Spring 2007 (Volume V, Issue I)

Promoting new understanding and improvement of Canadian foreign and defence policy.

In this issue:

Message from the President - Robert S. Millar

Welcome to the Spring 2007 issue of “The Dispatch”. When it comes to Canada’s international involvement there is always something new to consider, now is no exception. In all likelihood, a national election will occur in 2007, during which time some of or all of the issues articulated in the following articles will attract political party and voter attention. Recently, more attention has been focused on Canada’s development assistance programs and whether they are properly funded, focused and administered. A day does not pass without some media comment on the Canadian Forces involvement in Afghanistan. As this publication is going to press, our Governor General, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean is visiting Afghanistan. Winter is drawing to a close here at home and in Afghanistan. A new campaign season is about to begin and only time will tell if NATO has learned from last year’s challenges and can take the initiative and respond to the Taliban.

In this newsletter there are seven relevant articles:

  1. New Thinking on Islamist Terrorism – Barry Cooper. Barry takes a look at who does the Jihadist think he is. Recalling great philosophers of war, he suggests that to know your enemy one must know not only his order of battle and strategic doctrine but his self-understanding. With a walk across various doctrine and attitudes of the Islamist terrorist compared to non-militant Islamist, he articulates a construct of the Jihadist. 

  2. Watch Russia – Mark Entwistle. As the largest oil producer in the world, with defence spending up 23% in one year (including development and sales of sophisticated new weapon systems) and the concept of Putinism (the current formulation of Russian Great Power ambition), Mark suggests there is a coming return to crisis in relations with Russia. He then asks if there is a role for Canada to play with focussed foreign policy leadership in this area?

  3. The New Isolationism – James Fergusson. Who would think that given Canada’s current international involvement, there would be a school of thought that Canada is possibly on the verge of choosing Isolationism as a strategic policy posture? Jim reviews Canada’s isolationist history and then introduces current signals to suggest the concept is not too far fetched. If he is correct then he adds, is appeasement far behind?

  4. Intelligence Reform and The Primacy of Politics – John Ferris. John offers that politics is not a problem for intelligence, but a condition for it. Intelligence is political by definition and only matters if it affects decisions and actions. One cannot solve political problems through administrative solutions. One of his proposals is to have the process of intelligence account for politics, rather than pretend it does not exist.

  5. The “Metrics” of Victory in Afghanistan – Brian Flemming. Although Prime Minister Harper has promised Canada and NATO will succeed in Afghanistan, does success mean victory and, if so, how will Canadians recognize that victory when it comes - body counts (theirs, ours), social work metrics, a semi-functioning democracy, time in theatre commitment by government or is it negotiation?

  6. What’s Gone Awry at NDHQ?– J.L. Granatstein. Jack lists several problems within DND that are keeping the leadership from cheering about the new equipment suites promised for and in some cases received by the Canadian Forces. These range from accrual accounting, the vagaries of government promises/commitments, a large part of the cost of the Afghan war coming out of the normal CF budget, personnel shortages, reserve army unit challenges and difficulties between MND and CDS. There is an answer.

  7. The Battle for the Control of Canadian Arctic Waters: Icebreakers or Patrol Vessels – Rob Huebert. Who should have the icebreakers and why – the Canadian Forces or the Coast Guard? Beyond this simple question there are many other environmental and jurisdictional issues at play. Rob summarizes the important ones for consideration.

Enjoy and let us know what you think about our articles.


CDFAI 2007 Annual Ottawa Conference

Mark your calendars - CDFAI's 2007 Annual Ottawa Conference Canada as the "Emerging Energy Superpower": Testing the Case  will be held  on Monday, October 29 at the Ottawa Congress Centre.  More information will follow in “The Dispatch” Summer edition.


CDFAI Major Research Paper 

Canada in Afghanistan: Is it Working? by Dr. Gordon Smith, CDFAI Advisory Council Member/Fellow was released on Thursday, March 1.


CDFAI Quarterly Research Paper

Conflict in Lebanon: On the Perpetual Threshold by Dr. Tami Amanda Jacoby, CDFAI Fellow will be released in early April.



New Thinking on Islamist Terrorism

by Barry Cooper

The two greatest philosophers of war, Carl von Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu, are agreed on the importance of knowing your enemy.  This means knowing not only his order of battle and strategic doctrine but his self-understanding. One must ask the following questions: not just, what does he think he is going to do? But also: who does he think he is?  Media headlines following 9/11, variations on the theme “why do they hate us?” were a confession of ignorance and thus an admission of strategic weakness.  The question, seldom raised after the attacks, but central to any serious understanding is:  “what were the reasons that they gave for the attack?”

Several recent studies of Islamist terrorists have discovered two complexes of reasons.  The first is pragmatic or practical, the second is spiritual. The pragmatic reason was that, for the attackers, the United States was the chief cause of all the problems of the Islamic community, the ummah.  Accordingly, the best way to deal with those problems, they reasoned, was to kill as many Americans as possible. The expectation was that either the United States would fold its tents and slink away or that retaliation would galvanize the ummah to new heights of militancy. Either way, al-Qaeda would benefit. In fact, neither happened, which raises the question of the absence of realism in the attackers’ expectations, and what led them to make such catastrophically unrealistic plans.

To deal with this issue we must consider the grounds of the expectations not merely of the al-Qaeda terrorists but of Islamists more generally. What sustained their pragmatic expectations is a complex spiritual commitment that may be summarized as a five-part dogma: (1) Islam is the one true faith with a duty to succeed everywhere; (2) true Muslim rulers govern directly by God’s law, the sharia, alone; (3) Qur’an and Hadith contain the whole truth regarding a righteous life; (4) There is no separation between religion and the rest of life – all life is religious life; (5) Muslims are in an “eternal” conflict with unbelievers, symbolized today as Jews and Crusaders.

The intellectual genealogy of this complex of doctrines and attitudes stretches back by way of modern revolutionaries such as Qutb and Mawdudi to the respectable but strict school of legal interpretation or fiqh founded by Ibn Taymiyya in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions.  But this just raises another question concerning the difference between the “jihadists” and other non-violent or non-militant Islamists. How did the former come to their commitment to use violence as a magic implement to overthrow the international order as a preparation to the installation of an ecumenic Caliphate ruled by God’s law, the sharia. Or rather, by their understanding of it.

Many commentators agree that the jihadist dogma is an “abuse” of the Qur’an, the Hadith, and large parts of the scholarly commentary on Islam and its sacred texts. On the other hand, none of the analysts who undertake the abuse could have had any impact in the Islamic world if their arguments did not find some resonance in the religion of Islam, as distinct from the ideology of Islamism. It has often been argued that it is impossible to sort out the abuse from the genuine spirituality of Islam. In fact, it is not particularly difficult. But so far as the practical issue is concerned, such an exercise is entirely beside the point. “Jihadis” are concerned neither to persuade non-Muslims nor religious Muslims.  They are concerned only to appeal to their fellow Islamists.

