General Jonathan Vance: Canadian military engagement in an era of persistent competition
March 11, 2020 - Defence Stories
Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance addresses the Conference of Defence Associations Institute on March 4, 2020, in Ottawa, Ontario.
Photo credit: LS Mathieu Potvin
On March 5, 2020 Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Jonathan Vance spoke to over 500 participants at the Annual Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence hosted by the Canadian Defence Associations Institute.
The CDS shared his insight on the event’s theme – Stickhandling through roughing and interference: How to position Canada in a world of great power plays. We are pleased to publish his presentation:
Every year, this conference invigorates the Canadian defence and security community. It asks hard questions, and I’m sure that there are people in the audience who can’t wait to have their turn at the mic when we start off the Q and A period. And that’s good.
We need those voices and their perspectives. Their challenges and their contributions to intelligent discourse are important. We need people who challenge the status quo, and who force us to recognize our own biases and limitations in thinking. Because it’s all changing: defence, the global security environment, society and more.
We have no choice but to adapt. It’s that simple… it’s an existential challenge. And yet… I believe that there are existing frameworks for understanding and engaging on the matter of conflict that remain relevant.
So I’ll start by outlining how I view Canadian military engagement in conflict, and then I want to talk to you about how I view the global threat environment… the military’s role in that environment… and how the Canadian Armed Forces is advancing key operational and institutional efforts so that we continue to be capable and credible for our country.
Maj. Chelsea Anne Braybrook, Commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and a member of the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Latvia, briefs troops on plans and strategies during the NATO certification exercise at Camp Adazi, Latvia, August 24, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Gerald Cormier
If you’ve heard me speak before, you’ve probably heard of the four-part framework that drives all aspects of our military strategy. My view on military engagement comes down to four main effects that describe what the armed forces have to consider as we contemplate and strategize about the use of military power. Put another way, what are we about. This is why we fight. We are about:
- Conflict prevention;
- Conflict management;
- Conflict termination;
- And harm reduction.
That’s what we do.
All of them require close coordination with Allies and whole-of-government partners, so thank you to the members of international militaries, and other government departments and agencies who are here today.
Conflict prevention is the most desirable. I’ve said it before, the outcomes we seek are peace and security. Peace for Canada, for our Allies and a secure global environment to function within. When conflict happens, it’s the men and women in uniform who end up in harm’s way, and great destruction often ensues throughout civilian populations and infrastructure. We swore an oath to defend our country and protect its interests, and as we have shown, when it comes to that, we will be ready to fight.
But I think we can all agree, it’s better off if we never reach that point. Solutions that prevent conflict are absolutely preferable. I believe that one of our strongest tools for conflict prevention is deterrence, which requires the right mix of military capabilities, credible will to use those capabilities, and clear communication to adversaries.
If conflicts can’t be prevented, then they must be managed to prevent its spread and contain the threats. That’s why we are in Iraq, contributing to both the Coalition and NATO’s mission to train the Iraqi Security Forces to prevent the re-emergence of Da'esh. The options for conflict management can be political, military, and economic, or ideally, a mixture of all three. Ultimately, if conflict cannot be prevented, and while we manage it, our desired outcome is successful conflict termination.
The elements needed to end a conflict are difficult to bring together. From a military perspective, we can conduct operations to destroy, degrade, and defeat an adversary as part of a Coalition or Alliance. This is the case with Da’esh. But we also contribute to Peace Support Operations and build partner capacities around the world to set the conditions for enduring regional security to terminate conflict. But long-term stability requires civil solutions that are mutually supported and often enabled by military power.
Stability is an illusion if it is forever being secured entirely at gun point. Fragile states and societies need to be supported as they build governance structures, re-gain trust and credibility in their institutions, fight corruption, and strengthen their economies. And for peace processes to have any hope of enduring, diverse sectors of the population need to be consulted, not just the dominant and powerful. It’s one of the pillars of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.
That brings me to the final point: harm reduction throughout all of these efforts. Excessive harm and destruction caused during conflict lead to long-lasting grievances and an inability to develop lasting security. Our actions must always be aligned with our values.
And at a time when the laws of armed conflict are violated with impunity by many parties to conflict, our duty to uphold them and promote compliance, even if they seem to hamper our efforts, cannot be overstated.
The world we’re in
In many ways, in fact, we are in a global fight over values. And we are now engaged in pan-domain operations that include space, cyberspace, and the information domain, as well as the extant domains of land, sea and air. Canada and our international Allies and partners believe in a rules-based international order. Upholding it is the most effective path to sustaining international peace and security and freedom for our citizens to live a prosperous life free from harm.
So we fight to defend democratic institutions, human rights, and prosperity for the citizens we serve. That order is being threatened and challenged daily. There are states who are actively using armed, military coercion throughout all domains to grow their spheres of influence. They seek to reshape the order for their benefit, and have grown adept at using all instruments of national power to compete with Canada and its allies and partners.
Currently, these actors deliberately keep their antagonistic actions below the threshold of open conventional conflict to avoid a full-scale response, at least for now. Russia annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, regularly intrudes into the sovereign airspace of other nations, and conducts disinformation campaigns to advance their national agenda. China’s unilateral actions in the South China Sea are undermining stability in the region. It and other nations have also conducted malign activities in cyberspace to attempt to compromise Canada and our Allies, and has engaged in coercive economic and diplomatic practices.
They have both demonstrated that they possess the military force, with its latent threat, combined with the political will, to achieve destabilizing effects to their ultimate advantage. These below-the-threshold activities are a death by a thousand cuts. In isolation, they would not merit large-scale responses, and even if they did, determining response options in some of the new domains will demand changes to how we operate.
But viewed cumulatively, it is clear that they demand a new approach, persistent engagement and the tools and training to operate throughout the pan-domain arena, whether in combat or conflict.
Ships from Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), including the flagship, HMCS Halifax and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2 (SNMCMG2) participate in Exercise DOGU AKDENIZ 19 in the Eastern Mediterranean on November 11, 2019.
Photo: MS Dan Bard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera
The avoidance of acute kinetic operations is not a guarantee of long-term peace. So long as there are nations provocatively developing offensive military capabilities in all domains, with the intent to use them to underwrite aggressive economic and social behaviour, there is a risk of escalation to high-intensity regional or global conflict. That would be devastating for all parties involved, and must be prevented. In the face of this era of great-power competition, Canada stands resolute with its Allies.
That brings us back to deterrence.
In 2014, NATO began its deterrence and assurance measures. Canada has been there in solidarity from the start. These measures are a reminder of the breadth and force of the Alliance’s military capabilities.
For nearly six years, Canada has maintained a persistent presence in Central and Eastern Europe. Our sailors patrol the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Atlantic as part of Standing NATO Maritime Groups. Our soldiers spent three years in Poland, and then stood up and took the lead of the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Latvia. And our aviators periodically patrol the skies over Romania, Iceland, and Lithuania to guard Allied airspace.
But deterrence is more than presence and a show of force.
It has to be credible, and it has to be grounded in strong offensive capabilities that would be capable of denying an adversary the ability to achieve success through their own offensive actions, before they have been taken. Deterrence is also owned by more than just the military. It requires a coordinated approach from all sources of national power and Allies, and must be applied in a coordinated manner throughout all domains to achieve the effect.
Adjacent to major power struggles and peer competition, we find ourselves responding to threats from North Korea, Iran, and Violent Extremist Organizations.
North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs continue to pose a significant threat to both regional and international peace and security. North Korea is largely isolated, but volatile. Canada is contributing to multinational efforts to counter North Korea’s maritime sanctions evasion, most recently with the deployment of HMCS Ottawa, and soon HMCS Calgary.
Over the past few years, the Canadian Armed Forces has increased our presence in the Indo-Asia Pacific region. INDOPACOM is key to our ability to engage effectively, and I’d like to thank Admiral Davidson for his leadership. We are strengthening our ties with partners such as Japan and South Korea, and we will continue to engage in the region to promote security.
Looking to the Middle East and North Africa, Iran seeks to establish itself as a regional power. It projects force through Shia militia groups, and is pursuing the capabilities required to acquire nuclear weapons. In the midst of power plays for regional dominance, instability is being furthered by Violent Extremist Organizations. Da’esh has been significantly weakened. And while it has lost the territory it once claimed, it must not be allowed to re-group. The threat of violent extremism also persists with groups like Al Qaida and Boko Haram. In addition to their calls for violence around the world, these actors have profound second and third order destabilizing effects.
Millions of people have been killed, enslaved, or displaced. The refugee crisis has destabilized neighbouring countries and has spilled into Europe. The longer that people are displaced from their homes due to conflict, the more risk there is of future conflict. Without home or stable links to their communities or even their families, people are vulnerable to radicalization.
Refugee and IDP camps therefore become potential sources of conflict for years to come.
Extremist groups also deliberately target critical infrastructure to wreak havoc and disrupt local and global economies.
The longer that these groups operate and promote their ideologies, the more complex and far-reaching the consequences become. Further, these protracted conflicts create significant resource demands on the military, and risk distracting us from the main threats that we face.
If these actors can’t be fully deterred, then we must seek to counter and mitigate their actions in order to prevent the collapse of legitimate government and civil order.
This is, of course, harder said than done when there is interference from major powers, and when conflicts are being exploited and exacerbated by criminal organizations.
Most of what I have just described falls under the “Engaged” part our defence policy, SSE. But that’s only part of the picture.
A member of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group ensures the security of the international military divers while they set up the dive site during Operation NANOOK-NUNALIVUT in Tuktoyaktuk, NT on March 22, 2019.
Photo: MCpl Gabrielle DesRochers, Canadian Forces Combat Camera
Our primordial role is to defend Canada and Canadians. At this point, I think that when most Canadians think of what the military does at home, they think of disaster response.
It makes sense. Over the past four years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of these operations – a 1000% increase.
Come spring, summer, or winter, Canadians have seen us fighting floods, fires, and winter storms up close and personal. When disaster strikes, and people’s homes and lives are in peril, they know that they can count on us to help.
What they don’t see is the significant work that we put in away from where most Canadians live – defending, exercising and planning for Canadian sovereignty in our Arctic.
I look at the Arctic as a region, a place, and an avenue of approach to our continent.
From a regional standpoint, there’s growing interest in tourism and shipping routes. The region is rich in natural resources and is commercially attractive, and although operating in the Arctic remains a costly and challenging endeavour, potential predatory states are focusing on exploiting the Arctic.
Through operations, personnel posted in the North, Canadian Army Ranger Patrols, and maritime and surveillance systems, we maintain domain awareness of all of Canada’s approaches, including the Arctic.
As a place, Canada’s Arctic is home to dozens of communities. Many of our annual operations up North are about preparing for a community evacuation, a plane crash, or any other major disaster that could put Northern communities in harm’s way.
We train and plan with Indigenous, territorial, and federal partners to ensure that we can respond quickly if needed.
What I am increasingly concerned about is the Arctic as an avenue of approach. The Canadian Armed Forces are mandated to deter and defeat threats to North America that would travel through the Arctic waters and airspace in the years to come.
We must be able to ensure Arctic security be it a region, a place, or an avenue of approach.
This requires strengthening interagency and multinational partnerships, increasing surveillance and military capabilities, and improving our ability to base, project, and sustain forces in the North.
It requires new approaches to sovereignty assurance that accounts for the very real pan-domain nature of conflict.
Strong, Secure, Engaged gave the armed forces critical direction and resources to take us forward. You are all aware of the investments in personnel, equipment, and infrastructure.
But I want to focus on a key idea that came out of SSE. You’ll recall my previous discussions on the concurrency of operations model. It will underpin all of our force development work for many years to come.
Members of the Arctic Response Company Group participate in a snowmobile excursion during Exercise GUERRIER NORDIQUE in Resolute Bay, Nunavut on March 3, 2019.
Photo: Cavalier Marc-André Leclerc, 5 CMBG
But, SSE also identified our next major bound: Strong at home / Secure in North America, and the modernization of NORAD and the defence of this continent.
That commitment was reinforced in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of National Defence.
We have begun work to identify and determine the scope and cost to improve our capabilities to detect, deter, and defeat threats to Canada and the continent. These threats include, among others, space-based, aerospace and maritime above and below water. In addition to the below-the-threshold activities I mentioned earlier, the missile threat to North America is growing more complex.
North America is no longer dealing with the threat of ballistic missiles alone. We’re facing more advanced conventional missiles that can be launched from further away, travel faster, and are more manoeuvrable.
Most importantly, they have the potential to hold North American decision-making hostage in a period of conflict, let alone threaten our force generation capacity and critical infrastructure. Even a modest attack could hamper or cripple Canadian response to crisis or harm Canadians or critical infrastructure.
Addressing these challenges requires improved capabilities for surveillance, command and control, and defeating these threats, as well as infrastructure that can continue to support operations anywhere in Canada and its approaches.
Defending North America isn’t just about having the best point or area air defence.
The CAF must have the capacity to help maintain our resiliency as a nation, and the right capabilities to maintain a credible deterrent posture.
We have to be able to stop adversaries from contemplating the use of force in the first place.
It’s perhaps cliché, but as for deterrence, the best defence is a good offensive capability that has been communicated clearly to a potential adversary, that makes it self-evident that an aggressive act would be too costly to contemplate.
