I. Canada in a Time of Global Uncertainty

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  1. Climate Change and its Destabilizing Impacts on our Arctic and North
  2. Challenges to the International Order
  3. The Changing Character of Conflict

Canadian security and prosperity in the coming years will be affected by three key trends: a more open and accessible Arctic and northern region driven by climate change, increasing global instability, and rapid advances in technology.

Climate Change and its Destabilizing Impacts on our Arctic and North

The accelerating pace of climate change will create new security challenges and magnify existing ones at home and around the world. Canada needs to invest further in addressing these challenges so that it can prepare for longer-term changes, and stay prepared.

Climate change is having devastating impacts on Canadians from coast to coast to coast every year, as climate-related emergencies increase in frequency and scale. The Canadian Armed Forces, including our Regular and Reserve Forces and the Canadian Rangers, is helping meet a growing need to support civil authorities in natural disaster response, both at home and abroad, and will continue to respond to calls for help. In 2023, Canada had its worst fire season in 30 years, requiring evacuations in communities across the country, and the deployment of more than 2100 members to six provinces and territories for more than four months to assist. This had particularly devastating effects on the North, requiring the entire city of Yellowknife to evacuate and affecting multiple Indigenous communities. Since 2010, Canadian Armed Forces operations in response to natural disasters have roughly doubled every five years.

Although climate change is a global problem, it is having particularly serious effects on our Arctic and northern regions, presenting new and escalating challenges with a range of implications for Canada's security.

Members of the Domestic Response Company (DRC), Reservists drawn from 38, 39, and 41 Canadian Brigade Groups in Western Canada, conduct Type 3 Firefighting under the supervision of the British Columbia (BC) Wildfire Service at the Flat Lake Fire near 100 Mile House, BC during Operation LENTUS on 18 August 2021.

Our Arctic and North is an integral part of our country, home to 150,000 Canadians and generations of Indigenous communities. We have an obligation to work with communities in defending the region and securing their ability to take advantage of opportunities in a rapidly changing environment. Defending this vast and challenging region, with coastlines and territory larger than the entirety of most other Arctic nations, a harsh climate, and limited physical and communications infrastructure, requires full community engagement and rethinking how we approach the defence of our country.

HMCS HARRY DEWOLF members and Land Task Force escorts trek the rough terrain of Devon Island, during Operation NANOOK-NUNAKPUT, August 21, 2021.

Our Arctic is now warming at four times the global average, making a vast and sensitive region more accessible to foreign actors who have growing capabilities and regional military ambitions. By 2050, the Arctic Ocean could become the most efficient shipping route between Europe and East Asia. Canada's Northwest Passage and the broader Arctic region are already more accessible, and competitors are not waiting to take advantage—seeking access, transportation routes, natural resources, critical minerals, and energy sources through more frequent and regular presence and activity. They are exploring Arctic waters and the sea floor, probing our infrastructure and collecting intelligence. We are seeing more Russian activity in our air approaches, and a growing number of Chinese dual-purpose research vessels and surveillance platforms collecting data about the Canadian North that is, by Chinese law, made available to China's military.

For decades, we aimed to manage the Arctic and northern regions cooperatively, as a zone free from military threats. Yet Russia continues to modernize and build up its military presence in their Arctic, investing in new bases and infrastructure. It is highly capable of projecting air, naval and missile forces both in and through the broader Arctic region. Russia also possesses a robust Arctic naval presence with submarines, surface combatants and an icebreaker fleet much larger than those of other Arctic powers.

Similarly, despite not being an Arctic nation, China seeks to become a "polar great power" by 2030 and is demonstrating an intent to play a larger role in the region. The steady growth of its navy, including its conventional and nuclear-powered submarine fleet, will support this ambition. China is also expanding its investments, infrastructure and industrial scientific influence throughout the Arctic region.

These trends and dynamics have important impacts on Canadian security, and directly shape our vision for the future of defence in Canada and the initiatives set out in this defence policy.

Defending the Arctic is asserting Canadian sovereignty. To do so, we must take a new approach that improves and modernizes our defences in the region.

The Dive Task Force (DTF), comprised of dive units from Fleet Dive Unit (Atlantic) clearance divers, port inspection divers from various reserve units, combat divers from 4 Engineering Support Regiment, and French divers from 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment, France, arrives in a CC-130J Hercules at Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories on February 18, 2022 to take part in Operation NANOOK-NUNALIVUT 22.

This means establishing greater presence, reach, mobility, and responsiveness in the Arctic and North to deal with disasters, threats and challenges to our sovereignty. It also means that our Arctic waters, airspace, and territory cannot be vulnerable to intrusion or used as an avenue to harm Canada, our closest ally, the United States or other NATO allies. Our contributions to securing the Arctic are an important component in the defence of NATO's western and northern flanks, and directly support broader NATO deterrence efforts. They will enable Canada to engage the world from a position of strength.

