Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Part 1: Canada's next battle Add to ...

“We’re watching the evolution of war. We’re watching the emergence of more sophisticated rebel movements, more sophisticated spoilers,” said Bruce Jones, a senior fellow in global security at New York University and the Brookings Institution. “It needs to be met with sophisticated capacity – sometimes that’s troops on the ground, it could be naval support, it could be intelligence. But I don’t think that Canada’s going to get away with imagining it can contribute without ever putting troops on the ground.”

The old Cold War threat of Russian invasion has disappeared. Many Canadians would prefer a return to blue-helmeted peacekeeping of the ‘70s, when soldiers patrolled between former combatants in Cyprus. But UN missions now mean nastier fighting in places such as the Congo.

On the ground around the world, many predict it will be the common but complicated conflicts of rebels, warlords and insurgents, not the big state-to-state wars, that require middle powers such as Canada.

The United States may still tackle the biggest and thorniest, but won’t have the resources to try to impose a Pax Americana, Mr. Jones argues; middle powers such as Canada with an interest in a rules-based international order shouldn’t want them to. But the future holds dangers, that if failing states such as Somalia or Yemen fester too long, they will pose threats outside their borders. It’s a hard sell after Afghanistan but some will have to be tackled, by coalitions or UN missions.

Multinational peace-making and stabilization missions have worked before, in Sierra Leone where British troops stopped a civil war, and when U.S. and Nigerian forces intervened in Liberia. But in many places such as the Congo and Somalia, they now depend on troops from countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi – who provide manpower but lack needed advanced capabilities such as strategic-lift aircraft to deliver a force, medium-lift helicopters to move it, reconnaissance, communications, and special forces.

“What we’re seeing on the ground is expensive, large, static UN forces simply not able to cope with the kinds of threats that they’re confronting. They’re being out-manoeuvred, and they’re failing,” Mr. Jones said. “We don’t want a situation where the only options are weak, under-capacitated, under-sophisticated, low-capability UN forces, or massive quantities of American troops.”

At sea, navies will be in demand. Canada’s 33-ship navy is in danger of losing the ability to sail a task force of four or five warships across the world if it doesn’t replace its aging destroyers and supply ships within five years, but that is what Canada will need to protect its own trade and security interests, and the world’s.

Navies from the United States, China, India, Brazil and Europe are co-operating to clear pirate-threatened shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia. Canada has joined efforts in the Red Sea. And rising powers such as China, India, or Brazil will grow less comfortable with the U.S. Navy’s current role as naval police, so multi-national task forces will be needed to clear shipping lanes and separate rival navies to prevent clashes in the South China Sea, Persian Gulf, or Straits of Hormuz.

Taking part will require national will and a military that can do it, balanced with needs at home. Meeting those demands means embracing our joint North American security interests with the United States.

The North American bargain is this: the United States will defend Canada against an attack, because it has to, and Canada will stand guard to ensure no threat passes through unimpeded. If Canada doesn’t send ships to guard its ocean approaches or fighters to meet a hijacked plane, the United States will.

But security needs have evolved. The Cold War may be over, but newer threats of terrorists lobbing a missile from a ship or sabotaging gas pipelines, even trans-national criminals and illegal fishing, require maritime surveillance flights, ships to patrol ocean approaches and unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol remote territory.

The warming Arctic climate will open shipping and contested oil-rich territory, but Arctic Ocean nations will divvy up territory through international law, not an imminent oil war; Canada’s interests are in patrolling the Northwest Passage and responding to interlopers and expanding Arctic naval co-operation with the United States to deter future conflicts elsewhere from spilling into Arctic waters.

Canada needs an air force, with fighters, to assert sovereignty in its skies. But if the price tag of the untendered plan to buy 65 F35 stealth Joint Strike Fighters – $9 billion to buy them, an estimated $7 billion for the first 20 years of service support, and there are fears costs will balloon – is billions more than other fighters, as many analysts believe, the extra cost will crowd out other priorities. Without a bidding competition, Canadians can’t be sure if the full cost of yet-to-be flown F35s over 40 years will be $25-billion, or $35-billion – or if a competitor would sell capable fighters for much less.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular