Why Global Threats Demand A New Focus On National Security In Canada

The Liberals have gotten one thing right when it comes to foreign policy & national security: Canada’s generous support for Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion. Aside from that, Canada’s national security is rapidly eroding, and the lack of domestic concern over the issue can no longer be justified.

It is often said that foreign policy doesn’t decide Canadian elections.

And this seems to be true.

For understandable reasons, issues such as tax policy, affordability, the state of the economy, corruption, and healthcare tend to decide who wins and who loses.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the era of great power competition seemed to be over. In turn, that seemed to justify an inward turn alongside a significant reduction in military spending. The War on Terror reversed that rend for a while, but the threat of terrorism is not the same as the threat from a hostile nation state.

Aside from the United States – where strong military spending has been maintained – the United Kingdom, and the Eastern European democracies that remained vigilant to the threat of Russia, much of the Western world let their militaries decline to a significant degree.

Here in Canada, our military is in a state of near-collapse, with the Chief of the Defence Staff discussing the need to ‘reconstitute’ the force, which is a nice way of saying the military is largely broken and must be built up from a dangerously low level.

Canada was unable to join almost all the other NATO nations in a huge air exercise, because we don’t have any planes to send. The planes we do have are either unusable, conducting the most bare-bones of patrols to maintain a token air defence presence, or are being ‘refurbished’. Our CF-18s should have been scrapped long ago, yet because the federal government wanted to play political games by cancelling the F-35 purchased (which they then restarted 7 years later), we will be stuck with substandard aircraft for the time being.

There are also shortages of personnel across our armed forces. While Canada is rightfully-lauded for having high-quality personnel who can go toe-to-toe with anyone, we simply don’t have enough people in our air force, army, and navy.

As if that wasn’t concerning enough, we have learned that our government appears to have been heavily compromised by China. Our core democratic institutions have been called into question by China’s interference and the response of the government to that interference, something that is deeply corrosive since the legitimacy of our system of government is built upon people trusting our democratic institutions – even when the result of elections don’t go how many would have wished.

One right, many wrongs

When it comes to foreign policy and national security, the current federal government has gotten one thing right: Canada’s support for Ukraine.

While some have unfortunately tried to turn support for Ukraine into a partisan issue, it is likely the most unifying thing the Liberals have done during their time in office, with opinion polls showing Canadians highly supportive of Ukraine and strongly opposed to Russia. Canada has given a substantial amount of aid – though it’s worth noting that much of the value of aid isn’t simply money being handed over, but represents the value of military equipment and ammunition. Of course, our ability to aid Ukraine with military equipment is limited because of years of underinvestment in our armed forces, underinvestment that is not solely the fault of the Liberals, but has not changed in any material way during their time in office.

However, aside from supporting Ukraine, Canada’s foreign policy and national security policy have only become less serious over the years.

Even in the areas in which this government talks a big game – like standing up to Russia – there are massive errors being made.

For example, one of the best ways to weaken Russia and strengthen both our own national security and the national/economic security of our allies would be to ramp up oil & gas exports. Our democratic allies in Europe have been begging for more energy as they seek to end their dependence on Russia. Sadly, they were rebuffed by Justin Trudeau. He put a short-sighted ‘green agenda’ ahead of our allies and ahead of our own economic/national security interests.

For those wondering how selling more energy benefits our national security, it’s because national security is built upon economic strength. To afford a strong military a country needs a strong economy. And when our allies are more economically secure, they can be become stronger militarily as well. Stronger allies are in our national security interest.

Canada missed a massive opportunity by rebuffing our allies on energy. There is a domestic component to this, as many Canadians are more concerned about the ‘feeling’ that our government must ‘do something’ to ‘save the planet,’ rather than acknowledge the reality that we are in a real geopolitical competition with countries like Russia and China, and that competition requires extracting real resources, selling those resources to make more money, and using some of that money to build weapons and recruit military personnel.

Abandoning the Arctic?

To say that Canada is ‘abandoning the arctic’ implies that we have a significant presence there, which is not the case. While Canada is certainly an ‘arctic nation’ in terms of land technically under our control, our actual military presence in the region is shockingly small.

Canada lacks the air power to patrol the area in any significant way. Our navy is too small and our ships too outdated. The Canadian Rangers – meant to help assert Canadian sovereignty in the region – are also poorly underequipped and there are only a few thousand of them. Canada has about 5,000 rangers, but only 1,750 operate in the North.

Canadian Rangers

Canada’s lack of presence in the arctic is so lacking that British General Sir Nick Carter stated that his country sought to “co-operate in terms of helping Canada do what Canada needs to do as an Arctic country.”

That’s a nice way of saying Canada isn’t doing the job, and others would have to step in.

There is an urgency to this, as both Russia and China have taken an increased interest in the arctic.

China was caught conducting surveillance in the region:

“Monitoring buoys were discovered and retrieved last fall as part of Operation Limpid, an ongoing mission by the Canadian military tasked with identifying threats to the country’s security by surveilling air, land and sea domains.

A spokesperson for Canada’s Department of National Defence, Daniel Le Bouthillier, said in a statement that the military “is fully aware of recent efforts by China to conduct surveillance operations in Canadian airspace and maritime approaches”.”

Russia has a large military presence in the arctic:

“Since 2005, Russia has reopened tens of Arctic Soviet-era military bases, modernised its navy, and developed new hypersonic missiles designed to evade U.S. sensors and defences.

Four Arctic experts say it would take the West at least 10 years to catch up with Russia’s military in the region, if it chose to do so.

“The Arctic is currently a dark area on the map,” said Ketil Olsen, formerly Norway’s military representative in NATO and the European Union, who heads Andoeya Space, a Norwegian state-controlled company that tests new military and surveillance technologies and launches research rockets.”

But if you thought Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s military build-up, and pressure from our allies to push the government to expand our arctic presence, think again.

Instead, it seems the government is moving in the opposite direction:

“Shocked that @GAC_Corporate is shutting the Canadian International Arctic Centre based in Oslo. The #Arctic should be a key foreign policy priority. We need experts in the region & Norway was an optimal hub. Decision at odds with what @melaniejoly said about future of diplomacy.”

“Bizarre decision. The Arctic is our new frontier to defend our sovereignty and work with like-minded nations on the Arctic Council. This is a big mistake. No doubt China will be happy to use our office space for their own Arctic plans.”

At a time when Canada should be working much more closely with our allies and building up our arctic presence, the government appears to be treating it as an afterthought.

National security makes everything else possible

There are significant differences between the average Canadian Conservatives, Liberal, New Democrat, PPC, Green, & Bloc supporters. However, those differences pale in comparison to the differences between Canadians and the attitudes of regimes like Russia and China. Most Canadians have a baseline level of belief in individual freedom and human dignity, and though we may define those things in different ways we are all part of a larger Western civilization that is the most pro-freedom and pro-human rights civilization the world has ever known.

With that in mind, we must understand that national security is what makes every other type of political debate possible. We can only debate healthcare and taxes and gun legislation and crime and internet policy and all the other issues because we have security within our own territory.

It is our protection from external threats that makes our internal freedom within Canada possible. 

We no longer live in a world where we can treat our security as an afterthought. Addressing our national security will require billions in new investments and transcending some of the ideological debates that keep our country locked into a dangerously naïve and myopic viewpoint. Nothing about it will be easy or cheap, but the consequences of inaction will be far worse and far more expensive. This a serious moment in history, and it requires a serious response.

Spencer Fernando


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