Wednesday, 27 April 2016


The Department of National Defence has announced that it is launching public consultations in the development of a new defence policy for Canada. This includes a Defence Policy Review public consultation paper, a website and even an e-workbook to be filled in.

Canadian Defence Matters is attempting to come up with some answers to the ten questions contained in the public consultation paper.
In a first attempt to answer the question “Are there any threats to Canada’s security that are not being addressed adequately?” Canadian Defence Matters tried to make the point that many of the most pressing threats to Canadian security could not be narrowly defined as military in nature.

In an interview with Tom Clark on the Global program “The West Block” the former Chief of Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson, suggested that the biggest threats to Canada that he envisaged were natural disasters and “probably some sort of cyber threat to our systems, our energy systems, our computer systems, things that we bank on that would change our way of life very, very quickly

That analysis has been backed up in recent interviews with former CSIS head and national security advisor Richard Fadden who has suggested that cyber attacks and/or terrorist attacks were his main concern.

The argument can be made that even if Canada’s cyber capabilities were to be “weaponized” as Richard Fadden has suggested could happen, the choice to use such a weapon would still be a political rather then a military one, taking it out of the sphere of Defence.

One of the things these threats have in common is that they are not, strictly speaking, military threats. As it stands, obviously, the Canadian Armed Forces have an important role to play in addressing these dangers, but that does not make them military threats.

If we accept that it is a mistake to class all our security threats as military threats, it still raises the question, “Are there any military threats to Canada’s security that are not being addressed adequately?”

The military problems of Canada were neatly addressed in a still relevant book by that doyen of Canadian military history, C. P. Stacey, in his appropriately titled book “The Military Problems of Canada”, first published by The Ryerson Press in 1940.  That some of the basics covered in that book are still germane is illustrated by Gen. Lawson’s comment that “We’ve got big wide tank ditches between us and any other continents called the Atlantic and the Pacific and another one to the north.”

Using a definition of a strictly military threat, that is, “the armed forces of other countries which could threaten Canada and which belong to non-democratic countries” (i.e. countries with which Canada could conceivably find itself at war) there are at present only two countries which pose a military threat to Canada’s security.

Russia, the successor to the old Soviet Union, maintains nuclear weapons capable of devastating Canada. More to the point, we share an increasingly accessible border in the North which they continue to reinforce militarily. 

China, an increasingly expansionist power, whose outspoken designs on disputed waters in the western Pacific could bring them in to conflict with Canadian allies. Any war between involving China and her neighbors, let alone the United States, would have serious repercussions for Canada.

Neither of these threats is sufficiently severe to warrant the complete re-ordering of Canadian military priorities. At the same time neither threat can be ignored. In order to adequately address the military threats to Canada, the Department of National Defence and the Armed Forces needs to re-orient resources.

As a response to our shared border with Russia it means creating or re-tasking sufficient forces to be able to demonstrate, on a regular basis, the ability to monitor and control activity within our Northern territories and to be able to mount effective responses to emerging situations within those territories.

As a response to China, Canada needs a ‘Pacific Pivot’, which would involve orienting more of our Naval and Air Forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

These measures, if taken with no loss to the objective of maintaining a general purpose military force capable of actions across the full spectrum of operations, would suffice to deal with current military threats to Canada’s security.

Defence Policy Review Public Consultation Paper          
Defence Policy Review

Have your say: Defence Policy Review 2016



Plane Talk’ with Canada’s top soldier, on the biggest threat to Canada

Former CSIS head Richard Fadden says Canada could someday carry out cyber attacks

The Military Problems of Canada a Survey of Defence Policies and Strategic Conditions Past and Present