If we're going to survive Trump, we need to talk about security



by Al Stephenson

April 28, 2017

Like it or not, Donald Trump is president of the United States. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will be the new norm for Canada-U.S. relations, as Trump has proven that his unconventional attitude to politics will continue in his approach to governance.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2017 cabinet shuffle and the formation of a special cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations turned out to be prescient moves to strengthen Canada’s ability to manage the vicissitudes of this new relationship, as was the creation of a war room to quickly address critical decision-making in an unpredictable environment. However, much more needs to be done to “lead turn” emerging issues and react to unforeseen events in a coordinated, time-sensitive manner.

Who would have predicted that this government would support a cruise-missile strike on another country? The Liberals’ intent to contribute “to a more peaceful and prosperous world” has been stymied by a world that is uncooperative and unpredictable, with the most unexpected challenge to national security coming from south of the border.

Given the potential impact of Trump’s electioneering promises, Canada’s first priority has been maintenance of economic prosperity while the protectionist U.S. administration has been focused on national security issues. In this environment, maintenance of bilateral economic prosperity cannot be accomplished without fully appreciating American angst over national security.

Protecting the United States’s northern border from attacks originating in Canada is a no-fail scenario. As impossible as this may seem, the government can minimize the risk through strategic thought and deliberate planning by conducting a holistic review of national security and developing a new National Security Policy statement.

In 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin chose to release Securing an Open Society: Canada’s National Security Policy — the parent document to a holistic review of domestic security, defence and foreign policies. This was a logical approach to international security interests as they naturally flow from domestic concerns.

Securing America’s northern border through development and reliance on a dependable, world-class national security system is an enduring foreign policy objective — since Canada’s peace and prosperity depend upon it. The interconnectedness of the continental security complex is challenging, but transformation had to be done within Canadian security norms and values. In releasing this overarching policy statement, Martin expressed his government’s plan to keep Canadians safe and secure while publicly assuring America that “we’ve got your back.”

Three key members of Trump’s administration share a common military, goal-oriented, mission-focused culture that expects decisive leadership based on strategic thought and deliberate planning. By producing a contemporary game plan that clearly demonstrates Canada’s commitment to national security, Canadian authorities would be able to quickly address Trump’s unpredictable edicts and present an integrated response to their U.S. counterparts.

Importantly, outstanding issues remain within Canada’s whole-of-government, integrated security system. A review will compel decision-makers to resolve variances in national security policies and reveal deficiencies for resolution.

By linking disparate government security policies within one document, the government would demonstrate leadership while informing the public of its national security strategy in a way that facilitates communication strategies.

Finally, Trudeau’s justification for minimal defence spending will not hold up long against Trump’s demands that we meet NATO commitments. In conducting a holistic review, the government should revisit the Defence Policy Review and combine it with a foreign policy review to provide a coherent Canadian approach to the evolving international environment.

Whether the threats are real or imagined, protection of the U.S.’s northern border is critical. Trump has staked his reputation on it. As domestic and international policies intersect in the Canada-U.S. relationship, coherent preparation and planning for national contingencies require holistic analysis of Canadian national security. Decision-makers need to be informed, policies need to be aligned and the security system needs to be ready. Ad hoc arrangements will not suffice.

The Trudeau government has the team in place; now, it needs a strategic tool to assist in “lead turning” an unconventional U.S. administration steadfast in its stance on national security. Canada needs a renewed Canadian National Security Policy.

Image: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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