In The Media

Canada needs a more comprehensive approach to national security

by Ann Fitz-Gerald


March 7, 2012

It is to be hoped that Canada’s last ten years in Afghanistan will yield lessons applicable to future operations, especially the ‘whole of Government’ activities now defined as the ‘comprehensive approach’ or ‘comprehensive security’.

The more complex international security environment, containing risks and threats from terrorism and transnational organized crime to natural and humanitarian disaster, cannot be addressed by military means alone. It requires the ‘comprehensive approach’ to, at long last, take root.

Three important variables are paramount to Canada’s achieving the comprehensive security approach
that currently remains more rhetorical than realizable: national-level strategic planning and implementation; individual departmental and collective resources; and an evidence-based supporting analysis for comprehensive security strategy development.

Canada’s Afghanistan deployment was never fully understood by the broad Canadian public. From participation in the search for Osama bin Laden, to taking command of the Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force, to operating in Kandahar, to assuming responsibility for the Provincial Reconstruction Team as well as security for much of Kandahar province, Canada’s responsibilities evolved rather than being part of a unified strategic vision and implementation plan. From the earliest days many non-military tasks were also undertaken, but even then they often involved military resources because of a lack of a civilian capability and capacity.

Apparent whole-of-Government initiatives during the early 2000s exposed the departmental cultural, bureaucratic, legal and generational barriers which like-minded security departments had to confront and work through in order to achieve greater collective cooperation on security issues. It became eminently clear that a ‘programing’ culture was dominant in certain government departments and agencies; a perspective that does not sit harmoniously with the tendency for defence institutions to think strategically, and achieve strategic effect through tactical success.

Canada still suffers from a lack of precision, expression and cohesion supporting comprehensive security policy that only serves to sustain the cultural, bureaucratic, legal and generational cleavages that collectively undermine the very comprehensiveness promoted and pursued. The absence of any strategic and capstone ‘formula’ results in a divisive duality of strategic-level independence and operational-level ‘jointery’ across security-related departments.

The strategic security policy vacuum also impacts on resources and funds that are specifically earmarked for certain purposes and in support of specific departmental remits. For example, if Public Safety personnel were drawn on for international security assistance without a dedicated pool of human resources, mandate, budget or ‘earmarked’ funds, these resources would have to be taken from their primary responsibility to promote domestic security in Canada.

The absence of strategic policy goals and implementation imperatives raises the question of the evidence base to inform and support decisions. Despite the existence of many individual departmental intelligence units, the International Assessments unit in the Privy Council Office serves as the only desk capable of producing comprehensive ‘global’ analysis; however, it does not make policy recommendations such as a prioritized list of international threats to Canada. With increasing transnational and global security trends, the economic security vulnerabilities of the U.S. and Europe and the rise of sophisticated nonstate networks, there is a fundamental need for integrated comprehensive international security analysis that evaluates the domestic security concerns of these international trends and allows Canada to ‘push out
its borders’. These trends will only warrant attention if their analysis becomes aligned with a dynamic national security framework, of which Canada currently has none.

Without the development of macro-strategic security policy goals that sit above, and provide the direction for, the cross-government family of departments and agencies, separate institutional policies will continue to lack coherence, appropriate resources and evidence bases, and the strategic credibility to ensure that the policy commands cross-government support. The security-related government departments and agencies working at the first, second and third tiers of security policy and strategy also must invest in cross-government professional education and training in order to develop the very personnel that will lead Canada’s future comprehensive security policy and approach.

At a time when Canada commands such a respectable and stable position in the world, let us not reveal that the new, and perhaps younger, Emperor has no clothes.

For more on this, see the report released today (March 8, 2012) by the Strategic Studies Working Group (SSWG), a partnership between the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) and the Canadian International Council (CIC): “Comprehensive Security Needs Comprehensive Structures – How Comprehensive Can We Get?”

Ann Fitz-Gerald is currently the Director of the Cranfield Centre for Security Sector Management where she manages research programmes which focus on: national security; political, security and economic interdependencies of stabilisation operations; and the relationship between conflict prevention and security sector reform. She is a Board member for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a member of the National Security Working Group for the Canadian International Council (CIC), chair of the
CSSM National Security Working Group and was recently appointed to the Security Sector Advisory Group for UK Trade and Investment.

Don Macnamara, following a 37 year career in the RCAF and CF, spent 20 years as a professor in the Queen’s University School of Business and the Queen’s Executive Development Centre. The last Chair of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies and first Chair of the CIC Strategic Studies Working Group, he is the current Chair of the Board of Governors of the Royal Military College of Canada and serves on the CDFAI Advisory Council.

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