National Defence in a Time of Global Reordering: Strategic Overview

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“We have not seen the conflation of global economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced…since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s… It requires a response.” – Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, while unveiling Australia’s Defence Strategic Update, 2020
“[This is] an increasingly dangerous world that looks more like the 1930s… As geopolitical competition intensifies, we must supplement diplomacy with deterrence. Words alone will not dissuade the Vladimir Putins and Xi Jinpings of this world.” – Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State-designate, 2019

Introduction

The fundamental character and conduct of conflict is changing and Canada, like its allies, is increasingly challenged to manage the effects of worsening global volatility. Great Power rivalry is resurgent; the post-war order is being eroded; and, states are deploying all elements of national power to achieve their aims. Preparing the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to safeguard Canada and its interests is of vital importance.

For decades, Canada has been able to address threats abroad before they reach the homeland. [REDACTED] The CAF must be able to operate concurrently in both if it is to be effective in either.

While mastery of traditional military domains remains essential to deterring and, in extremis, prevailing in conflict, Western militaries must now also leverage their unique expertise to help contend with hostile state activities across the economic, political, and military spheres. [REDACTED]

Already worsening, Great Power competition has been further accelerated by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. Injecting even greater volatility into the international system, the global pandemic has intensified rivalry between military competitors and magnified existing fault lines in the global political, economic, and security environments. As countries tend to the immediate needs of their populations, and begin prioritizing demands to bolster national resilience, the pandemic is hastening “country-first” thinking while placing further strain on the already stretched capacities of militaries that are increasingly called upon to support civil authorities in their domestic pandemic responses.

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Global Flashpoints

“Reunification [of Taiwan] is a historical inevitability of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation… We have the firm will, full confidence, and sufficient ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” – Ma Xiaoguang, CCP Taiwan Affairs Office Spokesperson, 2020

As the geopolitical environment deteriorates under the stress of [REDACTED] and a prolonged global pandemic, a number of global flashpoints – that is, volatile or tense situations with the potential to boil over into inter-state conflict – are of concern. As an engaged international actor with global interests, [REDACTED] Canada would be impacted by the outbreak of conflict in any of these regions, and expected to contribute to any international responses. [REDACTED]

The Continental Theatre

“Defending North America and our homelands is our charge each and every day. However, as the worlds’ geostrategic environment has changed and our competitors’ capabilities has advanced, defending the homelands is a much more difficult task now than it has been in recent memory.” – General VanHerck, Commander NORAD, 2020
“It has become clear that the defense of the homeland depends on our ability to detect and defend threats operating both in the Arctic and passing through the Arctic… I view the Arctic as the front line in the defense of the United States and Canada” – General O’Shaughnessy, former Commander NORAD, 2019

Recognizing that the allies’ ability to contribute to global security relies on projecting force from a safe home base, [REDACTED]

The Arctic is a near perfect microcosm of the challenges posed by the intersection of Great Power competition, the changing character of conflict, and the rising capabilities of our adversaries. As climate change makes the region more accessible, Arctic and non-Arctic states are [REDACTED]

[REDACTED] it is critical for the CAF to be able to operate seamlessly across all domains and to coordinate with whole-of-government partners to secure Canada’s defence and national security. [REDACTED]

Climate Stressors

[REDACTED] the CAF’s ability to keep pace with the deteriorating geopolitical environment is additionally compromised by climate stressors. As extreme weather events grow in frequency and severity, the CAF is increasingly called on to assist civil powers in natural disaster response both at home and abroad. The accelerating pace of the demand is clear: from 2006-2016, the CAF responded to less than three domestic natural disasters per year, from 2017-2019, it responded to seventeen such operations, and in 2019-2021, it played a pivotal role in Canada’s pandemic response activities. Moreover, the length of these deployments – and the numbers of personnel and variety of equipment required to support them – have multiplied significantly as the disasters themselves have grown more intense and complex.

[REDACTED] Whether it be climate-related or due to pandemics and other domestic emergencies, all CAF support to provincial civil authorities carries important costs and trade-offs that together impact the CAF’s ability to execute the tasks for which only it is trained and mandated.

In the world’s troubled regions, pre-existing stressors risk further aggravating climate-related demands on the CAF. Mass migration and competition over scarce resources (from fish proteins and fresh water, to critical minerals and energy resources) are, for example, adding to existing security challenges such that international military assistance is required both to contain climate effects and to manage the conflicts to which they give rise. Moreover, whereas Canada and its allies work to contain such crises, [REDACTED]

Responding to the Changing Character and Conduct of Conflict

Reorienting towards a New World Order: Allies and Partners

Recognizing the tectonic shift in the global order that is underway, Canada’s allies and partners are re-orienting themselves to the realities of Great Power competition by: [REDACTED]

Many have done so amidst the surging global pandemic, [REDACTED] Indeed, in many cases the defence spending programs include components designed to contribute to post-COVID-19 economic recovery with targeted measures to upgrade infrastructure, stimulate innovation, invest in “greening,” and build broader societal and economic resilience.

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Conclusion

[REDACTED] countries across the globe are beginning to mobilize and implement their own whole-of-nation campaigns and form ad hoc coalitions for collective action [REDACTED] Being a part of this movement requires bringing real capabilities to the effort, as the seriousness of escalating global tensions [REDACTED]

As is the case for our allies and partners, the military is Canada’s “force of last resort”. If it is to protect Canada, it must be prepared to join with allies and partners in [REDACTED]

“The international situation is now more perilous and intensively competitive than at any time since the Cold War. Everything we do in this country – every job, every business, even how we shop and what we eat depends on a basic minimum of global security… We could take all this for granted, ignore…the ambitions of hostile states, and hope for the best, and we might get away with it for a while before calamity strikes. Or we could accept that our lifelines must be protected…” – Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK, while unveiling defence spending increases, 2020
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