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Views and Opinions

Developing Security Strategy in the Era of Integrated Government

by Captain (N) Peter Avis

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When the government publication, Securing an Open Society: Canada’s National Security Policy, was tabled in April 2004, the authors billed it as a “strategic framework and action plan.” It is not a national security strategy. In fact, it would seem that the Canadian government does not feel an urgent need for a national security strategy. It would seem that they would rather leave this sort of thinking to the United States (US) government in the context of North American security strategy.

Nevertheless, the National Security Policy (NSP) directed the federal interdepartmental community to develop and promulgate a number of formal strategies pertaining to the “key strategic areas,” which underpinned the chapters of the NSP. Examples include a Critical Infrastructure Protection Strategy, a National Cyber-security Strategy, and a National Immunization Strategy. Moreover, the NSP has prompted the need for an overarching Transportation Security Strategy, and this is currently being formulated.

Therefore, the Canadian government is beginning to develop national-level strategy. This is encouraging. Even if the NSP is not a strategy as such, it does provide broad swaths of strategic thought and guidance, particularly in its first two chapters. Thus, it is important now to step back and relearn (or learn for the first time) what strategy really means in the context of integrated government activity. How do we optimize this form of high-level policy development – called strategy – we learn as a community to create it?

Strategy Defined

The US government has done very valuable work in progressing the theory of modern strategy. The US Army War College is an excellent place to start. In his paper, Towards a Theory of Strategy, Richard Yarger breaks down this “high-falutin’” term into simple building blocks for the use of aspiring strategists. According to Yarger:

Strategy is the employment of the instruments (elements) of power (political/diplomatic, economic military, and informational) to achieve the political objectives of the state in cooperation or in competition with other actors pursuing their own objectives.

He goes on to say that the term “strategy” is often misapplied in that there is a general tendency to use it to describe a plan, a concept, a course of action, or an “idea” of a direction in which to move forward. Strategy is none of these things. “Strategy is fundamentally a choice; it reflects a preference for a future state or condition.” It founds itself on a vision of the end state to be achieved. It is comprehensive, proactive, hierarchical, provides direction, and reflects a political purpose based upon national interests:

Interests are desired end states such as survival, economic well-being, and enduring national values. The national elements of power are the resources used to promote or advance national interests. Strategy is the pursuit, protection, or advancement of theses interests through the application of the instruments of power.

Brian Jenkins of the RAND Corporation gave a somewhat more functional (and perhaps bureaucratic) definition of strategy at Transport Canada’s Workshop for the Transportation Security Strategy, held in April 2005:

Strategy is the art of managing how to allocate finite government resources according to national interests.

Jenkins explained the importance of strategy by insisting that it sets priorities, and, in so doing, sets a continual engagement of government towards allocation of resources. Long-term procurement plans thus are linked to strategy in this definition.

In the context of Canadian strategy development, national-level strategy that lies below the strategic framework provided by the NSP (such as a National Maritime Security Strategy or the Transportation Security Strategy) must, first and foremost, be comprehensive. In order to allocate finite government resources wisely, the Canadian government must have a clear vision of a preferred end-state, based upon national interests. Moreover, the government must select national objectives after seeking a balance between the oft-competing requirements of the national instruments of power. The pillars of society in Canada (which correspond roughly to the current main Cabinet committees) represent our instruments of power. They are: Social, Economic, Environmental, Security, International, and Defence. When developing national strategy, the competing visions of these pillars must be debated and reconciled in order to achieve a unified basis for clear strategic direction. For instance, for the security element of power, a national maritime security strategy would identify appropriate ends for departments through debate with the other pillars, and would select national maritime security concepts to be supported by national maritime security resources. Let us now work through an example of strategy development to demonstrate the value of this approach.

Policy Development in Prisms

Before the promulgation of the NSP, government departments in Canada developed security policy in the absence of national strategic direction. Consequently, the government functions that evolved during the Cold War years – organizational “stovepipes” that focused upon compartmentalized areas of government interest – formed the foundation for security policy development in government. Departments formed a culture of departmentally mandated prisms through which they viewed the outside world. The advent of strategic terrorism and global health and weather concerns has caused a re-evaluation of how government departments should interact to achieve their aims. This is the starting point for policy development at the strategic level, where comprehensive coverage of national interests is necessary.

A fine example of policy development in post 9/11 government is found in the transportation sector under maritime security. After 9/11, an Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group (IMSWG) was formed under the Minister of Transport to cope with policy development. After several months of culture comparison and debate, the IMSWG set to work – in integrated- government fashion – to analyze the Canadian maritime environment in the context of strategic terrorism. Although this group was working through a transportation security prism, it was able to achieve comprehensive policy development at the strategic level. The hallmark of its success was a risk-management matrix that compares maritime security activities to circles of vulnerability. The four key activities are domain awareness, collaboration, safeguarding, and responsiveness.

These four activities can be superimposed across all the geographic zones of a nation’s maritime security responsibility. The activities apply to ships, homeports, foreign ports, offshore platforms, internal waters, international waters, and every part of the maritime environment that belongs to or is related to a country. They also include intermodal connections and cyber linkages.

