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Views and Opinions


by Major Eric Dion

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The recent declaration of operational capability for the rather newly established Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has received much public attention. As in Hollywood, most media have emphasized the secretive and special nature of these so-called “terrorist hunters” and “elite warriors,” as if theirs were ‘the coolest of jobs’ outside of being James Bond. Others have expressed near-outrage that Canada, a peaceful country, would even resort to such tactics, or that Canadian tax dollars could somehow afford to pay for this ‘new toy.’ From a strategist’s perspective, however, none of these views encompasses the essence and the understanding of the fundamental shift that has occurred in the conduct of war.

To make my point rather bluntly, it would be to state quite simply that the types of e-Operations envisaged for the Canadian Special Operations Regiment are the types of operations most likely required in the battle realms of the near and foreseeable future. War by its nature is a state of chaos induced or influenced by all of its protagonists. To try to sell war, combat operations, or any military intervention on the basis that chaos is not part of the equation, is most certainly telling a lie to our citizens and to the public at large. Since the war on terror has been declared by the United States of America, and since Canada contributed as a long-time friend and ally, and also because Canadians died on 11 September 2001, the conduct of war has shifted from conventional to rather unconventional means, with a view to better adapt to the reality of terror networks.

As I have stated many times before, in unconventional warfare the key is the antagonist’s ability to adapt in order to seize the initiative and exploit all opportunities. This understanding is not limited to the physical domain, and, in fact, it is generally more applicable to metaphysical domains. Indeed, unconventional applies as much to ideas (antinomy), information (ambiguity), time (asynchrony), and society (anarchy) as it does to physics (asymmetry). The fundamental shift is that, thinking unconventionally, our known antagonists of today, which we might not know tomorrow, are not shackled or smothered by restrictions in terms of their knowledge, imagination, and strategic capabilities, a combination that, literally, can be explosive. Simply put, unrestricted antagonists have brought the conduct of war into its fourth generation – where there are no restrictions imposed upon them, as opposed to the case with the armed forces of most democracies. Hence, the necessity for unconventional warfare.

In other words, unrestricted warfare is not about them as much as it is about us. The bluntly simple question is: Where do we, as citizens of a democratic state of law, draw the line as to what constitutes reasonable means to outsmart our unrestricted antagonists? Do we even have the pretensions to know who they are, and what they can and might do? Can we afford to sit watching television, waiting for a cruise ship to explode in Halifax? And then right there, in the public eye, appears the new Canadian Special Operations Regiment... Is this the type of military tool, the type of tactics, the type of ‘troops with toys’ we need? To answer this question for the public, devoid of the context I set above, is the difference between reality and a television show. There is more to the type of e-Operations envisaged for CSOR than the sexy and secretive ‘Hollywood savvy’ attention given to it by our media. These e-Operations are those of the foreseeable future, or for at least the next 10 to 20 years, until a new phoenix perhaps arises and becomes a global counterweight to American hegemony.

Our current military posture is anchored by two crucial organizational inertias: the so-called victory of the West over the East, which surely means we did something right, and the excessive bureaucratic maze of checks and balances that I believe exists within government. Since we won the Cold War with a conventional military posture rehearsed day after day in Germany in ‘the good old days,’ it must be part of the forthcoming solution to war, or so conventional strategists would have us believe. The fallacy of this argument, however, is that the Cold War was won cold, and not through the military means available at the time. In fact, it was actually the economic failure of the Soviet Union that brought about the end of the Cold War, which, by default, somehow translated to some form of victory for the West. I would argue that we did not actually win the Cold War, and that, in time, we may realize that we have lost more than we believe we won. Part of this loss is certainly the strategic culture that has gone astray since the ‘end’ of the Cold War.

Strategic culture is central to understanding national interests in light of national security and sovereignty. Simply put, it is strategic culture that sets the conditions within which our democratically elected governments pass laws and make decisions in our collective national interests, rather than in their interests of political self-preservation. It is withina strategic culture that national leaders emerge with the guts and the wherewithal to make those really tough decisions, and then to use their political acumen to ‘sell’ those decisions to their citizens. And it is within a strategic culture that citizens intuitively understand and trust in their government to make these decisions on their behalf, content to know that someone is taking care of the business of preserving and protecting the nation, however difficult the task may be. However, in the absence of an identifiable major threat since the Cold War, we have had no particular use for strategic culture.

