National Security is the Government’s First Responsibility

We seem to have to keep saying it, so one more time – the first and most important obligation of Government is the security of the country, its sovereignty and the safety and well-being of its citizens – a fact that political leaders, bureaucrats and citizens alike must remember. But, it also seems to be a particular challenge in Canada.

The Government’s stated intention to undertake a comprehensive defence policy review over the next year, including public consultation, is encouraging news. However, it could be exciting news if it were to include the development of a comprehensive national security strategy that would comprise individual policies but integrate the major areas to permit a real ‘whole-of-Government approach’ to national security, not just defence.

This issue is critically important to our future, and it is heartening to see the new government seizing the opportunity for a concerted effort toward a public understanding of our vital national interests. This could actually be the lens through which we view the world and threats to those interests. A consensus of what, precisely, our vital national interests are would permit a rational and logical analysis of issues and trends of the consequences of action or inaction, and identification of policy responses appropriate to prevention or mitigation of those impacts, and ultimately leading to integrated policy formulation.

(Photo: Makaristos)

The need for such a strategy should be evident from even a superficial overview of the world today. “Globalization” is a term often used to describe our contemporary world, but it is a very simplistic word to describe a world that is chock full of complex events, issues, trends, risks or threats that can, and do, affect Canada’s national interests either directly or indirectly – and NOT simply from a defence perspective.

This article, therefore, is intended provide a relatively simple explanation of a logical and rational approach to a ‘whole of Government comprehensive security strategy’. This is not to say that the development of such a strategy is easy, but that it should be pursued through a logical and systematic approach – a road map for those who may be charged with the responsibility to develop it.

A Strategic Planning Model
The development of systematic ‘strategic planning’ methodology was an activity in military operations research communities during the late 1970s. In their book Strategic Planning and Forecasting (1983), William Ascher and William Overholt proposed a strategic planning model that simplified the many components of other methods so that understanding of the steps and process was significantly improved.

An adaptation of their Strategic Planning Model INTERESTS (values, objectives) + ENVIRONMENT (political, economic, cultural, security, technological) = STRATEGY (policies: foreign, security, economic, science, social) has been used in teaching the approach and processes since that time.

A similar approach, shown here, is a collaborative effort between BGen (ret’d) Dr. George Bell and this author, that had been used as the foundation for the curriculum at the National Defence College of Canada, being taught as a model for an approach to a National Security Strategy since 1982.

Comprehensive National Security Strategy
A “comprehensive national security strategy” may be defined as a set of ‘whole of government’ integrated policies – foreign, defence, economic, technological and socio-cultural – that articulate the ways and means by which Canada’s national interests can be protected, promoted and preserved in a “globalized” world where events, trends and threats anywhere can negatively impact those interests. If it is accepted that the international system is, in fact, a system of systems, then a change or activity in any one system (or even a component of one) can affect all other components – each country and each factor. Using the ‘national interests’ as the means to identify or test the effects can lead to a rational process and ultimately relevant and responsive set of policies.

Simply put, a comprehensive national security strategy must ask, and answer, the following questions:

  • What are Canada’s interests – our values and goals?
  • What issues, risks or threats are developing in our domestic and international environments?
  • What impact may they have on our interests?
  • What are the ways we can protect and advance our interests?
  • What are the available means – resources and constraints?
  • What is the strategy – policies and plans?

It is beyond the scope of this paper to address each level in detail, but is intended to offer an outline that would permit a tasked committee or study group to pursue appropriate policies.

Vital Interests, Values and Goals
Canada’s ‘interests’ is a term that has been misused all too frequently by politicians to emphasize or justify a Canadian activity or response to a situation. Unfortunately, seldom, if ever, are the specific interests identified (nor even asked for identification by media and other commentators).

The concept of a nation’s ‘interests’ has been around for a long time. In 1848, British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, in an address to the House of Commons stated: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and these interests it is our duty to follow.”

More recently, American political science scholar Elmer Plischke devoted a full chapter of his 1988 book Foreign Relations – Analysis of its Anatomy to discussing the ‘national interest’ concept, its use and abuse. His lengthy definition may be paraphrased as:

“National interests are those fundamental determinants, intrinsic needs, operational criteria or ultimate standards in accordance with which a nation frames its national purposes and goals.”

