II. Our Vision for Defence

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  1. Asserting Canadian Sovereignty
  2. Defending North America
  3. Advancing Canada’s Global Interests and Values
  4. A Strategic Approach to National Security

The implications of our rapidly changing security environment make clear that we need to adjust our approach to defence. At its core, Our North, Strong and Freeseeks to achieve two fundamental things: strengthen the foundations of our military and deter and defeat new and accelerating threats with new capabilities.

That is why, consistent with our NATO commitments, Canada is making significant investments in defence. The government is projecting our defence spending to GDP ratio to reach 1.76% in 2029-30, and exceed the target of 20% of defence expenditures on the acquisition of military equipment in 2024. To continue working towards our NATO commitments, this defence policy also lays the foundation for future growth in the Canadian Armed Forces, including through a more regular cycle of review.

Every country's contribution to deterring aggression is shaped by its geography, threat environment and security objectives. Canada's approach is defined by our position as an Atlantic and Pacific nation that shares a continent with the United States. To deter any attack on Canada and conflict more broadly, Canada will develop and maintain ready, resilient, and relevant military forces and signal our commitment to our interests and values through a willingness to use force when needed. We will maintain our ability to assist our allies and partners from a position of strength.

Our renewed vision is focused on preparing the military to meet these accelerating challenges, prioritizing those that most directly impact Canadians and Canada. It reaffirms that our insurance against instability and geopolitical uncertainty is a ready, resilient and relevant Canadian Armed Forces capable of defending Canada at home, ensuring security in North America, and contributing to an international order that is free and open, inclusive, stable, and governed by the rule of law.

Canada's approach to deterring conflict is directly supported by the adjustments and investments laid out in this defence policy. It is informed by deliberate policy choices about the capabilities our military needs, and where and how Canada should focus its defence efforts. These objectives and adjustments are laid out below.

Asserting Canadian Sovereignty

The top priority of the Canadian Armed Forces is the defence of Canada and Canadians.

We will be guided by the overall objective of ensuring our military has the people, equipment, training and infrastructure needed to detect, deter and defeat threats in, over and approaching Canada—in the air, on land, on and under the sea, and in space and cyberspace.

HMCS Goose Bay crew, along with Department of Fisheries Officers Antoine Badeaux, Casey Crane, and Jonathan Lewis in the Davis Strait, during Operation NANOOK-NUNAKPUT on August 16, 2021.

We must place particular focus on defending the Arctic and North and its approaches against new and accelerating threats through credible deterrence. We will secure our Arctic and North by increasing the presence, reach, mobility and responsiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces in the region, and along our coasts and maritime approaches. We will also develop greater striking power to deter adversaries and keep threats farther from our shores.

In delivering on this vision, we will collaborate with Indigenous partners and northern communities to safeguard our security and assert our sovereignty. Our investments in Arctic defence present enormous opportunities for the region. To help realize these opportunities, we are committed to doing things differently—to an inclusive approach to national defence that recognizes that there is nothing to defend if we do not put our people first. We will deepen our dialogue with northern and Arctic stakeholders, including to establish multipurpose northern infrastructure that can support Canadian Armed Forces operations and contribute towards the needs of territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, and Northern communities wherever possible, consistent with the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. In doing so, we will rely on Indigenous expertise, experience and talent across the region.

As climate change accelerates, the Canadian Armed Forces is being called on with increasing frequency to assist in domestic emergencies, including disaster response and search and rescue operations. Our military must be able to respond when needed, as a force of last resort and while maintaining its ability to defend Canada and North America, support our allies and partners, and contribute to peace and stability abroad. The capabilities outlined in Our North, Strong and Free will maintain and enhance the Canadian Armed Forces' ability to respond to a range of domestic emergencies.

Members from 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, spray water and break up ground to extinguish hotspots during Operation LENTUS near Burns Lake, British Columbia, on 13 August 2023.

