15. Peace and Security in an Insecure Time / Paix et sécurité en ces temps incertains

(Policy papers 2012-2013)

Protecting Canadians is a much different challenge today than it used to be. We face few armies lined up on battlefields but many insidious threats from failed states, climate change, illegal drug and weapons trades, and cyberwarfare. As defenders of human rights, we must support international institutions and join other nations in protecting human security wherever it is at risk. Our government should engage Canadians in deciding what sort of military we need and how to equip it. Open and accountable decision-making processes would prevent reruns of recent procurement disasters.

La protection des Canadiens est un défi bien plus grand aujourd’hui qu’il ne l’a été. Nous nous trouvons face à peu d’armées alignées sur les champs de bataille mais à de nombreuses menaces insidieuses venant d’états en faillite, du changement climatique, des drogues illégales et de la vente d’armes, et de la guerre de l’information. En tant que défenseurs des droits de l’homme, nous devons apporter notre soutien aux institutions internationales et nous joindre aux autres nations pour protéger la sécurité des gens dès que celle-ci est menacée. Notre gouvernement devrait demander aux Canadiens de quelle sorte de forces militaires nous avons besoin et comment l’équiper. Des processus de prise de décision ouverts et responsables éviteraient une répétition de la situation désastreuse qu’a été celle des récentes acquisitions.


As Canadians know first-hand from our participation in the conflict in Afghanistan for more than a decade, the world confronts increasingly unpredictable conflicts and new forms of violence, together with a rise in weak and failed states. Global law and global politics are no longer confined to the framework of nation-states and the protection of state security or sovereignty. The international community is now called upon to respond to the claims of both states and non-state actors that operate across state boundaries. Power is increasingly fragmented and disorganized.

Certainly Canada should continue to act as a member of NATO and the United Nations, but our military commitment must be selective, since we cannot maintain armed forces that are capable of deploying anywhere, any time. Although a recent poll for the Donner Foundation indicates that Canadians’ confidence in these multinational institutions has declined, almost half still acknowledge that the UN is “the best current option available for ensuring world peace and security.”

Canada should be an active and constructive participant in the movement to build a new international legal order that no longer emphasizes “state security,” defined by borders, statehood, and territory, but focuses on “human security”: the protection of persons and peoples. We should be helping to lead the 21st-century recasting of international humanitarian law, the laws of war, and international criminal justice. Both war and peacekeeping have been transformed in recent decades. According to a 2011 report, The Global Burden of Armed Violence, over half a million people now die each year in violent circumstances, but only 10% of these die in formal conflicts such as civil or international wars. Dealing with today’s armed violence requires innovative thinking beyond simple dichotomies of war and peace, political conflict and street crime. For example, the UN Security Council now routinely includes civilian protection in peacekeeping mandates and calls on UN contingents to stand up to extreme violations of human rights. In Guatemala, the UN has sent not peacekeepers but assistance to the national government in investigating crimes and violence and strengthening the institutional capacity to confront illegal groups.

Canada would be well suited to contribute to, for example, the development of practical, innovative means of civil-military cooperation, to provide essential military and other support to deliver humanitarian and development assistance in complex conflict zones. We should also continue to be in the forefront of development of the United Nations “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine. Despite the setback of the ill-advised Libyan intervention, R2P is gaining support as the legal and ethical framework within which to protect vulnerable populations at risk from civil wars, insurgency, state repression, and state collapse.

Canada has historically been a dynamic and creative voice for the protection of human rights and the application of international law. But our reputation continues a steady downward decline under the Conservative government, as we sit on the sidelines while others tackle huge global challenges, notably climate change[12], mass poverty[14], drug trafficking, the illegal trade in arms, especially lethal small arms, nuclear proliferation, and the dispersal of insecure nuclear material.

