In The Media

Containing the global authoritarian threat 

by Hugh Segal

May 31, 2012

The cycling through with NATO forces in Afghanistan of 20 rotations involving over 15,000 Canadian men and women in uniform has had a profoundly positive effect on the morale and preparedness of our regular and reserve forces who served seamlessly together in that dangerous, but essential, deployment.

 But that CFDS bridge is well behind us. It is now time for a re-calibrated and integrated global and national security strategy that takes into account critical factors on the ground, on and under the sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace both at home and abroad.

What keeps our society moving forward as a caring and economically viable society is what I have called in the past the infrastructure of civility. This infrastructure is a mix of laws and borders and resilient institutions like our Armed Forces, the Reserves, and organizations like police forces and private charitable organizations like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army to name but two.

Local government first responders, the even-handed and open operation of our courts and legislatures, an economy that is open, with robust opportunity, the positive role played by religious institutions, not-for-profits and community groups are all part of the core civility that defines us and that we must seek to protect and enhance. What we defend as Canadians is our right to choose to make private, community, corporate, and government decisions as we deem fit, undeterred by aggression from others or subversion from within.

Beyond our borders, there is also a mix of organizations like the UN, NATO, the Commonwealth and others that form their own infrastructure of constraint and balance vital to the stability we need to move ahead as a trading Canadian economy for whom the safe sea routes, and the stability of markets is of vital concern.

The risk management task globally is complex and replete with actors who may be benign, hostile, friendly, or, on occasion, too self-interested to notice anything beyond themselves.

The geopolitical restructuring that sees the U.S. and the U.K. constrained by financial pressures is a restructuring that does not mean that Canada gets to do less in the area of defence and the protection of our values. Nuclear terrorism, non-state proxy terrorist networks are real challenges. The growth of Chinese naval, air, space and land capacity does not mean that we necessarily face a new hostile forum in the Pacific. I know of no country that would ever aspire to attack China, so it’s fair to reflect on why its defence spending increases are so large.

Trade and economic partnership with China is good for Chinese and Canadian economies and is to be largely welcomed; naivety in terms of outcomes, risks and the impact of rebalancing is to be seriously avoided. An authoritarian, non-democratic, capitalist country is still an authoritarian country.

If we are to sustain the two freedoms simultaneously in the Pacific region, more joint air and sea exercises with Japan, India, South Korea and other allies in the region are called for as well as our usual multi-national U.S. joint exercises as per past practice. Canada should also be pushing for more NATO and Shanghai Cooperation Council engagement in constructive and determined ways.

From the Arctic to the Caribbean, from the South China Sea to the Straits of Hormuz, abdication is not a viable option or constructive tool in Canada’s interests. And any reduction in defence budgets that promotes abdication by making deployment impossible is bad public policy. We need to go in the opposite direction.

A determined increased regular force target of 100,000 as opposed to 68,000 and a reserve force of 50,000, as opposed to 27,000 for a standing capacity of 150,000 would be a constructive target to have in place by 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary as a country.

If we are to do the job well, in the Arctic, in the key regions of the world, on both coasts with Special Forces and with aid to the civil power available, that is the goal we need to embrace. Strategic redundancy both within systems and within task groups that are themselves a system of systems is not a luxury – it is an operational exigency for the navy, army, air and Special Forces and for the protection of Canada. Reducing defence and development expenditures now would be a serious mistake. Taking from Peter to pay Paul or Jim or Tony is unsafe for Canada.

It is also essential that Canada’s Special Force capacities, techniques and complement be increased. They are already Tier 1 as operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere have indicated. But a flexible capacity to fight the purveyors of fear, be they terrorists, drug cartels, pirates or otherwise is vital to both freedom from fear and want.

The efficiency and impact of our forces, the safety and effectiveness of our men and women in uniform is directly tied to the actual integration of our civilian, military, domestic and international intelligence streams. Afghanistan was a theatre in which this real-time integration was greatly advanced, with a mix of electronic and analytical capacities deployed very constructively. This capacity must be enhanced and deepened if a modest middle power country is to maximize its effective deployable capacity and be effective when forces – humanitarian, stabilization or combat – need to be deployed.

The real threat that we face on a global basis, in terms of peace and stability, in terms of our domestic and international values and interests, comes not from either the right or extreme left, or from any one region or any specific geopolitical aspiration. The enemy is not Islamic or Christian or Asian or Russian. Our enemy and the enemy of all democratic, essentially balanced societies all over the world is first and foremost authoritarianism of the right, left or centre or of the extreme religious variety.

Authoritarian governments that have no democratic accountability cannot be replaced or diminished however unpopular or corrupt. Authoritarian governments require obedience. They brook no dissent. Democracy and elections are feigned with pre-approved lists of candidates or parliaments that have no real power. They are usually run by a tight clique of individuals, united by intense family, ethnic or paramilitary or military ties. They exist for each other in a frame that is a composite of mutual and self-serving corruption, raiding of public treasuries, and a mutual blackmail or fear.

In some cases, diplomatic and political work may be enough, as we might hopefully conclude in places like Myanmar, where sanctions have appeared to play a constructive role.

In some cases it is necessary for military engagement with allies, as when Canadian pilots and naval assets flew and sailed in unison with NATO and Arab League assets to protect civilians from the Gadhafi regime; or when our air force flew with NATO air forces over Kosovo and Serbia; or when ground troops engaged alongside U.S. and then NATO forces in Afghanistan or NATO forces in Bosnia Herzegovina to deal with authoritarian state or non-state actors like Milosevic or Al Qaeda and the Taliban to contain or prevent further humanitarian destruction. But not engaging on all of the above would have been a serious mistake.

The great, literate, cultivated and advanced Persian population of Iran is not our enemy, America’s enemy or, for that matter, even Israel’s enemy. The clear source of deep and pervasive threat and menace is the authoritarian, non-democratic government and its authoritarian religious leaders.

The cult of authoritarian self-reverence in North Korea is of a similar, highly destabilizing portent. While Russia has moved away from the worst excesses of authoritarian and totalitarian communism, it has, at best, a very shallow form of democracy-light with authoritarianism not far removed from the day to day tool kit of their government.

So, when Russia and China coalesced at the UN Security Council a few weeks ago to prevent, through their veto, any real progress on the deplorable, ongoing military attack by Syria’s authoritarian government on its own people, we can see how authoritarian fellow travellers can spread a web that paralyzes the rest of the world. We know where the failure to act in the face of authoritarianism took us in the late 1930s. We understand why the need to engage was vital sixty years ago in Korea. And today, while a democratic South Korea thrives and prospers and its authoritarian northern neighbour builds deeper and deeper poverty and isolation for its people around a clique of totalitarian communist rulers, the clear differences and challenges on our road ahead begins to crystallize.

Authoritarianism in the beginning and in the end succeeds because of the use of fear. Iran’s many executions monthly, her imprisonment of the Baha’i and anyone who has the courage to dissent and its support through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah through client governments like Assad’s in Syria is simply the extension of the string of fear at home and abroad to achieve their junta’s self-preservation, as is the newly articulated theocratic necessity of eradicating the “Zionist entity”.

As democracies, we justifiably fear war and loss of life. Authoritarians worldwide count on that fear to make their intimidation ever more potent and far-reaching. So, we in the democratic and open societies always have a choice to make. Do we engage the fear used as authoritarian’s key weapon, or do we turn away?

If we do not respond, at some level, that does imperil everything we hold dear, as well as our own freedom and that of our children and grandchildren.

A coherent increase in strategic and deployable capacity and a larger Armed Force with critical new commitments for cyber and space defence are vital to protecting the freedom from fear. Joining US Ballistic Defence Network worldwide is also long overdue.

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