To realize this vision, Canada will harness innovation in hypersonic and cruise missile defence, undersea surveillance, space domain awareness, Arctic operations, and other areas. We will strive to adapt to rapid technological change faster than our adversaries and as fast as our allies. We will improve defence procurement to rapidly identify and acquire the military capabilities needed to maintain operational advantage and build a strong defence industrial base to help meet Canadian defence and security needs through reliable, high-quality production at a scale necessary to meet the security needs of Canada and our allies.

Defending North America

Prioritizing the defence of Canada also contributes to deterring and defeating threats to the continent that we share with the United States, our closest ally.

Canada has made historic investments to reinforce the defence of North America. In 2022, we announced the largest investment in NORAD in a generation, which amounted to $38.6 billion over 20 years. This upgrades our NORAD capabilities and our ability to respond to any threats posed by the increased accessibility of our shared continent due to changes related to global warming, shifting geopolitics and new military technologies used by our adversaries. Our modernization of NORAD is a clear demonstration of our strength in defending North America in cooperation with the United States.

Key NORAD investments will enhance the detection of activities in our air and maritime approaches, including with new Arctic and Polar Over-the-Horizon-Radar systems. To prepare to respond to faster, harder-to-detect incursions, we are increasing the speed of our operational decision-making, leveraging advances in cloud-based computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and increasing the range of our aircraft with new air-to-air refuelers and an expanded fighter jet presence in the North. We are modernizing and increasing stocks of short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles and acquiring a new long-range air-to-air missile capability for our fighter jets. We are also investing in the development of new capabilities that give us a military advantage on our continent, including hypersonic and cruise missile defence, undersea surveillance, artificial intelligence, advanced cyber and space-based capabilities, space domain awareness, quantum technologies, and Arctic operations.

Returning from Trapani, Italy, the first CF-188 Hornet fighter lands at Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, Quebec, on November 4, 2011.

More work is needed to defend Canada and Canadians against growing air and missile threats. Modern missiles move faster and in more unpredictable patterns, making them much harder to detect and intercept. These new missiles threaten to overwhelm our existing air defence systems and impose new challenges on our ability to support allies and partners around the world. This requires Canada to invest in integrated air and missile defence capabilities alongside NATO allies to continue to protect Canadians at home and abroad.

Deepening Canadian and North American security will also have a global impact. A more secure North America shores up NATO's western and northern flanks, and strengthens the Alliance's deterrence and defence posture. A secure North America creates strategic dilemmas for adversaries, and enables Canada to reinforce allies in crisis or conflict.

Advancing Canada's Global Interests and Values

The international order that underpins Canada's security and prosperity is endangered by the forces of competition and instability. To help safeguard Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces will continue to make valuable contributions to global efforts to deter major power conflict, confront terrorism and insurgency, and address instability.

Protecting Canada's interests and values requires preparing and equipping our military to deploy and sustain forces across a broad spectrum of military activities, from war-fighting to peace operations to capacity-building. We will provide the women and men who serve overseas with the modern and lethal tools so that they are well protected and can fulfill Canada's global security responsibilities.

HMCS Ottawa, HMCS Vancouver with embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter “CANUCK” and MV Asterix assume formation during a Photo Exercise (PhotoEx) while transiting the Pacific Ocean on 1 December 2023.

As a priority, Canada will meet our NATO defence commitments as they evolve in response to shifts in the global security landscape. We will continue playing an important role confronting Russian aggression through a steadfast commitment to NATO assurance and deterrence measures. Standing with our allies provides the best guarantee of our security and continued prosperity at home. Together with the United States we will defend NATO's western flank, and with our Arctic allies we will defend NATO's northern regions.

Our support to Euro-Atlantic security also includes Canada's role as the framework nation lead for NATO's Forward Land Forces in Latvia, the Canada-Ukraine Agreement on Security Cooperation and the $13.3 billion that Canada has committed in multifaceted assistance to support Ukraine, including our extensive military assistance to Ukraine under Operation UNIFIER.

