Eight recommendations for Canadian security and defence policy

In late September, the Vimy Report published an open letter to Canada’s political party leaders recommending eight measures the next government should take on security and defence policy. http://thevimyreport.com/2015/09/o-canada-who-stands-on-guard-for-thee/ The letter was well received, and the National Post accorded it a full-page spread on September 28.

The letter was signed by the Hon. Hugh Segal, Professor Emeritus J.L. Granatstein, MGen (ret) Don Macnamara, and the Vimy Report’s executive editor Paul Chapin. The first three are winners of the prestigious Vimy Award given to Canadians who have made a significant and outstanding contribution to the defence and security of Canada and the preservation of its democratic values. Hugh Segal is to receive his award on November 6.

On the advent of the new Liberal government, we reprise the recommendations for the new administration:

  1. Instill a sense of urgency

The defence of Canada and its interests deserves a greater sense of urgency than governments have been giving it. Good ideas have been developed and sensible plans made, only to have them languish and allocations left unspent. At the current pace, previous capabilities won’t be restored until 2025 at the earliest – a long time for a serious country to continue to live with aged fighters and warships and its Prime Minister to be able to offer only token contributions to shaping a favourable international security environment.

  1. Issue a National Security Strategy

Unlike our major allies, we have never articulated an overall national security strategy – a set of policies — to guide the activities of the many departments and agencies of government involved in internal and international security affairs. Such a strategy would put a security plan in place which could be monitored and adjusted as necessary, and it would help end the interminable arguments over priorities, jurisdictions, and budgets.

  1. Invest in information and ideas

Governments should have the best information available to make the best possible decisions on national security issues. This is not something they now can count on. Canada should invest in an Office of National Assessment such as Australia has, tasked with gathering data from both classified and open sources and producing independent assessments directly for the Prime Minister. We should also invest in the intellectual capital on which our aspirations to exercise international leadership depend. There has been such a “dumbing down” of Canadian policy capacity that Canada no longer has much to offer in solving international problems. We need to build up policy capacity in government and reverse the reductions in Canada’s diplomatic and military staff in the places decisions are made.

  1. Increase the size of the Canadian Armed Forces

Canada’s armed forces are too small and stretched too thin to adequately protect its interests in the complex and uncertain times in which we live. A total force of 150,000, including 50,000 in a Ready Reserve, would be a realistic five-year goal. Canada has one of the smallest Reserve forces in the world. The Reserves are mainly Army units trained for combat and available to reinforce the Regular Force as necessary. They are also the key resource when national calamities occur. So far, the Canadian Armed Forces have been able to respond when called upon, but one cannot be sanguine about their ability to handle a series of events, multiple events at the same time, or a major event like the earthquake some foresee for the west coast.

  1. Ensure a capability for enforcement action in the North

Canada needs to be able to enforce national authority over national territory, seas, and airspace. This doesn’t require, as many believe, a permanent armed presence in the North. The constant would be effective satellite and aircraft patrols so that the proper authorities can know what’s going on and direct military assets to areas where and when sovereignty enforcement is necessary. The challenge is to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces have a persistent ability to take effective identification, interception, and enforcement action especially in strategically important locations whenever others are present.

  1. Participate in ballistic missile defence

Canada was a full partner with the United States in defending the continent until 2005, when it unilaterally absented itself from a role in dealing with the gravest new threat the continent faces, ballistic missiles. The arguments for participation are stronger today than ever, while those against are as vapid as ever. Right now, Canada is the only NATO member not involved in ballistic missile defence.

  1. Acquire a fleet of F-35 fighters

Canada must also replace its CF-18s with F-35s. Despite the dust thrown up, the facts are clear. Canada needs a fifth-generation fighter to be interoperable with the US in continental defence and with allies in coalition operations. Anything less means Canadian fighters can be seen and engaged by enemy aircraft before they even know they are in the vicinity. The only fifth generation fighter being manufactured in the west is the F-35. Its costs are not “out of control”; the manufacturer’s price has dropped by 50% since 2007. What has been out of control are the estimates of the costs and of the F-35’s lifespan – from DND’s 20 years to PBO’s 30 years, to the AG’s 36 years, to KPMG’s 42 years. If the F-35 is “too expensive” for Canada, why have 12 other countries apart from the US not found it too expensive to place orders for 674 aircraft? The British, Australians, Dutch and Norwegians are all already flying them.

  1. Accelerate warship modernization and acquire support ships for international operations       

According to DND, “The construction of the first Canadian Surface Combatant is expected to begin in the early part of the next decade.” To use an old Texas expression, we’re still at the stage of fixin’ to get started. Meanwhile, the Navy no longer has any support vessels to replenish its existing warships at sea and is looking at options to fill the role until two new auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) vessels become operational around 2021. This is not what the Chretien, Martin or Harper governments had planned.  Since 1994, the idea had been to acquire not two AORs but four much more capable “joint support ships”. The larger number would provide the Navy the flexibility required to operate off two coasts, while a JSS can both resupply warships and sealift troops, equipment, supplies, and helicopters for international operations. As a Navy deputy commander once observed, there is no substitute for a purpose-built ship to support operations ashore “including for humanitarian operations and disaster response scenarios”. The idea should be revived. The Navy needs new warships and AORs to stand on guard for Canada; Canada needs joint support ships for international peace support and relief operations.

The mission of the Vimy Report is to inject new information that will raise the quality of public discussion on security and defence issues, to do so with impact, and thereby to educate and influence the ultimate decision-makers: citizens and their elected representatives.

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