Canadian Defence Policy Briefing Papers

Photo courtesy of DND

Briefing papers on Canadian Defence Policy by Ernie Regehr, O.C., Senior Fellow in Arctic Security and Defence, The Simons Foundation. 


About Canadian Defence Policy briefing papers:

The public consultations on the 2016/2017 Canadian defence policy review engaged Canadians beyond officialdom and the established “defence community,” and led to the May 2017 release of “Canada’s Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged.”

The following briefings contributed to the consultation process in advance of the policy release, and continue as an ongoing contribution to the further public discussion of Canadian defence policy, including attention to the defence of Canada and North America, Canada’s contributions to international peace and security, and key procurement and program decisions.

Ernie Regehr, O.C.
Senior Fellow in Arctic Security and Defence
The Simons Foundation
eregehr@uwaterloo.ca

 

Resources

It’s hard to believe, but less than a decade ago, academics, policy analysts, and even officials were exploring US-NATO-Russia cooperation on ballistic missile defence – begging the question: why is that no longer considered an appropriate subject for polite company? Missile defence cooperation is still happening, of course, but it’s between Russia and China on one side and among the US and its friends and allies on the other. Unless, however, missile defence is pulled back from its current competitive dynamic to one of east-west accommodation and cooperation, nuclear tensions, and arsenals, will only grow. Canada has joined the competitive fray in Europe through NATO, but, to its credit, continues to resist direct involvement in the strategic North American version of ballistic missile defence.

To South Koreans well within the firing range of a regime and leader of dubious stability and demeanour, it might seem eminently sensible to pursue protection from Kim Jong-un’s brandished missiles and nuclear warheads, but those same South Koreans are far from united on hosting American missile defence batteries on their soil. Indeed, they’ve just elected the presidential candidate most critical of the rushed THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) deployment.

For Canadians keen on joining the American strategic-range ballistic missile defence system, the Administration of Barack Obama seemed to present the perfect opportunity. Under a president much-admired by Canadians, opposition to signing on to a huge, expensive, and highly controversial Pentagon program would arguably have been considerably muted. Added to that, North Korea’s apparently inexorable progress towards mating a credible intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead might have been expected to spark more intense Canadian interest in protection efforts. But there has never been a groundswell of public support for Canadian involvement in ballistic missile defence, so the issue only got as far as the new Liberal Government asking Canadians, in the context of the Defence Policy Review, whether this might be the time for Canada to pursue a direct role in North American missile defence. And Canadians seem to have responded with continuing ambivalence, an ambivalence likely to turn into outright rejection with Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House. And if that is not enough to close the door on Canada and BMD, last year’s report by the American Union of Concerned Scientists on the still unproven strategic missile defence system should do it.
NATO is now establishing what the Globe and Mail called “a modest NATO force to draw a line in Eastern Europe” and what NATO itself calls its “biggest reinforcement of collective defence since the end of the Cold War.” Either way, it hasn’t erased doubts about the willingness, or wisdom, of the alliance’s threat to take direct military action against Russia and thereby raise the spectre of nuclear weapons use. Indeed, these eminently rational doubts could sensibly be elevated to the level of firm policy – not only because any military confrontation in serious danger of descending to nuclear use ought never to be regarded an option, but also because redressing Baltic vulnerability to Russian interference has more to do with strong governance than heightened military firepower.
The UN Security Council has found little to agree on when it comes to Syria, but a year ago the Council did come to the unanimous conclusion that “…there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict.” The obvious truth of that confession also applies in the 25-plus other wars currently underway – wars in search of military solutions through attacks on political opponents. There have been some 100 such wars since the end of the Cold War, and almost all of them proved that in the end there was no military solution. Armed interventions by powerful military coalitions in search of military solutions faced the same reality – a reality that should inform a new Canadian defence policy.
The current Canadian Defence Policy Review is not focused on questions of disarmament and arms control; Global Affairs Canada is the lead agency on those issues, and it would do well, by the way, to undertake a thorough review of related policies and priorities. Defence policies and postures do nevertheless help to either strengthen or undermine disarmament prospects. A case in point is NATO’s nuclear posture. Canada is involved as a NATO member and as a participant in NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group and as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well, Canada has a responsibility to pursue alliance defence policies and practices that are conducive to full implementation of the NPT and ending NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence. That would in turn also advance the individual and collective security interests of NATO member states, including Canada, and all the states of the Euro-Atlantic.

It is little credit to the practice of diplomacy in Europe and North America that their military alliance has been allowed to become the primary institution through which they now seek to understand and engage Russia. NATO defines the Russian threat and prescribes the response – habitually reorganizing, rebranding, and redeploying military forces which, if they ever came to serious blows with their Russian counterparts, would leave in their wake a trail of destruction out of all proportion to the political, economic, territorial, or moral interests and values at stake.

With the prolonged absence of military threats to North America, the prime Canadian security objective is to ensure that they remain so.  Meeting that objective is more a diplomatic challenge than it is a defence problem, but defence policies and military forces in North American certainly have a role in preserving this region as a cooperative security community – that is, a community of states that continues to enjoy the reliable expectation that its members will not “resort to war or military attacks to prosecute their disputes.” That happens also to be the formally affirmed expectation o

The promised public consultations on Canadian defence policy are now underway. They are intended to contribute to the development of a “new” defence policy for Canada, to be released in early 2017. The process will engage Canadians beyond officialdom and the established “defence community,” and the outcome will have important implications for the kinds of key defence decisions that every Canadian Government faces – including major procurement projects and the deployment of forces overseas.