, Vol. 33, No. 3 (1978).
  6. Andrew Richter, Avoiding Armageddon: Canadian Military Strategy and Nuclear Weapons 1950-1963, (Vancouver: UBC Press and Michigan State University Press, 2002).
  7. Ibid., Chapter Six.
  8. Doug Bland is one of the few Canadian defence scholars to examine this question in detail. See The Administration of Defence Policy in Canada, 1947-1984, (Kingston: Ronald P. Frye, 1987) and Chiefs of Defence: Government and the Unified Command of the Canadian Armed Forces, (Toronto: Brown Book Company and the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 1995).
  9. For an overview of Canada’s anti-terrorism actions since 9/11, see Wesley Wark, “Learning Lessons (and how) in the War on Terror: The Canadian Experience,” International Journal, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Winter 2004-2005).
  10. In the fall of 2003, a US Library of Congress report concluded: “Terrorists and international organized crime groups increasingly are using Canada as an operational base and transit country en route to the United States”. It might be added that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) has reached similar conclusions. See “Liberalism Makes Canada Soft on Terror, US Report Says,” The National Post, 16 February 2004.
  11. The Bi-National Planning Group (BPG) is based in Colorado Springs, where it is co-located with NORAD. Its responsibilities include sharing information, developing contingency plans, supporting civilian agencies, and improving cooperation with respect to both land and maritime threats.
  12. The other reports are on Diplomacy, Development and Commerce.
  13. The 1971 White Paper was the first to identify these roles. See Department of National Defence, Defence in the 70s, (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1971).
  14. The 1994 Defence White Paper noted, “the Government has concluded that the maintenance of multi-purpose, combat-capable forces is in the national interest.” See Department of National Defence, 1994 Defence White Paper, (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1994).
  15. NORTHCOM became operational on 1 October 2002. The Command’s mission is homeland defence and civil support. While Canada was not invited to participate formally in NORTHCOM, a cadre of Canadian officers has been assigned to it. See Philippe Lagasse, “Northern Command and the Evolution of Canada-US Defence Relations,” Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 2003).
  16. For discussion, see Andre Belelieu, “The Smart Border Process at Two: Losing Momentum?,” Hemisphere Focus, Vol. 11, No. 31 (2003).
  17. After five consecutive years of defence spending cuts from 1993 to 1998, the budget has started to grow, and in 2005 it reached $13 billion (roughly the size of the budget in 1993). However, as a percentage of GDP, Canadian defence spending continues to rank among the lowest in the western world (at 1.05 per cent).
  18. It might be noted that the use of the word ‘sophisticated’ is quite telling, and suggests that the government recognizes that recent incidents of name-calling and juvenile insults made by several Liberal politicians and party officials did not particularly distinguish Canada.
  19. In 1967, the Canadian government was sufficiently concerned about American missile defence plans that it decided that anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) should be specifically excluded from the NORAD renewal agreement. This ‘ABM clause’ was embedded in the 1968 renewal, where it remained until 1981.
  20. Prior to 2002, US missile defence efforts were divided into two categories: national missile defence (NMD) and theatre missile defence (TMD). In January 2002, the two programs were merged under a new organization, the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), which is part of the larger Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The change in terminology reflected the United States’ desire to involve allies in the program, and to broaden its scope so that participating countries will also be protected from attack.
  21. “Canadian Military Seeks Star Wars Role,” The Ottawa Citizen, 3 February 1999.
  22. “NORAD Missile Crisis: Canada isn’t on Board,” The Calgary Sun, 5 October 1999.
  23. “Axworthy Slams Missile Plan in Swedish Newspaper,” The National Post, 5 May 2000. The letter was co-written with the Swedish Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh.
  24. “Canada’s Missile Muteness,” The Globe and Mail, 22 February 2001.
  25. While the US had planned to deploy and put into service 10 ground-based interceptors in Fort Greely, Alaska, by September 2004, testing difficulties have delayed the system from becoming operational.
  26. “‘Open Mind’ on Role in Missile Plan: McCallum Aide,” The National Post, 27 January 2003.
  27. “Canada May Join US Missile Defence Plan,” The Windsor Star, 29 April 2003.
  28. “NORAD Could be in Jeopardy if Canada Doesn’t Join Missile Defence: Cellucci,” The Peterborough Examiner, 3 May 2003.
  29. “Chrétien Set to Join Bush’s Missile Plan,” The National Post, 6 May 2003.
  30. “Missile Defence ‘in our Interest’,” The Ottawa Citizen, 7 May 2003.
  31. The left wing of the Liberal party was incensed by the apparent decision to participate in the US program. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps voiced her opposition, as did Toronto MP John Godfrey – who charged that US missile defense plans would make the world “a more dangerous place”.
  32. “Ottawa OKs Talks on Missile Defence: Decision Catches Much of Liberal Caucus by Surprise,” The National Post, 30 May 2003.
  33. “Canada in Talks to Join Missile Defence System,” The Ottawa Citizen, 30 May 2003.
  34. “38 Liberals Vote Against Supporting US Missile Shield,” The Vancouver Sun, 4 June 2003.
  35. “Participation in Missile Shield not a Done Deal,” The Globe and Mail, 8 January 2004.
  36. “Martin Government Will Sign Bush’s Missile-Warning Program,” The Globe and Mail, 29 April 2004.
  37. “PM Says Missile Defence to be Decided in Fall,”, 29 April 2004.
  38. “NORAD Change isn’t Step Toward Joining Missile Defence: Graham,”, 6 August 2004.
  39. “Missile Defence Talks Important for Canada: Graham,”, 23 September 2004.
  40. “Martin Will Reject Missile Defence: Report,”, 23 February 2005.
  41. “Canada Says ‘No’ to Missile Defence: Martin,”, 25 February 2005.
  42. “Canada Won’t Join Missile Defence Plan,”, 25 February 2005.
  43. See, for example, Doug Bland (ed.), Canada Without Armed Forces?, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004) and A Nation at Risk: The Decline of the Canadian Forces, (Ottawa: Conference of Defence Associations, 2002).
  44. See, for example, Facing Our Responsibilities: The State of Readiness of the Canadian Forces, (Ottawa: Report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, 2002); For an Extra $130 Bucks: Update on Canada’s Military Financial Crisis, (Ottawa: Report of the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, 2002); and most recently, Wounded: Canada’s Military and the Legacy of Neglect, (Ottawa: Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, 2005).
  45. See, for example, Andrew Richter, “Alongside the Best? The Future of the Canadian Forces,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Winter 2003).
  46. The most widely cited examination of the Bush administration’s foreign policy is Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, (Washington: The Brookings Institution Press, 2003).
  47. See “US Must Not Intrude on Canadian Airspace: Martin,”, 25 February 2005.
  48. James Fergusson, “Shall We Dance? The Missile Defence Decision, NORAD Renewal, and the Future of Canada-US Defence Relations,” Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer 2005).
  49. See “Harper Open to Missile-Defence Talks with US,”, 13 January 2006.
  50. See “Fixing Canadian Foreign Policy,” The National Post, 20 April 2005.