Here it might be useful to introduce a further distinction: jihad originally and properly was a struggle on behalf of God, not for national or personal gain or simply for power.  It was intended to free non-Muslims from untruth and falsehood, kufr, and lead them to truth.  The current practice of violence, which is called jihad, is correctly termed “unholy war,” hirabah.  Unfortunately, almost no one uses it so we are probably stuck, if not with genuine jihad, then with jihadism.

Central to the “jihadists” interpretative strategy of abusing Muslim scripture is the device of abrogation.  This principle holds that later Qur’anic verses supersede earlier ones.  Thus there is no need to pay attention to early accounts of Jews and Christians as “people of the Book” because later suras describe them as enemies, pure and simple, who must convert, accept Muslim rule, or die.  Polytheists (chiefly Hindus) have the options of converting or dying.  There is, however, an insuperable hermeneutic problem with the notion of abrogation:  if the Koran is the eternal word of God, how can parts of it be void?  The answer, which is satisfactory only to jihadists, is that only the peaceful and tolerant sections of the Koran are abrogated, which is simply self-serving dogma.  Even so, the jihadists see no problem here because they see no problem in understanding their own interpretation of the eternal texts as true and complete and perfect, which is to say, as eternal as the Qur’an itself. Consistency is not an issue where Islamist spiritual truth is concerned.

Likewise jihadists’ interpret aqida not a “religious creed,” as it is for the majority of Muslims, but as a politico-religious doctrine that encompasses all of life and history.  Aqida is, for jihadists, a reflection of tawhid, the first “pillar” of Islam that declares the unity of God: there is no divinity but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God.  Three implications of aqida and tawhid are drawn by the jihadists:  (1) rather like Dante’s argument in De Monarchia, the unique God requires all humanity to worship him and live by sharia; (2) one God and one sharia always and everywhere override human laws – which, of course, will bring an end to politics in any normal sense of the term; (3) because God is one, religion must be one – so that any who are not jihadist Muslims have rejected God and must die.  It almost goes without saying that this understanding entails an emphatic rejection of religious liberty and tolerance or “interfaith dialogue,” to say nothing of civil relations with existing Muslim governments. For the Islamists, the world really is divided into the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb, the house of war. Any who are not Islamists belong to the latter, whatever their nominal adherence to Islam.

They also believe in retaliation, in deception, in “hopeless assault” to rally the troops, now assimilated to suicide attacks, and in ignoring international treaties because they are made by human beings as so also contrary to sharia.  As a result, killing noncombatants, who are defined by (human) laws of war, is permitted.  The status of prisoners of war, also a category determined by international law, can be ignored.  In general, agreements with non-Muslims are always temporary because permanent peace would imply an end to jihad when, according to the jihadists, this cannot happen before judgment day when God puts an end to it.  It would also imply that the conflict and hatred of believers and non-believers is not eternal.  Torture and terrorism are permitted as is taking booty.  To be sure, all of this is a minority view in the Muslim world but is fervently supported by jihadists, and they, not Muslims per se, are the enemy about whom we need to seek knowledge.

In practice, even though a post-911 uprising among the ummah did not take place, the war against the Jews and Crusaders goes on, in the minds of jihadists, forever.  Eventually, they hope, another Saladin will appear and vanquish the Crusaders.  And yet, this has created a problem for the jihadists.  They must appeal to ordinary Muslims to join their cause against the Crusaders and Jews, but the ordinary Muslims are not, for the jihadists, true Muslims.  Hence they defend, as Olivier Roy once said, “an empty castle.”  In the long term, that is, the absence of contact with reality, which is the ultimate consequence of the jihadists’ spiritual doctrines, will undermine jihadists’ aspirations, much as Bolshevik fantasies prolonged but eventually undermined and ended the Soviet Empire.  In the short-term, matters are both more urgent and more complex – much as they were during the Cold War.  Clearly, no dialogue, no cooperation, no participation in a peace process is possible with jihadists.  Only killing them or undermining their beliefs is a possibility that may lead to success.  Both of these strategies, however, have already been anticipated by them.  Even military extinction will linger in memory, along with a fictitious martyrology that any day may be rekindled.  What of undermining beliefs? How can it be done?

In the immediate short term, countering jihadist preachers and imams with moderate ones sounds reasonable enough.  In addition, however, eventually appeal must be made to a common human reason and to an understanding of the spiritual equivalence of Islam with other faiths.  That is a longer and harder, but not an impossible road.  



Watch Russia

by  Mark Entwistle

The politics of Russia and Central and Eastern Europe have returned to the way they were – minus the communism. Certainly, the so-called peace dividend from the end of the cold war, held out with such hope ten years ago, has been proven a mirage. Many of the champions of democratic reform in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland Bulgaria, Ukraine, and elsewhere are worried about losing so quickly the gains made during the “August of nations” as the Soviet empire collapsed.

The depth of the latest Western miscalculation of Russian history is now becoming clear. By the time Vladimir Lenin passed, the Soviet period was already not about ideology or a competing theory of economic organization. Rather, it was a different formulation of Russian Great Power ambition; the same set of forces and influences that had driven Russia for hundreds of years under the tsars – the obsession about being taken seriously as an equal to the West, the need for open water ports, and the impulse to imperial expansionism. Ronald Reagan was incorrect; democracy and capitalism did not vanquish communism. It collapsed because it could not support its own inefficient weight. In only a few short years, the driving forces of Russian Great Power ambition have consolidated again, this time wearing a different vestige to suit the times. If Tsarist absolute monarchy and the Soviet version of the Party General Secretary are no longer acceptable, we now have Putinism.

Putinism is shorthand for the rather unholy alliance of the old KGB apparatchik network, the oligarchs, with organized crime as a governing system. As Michael McFaul, a Stanford University political scientist and Russia expert, noted: “All the most important jobs in Russia today are held by the K.G.B, or former K.G.B. officers, in every ministry, in every industry.” Anyone watching Central and Eastern Europe outside the cone of silence imposed by the war on terrorism would have tracked the insipient return of this network throughout the old zones of former Soviet control. The next President of Russia after Vladimir Putin will most likely be cut from the same fabric, where the rhetoric of Russian power and destiny will provide a powerful political tool.

How did this come to pass? I think Kathyrn Stoner-Weiss hit the nail on the head in her book Resisting the State: Reform and Retrenchment in Post-Soviet Russia: such retrenchment is the result of  “the will of powerful and wealthy regional political and economic actors seeking to protect assets they had acquired through Russia's troubled transition out of communism.”

President Putin’s now well-known and very calculated speech at a security conference in Germany on February 10, in which he excoriated the global behaviour of the United States, did not appear in a vacuum. It was simply the public launch of the manifesto of a return to Russian Great Power ambition. There have been many signs elsewhere: Russian anger at American involvement in Ukraine and Georgia, and most recently, the threat made by General Nikolai Solvtsov, the head of Russia’s missile forces, that Poland and the Czech Republic risk being targeted by Russian missiles themselves if they agree to accept proposed U.S. interceptor missiles on their territory. The general upped the ante immediately by also proclaiming that Moscow could build nuclear missiles again within six years if Russia decided it had to pull out of the relevant arms control treaty with the United States. President Putin has dismissed outright American claims that the missiles are intended to defend against Iranian aggressions. The language is eerily similar to a past time.

