Christian Leuprecht, Joel J. Sokolsky, Thomas Hughes, Eds., North American Strategic Defense in the 21st Century: Security and Sovereignty in an Uncertain World (Springer Press, 2018).

Reviewed by J. Craig Stone, CD, PhD

As Canada implements their new defence policy, Strong Secure Engaged, the multiple areas for upgrading the CAF capabilities for North American Defence commitments are highlighted, particularly in the context of being Secure in North America. Since consultation with the US is a key aspect of implementing NORAD initiatives, this book is a timely assessment of many of the issues that will come into consideration as the two nations make decisions about NORAD’s future capabilities. The subtitle of the book – Security and Sovereignty in an Uncertain World – is a very appropriate descriptor of the challenges facing political and military leaders today.

As an edited collection, the book is organized around four broad areas or themes: the global context, US defence policy, Canadian defence policy and the future of North American strategic defence.  Each of these areas has three or four chapters that provide the reader with a good overview of the complex security issues that will influence NA strategic defence.

In setting the context for the more detailed discussion on North American security, the first part of the book sets the stage by examining the relationship of Canada and the US with the other key security players in today’s global context – Mexico, China and Russia.  For the reader there are probably three major themes that fall out of this first section.  First, the importance of understanding the perspective of others when trying to move an agenda forward is critical.  Mark Katz raises the issue of Russian resentment of US intentions in the region and the US rejection that Russia should have privileged interests “in countries where Russia has traditionally had friendly cordial relations” (p. 18). The inability of Russia and the other nations in the West to get beyond the trust factor continues to hinder improvements in the security environment.  Second, and a follow on from the first point, is the importance of understanding the nuclear dimensions to the security relationships that exist in today’s global environment.  The nuclear threat environment for North America is problematic for leaders. Rathburn and Rathburn make the important observation that actors tend to “under-react to reassurance signals” (p. 40) leaving room for over-reaction and conflict if signals are not interpreted correctly. Tensions appear to have improved with respect to North Korean relations but the argument about over-reacting remains valid.

Third, and closer to home, is how Mexico fits into this broader North American security structure. While the three nations militaries do cooperate, there are larger problems that will complicate the desire by some to bring Mexico more deliberately into the North American security architecture. Sumano notes that some in Canada have issues with losing the special relationship that exists with the US in a Bi-National Command arrangement. (p. 50) More problematic is that the security challenges in the south are different than the security challenges in the North and new leaders in all three countries have different views than their predecessors.  This will impact how the machinery of each of the nation’s bureaucracies engage and approach security issues.

The next two sections of the book provide the reader with US and Canadian defence policy perspectives that provide the context for the last section of the book that then deals with the future of NA Strategic Defence. The challenges of funding defence are front and centre for both Canada and the US. Sapolsky highlights the risks that rising health care costs may have on defence budgets and the US desire to maintain primacy in the global system.  Moens, without specifically discussing funding, identifies the negative views of NATO by the Trump administration which the informed reader will know has often revolved around NATO partners not meeting their 2 percent of GDP obligations.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Canadian context is no better.  Nossal concludes his chapter by indicating that, “although the 2017 defence policy promises a lot, it in fact does not provide the CAF with the capabilities that it needs in the short to medium term to be, “strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world.” (p. 106) The new defence policy is focused on getting the people component of military capability corrected in the early years in order to ensure the skills sets exist to effectively implement the larger procurement programmes in the out years. Only time will tell if the fiscal circumstances remain favourable in the out years, thereby allowing the implementation of the larger and more expensive projects to be completed on time.  Canada faces many of the same challenges as our US counterparts when it comes to increasing health care costs and increasing debt levels.

The final section of the book investigates the future of North American Strategic defence and discusses some of the challenges that must be considered. Charron and Ferguson make the point that it will have to be about more than just the renewal of the radars that make up the North Warning System (NWS).  An updated NWS must be able to deal with air breathing threats from farther away, as well as increasing the ability to identify maritime threats (p. 144). Complicating this issue is how Canada actually contributes to modernization. Can Canada contribute in a meaningful way without being part of the broader missile defence system? Jockel raises this issue and the broader discussion around whether or not the US actually needs Canada to defend its national security interests. Looking to the future, the more important issue that Jockel highlights is the state of affairs with the maritime warning role and whether or not that needs to evolve to a maritime defence role, given today’s security environment and the types of threats that exist (152-154).

Photo Credit: Corporal Justin Roy, CK07-2018-0236-005

The final area of reflection is the increasing role that the Arctic plays in North American security.  Both climate change and an increased number of actors must be dealt with in the future. Will Canada be one of the few nations surrounding the North Pole not flying an F-35 and will that impact interoperability with the US?  There are multiple views and arguments about this issue and Shimooka’s chapter deals with some of the more important considerations around the F-35 specifically, while Huebert’s chapter provides the reader with some of the important considerations around Russian and Chinese activity, desires and subsequent security challenges.

After reading the book, one will be impressed with how the editors have connected each of the chapters within a section and how each section exposes the readers to the key issues of the day and the challenges that Canada faces in making decisions on some of these important security files.  More important in today’s political context is that the views articulated in each of the chapters are generally politically neutral and balanced. The reader will be provided multiple perspectives and it will be up to them to decide where they stand on the issue in question. Should maritime warning become maritime defence? Should the US require F-35s as part of the NORAD commitment for interoperability? Should Canada join the ballistic missile defence system?  These are just three topical and contemporary questions raised as the authors discuss the future challenges for North American Strategic defence.

Anyone interested in North American security and our relationship with the US should read this book.

Dr. Craig Stone holds a BA in Economics from the University of Manitoba and an MA and PhD in War Studies specializing in Defence Economics from the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). He became a member of the academic faculty in RMC’s Department of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College in the summer of 2005, after a 30-year career in the Canadian Army as an Artillery Officer.


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