This superb risk-management matrix has served the maritime security community well through the passage of several Memoranda to Cabinet that sought improvements to maritime security in the form of significant resource procurement to carry out key activities across the circles of vulnerability. Its conclusions lead us to prioritized strategic swaths: security of the maritime perimeter, security of internal waters and infrastructure, and security of the arctic waterways.

However, based upon the understanding of strategic development described in the paragraphs above, this excellent policy development is not strategy. While the conclusions are valid and extremely valuable, and the process is comprehensive inside the maritime prism, this policy is not the national strategy prism – which requires the reconciliation of competing visions of the pillars of Canadian society.

Developing National Strategy

To continue using our example of national maritime security strategy development, let us put ourselves in the shoes of the policy-writers that are seeking to create the Transportation Security Strategy for Canada. To achieve national level strategy in the sector of transportation security, the product of earlier policy development must now be the source of interaction and debate with the communities that represent the other pillars of society. For the existing maritime policy product to approximate strategy, a matrix of the six pillars of society must be superimposed over the existing matrix of risk-management from the maritime transportation policy perspective. Only through such comprehensiveness, based upon thorough knowledge of the overarching strategic environment, can strategy be formulated.

Let us test this idea for an indication of strategic value. A future national maritime transportation policy might wish to direct national resources towards securing the Northwest Passage for Canadian sovereignty control. Given the lengthening season for navigational passage due to climate change, this strategic consideration likely will present itself. The interdepartmental nature of IMSWG would cause some debate at the departmental official level – but without the broadness of view or power to reconcile issues at the strategic level. The issues that exist in each strategic pillar would have to be brought forward and considered in relation to issues from other pillars, and all then weighed and resolved through the filter of national interest.

I suspect that holders of the economics perspective would support sovereignty control in the Northwest Passage. From a regional and fiscal standpoint, this could complement the government’s economic strategic outlook for the north. However, the environmental perspective may have serious concerns with the potential for pollution, the depletion of fish and wildlife stocks, and the de-stabilization of the fragile Arctic natural balance. The social perspective would have to weigh the effects on native communities and culture according to their strategic outlook. Defence would have concerns about resources and manpower, and would likely endorse accurate geographic information for a long-term management strategy. Finally, an in-depth analysis from the international diplomatic perspective would be crucial to understand the aspects of Law of the Sea and international treaties currently in effect, considering that six potential international disputes exist over control of the Arctic region.

Perhaps the first stage of such a strategy in this area would be to influence international legislation in such a way as to set the conditions for the security initiative over the long term. The key here is that strategic development that splices these perspectives together would have to come from a permanent government body that deliberated at the top levels of the public service. The top officials of departments and central agencies would have to engage to debate and resolve these broad-scoped considerations. Academia and the private sector should play a part in these deliberations.

A Dutch Example

An example of this sort of strategic thinking can be found in the form of a collaborative experiment at the strategic level in The Netherlands. Many issues, such as boundaries, fishing quotas, and shipping routes are determined by international organizations beyond the Dutch government’s direct control. However, when juggling conflicting strategic and political issues, such as environment, economy, security, and society, the Dutch government is well served by a body such as its International Deliberations over North Sea Governance (IDON). This body can debate policies, management strategies, laws, permits, and other similar instruments at regular intervals at international, ministerial, and operational levels to achieve an integrated system of cooperative governance.

The Netherlands succeeded in this collaborative effort at the strategic level by ensuring an organization of great breadth that is not a cabinet committee has the tools to find compromise in national policy- making, and has the linkages to assert Dutch strategic interests in wider forums. Free from Cabinet time constraints, this permanent committee directs decision- makers from across all departments to debate laws and policies in a decidedly complex environment in which many political issues overlap. For 25 years, this group has ensured that a unified and prepared Dutch voice is heard in international forums. Its success in winning Dutch interpretations of water boundaries and traffic routing highlights its value.

By employing the elements of national power and splicing their perspectives together into a unified whole, which achieves the rational allocation of finite government resources according to national interests, the Dutch have created a truly strategic body to formulate their maritime security strategy. A Canadian version of IDON would ensure a unified Canadian voice to work on governance issues between nations, particularly in the changing Arctic region of Canada.


The National Security Policy has generated the development of national-level strategy across the various sectors of the Canadian federal government. The hard-fought formulation of the Transportation Security Strategy is but one example. To achieve the comprehensive perspective required for strategic thought, the traditional prisms or “stovepipes” of government departments must be broken down by the institution of permanent, high-level, interdepartmental strategic think tanks that help set government priorities to ensure continual engagement of government in the allocation of resources over the long term. The Netherlands’ strategic institution known as IDON is a splendid example that might fit the Canadian requirement.

At the heart of the matter is the necessity to open up our singular focus on departmental concerns and to embrace the multi-pillar perspective from which strategy necessarily is formed. This new stance will need a culture of the sharing of information exchange across the necessary government departments. As we create these multi-perspective deliberation groups, we must ensure that academic specialists and professionals from the private sector are invited to participate. Only through weighing and balancing national interests vis à vis the pillars of society will Canada’s strategic staffs be able to optimize policy development and to create useful and lasting national strategy that will assist our politicians in guiding Canada’s way forward in a complex, post-modern world.

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Captain (N) Peter Avis is currently serving on the Strategic Joint Staff in Ottawa as Director-General Requirements.