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CDA Institute Research Fellow Jim Cox offers his thoughts on first steps on how Canada should formulate its defence policy.  

Much of the discussion related to the current defence policy review does not address policy per se. Instead, it tends to focus on policy implementation, at the strategic or lower levels.

Policy involves high-level big ideas. It is inherently a political expression of the what and why of government intent. Defence policy necessarily extends well beyond just the military establishment. Within the first few paragraphs, well-crafted policy should present a concise description of the overall defence problem facing the country and a vision of how government intends to address it, in a form that provides a foundation for all that follows. It should, among other things, justify why Canada needs armed forces capable of fighting at all.

Previous national defence policy statements have struggled to define a central defence problem, the one big idea that provides the fundamental rationale for all defence activity. On 9 July 1947, Brooke Claxton, then Minister of National Defence, said “our first line of defence and the object of all our policy must be to work with other nations to prevent war…. [T]he first aim of our foreign policy is peace.” He went on to describe the central defence problem facing Canada: “the first aim of our defence policy is defence against aggression.” The 1964 White Paper on Defence identified three primary objectives of Canadian defence policy:

  1. To preserve the peace by supporting collective defence measures to deter military aggression;
  2. To support Canadian foreign policy including that arising out of our participation in international organizations; and
  3. To provide for the protection and surveillance of our territory, our air space and our coastal waters.

Defence in the 70s began with, “Defence policy cannot be developed in isolation. It must reflect and serve national interests, and must be closely related to foreign policy.” The document identified a national aim as being the intent to have Canada continue as a secure and independent political entity. From this, the white paper derived four major areas of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) activity:

  1. The surveillance of our own territory and coastlines (i.e., the protection of our sovereignty;
  2. The defence of North America in cooperation with US forces;
  3. The fulfillment of such NATO commitments as may be agreed upon; and
  4. The performance of such international peacekeeping roles we may from time to time assume.

In the 1987 dcoument, Challenge and Commitment: A Defence Policy for Canada, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said, “No Government has a more important obligation than to protect the life and well-being of its people: to safeguard their values and interests.” He went on, “This White Paper, therefore, takes as its first priority, the protection and furtherance of Canada’s sovereignty as a nation.” Then, in a later chapter, the policy statement revealed this defence objective; “to deter the use of force or coercion against Canada and Canadian interests and to be able to respond adequately should deterrence fail.” Ensuing discussion said the government believes that “this framework can only

be met within the collective security framework provided by [NATO].”

The 1994 Defence White Paper, according to Minister of National Defence David Collenette, marked the “fundamental reordering of international affairs and the need to confront important economic realities at home.” Elsewhere, in his introduction, Collenette went on to note, “The defence of Canada and Canadian interests and values is first and foremost a domestic concern. The primary obligation of the [DND] and the [CAF] is to protect the country and its citizens from challenges to their security.” This sounds more like a departmental mission statement than a government defence policy. The statement does little better at the end of Chapter 1, when it says, “the most appropriate response is a flexible, realistic and affordable defence policy, one that provides the means to apply military force when Canadians consider it necessary.” But even this suffers from considerations of strategy, like funding and ‘means.’ Will we not continue to fight for Canada when the money runs out?

Prime Minister Paul Martin, in his “Overview” of Canada’s International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World (IPS) issued in 2005, said defence policy will describe activity, “to defend Canada against all threats, to protect the northern portion of our continent and to preserve our sovereignty, including that of the Arctic.” In the Defence volume of the IPS, Minister of National Defence Bill Graham identified four principal security problems – failed and failing states that create instability and potential havens for terrorists, global terrorism itself, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and regional flashpoints for intra- and inter-state conflict. Accordingly, he established the defence of Canada as the first priority of defence policy. Defence of North America in cooperation with the United States was priority number two. Using the CAF as an instrument of foreign policy, the third defence policy priority was to have the CAF help Canada “convey its distinct values and particular approach to conflict resolution around the world.” These priorities reflect the three main roles assigned to the CAF, who must remain “effective, relevant and responsive … capable of carrying out a range of operations, including combat.”

The 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) was not a defence policy statement. True to its title, it was a strategy, never really venturing beyond the CAF and industry support. The first sentence of the “Executive Summary” says the strategy, “provides a detailed road map for the modernization of the Canadian Forces.” The CFDS goes on to discuss “Roles of the Canadian Forces,” but presents no rationale for how or why those roles were derived.

Today’s defence policy review suffers from the lack of a clear, fundamental defence problem, and a policy response to it. The 10 Key Consultation Questions being asked by the Department of National Defence (DND) all relate to strategic level issues at best. They deal with implementation of defence policy. In fact many are not defence policy questions at all, but might be better addressed in the contexts of domestic security policy or foreign policy. The current review lacks a big idea at the front end.

A review of the various past attempts to describe the defence problem suggests that Canada’s fundamental defence problem is the physical defence of Canada against external threats. Theoretically, logically, practically, and ultimately it can be nothing else. Defending North America and contributing to international peace and security are simply extensions of defending ourselves. We need allies to do it effectively.

Readers are invited to imagine themselves as ministers around the cabinet table, called together to consider the opening sentences in a new, 21st century national defence policy. Early discussion focuses on identifying the central defence problem and the one big policy idea in response to it, to provide the political foundation for all defence activity, including, among other things, why we need armed forces capable of winning fights in the first place. Perhaps Ministers might find some enthusiasm for opening words like these:

When and where necessary, Canadians will fight to preserve Canada as a secure, stable, secular, democratic and politically independent country, in which Canadians enjoy freedom, prosperity, peace, order and good government. We are prepared to exploit all elements of Canadian national power to deter aggression and, where deterrence fails, to prevail over any and all threats to Canada.

Accordingly, Canadian defence policy aims to deter physical aggression against Canada, and where deterrence fails, to prevail over all threats in all domains of warfare.

These two short paragraphs provide the kind of conceptual and political foundation for a Canadian defence function that seems to have been lacking in past policy statements. They introduce a defence policy based on a national will to prevail in conflict against physical threats to Canada, and it inherently involves a concept of national defence that extends beyond simply the CAF. Defence policy is government policy, not DND policy. All ministers, all departments of government and, indeed, all Canadians have a stake in defending this great country.

We need to get the big idea right before we wallow in details of implementation.

Brigadier-General Dr. Jim Cox (Ret’d) is the former Vice-President, Academic Affairs with the Canadian Military Intelligence Association, a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and a Research Fellow with the CDA Institute. (Image courtesy of Department of National Defence.)

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