General Solvtsov’s threats are not idle. The Russian armaments industry has already reinvented itself from the rather embarrassing days of selling old Soviet-era equipment as is, including reportedly aircraft from the tarmacs of former air force bases. Fuelled by petro-dollars (Russia is, after all, the world’s largest oil producer; more prolific than Saudi Arabia or Iran), Russian defence spending is set to hit US$ 32.4 billion this year, up 23 percent in one year. Russia is bringing brand new weapons systems on stream, including fourth-generation fighter aircraft, and in 2006 sold US$ 6 billion worth of arms to seventy countries, including China, Iran, and Venezuela. This is not the behaviour of a passive, hibernating bear. Russia will use those arms exports and its influence over the price of oil as arrows in its quiver in the renewed Great Power joust with the United States around the world.

Could Canada play a role in this emerging return to crisis in relations with Russia? Yes, but with a care not demonstrated by the government in other sensitive areas of foreign policy. Overturning with one sweep of the ideological hand the balanced relationships built over decades with both Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has effectively ruled Canada out of any meaningful role in either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Middle East crisis. A constructive role in the Middle East is thus eliminated as a goal of Canadian foreign policy, for the time being, at least.  

A most telling description of that impact was provided by Rafik Husseini, Chief of Staff to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (not even Hamas), who suggested that there was little riding on talks scheduled last January between Foreign Minister Peter MacKay and President Abbas: “Canada is not a big player in general …” According to the Globe and Mail, Husseini also suggested that the decisions of the Harper government had “diminished whatever influence Canada once had in the region.” 

This prime minister is the only Canadian prime minister who has declined to meet with the leadership of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations. As an aside, ironically, a single “backbench” Conservative Member of Parliament from Nova Scotia, Bill Casey, has done more to advance Canada’s traditional interests in the Palestinian-Israeli imbroglio than has the government through his efforts to promote a parliamentary dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of strict neutrality between both sides.

Having removed Canada from any constructive role in the Middle East, imperilled Canada’s relations with China through ill-considered public remarks on the part of the Prime Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary (even the Americans manage this important relationship with China with care), we know that the government is seeking new ideas. In an advertisement on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for a “Democracy Promotion e-Discussion,” “the Government of Canada is looking to identify ways in which Canada can play a more active role on the world stage in promoting democratic principles.”

Perhaps Canada could attempt to pay a useful role in its relations with Russia. It is a big, long-term, strategic, and complicated task, but one from which friends and allies could benefit. We have traditional ties with Russia as two Arctic nations, as well as new affinities as energy powers. There are large communities in Canada of central and east European origin with strong interests in the protection of democratic institutions in those areas which are now again under threat. There is much that could be done with focussed foreign policy leadership in accordance with a plan of strategic engagement. This could be Canada’s foreign policy contribution over the coming decade.



A Plea for Recognition of Combat

by James Fergusson

Eighty years ago, Senator Dandurand described Canada as a “fire-proof house, far away from inflammable materials. Geography provided Canada with strategic discretion regarding security commitments. For Canadian decision makers in the interwar period, this discretion meant the avoidance of security commitments, even to the collective security principles of the new League of Nations. Canada’s strategic policy posture, shared with its neighbour to the south, was isolationism.

The concept of isolationism has all but disappeared from political, public, and academic discussions, except amongst historians of the interwar period. What was once central to the public policy debate on Canadian foreign policy has been lost, not least of all because of its linkage to the failure to prevent German and Japanese aggression. In particular, North American isolationism in some ways made appeasement necessary. Appeasement, in turn, set the conditions leading to World War II.

During the Cold War, little debate regarding Canadian international security commitments was necessary. With the lessons of the interwar era close at hand and the Soviet Union perceived as the next Nazi Germany by virtue of its behaviour in Central and Eastern Europe, a security commitment to Europe to deter and, if necessary, defeat totalitarian aggression was essential to Canadian strategic interests. The means would be the Treaty of Washington (1949) that established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has remained Canada’s only permanent security commitment. For the first time in NATO’s history, the collective defence provisions under Article V of the treaty were invoked in response to 9/11. This invocation provided the political background for the security commitment to Afghanistan from both Canada and the Alliance. Spearheaded by the Joint Task Force, the first deployment of the Canadian Forces (CF) met with little public opposition in Canada. However, the 2005 combat commitment in Kandahar has divided the Canadian public. Opposition to this commitment and to its extension to 2009 represents the manifest return of isolationism in the Canadian public policy debate.

Isolationism during the interwar era was not about Canada’s complete withdrawal from world affairs. Canada was an active member of the League of Nations. The hallmark of isolationism was the rejection of any major security or defence commitments overseas, whether to another state or through the collective security mechanisms in the League. Canada, as a member of the British Empire or the Commonwealth, sought to avoid being dragged into colonial security commitments, even though it was widely understood that any direct threat to the United Kingdom would dictate a Canadian response. In this sense, Canada’s declaration of war on 10 September 1939, a week after the British, was inevitable.

Domestic considerations underpinned the Canadian isolationist policy. French Canada was perceived as unwilling to support overseas military-security actions on behalf of the Empire; the memory of the 1917 conscription crisis remained fresh. Any overseas military commitment thus portended problems for national unity and stability.

Today, this domestic division remains. Although English Canada has fragmented in a political sense and is now defined by the concept of the rest of Canada, opposition to overseas military engagements in general and to Afghanistan in particular is consistently greater in Quebec. At the same time, this division may not necessarily carry the same political significance as it has in the past. It remains to be seen how Quebec’s opposition to Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan will affect the popularity of the Harper government during the next election. Moreover, opposition to Canada’s combat role also exists in the rest of Canada. Here, the isolationist element has a relatively distinct ideological flavour when compared to the interwar era.

During the twenties and thirties, isolationism in the United States was a right-wing policy position, most clearly evident in the Republican Party and its opposition to American membership in the League. In Canada, isolationism was largely a centrist policy, as embodied by the Mackenzie King government. Right-wing internationalism was driven by the imperial connection, while Left-wing internationalism in the thirties advocated military intervention in the struggle between fascism and democracy, especially evident in the case of the Spanish Civil War.

Contemporary Canadian isolationism, with its roots in the Cold War dating back to the 1960s, comes from the Left. It draws upon an exceptionalist image or myth of Canada as international peacekeeper, bridge builder, facilitator, and neutral party. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in last year’s opposition to the government’s support of Israel in the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. For the Left, which includes elements of the federal Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebécois, internationalism is limited to non-combat roles for CF, rather than the historical internationalism of Canada’s commitment to the defence of Europe. None eschew the involvement of CF in international operations, especially those sponsored by the United Nations (UN).

For the Left, in the case of Afghanistan, CF should continue to engage in peacekeeping and peacebuilding roles. In advocating disengagement from combat operations, the new isolationists continue to see a role for CF in training the Afghan National Army (ANA), among other non-combat functions.

