CDA Institute guest contributor Eric Dion, a doctoral student and former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, explores how Canada could better emply the Comprehensive Approach to the threat of insurgencies. 

Canada has been aligning itself with its closest ally and friend, the United States, for over the last decade, without much reflexivity and debate. Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan was indeed often presented as the quintessential case for military cooperation in exchange for economic cooperation. In spite of having refrained from being involved in Iraq in 2003, and for good reasons, Canada is today nonetheless well engaged in Northern Iraq with airstrikes and troops for training. However, it is essential to question whether Canada’s role in Iraq (and Syria) is the best strategy for a middle-power, and whether such engagements do have a future. Moreover, it is worth pondering whether a return to United Nations missions and NATO peace-training missions can be a good strategic leverage for Canada in preserving peace.

Aside from maintaining the relative peace and stability of the current international order, Canada, because of its geo-political situation in North America, has few actual threats to its national security. Terrorism, “a tactic as old as history” as I once presented it, does not constitute a fundamental threat to Canada and thus, should not warrant our engagement. Terrorists are much like warts that require a surgical approach by our Special Operations. Committing anything larger is akin to acknowledging the wart has now become a cancer. Terrorism, although violent and volatile, is not an existential threat to international order.

Conversely, insurgencies do pose an important destabilizing effect to international peace, which may warrant Canada’s engagement employing the Comprehensive Approach. Indeed, military means alone are insufficient to find a socio-political-economic end state. Insurgencies, by proxy or by design, require a more conventional collaborative approach.
As such, Canada would do well to review its current posturing in Iraq, considering what would be a more synergistic approach from a multi-dimensional perspective, leveraging the situation and context, the society and culture, its organization and structure, its policy and strategy, as well as its system and processes, all in order to deliver greater effects.

In Northern Iraq, for example, perhaps the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) should maintain elements in place to directly support our own Special Operations Forces against terrorists; after all, we need to be surgically tackling the terrorist wart to prevent it from spreading. However, we could foresee a more Comprehensive Approach employing the RCAF in delivering much required humanitarian assistance and by airlifting vulnerable refugees. We could also foresee the Canadian Army delivering conventional training to Kurdish Peshmerga forces on a much larger scale, with a Battalion, in order to maintain peace in their secured areas, ensuring Turkey’s national sovereignty, and stabilizing northern Iraq.

Indeed, from a geo-strategic perspective, it is unlikely for the foreseeable future that Iraq and Syria will remain as de facto sovereign entities; Canada would be better off recognizing this. Moreover, we should see Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) and Canadian government agencies at least, as well as Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all being involved in Northern Kurdish Iraq, building the area, instructing police officers, rebuilding schools and clinics, providing the basic necessities for human security overall, in essence, holding and rebuilding a society. We should witness Joint, Inter-agency, Multinational and Public (JIMP) initiatives come together. Short of a so-called “Provincial Reconstruction Team” as seen in Afghanistan, Canada should leverage synergies, focus its efforts, and employ the Comprehensive Approach.

Indeed, the assumption of the Comprehensive Approach in general, and of the UN Integrated Approach in particular, is that a more coherent system-wide effort will have a more relevant, effective, efficient and sustainable impact on peace. The situation in the Middle East is tense and is likely to remain so unless and until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the problem can be reached. This will inevitably require assistance from international as well as national-local actors, which will need to come together at one point to forge out the future for the entire region. Henceforth, acknowledging the current situation and looking forward to move the region beyond its colonial borders, Canada could become the leader in peace-training, ensuring that a holistic and contemporary approach to the situation is taken in Iraq and elsewhere.

Libya is another example of where Canada could be playing a much more integrated role, instructing local security forces conventionally, but also instructing locals for education, healthcare, and essential government services, through an integrated and Comprehensive Approach. Canada’s government agencies from defence to diplomacy, as well as development workers and governance specialists, should be deployed as a team to affect greater synergy. Moreover, if Iraq is too much of a risk, Libya poses a less significant risk to such a team but nonetheless poses great challenges from a conventional insurgency perspective. Indeed, insurgencies are the current form of conflict that risk destabilizing the international order and thus, Canada’s engagement in Libya could be ramped up.

For example, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) aims to enforce the arms embargo, travel ban, assets freeze, and measures concerning illicit oil exports imposed and modified by numerous resolutions, according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2238 (2015) on Libya. It calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, underscores that there can be no military solution to the ongoing political crisis, and urges all parties in Libya to engage constructively with the UNSMIL and the Special Representative of Secretary-General to finalize the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA).

Canada would do well to instruct local security forces in maintaining peace and order, while ensuring that all aspects of society, structures, strategy, and systems are leveraged. Government agencies like the Canadian Border Services Agency, Correctional Services Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, even Transport Canada and numerous others would find plenty of work rebuilding Libya’s civil service and its government, thereby preventing a potential crisis from re-emerging amidst the insecurity. Moreover, we might even witness the rebirth of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Finally, a third place where Canada could do well to deploy conventional forces in an unconventional role (not a special role hunting terrorists globally), is obviously Ukraine. This is clearly a situation that could destabilize the international order and moreover could potentially launch NATO into large-scale defensive operations in Europe. In this case, Canada would do well to leverage its synergies by employing the Comprehensive Approach and deploying a well-integrated team to assist not only with security but also with education, healthcare, governance, and administration; essentially, training the trainers, perhaps even bringing key Ukrainian leaders to Canada for professional development. Establishing a multinational, multi-disciplinary e-Instruction center in Eastern Europe, alongside a deployment of troops like in Poland, would prove to be a strategic move which would leverage Canada’s key competencies and provide allies with assistance. One such area could be the cyber and the computer defence of Ukraine’s government.

There are, of course, other places that need Canada’s expertise in peace-training, like the Congo and Mali. But, from a pragmatic perspective, Canada has little strategic interests in such countries. Thereby, Canada would responsibly demonstrate its resolve while making a clear strategic contribution to preserving the peace and stability, whether in Iraq, in Libya or in Ukraine; in all these cases, Canada should assume a leadership role in training and mentoring.

Moreover, Canada’s current un-integrated engagement in Iraq (and in Syria) is not really the best strategy; such engagements do not have a bright future. Indirectly supporting our allies through an e-Instruction strategy would prove valuable. Thus returning to United Nations and to NATO peace-training missions can offer good strategic leverage for Canada in preserving international peace and good order. This would also be an asset for Canada’s upcoming review of its National Security and Defence Strategy that would leverage conventional forces, as well as the whole Comprehensive Approach.

Eric Dion is a doctoral candidate in management who is also retired from the Canadian Forces. (Image courtesy of Bram Janssen/The Associated Press.)