Tuesday, 12 April 2016


While it may come as a surprise to some other branches of the government, it has been decided that defending Canada and protecting Canadians is the Government’s most fundamental responsibility.

To meet this responsibility 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.

The department argues that the strategic context in which the CAF operates has shifted in the last decade, in some ways significantly. They believe that Canada is facing a range of new challenges, from the rise of terrorism in ungoverned spaces, to the expanded use of hybrid tactics in conflict, to new opportunities and vulnerabilities associated with the space and cyber domains.

The Department, and by extension the Liberal government, has decided that they will be trying to engage Canadians as well as “key stakeholders” in an attempt to discuss three fundamental areas:

·        The main challenges to Canada’s security
·        The role of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in addressing current threats and challenges
·        The resources and capabilities needed to carry out the CAF mandate

Given their belief that important choices will have to be made to ensure that DND and the CAF have what they need to confront these new threats and challenges in the years ahead, and that a credible, realistic, and evidence-based review of defence policy is needed to ensure that DND and the CAF are able to deliver results for Canadians, it is interesting to note that they think that all this can be accomplished between now and July 31st.

The public consultation paper outlines 10 key questions;


1. Are there any threats to Canada’s security that are not being addressed adequately?

2. What roles should the Canadian Armed Forces play domestically, including in support of civilian authorities?

3. How should Canada-United States cooperation on defence of North America evolve in the coming years?

4. What form should the CAF contribution to peace support operations take?  Is there a role for the CAF in helping to prevent conflict before it occurs?

5. Should the size, structure, and composition for the Canadian Armed Forces change from what they are today?

6. How can DND and the CAF improve the way they support the health and wellness of military members? In what areas should more be done?

7. Should Canada strive to maintain military capability across the full spectrum of operations? Are there specific niche areas of capability in which Canada should specialize?

8. What type of investments should Canada make in space, cyber, and unmanned systems? To what extent should Canada strive to keep pace and be interoperable with key allies in these domains?

9. What additional measures could the DND undertake, along with partner departments, to improve defence procurement?

10. What resources will the CAF require to meet Canada’s defence needs?

Starting with the first question and working our way through in order Canadian Defence Matters will attempt to provide some answers to all these questions and, as well as sharing our wisdom with the DND, the results will be posted here. 

Are there any threats to Canada’s security that are not being addressed adequately?

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.

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.

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.

So the question becomes not “Are there any threats to Canada’s security that are not being addressed adequately” but rather, “Are there any threats to Canada’s military security that are not being addressed adequately?”

The military problems of Canada were neatly addressed in a still relevant book by the 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.”

It is a mistake to class all our security threats as military threats. The appeal of this route is the mistaken belief that it means more resources for the military. What it means is more resources for non-military activities and less focus on the discrete role of armed forces.

That is why the distinction between security threats in general and military threats in particular is important. Our armed forces can do a lot of things well but that does not mean we should fall into the trap of training and equiping them for tasks that can be done better by other organizations. While soldiers can act as police and fire fighters, they can’t do those jobs as well as the appropriate organizations, and if they can, then they probably aren’t going to be much use as soldiers when we need soldiers.

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