Canada’s inconsistent engagement on global threats reflects related inconsistency at the national level and a disturbing tendency to close out the world and ignore important global perspectives. For example, our national government has no effective climate change policies and little interest in collaboration with other countries on this crucial issue of the 21st century, as evidenced by our much-condemned withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. Our government shows no forward thinking on policies that could assist in combating the scourge of the lucrative drug trade. By cancelling the long-gun registry and showing no real interest in national control of the movement of lethal weapons, Canada rules itself out as a serious contributor to any discussions on controlling the destructive international arms trade. Canada is the world’s largest producer of medical isotopes, but our continued reliance on highly enriched uranium instead of the safer low-enriched material undermines global efforts to shut down the making of nuclear weapons by both states and rogue actors.

For too many years our national government did littleto deal competently and multilaterally with the tragedy of human trafficking, an illegal modern-day slave trade in women and children that closely follows drugs and guns in profitability. The UN says 2.4 million persons are victimized each year. Canada has the legislation in place to deal with both increased penalties for human trafficking, and assisting the victims of trafficking. Only recently have some promising initiatives been announced.

As it has done on so many other files, the government has insisted on rushing national defence expenditures through by executive action with inadequate transparency, poor ethical standards, and scant parliamentary oversight. We can and must do a better job of military procurement, as was accomplished with the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy that led to the granting of $33 billion in shipbuilding contracts to Nova Scotia and British Columbia yards in early 2012. Parliament must have much more substantial direction and control of military operations and expenditures. Prime Minister Harper has now created, too late, a special secretariat led by the Department of Public Works to monitor and manage the purchase of fighter aircraft, overseen by a committee of two deputy ministers. And the government will provide Parliament with annual updates on procurement. While these institutional changes are a move in the right direction, a fundamental shift in attitude on the part of elected representatives that gains the trust of the Canadian people will take much longer.

A more responsible approach to national and global security involves much more than greater transparency and accountability. It requires clarity in defining what national interest is served by any procurement proposal or military initiative, so as to engage the active support of Canadians. The government should not settle for our indifference.

How did we get to the F-35 fiasco, for example? How would having Canadian F-35s promote national or international security?It now appears clear that the choice of such an advanced aircraft was dictated by American military assumptions that within 30 years China will reach military parity with the U.S. The forecast was plausible, but it led to a focus on a hypothetical worst-case scenario, in which the West had to be prepared to fight an air war with China. Hence the need for the F-35 and first-strike capability. Because the plane is being developed jointly by several NATO nations, Canada and others were encouraged to join in to decrease overall costs.

In Canada, our national government engaged in little or no open discussion of the premises behind the purchase until forced to by the April 2012 Auditor General’s Report. The Canadian people were continually misled as to its costs and purpose. If Canadians had been aware from the start of the long-term assumptions behind the deal, we would have sent a clear message to our elected representatives that the Canadian national interest would not be served by investing billions in a scenario that would have us at war with China before mid-century. Instead we should attend to our very real national responsibilities, such as maintaining our extensive coastal boundaries with much better communications and monitoring, and equipping an agile military that can assist in global hot spots to meet our international responsibilities. An open discussion of what we really need would likely lead to support for alternatives to the F-35s, such as upgrading our aging F-18s; investing in unmanned drones for sovereignty patrols; and relying on any modern fighters we purchase to defend Canadian cities, which would require moving their bases to less remote locations.

The Canadian national interest undoubtedly supports a more effective Canadian presence in the High Arctic. We are building a High Arctic Research Station and the Nanisivik Naval Facility, but none of our four submarines are seaworthy, let alone capable of under-ice operations. We urgently need to improve our remote surveillance capacity. Although we cannot match the efforts of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funds cutting-edge technology for futuristic remote surveillance technologies, we do not have to settle for less than mediocre.

The newest grave threat is attacks on cybersecurity, as more nations and individuals develop the capacity to disable a competitor’s computer systems. Russia crippled Georgia in 2008 by jamming national communications. China and others are investing huge amounts in cybercapacity designed to paralyze a country in a future conflict and undermine its capacity to mount a serious military response: its banking system, flight tracking, emergency services system, even traffic lights can be hacked and knocked out. Already, other countries or extremists have successfully infiltrated segments of Canada’s intelligence systems, both governmental and corporate, and we must be much better prepared to defend ourselves.