Noteworthy in Plischke’s work is his characterization of Donald Nuechterlein’s development of the use of national interests as a tool for both analysis and policy development. In his 1979 book “National Interests and Presidential Leadership” Nuechterlien defined the term ‘national interests’ as “the perceived needs and desires of one sovereign state in relation to the sovereign states comprising its external environment”, and differentiating it from the ‘public interest’ which refers to dealing with the internal domestic environment.

He further identified the basic needs that should form the underpinnings of all states’ foreign policies as: Defence, Economic, World Order and Ideological.

More than 9.3 million people visited Vancouver in 2015.
More than 9.3 million people visited Vancouver in 2015.
(Photo: Roozbeh Rokni)

National interests are, essentially, a combination of the fundamental values of a nation combined with the fundamental interests (or goals) to be achieved and maintained.

Which is More Important: Values or Interests?
In reality, a nation’s fundamental values will both inform and form its national interests. For Canada (and most democracies), our societal values are: Democracy – a freely, elected and representative government, leading to the rule of law; Individual Freedom – to pursue one’s interests without interfering with the rights of others; Human Rights and Social Justice – valuing the individual human life.

Using the Nuechterlein approach, Canada’s national goals and interests could be stated as:

  1. Security (the first and most important responsibility of Government) – The protection of its national territory and sovereignty; the protection and safety of its citizens, their assets and values; and the protection of North America in accordance with our treaties with the United States.
  2. Economic – The pursuit of the economic well-being of the nation and the prosperity of its citizens; and protection of its market-based economy.
  3. Stable World Order – Promoting and maintaining a rules-based international system of peace and trade; and the mitigation and prevention of conflict and disorder that may affect the nation’s economic well-being or security.
  4. Protection and Promotion of Canadian Values – Democracy (rule by consent of majority) and the rule of law; individual freedom and human rights / social justice (recognizing the intrinsic value of the individual human life).

This list should not be interpreted as an order of priority; however, it should be recognized that they are indeed a hierarchy of interdependency.

While security must be seen as the most important dimension or environment to permit the achievement of the other goals, it is also dependent upon national prosperity to provide the means to pay for the capabilities that provide national security. For Canada, a healthy and competitive trading economy is dependent upon conditions of global stability to ensure that prosperity. Maintaining and promoting fundamental values is the foundation of the society that enables the citizenry to pursue their own interests while contributing to the well-being of the nation.

Using a national interests-based analysis and assessment of global events as lenses through which to view international and national issues, trends, risks and threats would clarify the impact of those factors on Canada, their consequences and the specific policy areas that need to be addressed.

Levels of Intensity
Nuechterlein’s approach includes an assessment of the levels of intensity of the impacts of each of the issues and effects on individual interests.

Vital (in any catastrophic sense such as nuclear threat ’survival’ level) – a situation that may cause serious harm to the nation unless very strong measures are taken, including military force. It may not be just a defence matter but also economic, world order, or even ‘values’ (such as humanitarian) interest.

Major – if the nation’s political, economic and ‘values’ interests are likely to be affected by the events or trends unless timely corrective action is taken to prevent them from becoming ‘vital’ matters, e.g., matters subject to diplomatic negotiations.

Humanitarian (natural disasters, famine, epidemics, ‘genocide’) – an additional response-level necessary because ‘our values demand it’.

Peripheral – events or issues in which the nation’s direct interests are not involved, but those of individual citizens or commercial entities in another country may be at risk and for which diplomatic or consular involvement may be required.

Identification of the various events, issues, trends, risks and threats to our nation must be based on a comprehensive strategic analysis and assessment of the international environment. This should lead to an agreed assessment of the major elements affecting Canada’s security in the broadest sense.

Unlike our principal allies, Canada lacks a strategic intelligence capability to undertake such a comprehensive analysis and hence an agreed ‘view of the world’. The Australian Office of National Assessments is a useful model for Canada. It has a staff of about 150, including management and analysts, and now has an overall responsibility for coordinating the activities of the other members of the Australian Intelligence community. It also has a centre for ‘open source’ (unclassified) intelligence that contributes to the overall intelligence assessment, gleaning information from many sources including news media, popular and academic journals down to individual organization pamphlets. Such an organization is certainly desirable and necessary for Canada, including re-organization and consolidations of intelligence assets, but beyond the scope of this paper.

More than 350,000 people converge around Parliament Hill on Canada Day every year.
More than 350,000 people converge around Parliament Hill on Canada Day every year.
(Photo: Chris MacLean)

In Canada, there is no government document, or set of documents, that either achieves this goal or that could contribute to the next steps in articulating a comprehensive and integrated set of policies. This speaks to a critical weakness in Canada’s ability to produce the desired Comprehensive National Security Strategy.