Throughout the 1990s, the mainstream culture thus became business: No dirty war talk, just money talk. Of course, there was still ‘war money’ coming and going from somewhere out there, and there were ‘money wars’ consisting of hostile takeovers and other manoeuvres. Globalization and technology were the solution to our world-class problems, and, given another 10 to 15 years, we probably would have figured everything out. However, history tells us that both phenomena have actually exacerbated our global challenges, not the least of which are new and emerging threats to our global stability and security. Can we afford today not to have a strategic culture upon which to base tough decisions? Some foresight and strategic thought during the early 1990s would have envisioned at least an alternative to our ‘much too rosy’ predictions of a global market where all is well and fine. It is, unfortunately, now a little late to shape for today a strategic culture to preserve Canada’s own interests.

Luckily, strategic thought, pragmatism, and common sense somehow all survived in the absence of a perceived military threat, paradoxically, thanks to the business wars of the 1990s. Although we believed warfare as we knew it was gone, war was taken to the business markets, with the inaugural ‘kick-off’ being the release of the Internet to the mainstream public. Seemingly, there was no longer a valid reason or threat analysis to withhold the Internet. The boom period that the ‘Z Generation’ members have known since their birth is attributable largely to this new reality. As for the preceding generations, starting with the ‘Baby Boomers,’ we have had it relatively easy – if we simply compare our living conditions to the last time the world was caught in a global conflict. Today, I believe it is mostly the preserved strategic thought, skills, and acumen of our business leaders that will provide the model in setting the new strategic culture for dealing with this new global war.

Would any serious company even hesitate before employing all possible tools, tactics, and techniques legally available to win a war for talent and market? Would any decent company accept an unrealistic, stifling level of bureaucratic checks and balances known only to modern governments? Does one impose such processes upon oneself at home? Or would any serious competitor remain sitting passively idle, providing an adversary time to sort itself out?

So, where have we all been for the last 15 years? Did we all think this new reality was free? Then, in terms of planning and priorities, please explain to me the analogy of why we have so many firefighters with outdated fire engines. Or why we have more musicians in the Canadian Forces then we actually have snipers...

However, one should not take this new reality as the reason for needing merely a Canadian Special Operations Regiment. The fact is simply that unconventional warfare is the modus operandi for the foreseeable future, and that it is no longer the exception when conducting e-Operations. Employing all the legal tools, tactics, and techniques for operating in so-called contemporary operating environments, strategically efficient and relatively free from excessive checks and balances, adaptive, operationally focused and tactically decisive, as any competitive company would be, e-Operators are the means of choice for taking the fight into uncharted territory – one known only to a well-organized network of unrestricted antagonists. This is the democratic price we pay to preserve and protect our Canadian standard of life. In fact, strategically, and for the foreseeable future, I believe that a much broader operational element of the Canadian Forces needs to become truly Special Operations Capable, on its road to integration as perhaps a single Marine Corps model.

Until a new phoenix perhaps arises, Special Operations have become a reality of modern war. They no longer constitute exceptions, but, more and more, they have become the norm for e-Operations.

In furtherance of this new reality, I support the view that we do not need just one CSOR for Canada. Rather, we need twelve infantry-based task forces that are Special Operations Capable at any time, all the time... Ask the Commander of Task Force 3-06, who has adopted the following mission statement for his unit, “...[that it] will conduct counterinsurgency operations in Kandahar to win local hearts and minds.” For every Special Operator, this key mission statement is like ‘music to their ears.’ This should not imply, however, that we will fight the ‘dirty war’ dirty. Democratic rule of law and human rights must prevail, as these are the foundations of our nation, unlike those of the unrestricted antagonists we are fighting. Besides, to win the strategic war, seizing and retaining the moral high ground is essential. And this points to the new reality that we are not seizing ground, but winning hearts and minds. Hence, we should not seek to dislocate and disconnect, but rather to locate and reconnect. Indeed, it is within the disconnect from globalization and its opportunities that terror strives. The reality, however, is that some criminals will need to be dislocated, disconnected, and, yes, destroyed in order for the peaceful majority of global citizens to reconnect with the world. This is about strategic culture, collective pragmatism, and our sense of nationhood. New tools are needed, not because they are ‘cool,’ but because they make strategic sense. The challenge is really not about them but about us and how we manage to use those tools.

Somehow, Canada must continue to mature as a nation and realize yet again the high price one must pay for peace and security. Our strategists need to be making now the tough decisions that will be needed to create twelve Special Operations Capable task forces. Can we afford these units? Sure we can. Eliminate selected headquarters redundancies...

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Major Eric Dion, an infantry officer (R22eR), is currently the senior planner at the Land Forces Quebec Area and Joint Task Force (East) Headquarters in Montreal, and a doctoral candidate in Management. As always, these personal views and perspectives are entirely his own.


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