In our tightly integrated world, investments to secure Canada and protect Canadians also make direct contributions to global security. Canada and the US share the unique responsibility of securing NATO's western boundaries and contributing to the defence of the Alliance from a position of strength. And together with our Arctic allies, we are responsible for the defence of NATO's northern boundaries. When Canada is secure in North America, the Canadian Armed Forces can also deploy forces abroad quickly and decisively, without exposing Canada or Canadians to threats or retaliation. Canadian and North American security reduces the ability of authoritarian powers to dictate the terms of our foreign and defence policies. It keeps Canada ready to assist our allies in deterring conflict in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions.

All of this points to the need for greater investment in our domestic defences, particularly in our Arctic. Alongside our diplomatic, security, and intelligence capabilities, a strong military protects Canada's ability to make sovereign, independent decisions in our best interests and limits our adversaries' ability to coerce or shape our courses of action. It makes Canada a valued partner in North American defence and secures our place in alliances and broader international partnerships.

Challenges to the International Order

The stable and predictable world in which Canada has thrived is under increasing strain. The established rules of international relations—the respect for sovereignty, adherence to international law, and foundational commitments to human rights including gender equality—have been challenged or undermined in both significant and subtle ways by disruptive states seeking to redefine the international order or advance their interests at the expense of others. At the same time, security challenges associated with state fragility and failure, as well as malicious activity by non-state actors in the world and online impact Canadians and their national security.

Strategic Competition

Strategic competition over the international norms and rules that will define the future is centred in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. As an Atlantic and Pacific nation that shares a continent with the United States, Canada lies at the geographic middle of this contest—resulting in direct and tangible impacts on our security and prosperity, generating new expectations about Canada's role in the context of that rivalry.

Collective defence remains the cornerstone of our national security. We are a founding member of NATO, the world's largest, strongest and most successful military Alliance. Together with the United States we defend our shared continent, including through NORAD, the world's only binational military command. These partnerships have been the foundation of Canadian defence and security for decades and continue to be our greatest strategic advantage and priority.

… in the Euro-Atlantic Region

European security is inextricably linked to Canada's continued security and economic well-being. Europe is our second-largest trading partner, and home to many of our closest allies. The Euro-Atlantic defence relationship, institutionalized in NATO, has made an enduring contribution to peace and prosperity in Europe and stability around the world.

This is why Canada maintains an enduring commitment to our European allies and partners. As the framework nation of NATO's Forward Land Forces in Latvia, Canada leads a multinational force where up to 2200 Canadian Armed Forces members will be deployed by 2026 in Canada's largest foreign military deployment. Canada has also established a bilateral security arrangement with Ukraine and will continue our extensive military assistance under Operation UNIFIER, which has already trained over 40,000 Ukrainian troops. Our NATO Alliance and European security will remain at the core of our approach to national defence.

A CC-177 Globemaster aircraft arrives at Lviv Airport, Ukraine, carrying lethal military equipment, on February 22, 2022, which will be provided to the Ukrainian security forces in order to help them defend against threats.

Our allies and partners in Europe are facing serious security threats—the most dire situation in decades. On February 24, 2022, Russia launched its illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, directly attacking the international order that keeps all nations safe. Russia's ongoing war is a direct attack on democracy, freedom, human rights, and Ukraine's sovereign right to choose its own future. The stakes could not be higher—Russia's invasion must fail if we wish to preserve the international order that has safeguarded Canada's security and prosperity for decades.

Russia's aggressive attempts to assert its strategic dominance—from its invasion of Ukraine to cyber intrusions, global disinformation campaigns and its funding of armed groups around the world—confirms its disregard for the basic sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of other nations, human rights, and international law. Russia is targeting civilians using methods that include conflict-related sexual violence, unlawful killing, and torture. Despite battlefield losses in Ukraine, Russia remains highly capable of projecting air, naval and missile forces across Europe, as well as to and through the Arctic to threaten North America. Russia will remain a challenge for generations; it seeks strategic borders that extend well beyond its legal and geographical ones, possesses resilient and robust advanced military capabilities, and is rebuilding its arsenals.

Russia is also deepening its partnerships with China, North Korea and Iran in troubling ways, even conducting joint naval exercises and air patrols with China in the northern and western Pacific. Although these countries pursue different goals at different scales, they share a broader disregard for the stable and predictable rules that have governed our international relations—sovereignty, non-intervention, basic principles of human security, and free and open trade. Through their actions, they normalize the use of violence, coercion and intimidation to achieve their political ambitions. These efforts and the increasing cooperation among them allow them to share military technologies and resources and direct them at democratic states.

Russia's capabilities and its willingness to use them threaten both Europe and North America. Its offensive cyber, space, information operations, and conventional and nuclear missiles challenge NATO's eastern boundaries as well as the Alliance's northern and western flanks. The new geography of the Russian threat undermines our capacity to assist allies in Europe from a position of strength.

NATO members are responding and upholding their commitment to collective defence and deterrence. The Alliance is undergoing its largest reinforcement in a generation. It is building deeper and more robust defences on all of its borders, requiring all allies—including Canada—to increase their capabilities and defence investments. Our defence of the Arctic will be more essential than ever.

… and the Indo-Pacific Region

As a Pacific nation, the security and stability of the broader Indo-Pacific region is vital to Canada's future. It is the world's fastest growing region and home to six of Canada's top 13 trading partners. As outlined in our Indo-Pacific Strategy, Canada recognizes the impact that Indo-Pacific security will have on our future prosperity and stability. That is why our Government took action to increase Canada's military presence and partnerships in the region. Canada did this to advance our interests, including the protection of democracy, international law and human rights. This supports Canada's enduring objectives of mitigating coercive behaviour, advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda, and contributing to regional stability.

HMCS MONTREAL, its embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, call sign Strider, and a CP-140 Aurora aircraft, call sign Demon 02, patrol the Mediterranean Sea to help build maritime situational awareness in associated support of NATO’s Operation SEA GUARDIAN on April 11, 2022.

China is an increasingly capable and assertive global actor looking to reshape the international system to advance its interests and values, which increasingly diverge from our own on matters of defence and security. It is seeking to establish exclusive control of international waterways and airspace in the region, openly aspires to unify with Taiwan, by force if necessary, and is using force or coercion to incrementally expand its influence from the East and South China Seas to the Himalayas.

China is currently pursuing the most ambitious military build-up of any nation since the Second World War, focusing on high-tech systems that generate advantages against Allied forces and reduce freedom of movement in the Indo-Pacific. China has prioritized the development of nuclear, space, counter-space, cyber, artificial intelligence, polar, naval and submarine capabilities. It has built up its navy to shape the maritime environment, including coercing Canada and its allies when we are exercising our international navigational rights in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait or implementing UN Security Council resolutions.

Canada will always defend its national interests, and that includes defending the global rules that govern trade, navigation and overflight, nuclear non-proliferation and human rights. We will manage our defence relationship with China purposefully. Frank, open, and respectful dialogue is important and helps to ensure clarity about Canada's national positions. Instability in the Taiwan Strait, a vital waterway, would disrupt Canadian trade, including in critical advanced technologies, and could cost trillions of dollars to the global economy. China's actions in recent years confirm the need for Canadian resolve to uphold these principles, alongside our allies and partners.

Recent actions by the nuclear-armed Democratic People's Republic of Korea add to instability in the Indo-Pacific. Pyongyang has broken with seven decades of policy and officially abandoned a peaceful path to the reunification of the two Koreas. Kim Jong Un's government has declared the South as its "principal enemy," and increased its hostile rhetoric and activities. It has also pursued a new strategic partnership with Russia, helping that country circumvent international sanctions in exchange for military support in its illegal and unjustified war in Ukraine.

Instability Around the World

Smaller but increasingly capable states are threatening their regions through aggressive military and paramilitary activities, and non-state actors are actively threatening Canada and the international order in both the physical and digital worlds by exploiting new capabilities and technologies. Increasing state fragility is further undermining global stability, and the use of conflict-related sexual violence as a tactic of war is pervasive.

In the Middle East, Iran menaces its neighbours with threats and use of military force, disrupts regional maritime trade and commercial energy infrastructure, and leverages Iranian-aligned non-state actors and terrorist groups across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen to further destabilize the region. Since 2018, it has also steadily advanced its nuclear program while limiting access to conceal this progress. Iran continues to disregard well-established rules governing sovereignty, non-proliferation, and non-intervention as well as the basic principles of human rights by exploiting conflict, social grievances and other upheavals.

Hostile non-state actors in the Middle East and elsewhere exacerbate global instability and remind us that terrorist and insurgent groups can hold countries at risk from far away—by threatening international waterways, commercial and financial centres or critical infrastructure. These non-state actors are also often supported by states seeking to amplify shared or complementary objectives.

Our growing reliance on cyberspace, cloud computing, and interconnected technologies for daily life and economic growth greatly complicates the defence of Canada and Canadian interests. Cyberspace is also crucial for our military operations. Cyber-attacks by malicious actors are of particular concern as they can exploit potential vulnerabilities and impact our ability to command our forces, understand the battle space, and employ advanced weapon systems. The emergence of new technical capabilities and the decentralized nature of online threats make it difficult to identify and respond to malicious cyber activity.