Ferry de Kerckhove’s Strategic Outlook, published by the CDA Institute (see an overview on pg 26 of this edition of FrontLine), provides a semblance of such a strategy (with the added credibility and oversight of not being an internal Government document). Many other reliable assessments can also be used as background documents and consolidation for the purpose of undertaking this strategy development.

If the Government wishes to engage the public in this overall process, some public description of the complex, confusing and interdependent international major issues and threats, by whatever means, will be a necessary first step.

Impact on our Interests
The simple matrix shown here will create an ‘audit trail’ for the means by which the most important issues have been identified, the interests that are affected, and the intensity of impact of each. Considering this along with the ‘Issues vs Intensity’ matrix (remembering, of course, that some issues may affect more than one interest and at more than one level of intensity) will create a graphic picture of the most important and relevant risks or threats affecting Canada’s interests. Similarly, sorting the Issue, Trend, Risk, Threat Analyses by policy goals and policy responses will create a ‘menu’ that will identify the various policy areas and Government departments that have to be involved.

Protecting Our Interests
The key ‘policy instruments’ in developing a comprehensive strategic policy are represented by the DIME model – Diplomacy, Intelligence/Information, Military and Economic. Vital interests are often matters for which a country must be willing to accept the possible loss of military lives because it affects the sovereignty and security of the homeland, the citizens, and their assets. In world order issues, and some extreme cases the matter of threats to national values could also be deemed ‘vital interests’ and lead to a military commitment. These are decisions that can affect many Canadians lives directly or indirectly and therefore must be made with the best possible information and analysis, hence the utility of a rational process that contributes to decision-making as well as assuring the population at large.

Resources and Constraints?
For a ‘whole of government’ strategy, whole of government assets and capabilities must be addressed, analyzed and detailed in terms of what capabilities may be necessary and what may be actually available for the various DIME elements.

One of the limiting factors in the non-military departments will necessarily be the relatively small number of deployable people, meaning those with the appropriate training and readiness for the tasks at hand. Readiness, in military terms, means the capability for relatively quick response and would include health, physical fitness, immunization, and personal equipment available and accessible. There must also be in place personnel policies regarding mandatory or optional deployments, medical coverage and insurance covering compensation for death or injury on deployments. Civilian deployability also means an organizational and staffing policy to ensure the staff available to keep the various normal departmental functions intact while some personnel are deployed.

Failing to have a non-military ‘depth’ would represent immediate limitations to any policy that would assume government civilian deployment. The greatest difficulty would likely be that the Canadian Armed Forces would be seen as the ‘default resource’, hence affecting their own readiness and availability for the use of force as necessary.

In addition to personnel policies and readiness, of course, there may be financial constraints limiting the purchase of appropriate equipment in a timely manner.

The overall strategy will have to state the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, starting with clarification of each of the departmental / policy areas identified in the various analyses and how their integration intends to achieve a set of outcomes. This will include identification of capabilities and constraints.

Individual policies addressing DIME components will identify the issues, the interests affected and the means and restraints by which the issues will be addressed, including articulation of the policy implementation plan and stating the expected outcomes and the ‘who’, the ‘how’, the ‘where’ and the ‘when’.

As Others See Us – Geopolitical and Geoeconomic Realities
At the outset of establishing a comprehensive National Security Strategy, policy planners need to recognize and understand the perceptions as well as the realities of Canada’s place in the world.

We live in the second largest country in the world, have the world’s longest coastline (bounded by three oceans), and share a land border with the United States that stretches from sea to sea. About 90% of our population (37th in the world) is strung out like a pearl necklace within 200 km of the U.S. border, and more than 60% is concentrated in the industrial heartland between Quebec City and Windsor, Ontario (also adjacent to that of the United States – the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world).

Canada and the United States are closely linked by interlocked security, economic, financial, trade, cultural, social and historic ties – arguably more than any other two independent countries in the world.

Canada, with its exceptional natural and human resources, is among the wealthiest countries – rated as having the 10th largest GDP in the world and 6th largest in NATO – while its military expenditures as a percentage of the GDP (1%) are among the lowest (20th of the 27 members).

If sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over one’s geographic area (and, as a corollary, the capability to enforce that authority), the task is daunting given Canada’s geography, population, its powerful adjacent neighbour with whom we share land, sea and air approaches to North America, and the huge uncertainties concerning the future global security environment.