In advocating that disengagement, the new isolationists also suggest that CF would be better deployed to other regions of international conflict, especially Darfur. Whether they fully recognize that exchanging Afghanistan for Darfur still requires a combat role for CF is difficult to estimate. If they accept such a role, perhaps the new isolationism can be better understood as the new internationalism. Military security commitments to states are to be replaced by commitments to ethnic groups, as partially seen in the case of Bosnia. If not, then there is an implicit assumption that the mere presence of CF alongside other Western troops will be sufficient to dissuade Khartoum from continuing its ethnic cleansing activities in Darfur and from directly attacking Western peacekeepers. Regardless, shifting commitments from Kandahar to Darfur will still necessitate robust, combat-capable forces, and these forces will not be able to operate without the support of others, especially the United States.

Recognizing the role of the United States within the new isolationism is reminiscent of the role of Great Britain in interwar isolationism. The King government was concerned about being dragged into British imperial military operations, as was evident in the 1922 Chanak crisis in Turkey. The new isolationists view Canadian overseas military operations as Canada being dragged into American imperial operations. Afghanistan, in this case, is an America imperial war, despite Article V Security Council resolutions and the evolving NATO mission, of which Canada’s military commitment is a part. For the new isolationists, American-led military operations are to be rejected. Yet alternatives to such operations, whether in the context of a European or of a wider coalition, are problematic for Canada, not least because of shared interests and values with the United States and the reality of the vital importance of American political and military support to any Western military operations. If, on isolationist grounds, Canada should not engage in American-led missions, then Canada, on practical military grounds, probably should not engage at all.

The new isolationism also reflects the similarity of the contemporary and interwar international environments. Even though the current environment includes the United States as a single dominant power, neither contained a major Great Power adversarial relationship necessitating a formal security commitment on Canada’s part, as was the case during the Cold War. Instead, both environments face comparatively distant, minor state conflicts on the periphery. In the interwar era, these were primarily colonial in nature; in the contemporary era, they were intra-state ethnic conflicts at the margins of the international system.

As noted in the 1994 Canada 21 report, Canada had choices to make after the Cold War with regard to its overseas security commitments. Such choices (or Canadian discretion) were also a feature of the interwar era. In other words, Canada, it appeared to some, could take an isolationist position, then and now, because the outcome of overseas conflicts appeared to have little bearing on Canadian security. Of course, Canada’s Afghanistan combat commitment is discretionary, but Canada would pay a significant political price if it reneged on its Afghani commitment prior to 2009. Regardless, the new isolationists will demand a full Canadian withdrawal either, now or after 2009, from any combat role, no matter the security situation on the ground.

The demand to withdraw, especially in light of the unwillingness of many of the allies to commit their troops to a combat role in Afghanistan and of war weariness in the United States, creates an opening for the bedfellow of interwar isolationism – appeasement. While space does not permit a full examination of this link, if Canada and the West accept isolationism and withdraw from their current security commitment, they then have little choice but to promote a policy of appeasement in dealings with the Taliban. In so doing, the new isolationist is willing to accept Taliban demands as legitimate and negotiable, as the old isolationism saw German demands as legitimate and negotiable.

In the end, the new isolationism follows from the old; a belief that Canada, by virtue of location, lives in a fireproof house facing distant conflicts having little bearing on Canadian security. The rhetoric of Left-wing Canadian internationalism simply masks the reality of isolationism.


1 Kim Richard Nossal. The Politics of Canadian Foreign Policy. Scarborough: Prentice Hall. 1989. 141.
2 Canada 21 Council. Canada and Common Security in the Twenty-First Century (Toronto: Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, 1994).



Intelligence Reform and The Primacy of Politics

by John Ferris

Every few years, intelligence spins through a familiar cycle in western countries. Scandal breaks out. Demands are issued to punish the guilty and reform the system. The usual suspects are rounded up, especially calls to just get rid of the politics, or to end political problems by applying administrative solutions.  These nostrums make good sound bites but, unfortunately, they are about as useful as saying that war would end if everyone would just make nice.

That is for a simple reason. Politics is not a problem for intelligence, but a condition for it. The difference between these words is fundamental. Problems can be solved, conditions must be endured. Intelligence is political by definition.  It matters only if it affects decisions and actions. The latter inevitably stem from politics, whether produced by bureaucracies, Cabinets or the interaction between a commander and a few staff officers, where the personal becomes the operational. This reality is ignored by most commentaries on intelligence, which generally are written from the perspective of professional intelligence bureaucrats. They treat normative assumptions as natural law, assuming that what one should do is what one will do, that administration is good and politics bad, while Chinese walls should separate those who analyze intelligence from those who act on it. In particular, intelligence officers are presented as a priesthood, telling truth to power, and users as a respectful and responsive laity.

These ideas of bureaucratized intelligence, derived from the models of a General Staff and a Joint Intelligence Committee, can work well for military matters handled by military men, who come from one and the same professional background and accept the need for corporate discipline, in which every participant serves as a willing cog in a machine, so to achieve a collective task. Even in such circumstances, however, intelligence often is traumatic. These ideas work even less well for bigger issues involving mixed groups of decision makers drawn from differing backgrounds. Politicians, in particular, see these ideas as claims by bureaucrats for a monopoly over the right to tell their superiors what really is happening, and what can or cannot be done. Politicians, the key decision makers in systems of bureaucratized intelligence, also are temperamentally unsuited to them, emerging as they do from ruthless circumstances, where one trusts only one’s friends, doubts the existence of objectivity, and wants to hear how to do what they want to do, rather than why it cannot be done.

Most accounts of intelligence are modeled on the interaction between an expert and an amateur decision maker. They treat the expert as master and the amateur as student in need of schooling. Alas, things seem less simple to the student. Because of gaps in collection or knowledge, intelligence may not have expertise on the point at dispute. Collection may not have reported what a user needs to know. Analysts may not fully understand the picture, or be advising a technical figure, whose expertise matters more than their own to the decision at hand. Technical experts or statesmen will think these thoughts whenever they disagree with intelligence; and sometimes they will be right to do so. A leader, for example, can better judge some issues than his intelligence chief, because he knows better a key part of the environment, what he is going to do; and thus can guess at how the other side will respond, and  know what topic he needs to know about, when intelligence does not. Security restrictions may keep analysts from looking for or recognizing the information a user needs to know, leading the latter simply to ask for all the relevant information, while ignoring analysts. Contrary to all the handbooks, incidentally, politicians sometimes handle intelligence well in such circumstances.

Analysts are not always necessary to intelligence.  Even worse; sometimes they are wrong or, even if right, have a poor track record, which arouses distrust among reasonable people. The greatest problems in a system of bureaucratized intelligence arise when politicians do not like the advice they receive on specific issues and generally distrust the messenger. If a superior cannot find good reason to trust his intelligence service, whether right or wrong, he is forced into political action. Under such circumstances, the only solution suitable to the model of bureaucratized intelligence is for leaders to find intelligence chiefs they trust, and to fire the old ones. By decapitating and replacing its leadership, one still leaves intelligence institutions with their function as expert advisor. However, such steps are not easy, precisely because intelligence bureaucracies are bureaucracies: the larger and more established, the harder to change, or to capture through decapitation. Thus, users constantly are tempted to take actions which subvert any system of bureaucratized intelligence, such as creating new organizations led by  loyalists to analyze intelligence, so to sidestep bureaus one does not like. Creating new agencies seems easier than fixing old ones, politicians imagine that analysis is easy, while few things are easier than to ignore intelligence.

These circumstances have concomitants. If the point of intelligence is to affect action, one of its worst possible situations is to have no influence on, or be irrelevant to, decisions. For any intelligence service, influence is lifeblood to an institution, careers,  and self respect. However, nothing forces superior authorities to care about intelligence; they must be persuaded to do so. For an intelligence officer, the high road to influence lies through salesmanship, the effort to present one’s point as effectively as possible, given one’s knowledge of the foibles of his boss. Intelligence services and chiefs must learn to adapt to their bosses, because the opposite will not occur. 

This process is normal to the working of any bureaucratized system of intelligence. It occurs when they work effectively, and when they fail. This process is not caused by bad individuals, though it may be exacerbated by them, or dampened by good ones. It occurs for systematic reasons. Even if a leader does not try to make subordinates please him, still they will seek to do so, in order to avoid irrelevance. Superiors need not be corrupt or authoritarian to spark politicization. They must merely be superiors, whom subordinates wish to please, leading them to cook a meal they know the boss will like, whether he has not ordered it or not.  Politicization does not even have to be conscious or intended: it can happen without or even despite one’s will.  The greatest temptations for an intelligence chief in a system of bureaucratized intelligence arise when dealing with a superior who ignores one’s advice.

Whenever an intelligence scandal occurs, commentators describe the situation as disastrous and abnormal, and search for simple solutions, when usually the problems are normal and medium in scale, while much of what went wrong stems from conditions, which cannot be solved. This is true of the politics of intelligence in Washington and London in 2002-03, during the run-up to the Iraq war. We know a surprising amount about these events, though not the full story. It has some novel features. Leaks are a conventional part of the politics of intelligence, but not the outing by the White House of a serving CIA officer. Even more, intelligence was openly wielded as a public tool of persuasion to an unprecedented degree, as politicians sought to exploit the reputations for objectivity of their intelligence services. Otherwise, events were ordinary. In Britain, so to maximize the size of spin, Labour politicians politicized intelligence. They aggressively pressed the Secret Intelligence Service and the JIC to state, for public consumption, what politicians wanted to have said. Had the issue not been public persuasion, probably the politicians would not have bothered, and little out of the ordinary would have happened in the politics of intelligence.  In any case, the pressure stopped wherever the Chairman of the JIC, John Scarlett, drew the line. Although political pressure drove him beyond the normally accepted line, he did not cross the margin into what obviously would have been bad play, no matter what The Guardian reading class might imagine. In Washington, meanwhile, the politics of intelligence generally took a form normal since 1964. The administration pressured the CIA to tell the story it wanted to hear, without much success. The pressure, however, led George Tenet, a Director of Central Intelligence with a long history of marginalization under two Presidents, his position further shaken by the failure to predict 9/11, seeking to preserve his career and agency, to bend further than his analysts wished. In fact, he did pass an acceptable line. His “slam dunk” verdict was not far from the widely accepted view of the time, but it was a bad intelligence assessment, delivered for political reasons. Meanwhile, the Pentagon established its own private assessment agency, so Douglas Feith could tell Donald Rumsfeld the story Dick Cheney wished to hear. In both countries, leaders ignored intelligence, which was uncertain, or contradicted their beliefs—as usual. Altogether, these forms of politicization had little effect on policy—the latter was defined regardless of intelligence, which was too vague to start a war, or stop one-- but some on public opinion, though it was at most a secondary factor in the politics of preemptive war.

What lessons can be learned from this experience, and used to improve performance? The most novel of these problems, the use of intelligence as a public tool of persuasion, may be solved for perhaps a generation, simply because it will make publics trust their governments less, and the latter more careful. But no other new lessons can be learned, because the experience of 2002-03 stems directly from the systematic relationship between politicians and bureaucratized intelligence, a matter, which has existed for decades and is here to stay. The questions raised in 2002-03 were known long before, as are the nature of unsuccessful answers. In particular, one cannot solve political problems through administrative solutions—such as ideas of multiple advocacies, or for Washington to adopt a British style JIC. At the same time, some systems of intelligence are worse than others and improvements certainly are possible in those prevailing in western countries. In particular, states do better when politicians and the leaders of  bureaucratized intelligence can work with, rather than against, each other. To achieve such a step, however, would require rethinking how intelligence bureaucracies function, for politicians to learn something about strategy and intelligence, and to have the process of intelligence account for politics, rather than to pretend it does not exist. To take such steps will not be easy, and they can all too easily lead to missteps.  What does remain certain is that if things do not change, whenever intelligence matters on a major issue and decision makers are divided, they will politicize it; while intelligence will be free of politics only when it does not matter. And there ain’t no cure for politics.



The “Metrics” of Victory in Afghanistan

by Brian Flemming

The first Duke of Wellington, who knew a thing or two about war, was once asked, “What a glorious thing must be a victory, Sir.” He replied, “[It is] the greatest tragedy in the world, Madam, except a defeat.” In a dispatch from Waterloo, the twin impostors of “defeat” and “victory” were again on Wellington’s mind when he wrote, “Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won.” To the end of his life, Wellington agonized over the meaning of defeat vs. victory because he knew victory did not always bring joy to those political leaders who had staked their careers on winning. Witness the stunning electoral defeat of Winston Churchill on July 5th, 1945, two months after V-E Day, or the ebbing political fortunes of President George W. Bush following his smashing victory in Iraq in April, 2002.

In the first half of the 20th century, recognizing victory was relatively easy. For the Second World War allies, for example, victory came with the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. Since 1945, defining victory has become more difficult. In Korea, victory meant negotiating a humiliating cease-fire agreement. In the Cold War, victory meant no nuclear exchange occurred between the antagonists during their scary 40 year standoff. The west’s victory bonus was the end of the Soviet Empire.

In the dozens of insurgencies since 1945, including the Vietnam War, the insurgents mostly won. One the best examples of multiple tactical successes coupled with ultimate strategic failure was the Algerian war of independence in which the French military won major battles, like the famous Battle of Algiers, but lost the overall insurgency. Two post-Second World War examples of clear-cut conventional military victories that now look Pyrrhic were the Israeli wins in the 1967 and 1973 wars.

Since September 11, 2001, the world has descended into the misleadingly-named “war on terror”. (See Denis Stairs, Terrorism Is Politics, IV CDFAI Dispatch, 2006, p.20)  Bush and his handmaiden, Tony Blair, still talk about “winning” that nebulous war, even though they have often predicted the so-called “global war on terror” --- or GWOT --- will last longer than their own lives. But no one has yet defined the “metrics” of GWOT victory that, once achieved, would allow victory parades to be held, and triumphal arches built. Indeed, no less a figure than former American secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, in a confidential memo six months after the Iraq invasion said, “We lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.” On one GWOT front --- Iraq --- victory increasingly looks like it will come when coalition forces withdraw in a face-saving way.

What are the “metrics” for victory in Afghanistan? Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised Canada and its NATO allies will “succeed” in their mission to tame that poverty-stricken part of the planet. Does “succeed” mean “victory” and, if so, how will Canadians recognize that victory when it comes?

The main metric in the Vietnam War was the body count. But no matter how many enemies were slain in that war, more stepped up to take their places. So attrition, that brutal but always effective tactic, was the main indicator of victory for much of that war. Using attrition, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong succeeded as effectively as the North did in the U.S. Civil War or the Soviets did on the Russian front in the Second World War. Canadian news reports about Afghanistan sometimes refer to the large number of “Taliban” fighters killed. But, if the Vietnam experience means anything, that metric won’t mean much. On the other hand, a large number of Canadian casualties could be a meaningful metric for the “Taliban”.

Kinder, gentler Canadian news reports from Afghanistan boast of the number of schools built, the education of young women, well-digging and road-paving. Canadians who recall the initial Soviet successes in Afghanistan in the 1980s may remember similar claims by the Soviets, before the western-armed and trained mujahudeen slowly took the Soviet forces apart. Canadians should also remember the “reconstruction” programme in Iraq has largely been a failure and learn from that. But, in general, the social work “metric” for victory won’t work either.

Keeping President Karzai in office in a semi-functioning democracy could be a metric for victory. If so, the corruption issue must be squarely faced. The reason why CIDA money has not been flowing easily to southern Afghan villages --- and why the military must become responsible for distributing aid --- is the presence of corrupt warlords who want to control this money, and get their piece of the action. Just as the leg bone is connected to the ankle bone, corruption in Afghanistan cannot be discussed without raising the opium poppy issue. NATO appears to be preparing an attack on Afghanistan’s narco-economy similar to the one the Americans tried in Columbia. But this will annoy drug lords who, in some parts of Afghanistan, are NATO’s only counterweights to the “Taliban”. These warlords may not be happy watching their cash flow dry up if this tactic succeeds. So, the metric for victory in Afghanistan probably won’t be the total destruction of Afghanistan’s narco-economy.

The oddest self-imposed metric is the time limit on Canada’s commitment to that benighted country. Telling the enemy we intend to stay only until 2009 is insane. Experts claim it takes approximately ten years to win a modern counterinsurgency. Imagine if, when the Second World War was going badly --- around the time of Dunkirk or before the Soviet victory at Stalingrad --- Churchill had asked Parliament for authority to keep the war going, but only until June, 1944. Afghan insurgents are connected to the western world. If they are as patient as other modern insurgents have been, they will simply mark “Xs” on their calendars until 2009 when the short-attention-spanned Canadians will go the way of the Soviets.

Then, there is Pakistan. All reports from the Afghan front tell of how the porous border with an eyes-half-shut Pakistan allows insurgents to rest and regroup in its mountainous borderlands, without NATO interference. If NATO is to have any hope of winning, that must change. Sealing the Pakistan border is certainly part of the correct metric for victory. An interesting collateral question is: what do our troops on the ground in Afghanistan think the metric for victory is? In TV interviews, some soldiers say it’s to “stop” the Taliban “at home” before “they come over here”: the domino theory redux.

Today’s global struggle against violent extremists (G-SAVE) is serious business. The weak and dispossessed in this asymmetric war have a huge advantage. But they are not gods. Instead of simply repeating rhetoric about support for our brave soldiers, or dancing that fraught line where, on the one hand, one supports our troops but, on the other hand, one questions their “mission”, the true friends of Canada’s military must grapple with the metrics of victory even if this discussion comes late in the day. As Sun Tzu said, “Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

In the end, as in most post-modern insurgencies, victory or defeat will be decided at the negotiating table where the “scumbags” will be present. Instead of mocking this possibility, as some have done, Canada’s leaders must accept the probability that only a skilful political negotiation will provide an honourable way for Canada and NATO to extricate their forces from a place where many great empires have tasted defeat. Canada’s dilemma is that it is only a minor player, contributing less than 10 per cent of the NATO expeditionary forces in Afghanistan. And NATO itself has yet to decide whether to “go big or go home”. Once NATO decides this question, the Karzai government must then agree to negotiate. This three-dimensional diplomatic chess game will require deftness in balancing the “melancholy metrics” of victory in battle with the “metric” of a permanent political settlement that will satisfy Afghanistan’s warring ethnicities. A Nobel Peace Prize awaits any latter day Lester Pearson who can put this Pashtun peace puzzle together. 



What’s Gone Awry at NDHQ?

by J.L. Granatstein

These should be the best of times at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. The Conservative government has wholeheartedly supported Canada’s military effort in Afghanistan and, as new needs became apparent, reacted promptly and well to meet them. Need new artillery pieces? No sooner said than done, and M-777 guns, purchased from the United States Marine Corps, made it to the field in short order. IEDs are causing casualties? South African-made Nyala anti-mine vehicles are quickly secured. The Taliban are resisting more fiercely than expected in mud-hut villages? Quick as a wink, Canada’s aging Leopard tanks are en route to Kandahar where their heavy armour, mobility, and gun can handle anything the enemy can throw at them. Even a six-pack of CF-18s seems to be on standby to give the Canadian troops their own dedicated air support. No Canadian government in decades has been as responsive to the troops’ requirements. None.

At the same time, the Harper government has followed through on most of its pledges for new equipment, and the lengthy procurement process to acquire C-17 long-range air transports, new Hercules C-130J medium-range transports, Chinook medium-lift helicopters, more M-777 artillery pieces, new search and rescue aircraft, and trucks is in train. There might even be a purchase of new tanks, an upgraded Leopard variant, from Germany. The announced cost for such programmes is well north of $17 billion, a huge sum by any calculation, and one that holds out the promise of transforming the obsolescent, money-starved Canadian Forces.

So why is no one cheering?  There are a host of problems, all complicated to explain, but all absolutely critical for the future survival of Canada’s military.

The first, astonishingly, is something called the accrual system of accounting. In the past, Canadian governments bought a thousand toasters for $25,000 and charged that sum to a department’s budget. The costs of maintenance five, ten, and twenty years down the road were charged to future budgets. In accrual accounting, much more reasonably, say the government auditors, the costs of purchasing and maintaining the toasters twenty years into the future are announced as one figure, and those $25,000 worth of toasters now become  $50,000, and that’s the figure that sticks in the public’s mind—and craw. That much for toasters, you say; if the feds bought them at Canadian Tire, the government could have saved thousands.

Obviously, this matters very much in shaping public response. Consider the four C-17s the Harper government has agreed to purchase. In rough terms, each of the huge transport aircraft costs $250 million. The accrual cost, again in round numbers, is $850 million each or $3.5 billion all told. Many observers and citizens remain unaware of the change in accounting methodology, and government rules (or, more likely, practice) do not appear to permit much explanation. So a $1 billion purchase of essential equipment appears to much of the public as a $3.5 billion boondoggle. It’s not, but it’s a hard sell to all of us whose eyes glaze over at the mention of accountants’ rules. In fact, I have had exchanges of correspondence with senior businessmen who are genuinely outraged that C-17s should cost almost a billion dollars each. If the people who can draw up and actually read budgets don’t understand what is going on, the government—and the Canadian Forces—have a real public relations problem.  The answer, of course, is to explain defence purchases (and purchases in every other department of government as well)  by making clear what is included in the announced sum.

It goes without saying that the total package cost matters to government too. The Prime Minister is said to have been told that the cost of getting the Canadian Forces up to speed is $100 billion all in. Not a chance. If the figure had been presented to the PM as a purchase price of $35 billion with $65 billion in costs down the road, the chances might have been better.

The second problem is that the $17 billion in promised equipment purchases naturally enough makes Canadians believe that the money is flowing in a rushing torrent to Canada’s military. So it is, but only after a fashion. Equipment purchases in Canada are never final until they are contracted, built, and put into the hands of those who use them. Governments can and do change and, with them, priorities can alter. The Navy needed EH-101 helicopters to replace its aged SeaKings back in the 1980s, and the contract for those machines was carved in stone—until Jean Chrétien’s Liberals came to power in 1993 and killed the deal. In other words, it ain’t over until the fat lady finishes the aria, and in Canada, that means until the military actually begins operating the equipment. Our present (permanent?) minority government situation does not provide much certainty that today’s equipment promises will fare any better than the promised helicopters of 1993. Who, looking at the prospect that a Liberal government supported by the NDP and the BQ might emerge after the next election, can have confidence that existing defence equipment commitments will be met? That is not a partisan comment, merely a reflection of reality.

Another problem has to do with the Afghan War. First, the war is unpopular with large segments of the Canadian population who view it as part of George W. Bush’s War on Terror and who are very averse to casualties in a part of the world beyond Canada’s ken. We all know of this and understand the dimensions of the problem. But how many Canadians recognize that the war is having a huge impact on the budgets of the Canadian Forces? No one can state with absolute clarity what extra costs the Kandahar operation is imposing on the military, but they are very substantial and certainly near $800 million dollars a year. At least $300 million of this money seems to be drawn from the existing budgets of the Department of National Defence, and the difficulty is that the Army, Navy, and Air Force are being forced to scramble to keep their daily operations going as funds are pared away to support the Kandahar mission. The Navy made the front pages in February when it tied up ships in Halifax and Esquimalt because it had run out of operating funds in Fiscal Year 2006-2007 and would not have any more  until FY 2007-2008 began. That was an unwise, partly political,  ploy by the Navy’s commanders, to be sure, but the problem is all too real. The Operations and Maintenance budgets of all three service environments have been pared to the bone for years now, and every discussion at NDHQ today has to do with what core capabilities can be slashed to keep the machine going tomorrow. The cheese parers continue their rule on the Rideau Canal.

Then there are the personnel shortages. Canada’s regular forces have a nominal strength of 64,000 and an effective strength of just above 53,000. The recruiting system is trying to generate new recruits, and the environments are trying to train them to meet service standards. The difficulties are manifold. The recruiting system is improving, but is still badly broken. The training system is very effective—the performance of infantry and other arms and services in Kandahar, for example, offers ample proof of this—but there are too few trainers to do the job. Men and women are waiting in holding platoons for weeks and months to be trained, and there are demands from a Senate Committee that really should know better to send 250 trainers to help the Afghans. This can’t be done at a time when army trainers are being sent on deployment because there are no others available for posting.

Matters are particularly difficult in reserve army units. With a strength still well under 20,000, the militia is providing some 20 percent of each rotation of troops to Kandahar. Reserve unit Commanding Officers, all part-time soldiers with full-time civilian jobs, need to recruit soldiers to go overseas, negotiate with their soldiers’ employers so they can keep their jobs, and try to hold their regiments together while their best men and women go on deployment and, likely, join the regular force after their return home. Adding to the COs’ difficulty is that the regular force support staff in many militia units has disappeared, so short of personnel are regular units. The rubber band can be stretched only so far before it snaps. Like the regular forces, the reserves need a period of rest and regeneration.

Then there are the serious difficulties between the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff. Minister Gordon O’Connor has been told by the Prime Minister to press ahead with the government’s “Canada First” defence strategy, its focus on the Arctic and safeguarding the homeland. The CDS, General Rick Hillier, looking to transform and re-structure the Canadian Forces so it can send well-prepared expeditionary forces abroad in the near future, is said to disagree. What the outcome of this struggle will be is unclear, but it cannot be helpful either to the CF or, such is the popularity of General Hillier, to the government. The two antagonists need to find a compromise, and surely both can recognize that all but the most specialized equipment and personnel can be used to defend Canada and its interests both at home and abroad. That statement over-simplifies a complex debate, but at root it is surely true.

There is a terrible irony in all this conflict and dissonance. Canada is fighting a tough war in Kandahar, and its soldiers are performing superbly. New equipment is being ordered and the long-term future of the Canadian Forces looks brighter today than at any time since Pierre Trudeau came to power in 1968. But at the same time, funds are so scarce today that the military can scarcely operate its ships, aircraft, and trucks and is being forced to consider slashing key capabilities to stay alive. Let there be no doubt: that money ultimately is at the root of the dispute between the CDS and the Minister. The CF’s $15 billion in annual funding simply does not allow it to do everything it must. It will be tragic if the present must be sacrificed before the future can be achieved.

There is only one answer to the Canadian Forces’ present situation: the Harper government must supplement the Canadian Forces’ budget, and especially its Operations and Maintenance funding, now. An emergency appropriation of $1 billion will keep the military running at home with just enough room to breathe and without being penalized because Afghanistan’s extra costs are not met fully by the government. It will also allow the new equipment to begin to come on stream, and, most important of all, it will keep the soldiers in Kandahar supplied with what they need. Anything less and the government risks destroying the kudos it has deservedly won for its efforts to rebuild the Canadian Forces. The possible resignation of General Hillier will be a disaster for the Harper government and possibly even for the nation. Its impact on the CF will be grave.  



The Battle for the Control of Canadian Arctic Waters: Icebreakers or Patrol Vessels?

by Rob Huebert

A battle is currently going on within the Ottawa bureaucracy that may well determine the future of Canada’s ability to protect and enforce its sovereignty in the Arctic. The Canadian government is now deciding what tools it needs to protect Arctic waters. This stems in part from the commitment made by Stephen Harper in December 2005, but it also reflects the general recognition that the Canadian North is about to get much busier. The battle is over the type and ownership of the vessel that will used for the next forty to fifty years to patrol Canadian Arctic waters. The Canadian Navy, which has not operated icebreakers since the mid-1950s, has been tasked to acquire vessels, while the Canadian Coast Guard, which has been operating icebreakers for a much longer time, is being ignored. The Navy is not enthusiastic about its new role, yet no one seems to have even bothered to ask the Coast Guards’ opinion. As a result, the Navy is proposing to acquire vessels that meet requirements beyond those needed for use in the Arctic, but the suggested vessels are not icebreakers, and they cannot be used in thick ice. At the same time, the Coast Guard will soon be facing the rust-out of most of its current icebreakers, with no replacements in sight.