We are also seeing a general increase in state fragility. Persistent governance challenges and breakdowns in law and order lead to national crises that carry high human costs and increase demands on our military to assist people in need. Canadian responses to crises in Sudan and Haiti are the latest reminders of the need to advance shared international goals for support to democracy, sustainable development and lasting security. Canada's enduring commitment to United Nations peace operations and working in partnership with regional organizations like the African Union reflects the fundamental importance of multilateral efforts to preserve international peace and security.

Canadian Armed Forces members from 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, as part of NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia, clears out opposing forces during EXERCISE TITAN STRIKE at Camp Ādaži, Latvia on 10 August 2023.

Transnational challenges are major contributors to growing state fragility. Climate change, terrorism and extremism, and transnational organized crime exacerbate security challenges for societies in fragile regions that can ill afford them, including competition for scarce resources, such as fish, fresh water, critical minerals, energy sources, large-scale human displacement, mass migration and regional tensions. Moreover, the intersection of climate change, gender inequality, and conflict creates opportunities for terrorist groups to increase recruitment, while migration resulting from climate change results in increased risks of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. These challenges will further destabilize the global order, affect our national interests abroad, and increase the frequency and urgency of calls for international military assistance, including from Canada. Canada will continue to support capacity development for states facing these and other challenges, consistent with our role as a global security provider and contributor to peace and stability within, as well as among states.

By virtue of our diverse population, extensive global presence and commercial ties, Canada is directly affected by these developments and we must have the tools required to respond. Canada's interests are advanced by an international order that is free, open, stable and governed by the rule of law, and we have a responsibility to Canadians and our like-minded partners and allies to play an integral role in maintaining global stability.

The Changing Character of Conflict

While strategic competition and climate change shape our security environment, technological developments have sped up the impact of these shifts. Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, synthetic biology, data analytics, autonomous systems, robotics and advanced cyber and space technologies are frontier technologies whose military and non-military uses create new vulnerabilities and complicate our national security interests.

  • AI will fundamentally transform conventional military warfare and competition below the threshold of conflict. In the near future, readily available AI tools in will enhance the cyber capabilities of both state and non-state actors, allowing them to target and automate, at scale, disinformation and influence campaigns, malicious cyber operations, espionage, and foreign interference activities. Racial and gender biases amplified through AI can deepen inequities. AI will enhance national cyber capabilities, including for deception, disinformation and misinformation. It will accelerate decision-making, enable improved awareness and target recognition, and control a range of autonomous systems.
  • Quantum technology will change how militaries operate given the data-intensive nature of modern military systems, and will pose a serious threat to the security of data, encryption, and the internet itself.
  • Cyberspace is an increasingly interconnected and complex ecosystem, which enables greater capacity and prosperity while also creating new areas of vulnerability due to advances in AI, quantum and automation technologies.
  • Space is an integral domain that underpins the satellites, cell phones and communications infrastructure that Canadians use daily, as well as the military-technological advantage that Canada and its allies and partners rely on for our defence. Adversaries have developed counter-space weapons designed to undermine that advantage and threaten the connectivity that enables our economy and way of life.
  • Technological advances have increased the threat posed to Canada by missiles. Hypersonic technology enables missiles to move at faster speeds than ever before and in unpredictable patterns, making them much harder to detect and intercept. Along with cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles threaten to overwhelm our existing air defence systems and impose new constraints on our ability to support allies and partners around the world.
  • Small drones are now being manufactured at high volume and low cost, and are changing warfare from Ukraine to the Red Sea. They are used for reconnaissance and striking targets; in some instances drones that cost just a few hundred dollars have destroyed multi-million dollar platforms. Canada must be prepared to counter these threats as well as deploy robust drone capabilities.
Military personelle working on computers.

Advanced technologies are also being combined with traditional military equipment to change how wars are fought, as the conflict in Ukraine has made clear. It has confirmed the need for large forces and combat power, well-supplied by standing inventories of ammunition and spare parts, backed by a strong industrial base to re-arm over time. At the same time, it has also highlighted the precision strike revolution, persistent sensor technologies, surveillance and strikes using drones, long-range strike weapons, and the need for a seamless digital platform to rapidly connect these capabilities.

Technology also enables "hybrid" or "grey zone" attacks in the cyber and information domains, intellectual property theft, privacy breaches, and the use of civilian companies or research institutions to advance military goals. Adversaries exploit these vulnerabilities to weaken our defence industrial base, compromise our industrial supply chains and interfere with our sovereign decision-making processes.

Deterring conflict relies on our ability to maintain and protect our advantage in innovation and advanced technologies. Canada and its allies have long held this advantage, and our ability to integrate new technologies into military capabilities faster than our adversaries will be the difference in maintaining this advantage and deterring future conflict. China in particular is speeding up its adoption of current and emerging defence and security technologies, in some cases to the detriment of Canada's economic and military security. Keeping pace with technological change will protect Canada from international threats and ensure our interoperability with the allies and partners with whom we work to protect our collective interests.

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