That situation is further complicated by the reality that the Canadian North represents 40% of our territory – but contains only 0.3% of the national population, widely dispersed in settlements and small towns and three small cities. The resource-rich Arctic is becoming more accessible as sea ice melts and more open water appears for longer periods. Mineral and hydrocarbon explorations can be expected to increase in an area also extra sensitive to environmental degradation.

The North encompasses major air and sea approaches to Canada (and to the United States), which means the capacity for effective surveillance of the North, including the detection, interception, identification, deterrence, deflection or destruction of intruding aircraft and ships, is both fundamental to our sovereignty defence and critical to the security interests of the United States. Since the Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940, and then the North American Aerospace Defence Agreement of 1958, the joint defence of North America with the United States has remained an imperative.

Tourists flock to Canada’s bustling Maritime provinces every summer.
Tourists flock to Canada’s bustling Maritime provinces every summer.
(Photo: Kris Krüg)

In reality, however, we are largely ‘consumers’ of U.S. homeland security. To become ‘producers’ of security, we must also contribute to the defence against threats outside our country – threats to our allies’ security and prosperity – that could not be defended against were they to approach or threaten Canadian or other North American territory.

In truth, Canada has a history of a ‘deployment strategy’ – to defend Canada and our interests as far as possible from our homeland – is currently beyond our own capability.

We are dependent, not only on the U.S. but upon other allies (notably our NATO partners) to ensure that the Article 5 response of ‘an attack against one is an attack against all’ would be invoked to protect Canada as well. Likewise we are treaty-bound to defend our NATO allies.

Should any of our NATO allies – and the U.S. in particular – perceive that we are unwilling (or increasingly unable) to contribute effectively to our own, and their, defence against threats to Canada’s land, sea or air approaches, logically they would have to take measures to protect themselves. To defend themselves as far away from their homeland as possible could well mean doing so over Canadian territory or air and maritime approaches and, effectively, a loss of Canadian sovereignty. There is an implicit assumption by many that the United States would be obligated to defend Canada – but this fails to recognize that such activity could clearly represent a forfeiture of Canadian sovereignty.

Sovereignty issues concerning Canada’s defence have arisen before. Stephen Leacock, a scholar well-known for humorous writing, was quite serious when he wrote in The University Magazine (October 1909) about the assumption that Canada would be protected by the Monroe Doctrine:

“But in its bearing upon our national future in Canada, perhaps when all is said and done, the main reason for casting aside the worn out fiction of the protection of Monroe [Doctrine] lies in another direction. The acceptance of such a protection, even if offered, would be unworthy of a people as lofty in their own estimation as the people of this Dominion.

“There is no need to elaborate the point. The nations of history have grown to greatness by sacrifice and self reliance. There is no other path. We cannot accept unpaid the sheltering protection of another state. The future lies elsewhere. Upon the North American continent, there are not one but two great powers. Side by side with the democratic republic of the United States stands the democratic empire of the British people. Not all the fiats of an American Secretary of State can annihilate its sovereignty.”

As an interesting aside, the preceding article in The University Magazine was “Shall Canada Have a Navy”. The Naval Service of Canada (subsequently the Royal Canadian Navy) was established on 4 May 1910, about six months later.

Global strategic awareness combined with rational and systematic risk and threat assessment concerning our national interests, supported by evidence-based policy development, are essentially the first and most important issues to be understood by strategic policy planners. They are the paramount considerations in terms of the capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces that would be sufficient to make an effective contribution to our own defence as well as that of our closest allies.

However, even with such contributions, interoperability with the armed forces of our closest allies becomes an over-riding strategic factor in protecting our fundamental vital interest – protecting Canadian sovereignty – the very existence of Canada as an independent country.

It is therefore essential that a clear, logical and relevant comprehensive national security strategy be developed in light of the vital interest of Canada – the security and the sovereignty of our nation. Critical decisions regarding Canada’s response with capabilities to ensure national sovereignty must be based on evidence and analysis and not whim or opinion – and certainly not on arbitrary budgetary decisions. Canada is a country worth defending!

An analyst and commentator on national and international security affairs, Don Macnamara retired as a Canadian Air Force Brigadier-General after having spent 37 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He subsequently joined the faculty of Queen’s University (now Smith School of Business) teaching international business and strategy in undergraduate, MBA and Executive Programs for 20 years. (Don has been an academic colleague of Dr. Don Nuechterlein, whose work is referenced in this article.)