The Harper Government’s intention to give the role of defending northern Canadian waters to the Navy, combined with its continuing long-term neglect of the Coast Guard, has us headed in the wrong direction regarding the protection of our territory. We need icebreakers, not ships that can only operate in limited ice conditions. One of the paradoxes of climate change in the Arctic is that some sections of the Canadian North will see heavier ice conditions rather than less for the foreseeable future. As the Arctic ice cap melts and breaks up, the specifics of the region’s ocean currents and wind patterns will increasingly bring the breaking ice into the north-west tip of the Northwest Passage. Thus, a melting Arctic actually means more ice for Canada. No one has a sound estimate of how long this process will take, nor should one think that it will occur in a linear fashion. As the Arctic ice melts, there will be some years when the ice will be thicker in the Northwest Passage, while in others, it may be non-existent. Ultimately, the passage will be clear in the summer and fall months; we just do not know when. Given that state of affairs, one might wonder why we should worry about any new vessels at all? 

The problem is that the Russian side, and possibly the polar cap itself, will be clearing much sooner than the Canadian areas. This means that others will be building their Arctic shipping capabilities to go there. When the ice conditions are good on the Canadian side, those capabilities could be quickly transferred into Canadian waters. Other countries are interested in the Arctic because of its value; the North is a treasure trove of both living and non-living resources. Canada’s problem is that we have disputes with all of our neighbours regarding what is Canadian and what is not. 

Canada’s Arctic boundaries generate a number of disputes. The first, between Canada and the United States, concerns the location of the dividing line in the Beaufort Sea. Extensive oil and gas resources may lie within this contentious zone. The second boundary issue is in the Lincoln Sea off the northern tip of Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but this time, the Danes are involved. Canada also disagrees with the United States and the EU over control of shipping in the Northwest Passage, and will also probably argue with the Russians, Americans, and Danes regarding the division of the northern continental shelf. 

All four Arctic nations are now preparing their claims, but there are already indications that the Russian claim will extend into the region Canada wants. Thus, it really does not matter if the Canadian northern waters are the last to open; we must be able to demonstrate that we are capable of being in the region we claim as ours, and that we can respond to anyone conducting business there without our permission. Otherwise, our position in all of these disputes will be weakened.

Given the clear need to have and maintain a presence in the Canadian North, why is the Navy reluctant to assume this role? The main reasons are cost and expertise. They know that if they acquire new icebreakers, they will have to surrender other capabilities. The Navy also knows that it is very unlikely that they will be given the funds for both icebreakers and the number of new replacement vessels it needs and that it currently does not have the necessary expertise to operate in the Arctic; northern waters, even with the effect of climate change, are harsh, dangerous, and merciless to novices. The Navy can learn how to sail in these waters, but it will take time and resources – both of which are in short supply today. Why, then, isn’t the solution to recapitalize the Coast Guard’s existing icebreaker fleet? Part of the answer may be that the Auditor General recently found substantial organizational problems within the Coast Guard. More importantly, however, has been the ongoing and continual government neglect of the agency. For reasons that are not clear, successive governments have seen fit to either ignore or cut the core capabilities of the Coast Guard, including its ice-breaking fleet. 

What, then, is the solution? First, it is necessary to recognize that Canada tends to demand a lot of our ships. Whatever ship is built for service in the Arctic, it will probably be in service for up to forty years. When considering that it will probably take up to ten years to decide upon, design, and build these ships, our decision will be in service until 2057! Secondly, we must recognize that the defence of the Canadian North should not be hostage to the funding requirements of one department. The Prime Minister’s office should work together with Finance and the Treasury Board to allocate the funds necessary to build the tools to defend and protect our North in a special, trans-government budget. Thirdly, we need icebreakers. If there are challenges within the various departments to acquiring and operating these vessels on their own, perhaps now is the time to truly apply a “whole of Canadian Government” approach and have both the Navy and the Coast Guard operate them. The Navy has the numbers, while the Coast Guard has the expertise. It seems a logical solution.   


About Our Organization

Institute Profile
CDFAI is a research institute pursuing authoritative research and new ideas aimed at ensuring Canada has a respected and influential voice in the international arena.

CDFAI is a charitable organization, founded in 2001 and based in Calgary. CDFAI develops and disseminates materials and carries out activities to promote understanding by the Canadian public of national defence and foreign affairs issues. CDFAI is developing a body of knowledge which can be used for Canadian policy development, media analysis and educational support. The Fellows program, a group of highly experienced and talented individuals, support CDFAI by authoring research papers, responding to media queries, running conferences, initiating polling, and developing outreach and education projects.

Mission Statement
To be a catalyst for innovative Canadian global engagement.

CDFAI was created to address the ongoing discrepancy between what Canadians need to know about Canadian foreign and defence policy and what they do know. Historically, Canadians tend to think of foreign policy – if they think of it at all – as a matter of trade and markets. They are unaware of the importance of Canada engaging diplomatically, militarily, and with international aid in the ongoing struggle to maintain a world that is friendly to the free flow of people and ideas across borders and the spread of human rights. They are largely unaware of the connection between a prosperous and free Canada and a world of globalization and liberal internationalism. CDFAI is dedicated to educating Canadians, and particularly those who play leadership roles in shaping Canadian international policy, to the importance of Canada playing an active and ongoing role in world affairs, with tangible diplomatic, military and aid assets.

CDFAI Projects

Minor Research Papers – four papers are released each year on current, relevant themes related to defence, diplomacy and international development.

Major Research Paper – one or two major papers are released each year providing a detailed, critical examination on current issues or analyzing existing policy.

Quarterly Newsletters – educate Canadians on timely topics related to Canada’s role on the international stage.

Monthly Columns – a monthly column written by J.L. Granatstein that raises the level of public debate on defence and foreign affairs issues.   

Speakers’ Series – corporate and other leaders are invited to expand their knowledge of international relations through the experience and expertise shared by knowledgeable speakers.

Editorial Board – a group of highly respected academics ensure authoritative public policy integrity in all of CDFAI’s formal publications.

Annual Ottawa Conference– a joint project with Carleton, Laval, Queen’s University, UQAM, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars is held annually to address a topical issue.

National Polls – public opinion polls are commissioned to demonstrate Canadian current thinking on significant international issues.

Military Journalism Courses– annually, two eleven-day military/media courses (French and English) are run where upwards of 24 Canadian journalism students learn about dealing with the Canadian Forces.

Ross Munro Media Award – annually, CDFAI and CDA recognize one Canadian journalist who has made a significant contribution to the public understanding of defence and security issues.

Issue Responses – as required, CDFAI will respond to breaking news items with a reasoned, well articulated perspective to assist the public in understanding the issue. 

Each of CDFAI’s projects is developed to bring attention to pressing Canadian international engagement issues. These projects not only analyze the issues but also offer solutions. By publishing the results of these research projects, CDFAI gives policymakers the means to carry out policy formulation and administration in a more informed manner. Interested Canadians will be more knowledgeable. The ultimate aim is to strengthen Canada’s international role in the world, thereby supporting a reasonable standard of living for current and future Canadians and those living around the globe.

CDFAI’s annual budget currently runs at approximately $800,000.  Corporate, individual philanthropic, government contracts and foundation support are needed to carry on this important work.



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