In this new CDA Institute Analysis, Stéfanie von Hlatky looks at the key considerations that should help guide the deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The following is an excerpt of the Analysis.
Academic and policy discussions on Canada’s future role in multinational military interventions inevitably refer back to the long war in Afghanistan. Canada’s involvement, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) evolved significantly over the years. Canada’s reputation as an alliance partner also improved noticeably in the process. As of 2006, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) were known for operating with few caveats and were at the forefront of developing a viable whole-of-government approach as part of their design of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar, despite obvious shortcomings.
Although the success metrics of the war in Afghanistan are hard to establish and the overall outcome of the intervention is inconclusive at best, the experience tells us a lot about Canada’s standing in alliance politics and what the CAF can be expected to do in the future as part of those coalitions, given the skills and expertise acquired during this war-intensive period. Indeed, the CAF acquired diverse skills as the intervention called for both community engagement and warfighting, with a lot of necessary adaptations along the way.
Beyond the lessons learned from the previous war, Canada’s military role abroad should be guided by clear foreign and defence policy guidelines. The last defence policy statement dates back to 2008. With the economic recession hitting the country at about the same time, many of the plans outlined in the Canada First Defence Strategy had to be shelved. Now that there is a Liberal government in power, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Department of National Defence (DND) has been tasked with conducting a defence review. The review process includes public consultations across Canada, through the organization of events, roundtables, and discussions on social media. The result of this process will be unveiled in January 2017 and will provide greater clarity on Canada’s role in operations, force levels, readiness, and personnel issues.
This paper examines the conditions under which Canada should consider deploying the CAF and considers some of the motives that play into the decision-making process. It does so by taking into account past and current CAF operations, as well as the defence priorities that have already been announced by the government. I argue that, moving forward, the Canadian government ought to think much more about the type of mission that is well suited for the CAF, where Canadian soldiers are most needed, as well as which allies and partners are best to work with.
One of the assumptions of this paper is that maintaining a reputation for reliability within an alliance setting is one of the main currencies of influence for a medium-sized country like Canada. Therefore, decisions on the use of force are assessed in reference to Canada’s most important allies. That being said, it is worth asking whether Canada paid too high of a price to boost its reputation over the course of the Afghan War. In Afghanistan, but also more recently in Iraq as a member of the global coalition against the Islamic State, Canada strived to make military contributions that place it in the top tier of participating countries. As mentioned before, Canada is also seen as an alliance partner capable of deploying its armed forces with few restrictions on what they can do on the battlefield, meaning a higher tolerance for risky missions, which plays into allies’ qualitative assessments of burden-sharing. The nightmare of coordinating national caveats was felt by ISAF commanders as they had to consider the various contributions made by each ally and partner, factoring in each nation’s rules of engagement and restrictions on their mobility in order to translate pledges into effective multinational military cooperation.
Given what Canada has invested in previous military interventions, the government would do well to invest in mechanisms that preserve allies’ coordination capacity and interoperability, either as part of NATO or US-led coalitions. For NATO, the Secretary-General has insisted on the utility of the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI) as the means through which NATO allies and partners can retain their capacity to work closely together, as refined through ISAF and Operation Unified Protector in Libya. The message was reinforced during the 2014 Wales Summit:
We continue to build on the experience gained in recent operations and improve our interoperability through the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI). Today we have endorsed a substantial CFI Package consisting of six key deliverables, including the high-visibility exercise Trident Juncture 2015, with 25,000 personnel to be hosted by Spain, Portugal, and Italy; a broader and more demanding exercise programme from 2016 onwards; and a deployable Special Operations Component Command headquarters.
Through CFI or military exercises led by the Alliance or individual nations, Canada has a stake in continuously sharpening its capacity to operate with other Western armed forces.
Why Participate in Military Operations?
The government of Canada, currently engaging in a comprehensive defence policy review, will examine how alliance ties can enhance the country’s foreign and defence policy goals, but the scope of the exercise is much broader. The review, which was launched by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in April 2016, is articulated around three issues: identifying the most pressing security challenges, defining the role of the CAF in meeting those challenges and finally, establishing the appropriate mix of capabilities needed by the CAF to accomplish their missions and tasks successfully. Therefore, as a point of departure, it is worth asking which security challenges or motives guide decisions on the use of force.
The primary motive for investing in the armed forces is national defence and, by extension, to contribute to regional and global security for the sake of international stability. In Canada, the absence of an existential security threat means the country’s military commitments are primarily assessed through alliance politics, especially the bilateral relationship with the United States. The US has a more expansive perception of threat than Canada, given its massive and global military footprint. Based on numerous treaty commitments and alliance ties, American armed forces have been deployed all over the world to defend US interests and partners, with the goal of ensuring international stability through the projection of its power. In Canada, decisions on the use of force are often taken as the result of US or NATO initiatives. Finally, the Canadian government may choose to use force for humanitarian purposes. The humanitarian logic of intervention can lead to operations ranging from disaster relief or peace support operations.
Dr. Stéfanie von Hlatky is an assistant professor of political studies at Queen’s University and the Director of the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy (CIDP). (Image courtesy of David Goldman/Associated Press.)