Defence review: A realistic plan that's bound to disappoint



by Thomas Juneau

The Globe and Mail
June 7, 2017

The Liberal government finally released on Wednesday, after 18 months of anticipation, its new defence policy. As with any other official policy document, and especially defence policies, it is important to remember that its value is limited. A comparison of recent defence policies – the last ones were released in 2008, 2005 and 1994 – with actual outcomes shows that these documents, after a few years, carry a limited connection to reality. Nevertheless, they do serve important planning functions and they signal Canada’s intentions to its allies and to the Canadian public.

An official defence policy also serves as a yardstick by which to evaluate the government’s performance. What does this new version of Canada’s defence policy signal? What does it tell us about the Liberal government’s intentions?

The most positive aspect of the policy is that it does not significantly increase the defence budget. This may seem counterintuitive, because the government has been touting what it claims is a 70-per-cent increase over 10 years. This is accurate in a narrow sense, but it must be nuanced: First, a good portion of this increase will come in the second half of this 10-year period; its status is, therefore, at best uncertain. Second, thanks to some administrative magic, the budget is not actually increasing from 1 per cent to 1.4 per cent of GDP, as Ottawa claims. The real increase corresponds to about half of that, as new accounting rules now incorporate expenses that were not previously taken into consideration.

For some critics, this new money is insufficient. But Canada does not face a direct, conventional military threat; Canada is, fundamentally, a secure country. As such, there is no strategic rationale for massive investments in the defence budget. Canada faces some threats, especially terrorism and in the cyber realm. Ottawa is also rightly concerned – as Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s speech on Tuesday demonstrated – with the implications of the Donald Trump presidency in the U.S., and it watches with a wary eye Russia’s revisionist ambitions and China’s rise. But these are not existential military threats to our country.

The policy calls for limited new investments, and many of them focus specifically on Canada’s cyber and counterterrorism capabilities. In a context of gaping budget deficits at the federal level, large and rapid new investments in defence would not have been justified or necessary. The policy, in fact, can mostly be viewed through the lens of continuity. It identifies the same three core missions for the Canadian Armed Forces (defending Canada and North America, and remaining engaged in the world), and calls on the CAF to continue being able to perform a wide range of missions, from full-scale combat to stabilization operations, disaster relief and assistance to civil authorities at home.

There are some questionable elements in the policy. Chief among these is the decision to increase the size of the regular force by 3,500 and the reserve force by 1,500. In a context where resources are already stretched, adding 5,000 personnel will further strain the defence budget, about 50 per cent of which is devoted to human resources. This will not relieve pressure on the procurement and readiness portions of the budget.

Finally, it is regrettable that the government did not seize the opportunity to clarify the status of the replacement of the CF-18 fighter aircraft. The policy does indicate that the government will purchase 88 new fighters through an open competition, as opposed to 65 as was the plan until now. But now would have been the time to scrap the poor idea of purchasing an interim capability of 18 new jets. Instead, the government – like many of its predecessors – simply punted the decision down the road.

Thomas Juneau is assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. From 2003 until 2014, he was an analyst with Canada’s Department of National Defence.

Image credit: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Canada's State of Trade: Getting Our Goods To Market

May 17, 2018

On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we continue our series on the state of Canadian trade in a world of growing populism and protectionism. Today's episode, recorded during our February 13th State of Trade conference in Ottawa, features Bruce Borrows, Jennifer Fox, and David Miller in conversation with the Wilson Center's Laura Dawson about getting Canadian goods to international markets.


Between Trump, Iran and North Korea, Canada’s G7 has a high potential for chaos

by Chris Hall (feat. James Trottier & Colin Robertson), CBC News, May 18, 2018

The struggle Trudeau could face if Kinder Morgan walks away from Trans Mountain

by Robert Tuttle & Michael Bellusci (feat. Dennis McConaghy), Bloomberg News, May 18, 2018

Canada 'a laughing stock': Experts react to Trans Mountain indemnity

by April Fong (feat. Dennis McConaghy), BNN Bloomberg, May 18, 2018


with Danielle Smith (feat. Sarah Goldfeder), Global News Radio, May 18, 2018

VIDEO: NAFTA Deadline Day (@ 3:00)

with Don Martin (feat. John Weekes), CTV Power Play, May 17, 2018

VIDEO: Deal or no deal on NAFTA: Canada and U.S. send mixed messages

with Rosemary Barton (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC The National, May 17, 2018

Trump’s 'submission' strategy is not working so expect NAFTA talks to drag on

by Kevin Carmichael (Feat. Eric Miller), Financial Post, May 17, 2018

Backstop deal may be last hope for TransMountain pipeline, says former oil executive

by CBC News (feat. Dennis McConaghy), CBC News, May 17, 2018

Stuck with limited oil export options, Liberals may regret B.C. tanker ban

by John Ivison (feat. Dennis McConaghy), National Post, May 17, 2018

Feds OK early start to construction of navy’s new supply ships

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Dave Perry), The Canadian Press, May 17, 2018


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email