Canada also re-affirms our resolve in the Indo-Pacific. As outlined in our Indo-Pacific Strategy, Canada will contribute to stability in the region by maintaining a more persistent presence and helping support regional defence. Canada will continue working with allies and partners to support collective, coherent, and responsible actions in defence of our interests in shared peace, stability and prosperity.

To help address growing global instability and advance Canada's foreign policy, the Canadian Armed Forces will also continue to make meaningful contributions around the world as part of coalition-based or multilateral initiatives in the Middle East, the Americas, and Africa. These contributions will advance our interests and values, safeguarding both commercial ties, people-to-people connections and like-minded relationships whenever they are threatened by crisis.

We will also continue supporting like-minded partners through capacity-building efforts, helping them to address internal challenges and build institutional strength, resolve regional disputes, or deter threats to a free and open, inclusive and stable international order based on the rule of law. To address the persistent risk of local crises, the Canadian Armed Forces will have the equipment needed to respond to requests for assistance to Canadians abroad, as required.

Canada will remain committed to its role in peace support operations in support of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations. In parallel, the Department of National Defence will continue to broaden and deepen its commitments to advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda in partnership with Global Affairs Canada and other federal partners of Foundations for Peace: Canada's National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Canada recognizes gender inequality as a root cause of conflict and that crisis and conflict exacerbate existing inequalities. Through the integration of gender perspectives in military operations and institutions, the Canadian Armed Forces will advance gender equality, increase operational effectiveness, strengthen crisis response, and ensure that operations do not reinforce or exacerbate inequalities. The use of Gender-Based Analysis Plus as an analytical tool will continue to enable our military to deepen its understanding of insecurity and crisis, leading to the development of more refined plans and solutions to complex defence and security challenges.

The Canadian Armed Forces will also continue to promote the integration of human security considerations into planning, emphasizing the prevention of escalation in conflict zones, and collaborating with partners to address cross-cutting issues such as the protection of civilians and the impact of technology on security. Canada will deepen international cooperation on addressing the impacts of climate change on security and defence through its leadership of the NATO Climate Change and Security Centre of Excellence in Montreal.

A Strategic Approach to National Security

Instability at home and abroad is increasing quickly. Canada will adapt its approach to security and defence to be prepared for these challenges. We will face unanticipated developments, with technological disruption and geopolitical shocks complicating our ability to plan. Canada will therefore adapt faster and in a more integrated manner to ensure that we can advance our interests and remain secure and prosperous in years to come.

Going forward, Canada will publish a National Security Strategy every four years. This approach reflects the new reality of uncertainty and change, especially in the face of the quickly evolving nature of climate change. We will move away from undertaking significant policy reviews on an episodic and unpredictable basis, and move towards a more systematic approach that allows us to regularly assess the security environment and its implications for Canada, take stock of progress against our plans, and address the gaps in an integrated manner, leveraging the full range of national security tools at the government's disposal. This is how Canada will adapt to a rapidly evolving world in a responsive and responsible way.

As a core pillar of national security, the Department will undertake strategic policy reviews in the same four-year cycle, contributing to an integrated update of Canada’s security, intelligence, defence, and diplomatic posture. We will engage Canadians from coast to coast to coast as part of this process.

This four-year defence policy review cycle will allow Canada to adjust to changing realities and ensure the Canadian Armed Forces can continue delivering on its objectives. It will provide an opportunity to regularly assess progress in implementing this defence policy, adjusting the plan as required, and making further decisions around capabilities and funding as needed. Combined with a more agile defence procurement system and a stronger defence industrial base, the review cycle will also better enable the deliberate, phased approach to adapting our military and its capabilities. It will also provide clarity and transparency to our partners in defence: Canadians, our allies, and our defence industry.

Ultimately, this deliberate approach will lay the foundations for sustainable, long-term success and continued adjustment in our defence capabilities.

An Airbus CC-150 Polaris from 437 Transport Squadron Trenton (not pictured), conducts air-to-air refueling operations with a CF-18 Hornet fighter from 401 Tactical Support Squadron Cold Lake over the Canadian Arctic during NORAD Exercise AMALGAM DART 21-2 on March 23, 2021.

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