Filling the Strategic Gap: A Shocking Experience in Ottawa

The national capital witnessed an unusual event last Friday. Almost three hundred people from the government, industry, academia, and a variety of intelligence and security agencies met in a public forum hosted by the Canadian Military Intelligence Association (CMIA). This included the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Minister of National Defence and the Commander of the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command. While such a gathering may not be unusual, what followed was a shock to many participants and observers.

An honest and open discussion occurred around matters of national security including the impact of the 2008 economic meltdown, the devolving role of the USA as a superpower, the global trade agenda and the challenges presented by ungoverned spaces. Questions were asked and actually answered. To conference goers, the expected experience is to listen to government speakers espousing platitudes common to their departmental websites. To hear actual discussions concerning strengths, weaknesses, short comings and plans for fixing (some of) them is simply an unheard of experience.

While looking at the redefinition of national security as matters that fall within the national interest, a variety of speakers addressed the lack of a strategic culture in Canada. This discussion was taken up as various participants identified a general paucity of strategic thinking across the academic and private sector as well. Other participants added in with the observation that a lack of a strategic culture was an increasing factor in many democracies. One attendee noted that the Dutch professor of strategic affairs, Dr. I. Duyvesteyn, recently stated that “We can at present not but come to the conclusion that we are quite good at tactical disruption of our enemy, instead of generating strategic effect.”

Canada was discussed as a classic middle power of 35 million people richly endowed with resources. We are living in a world where the role of borders is decreasing while cyber threats may be changing the very nature of the domains of warfare. The complexity of global politics and security ensures that only multilateral organizations can have a consistent effect. Canada must adapt to all of this while adjusting to the reality that we are an energy superpower – for better or for worse.

Consistent with the theme that Canada must work within multilateral or coalition frameworks, we must identify niche opportunities that match our skills. An enhanced Special Operations Forces capability from the government side and cyber skills in the private sector are the talents that could be further utilized internationally, proving that we can fulfill a role in multilateral fora.

Underlying all discussions was the issue of money. It was made clear to all concerned that budget spending levels will remain constant or decrease. New programs or ideas will only be supported by the disbanding of old ones, or by genuine efficiencies found in existing spending.

Perhaps the most startling outcome of the conference may be that defence and security associations such as the CIMA may soon form the intellectual centre of discussions around national security, military affairs, intelligence and terrorism. The military is one of the few national level institutions that prepares individual to organize, act and react to changing circumstances on short notice. With Masters Degrees becoming common place, the officers and non-commissioned members of the Intelligence Command of the Canadian Forces have global experience in multiple environments. Their skills are being sought after as they move on to fill such unique jobs as an amicus curiae to the International War Crimes Tribunal, an operational risk manager for a G10 Central Bank and a business architect for a major international technology company.

Conflict is moving from the four physical domains of warfare (land, sea, air and space) and confrontations may now occur in synthetic domains such as cyber-economics where kinetics and mass are less important. The walls between the political and the military are increasingly thin or non-existent. The ability to collate, analyze and integrate information while fusing the analysis into national level requirements is an increasingly valued skill.

Canada, which lacks a think tank culture and has no government or academic institutions dedicated to strategic thinking at the national level, may find the proverbial gap plugged by increasingly competent and willing defence associations backed by the experience of soldiers, sailors and air personnel who have fought chaos, delivered aid, restored communities and rescued lost souls the world over. Quelle surprise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *