A Strategic Overview
Seldom do Canadians, as a nation, look much beyond next week, next month or next year. We tend to be laid-back and blasé about our future. We engage in a game of self-deception by assuming that the threat of any major harm is restricted solely to a major environmental event, such as blizzards, hurricanes or flooding, created by climate change.
We willingly accept the dictum of Senator Dandurand who exclaimed in 1924 that “Canadians live in a fireproof house, far from inflammable materials.” Sadly, he and a vast number of other public figures were proved wrong when we became involved in World War Two. However, it took the shelling of a B.C. lighthouse by the Imperial Japanese Navy and the sinking of Allied cargo vessels in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to finally drive the point home. But even then, there were politicians, clerics and civic leaders who downplayed the threat.
The emergence of the Cold War, with atomic weapons of incredible destructive capability potential, together with the bomber and the emergence of the ICBMs, did cause a re-emergence of the general perception of threat for a period of time. But over the course of the Cold War, numerous diplomatic initiatives taken by both sides of the nuclear debate lessened the likelihood of a nuclear-armed conflict. Moreover, the nuclear strategic initiative known as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) made such a conflict unwinnable. Accordingly, with the threat of a possible nuclear war averted, the belief that Canada could be vulnerable was dismissed.
Of course, the events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated to the world that no city, state or region was safe from any organization that was determined enough to plan and execute a well-thought-out attack (including using non-tradition assets such as civilian airliners). Companioning this event has been a litany of failed or failing states, state-sponsored surrogate criminal activity such as piracy, narco-terrorism and an unbridled rush by dictatorships and fundamentalist theocratic states to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Adding to this instability is the perceived threat by the scientific community that the Earth’s climate is changing dramatically. Analyses of climatic trends suggest that the Earth’s surface temperature will warm as much as 3 to 6 degrees above current temperatures. These changes will change the current climate dynamic resulting in a significant loss of arable land, a rising of ocean levels by 1 to 3 metres and the complete meltdown of glaciers. These assessments set out a catastrophic future for many food producing nations. Many climatologists have forecasted an increasing need for major improvements to humanitarian aid delivery systems such as militarized bulk carriers, hospital ships and ships with an amphibious capability to deliver troops to re-establish order, to counter criminal/terrorist activities and to protect both military and civilian aid givers.
The second great instability is the speed of the dissemination of new technologies and processes. The proliferation technology (such as cell phones, increased-capability computers and programming languages, as well as a plethora of new weapons and continuing improvements to older military technologies), creates an inherent fragility for society. Cell phones, for example, have become the top choice for remotely controlling IEDs and VBIEDs. They are cheap and plentiful, difficult to trace, and easy to dispose of – ensuring anonymity for terrorists. Enhanced computer systems have enabled criminal and terrorist elements to gain access to personal information, credit records... and possibly obtain illicit funds or create false identities. They can also use these systems to secure intelligence or to interfere with normal government operations. Such actions lead to chaos and a loss of trust by the populace in their leaders.
Continuing improvements in weapons design and manufacturing have produced compact kinetic weapons that are, in some cases, more lethal than their larger counterparts. Increasingly, terrorists have been using new and smaller weapons, due to easier concealment qualities. Better optics and ammunition have the unfortunate dual effect of improving the lethality of terrorists and their mercenaries.
Finally, technical advances such as GPS and rocketry hobby kits have made rocket motors and telemetry packages far more precise than in the past, making them dangerous in the hands of the disgruntled.
Canadians tend to be resolute in their demands for action by government. You might recall the response of the Trudeau government during the “October Crisis.” Mobilizing the Armed Forces, he demonstrated just how far he would go to regain control over this small group of dissidents. Although the government of the day during those periods of war may have over-reached its mandate and authority by placing former citizens of an enemy country into detention without a valid trial, it did so with cause.
The third and major factor that comes into play is the emergence of new “Super Power” states that previously existed as moderate economies. “Globalization” and increased “Free Trade” has accelerated their national economies because of their plentiful and cheap labour which have attracted many international manufacturers seeking to reduce production costs. These economies are expanding by 10 to 15% per year, adding a major influx of fiscal resources. This new found prosperity has, in most cases, led to major internal investment and economic diversification. However, prosperity has reawakened previous power aspirations. This has developed into a “quasi cold war” between burgeoning states and resulted in substantial increases in state spending for new military capabilities and weapons systems.
For states that compose the current elite of economic and military powers, these developments are worrisome since they exist outside of the current curbs of the use of nuclear weapons. These developments have also lessened the influence of the current Super Powers and reawakened in First World nations the spectre of nuclear warfare or major conventional warfare that will interfere with the conduct of the world’s commerce as well as a never-ending diplomatic crisis.
