Commentary from Colin Robertson

The price of Canadian security is about to go up

by Colin Robertson

The Globe and Mail
November 25, 2016

The premiums we pay for Canadian defence and security are about to go up.

Donald Trump’s election coincides with rising global risks: a fracturing global order with the potential for great power conflict and socioeconomic fraying within states. If the allies want continued U.S. protection, says Mr. Trump, then they have to pay their “fair share”.

For 70 years, Western governments have enjoyed the security of Pax Americana. On the high seas, the vigilant watch of the U.S. Navy has enabled a vast expansion in global trade. Secure sea lanes will matter even more to Canada as we diversify our trade across the Pacific and Atlantic.

Mr. Trump sees collective security as a transactional arrangement: give to get. Allies are expected to carry more of the burden.

That was evident this past weekend at the Halifax International Security Forum, a very smart Canadian initiative now in its eighth year. The U.S. congressional delegation that included Senators John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services committee, and Tim Kaine, running mate to Hillary Clinton, reiterated the message on burden-sharing. This message was echoed by British Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and underlined by Rose Gottemoeller, NATO’s new deputy secretary-general.

More money for defence is bad news for Western finance ministers facing slower growth (with less revenues) and rising social costs.

This new reality is a cold shower on Trudeau government’s defence review.

The review had been coasting along toward reinvigorated peace operations, a reaffirmation of collective security (with troops dispatched to Latvia) and a confirmation of the Harper government’s rearmament program, with some nuances, around procurement of fighter jets (with the Super Hornets as a stop-gap) and warships.

These commitments would push spending to around 1.3 per cent of GDP (from our current .99 per cent). But it would still leave us far short of the 2 per cent that NATO members commit to spend on defence.

Mr. Trump and the Alliance expect us to do more. They want more capability and capacity. They see rust-out and an inability to deliver on previous promises. They will want to see a blueprint on how we will get there.

Our first step must be to fix the operating system around procurements. The system is broken. We have tied ourselves in red tape, lapsing billions each year. There is insufficient staff to do acquisitions.

We should look to British and U.S. experience to get best value through performance-based logistics.

In terms of new investment, the Trudeau government’s first instinct will be to double down on peace operations. If so, then build on the ‘train, advice and assist’ approach suggested by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance. It puts the emphasis on interoperability and embedding Canadian trainers, before and after deployment, with those African and Asian nations that now provide the bulk of peacekeepers.

New security investments should be risk-based and should include the following priorities:

Cybersecurity – We have vulnerabilities as well as niches of expertise in banking and energy resiliency that we should develop and export.

Surveillance capacity – to demonstrate sovereignty in our maritime space, especially in the High North. We should look at an advanced air-defence capability – like the U.S. AEGIS – that could offer an entry into ballistic-missile defence.

We need to look at the next generation of submarines that would include an under-ice capacity. Why not partner with the Australians, who are commissioning new boats, or use it as incentive in a Canada-Japan FTA or the new CETA?

Emergency preparedness – to give us more resilience at home and abroad. This past week, HMCS Vancouver provided relief assistance after the earthquake in New Zealand. Why not build a hospital ship as a first responder to disasters? Why not increase the reserves? This would deepen relations between our Forces and those they serve.

These investments will create jobs and promote innovation. Production-sharing agreements with the U.S. also means jobs on both sides of the border, something Mr. Trump needs to appreciate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accurately read the public mood in his embrace of an internationalist role for Canada. We do soft power very well. But as our greatest diplomat Lester Pearson long recognized, our role as bridge and helpful fixer also depends on our hard power.

The comfortable arrangement whereby a benevolent Uncle Sam would cover the tab while the rest of the alliance took a washroom break is over. Insurance premiums for security are coming due. Let’s invest them smartly.


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