So when we look at continental defence, we have to put in place capabilities that assure Canadians of a strong deterrent posture and domestic response that they rely on.
We have to look for opportunities for agile innovation, and for harnessing and leading in emerging technologies.
I think it’s up to all of us to communicate clearly about why this matters.
I’m not talking about fear-mongering.
I’m not talking about sensationalism.
I’m talking about honest and informed discussions about the world that we’re in.
When it comes to Canada’s prosperity, and maintaining the strength and resilience of our nation, we all have a role to play – as individuals, industry, academia, and government. Protecting Canadian sovereignty and defending Canada from military threat is what we do, and I am keen to get into detailed work on the Strong and Secure part of the defence policy to help bring it to life.
But all of this work means nothing if we don’t have the right people for the job, and if those people aren’t highly motivated and provided with the opportunities to succeed.
I am absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone who volunteers to serve their country in the Canadian Armed Forces is treated with dignity and respect, and that they have career options that suit them and that they can be proud of.
People join the forces because they want to do good in the world… because they seek meaning, purpose, and community.
I will not rest until they have the work environment that they deserve. It’s that simple.
We’ve made gains through Operation HONOUR, and we will keep fighting until we eliminate the harmful behaviours that lead to sexual misconduct.
We’ve learned from our experiences, and we will use that to address hateful conduct. We will develop the necessary policies and make full use of the administrative and disciplinary tools at our disposal to change and eliminate harmful behaviours.
And we will do everything we can to stop the small minority of extremists who would use the Forces as a pathway for violence.
Racists, extremists, white supremacists and radicals are not welcome here. Period.
As an institution, and as individual members, we have to live up to the high ideals of the profession of arms.
We need diverse, effective teams drawn from across our population who can trust each other and work together, shoulder to shoulder to bring important new and existing capabilities to bear against our adversaries in an increasingly troubled world.
That’s what will make us the most effective force that can deliver on what Canadians expect of us.
The first chapter of the defence policy is about people, and that was on purpose. We’re putting a lot of work into improving how people experience their careers and their lives in the Canadian Armed Forces.
From the moment that someone walks inside a recruiting centre, to the moment that they transition out of the Forces and into civilian life, I want them to know that the CAF has their back. The creation of the CAF Transition Group in 2018 was part of this, and there are more initiatives to come.
We’ve also done considerable work to ensure that families have the support that they need, especially during moves and deployments.
But much more is needed.
As warfare changes, we are re-thinking the way that we approach people’s employment and training.
I have given direction to move away from the inefficient templates that constrain people, and instead offer them more flexibility and choice over their career paths so that they can excel, and so that we can get the talent that we need to join and stay.
These personnel policies are one side of being a highly capable and effective force.
The other side is ensuring that our people are employed within a fit-for-purpose structure that makes sense for 21st century warfare.
Our structure has remained largely unchanged for decades.
This isn’t to say that we are going to make changes for change sake.
For two years, the Chief of Force Development has been crunching the numbers and conducting rigorous analysis with senior commanders about what our optimal force mix and structure would look like.
That work is maturing, and soon we will be in a position to start looking at changes that will make our organization more effective in the 21st century conflict arena.
Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance awards the MINUSMA and Canadian Peace Keeping Medals to members of Operation-PRESENCE-Mali at Camp Castor in Gao, Mali on December 22, 2018.
Photo: Corporal Ken Beliwicz
As we evaluate our structure, we are also re-thinking the way that we operate. We are adjusting our mindsets towards more comprehensive, and threat-based analysis that is focused on achieving outcomes in a highly contested pan-domain conflict space.
We are far from the days of a simple binary of war and peace.
That view constrains our ability to think through the complex spectrum of activities that take place between competition and conflict.
So as we move forward, we will continue to think critically about how to deter, counter, and mitigate adversary actions. And we will continue to be a reliable Ally and partner to our friends around the world.
Ultimately, all of this work will ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces continues to be a robust military institution for the people of Canada.
We will remain agile and adaptive so that we can present government with the broadest range of options to the problems that Canada will face now and into the future.
2020 has shown how quickly dynamics can change. A snowstorm in Newfoundland. Iranian Missile strikes in Iraq. The loss of Canadians on a commercial flight at the hands of the Iranian military and Coronavirus requiring Canadians to be evacuated and quarantined. All of that on top of our ongoing operations on 3 foreign continents and in the Indo-Pacific.
Our role is and forever will be to be ready for any contingency, and to deter and, if necessary, defeat threats to Canada.
We continue to take great pride in defending Canada and protecting Canadians.
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