How do these changes affect us now? How will they affect us in 2035? In current terms, these emerging trends will have a minor but long term impact on both our nation and our society. However, it is the long term that will face the most significant and societal changing forces. Although the climate is warming (a fact substantiated by most climatologists), most Canadians will not feel any significant changes in the weather in the near term, and it will remain well within the temperature range experienced over the last 150 years. Some regions will experience diminished rainfall but given the current precipitation patterns, severe long-term drought can be easily mitigated in Canada with the construction of water distribution resources.
There still remains a significant area of arable land above the current population distribution pattern – a band of 300 miles which parallels the current U.S.-Canada border. This area has been previously farmed some one hundred years ago but the costs of transportation grew too high for Canadian markets and the absence of major semi-urban centres for support conspired to make farming in the area untenable. With current technology and fiscal resources, these areas could be once again brought into production very quickly.
However, with a more hospitable climate and new arable land opening up, Canada might well face the prospect of becoming one of the world’s greater suppliers of a wide range of raw and processed foods to meet the increasing demand of a world that is losing valuable arable land daily. The warmer the northern areas become, the greater the likelihood of this happening. Imagine the prospect of farming on soil that has been a bog for millions of years, access to large water resources and 20-hour days of sunlight. Together with new agrarian scientific technologies, it could be potentially possible for these more northern farms to render two complete crops per year of cereal grains, root vegetables, legumes and other protein products. If considered with the possibility of being ice-free all year, ports in the North could become the bread basket of the western hemisphere.
Canada may well become a significant player in the world’s economy just in terms of food production. There will have to be a concomitant increase in our ability to protect ourselves, our trade and the merchant ships of other nations. If the scenario of Canada as an emerging economic “Super Power” holds true, then the required infrastructure and annual costs of meeting these goals could be easily paid for by increased revenue. However, we cannot wait until these events happen to take the necessary security steps to minimize the potential threat to this future.
Terrorist and criminal agencies will likely continue to operate within Canada, the U.S. and Britain. Current law enforcement and government security agencies have been able to contain these irregular forces adequately and efficiently within allocated resources. However, given the 9/11 attack and the arrest and conviction of recent immigrant and Canadian-born Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and criminals, there has been a heightened awareness of the need for increased security forces.
Barring a major increase of recent arrivals from terrorist-supporting or failed states, there remains little chance of the development of a major indigenous terrorist threat. However, there have been numerous reports of “westerners” who have converted to the Muslim faith who are willing to undertake terrorist training in the Middle East for terrorist operations within Canada, the U.S., Britain and Australia.
Although it is not possible to completely stop the import or export of new small sized, covert automatic weapons systems or improved superior weapon optics, useful for sniping or intelligence gathering, or even the new more lethal types of ammunition intended to offer a “one shot, one kill” option to legitimate authorities, yet there must be some type of control mechanism. The importation of these lethal systems must be controlled and such shipments must carefully tracked with the best security systems available.
Although terrorists and criminals can obtain modern military-standard weapons through legitimate dealers, they are not as easy to obtain as weapons and equipment that are not subject to import, export, buying and selling controls. The law enforcement community is hard pressed to control such criminal activity.
Enhanced electronic devices remain available but often contain sophisticated miniature markings that provide critical information such as manufacturing data, contract and order number to aid in the tracing of the equipment and ultimately to the end purchaser. However, in the skilful hands of a well trained technician these safeguards can be worked around. Again, items of this nature must be controlled.
In concert with the control of weapons, we may see a return to the system of barred immigration from countries where the terrorists are actively supported. New legislation should be passed which would empower governments to de-naturalize convicted members of organizations (and their immediate and extended family members) who are bent on destroying the structure of Canadian society. There will be also a demand for the full integration of immigrants into Canadian society. Many European states have an immigration policy that provides for the testing of all immigrants within a specified period of time for their ability to communicate in that nation’s language, be able to cogently explain how the government of that country works and the nation’s customs and beliefs. There have been reports that Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisians who have resided in France since the 1960s could have their French citizenship revoked if they fail to meet the government’s testing norms. Even if such comments are unfounded, they still serve to illustrate the changing tolerance for those immigrants who refuse to participate in the mainstream of a nation’s culture and institutions from partial acceptance to outright hostility.
While there remains a valid potential threat to some aspects of Canadian society, Canada has been blessed with a huge land mass, abundant raw resources and a vibrant and dynamic society. At a 2010 NATO meeting, a briefer summed up the impact of global change by saying if you want to live where you will suffer the least from global warming, you should start making plans to move to Canada.
All in all, when we look over the time horizon with our various analytical tools, I think that NATO briefer was on the mark – in a world of geographical, religious and criminal turmoil, Canada will be perhaps among the last safe havens from those ravages.
Rob Day is a former logistics officer with the Canadian Forces.
© FrontLine Security 2011