Diplomacy – A Network of Connections

The outside world’s perception of Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as Canada’s view of foreign countries, depends to a great extent on our Attachés. Full, participating members of the defence diplomacy mission, they are distinguishable from their Foreign Service colleagues by the unique military perspective they can bring to consideration of defence and other bilateral or multilateral issues.

While numerous stakeholders in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces support a complex network of connections and serve as the conduit for international defence engagement, Canadian Defence Attachés and the Foreign Liaison Office are leading enablers of Canada’s Defence Diplomacy effort.

The Way We Engage
Defence diplomacy is the means that builds and maintains alliances and partnerships, secures influence and informs broader understanding of the international defence and security environment. Defence diplomacy is facilitated by Canada’s global network of attachés, liaison and exchange officers and is guided by a targeted programme of engagement activities both overseas and in Canada. Defence engagement is the way we achieve the strategic outcome of building influence globally and keeping Canada and our interests secure.

CDA Romania meets Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Canada’s Defence engagement activities are grouped into three thematic areas that complement our strategic aims. Key Leader Engagement (KLE) uses inward and outward visits by Ministers and senior defence officials to build relationships, ensure cooperation, define burden-sharing and promote interoperability. International Engagement (IE) includes a wide range of targeted engagement or specific events. These engagements support interoperability, cooperation agreements, support arms control or counter-proliferation initiatives, and promote Canadian industry. Network Engagement (NE) uses our attachés, liaison officers and diplomats deployed around the world to build, maintain, sustain, and nurture enduring relationships as part of our international engagement network.

The Defence Policy and Diplomacy program is an amalgamation of the activities that support the ability of the Department, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Government of Canada to make informed decisions with respect to international and domestic military affairs, as well as those activities that support the planning and conduct of military operations.

The entire defence organization has an interest in Defence engagement, and a large part of the Defence Team will at one time or another will play a role, domestically or overseas, in supporting broader Defence engagement objectives. However, there are several organizations which have a primary role in defence engagement and are the key stakeholders in the design and management of the defence engagement strategy. These Tier 1 Stakeholders include:

  • Minister, Deputy Minister and Chief of the Defence Staff
  • Heads of Mission at Canada’s diplomatic missions overseas
  • Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy)
  • Strategic Joint Staff (SJS)
  • Canadian Forces Intelligence Command (CFINTCOM)
  • Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC)
  • Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM)
  • Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel)

Although the Tier 1 Stakeholders provide the primary influence and orientation for Defence engagement, this does not exclude other Level 1 Defence organizations (RCN, Army, RCAF, etc) from being influencers, designers and executors of Defence engagement. Their activities, key to their assigned mandates, are components of the broader IE framework and should be seen as means to a greater end. Hence, although the activity may be undertaken by a unit of the Army, its goals and objectives should still serve the greater IE objectives of the Department and Canadian Armed Forces. In fact, Service Commanders are core KLE resources for Defence engagement objectives as they maintain key relationships with their counter-parts that directly supports strategic outcomes.

CDS London provides a Canada Day pancake breakfast for the “Chelsea Pensioners,” as residents of the Royal Hospital Chelsea call themselves. The retirement and nursing home for former members of the British Army encourages its Pensioners to wear their uniforms daily, and the scarlet is mandatory on special occasions.

Stakeholders are the users of Defence engagements outcomes, but they also frequently participate in activities and events linked to the broader engagement plan, and undertake IE activities such as international personnel exchanges, ship and aircraft visits, training and exercises, regional defence forums, outreach, confidence and security building measures, and non-proliferation activities. Most of these activities are episodic and linked to events situated in a given period of time or situation. However, many stakeholders will deploy liaison officers to foreign military organizations to enable on-going interface and dialogue in support of regional, thematic or organizational requirements.

Main roles of Canada’s defence attachés  

Be an advocate for our military and security interests;

Represent our military authorities and liaise with those of host country;

Provide a security, policy and military network capable of operating even in times of troubled or reduced bilateral relations;

Act as a military and/or security advisor to their Head of Mission and embassy staff;

Observe and report on conditions in the host country with a bearing on security;

Oversee and manage activities in the area of military outreach, defence diplomacy and security cooperation, both in bilateral exchanges and through multilateral programmes;

Promote our defence industry; and

Play a role in spearheading emergency response and relief efforts when crises arise.

Defence Engagement
Defence Attachés undertake Network Engagement that seeks to build, maintain, sustain, and nurture enduring Defence and Military relationships with other nations to support Canada’s strategic defence interests. Canada’s National Military Representatives (NATO, EU, UN), Defence Liaison Staffs (in London and Washington), and Canadian Defence Attachés (CDA) fulfill the traditional “defence attaché” role as recognized by international conventions and agreements. These organizations provide the enduring connections at the center of a global network that enables defence diplomacy and supports the myriad of organizations that execute defence engagement on behalf of Canada.

Historically, Defence Attaché duties were largely limited to maintaining links with the host country’s armed forces. However, their portfolio has been extended to include acting as advisers to the head of mission, facilitators of KLE and IE activity, coordinators of international defence exchanges, training, operations, joint exercises, bilateral agreements, thematic conferences, and logistics.

Today, defence attachés are deployed into complex relationship situations that include geopolitical, economic, or technological issues which make it imperative to establish links with non-traditional organizations as well as the traditional military and defence establishments, thus engaging a vastly larger number of players in the host country. The Defence Attaché is a generalist who is both equipped with knowledge and skills as “a specialist in defence diplomacy” and a master of managing relationships and network development. Every action we undertake with foreign defence and security organizations is intended to link to the accomplishment of Canada’s strategic objectives.

These roles deliver continuity, consistency and connectivity in a way that short-term or episodic engagement cannot. This enduring presence nurtures and sustains bilateral and multilateral relationships that are core to Canada’s international agenda.

Managing the Foreign Liaison Network
A focal point for the majority of Attaché and Foreign liaison activity is the Directorate of Foreign Liaison (DFL). Under the purview of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, DFL’s mandate is to ensure the enduring presence of our defence attachés overseas, and support the connections with foreign defence officials accredited to Canada. DFL’s primary task is the selection, delivery, support and oversight for our Canadian Defence Attachés deployed around the world in the 43 Canadian Defence Attaché Offices that manage defence linkages with 138 countries.

In response to the presence of foreign military attaches in Canada, DFL also operates the Foreign Liaison Office (FLO) which supports the domestic component of defence engagement and represents the reciprocal aspect to our engagement overseas. This office acts as the coordination point for interaction with foreign defence officials, managing requests for information from foreign organizations, and facilitating visits by foreign officials to Canada. This “at home” component of Defence diplomacy is as important to our national interests as our activities overseas.

A coordinated and balanced approach to handling visits of foreign defence officials, as well as those located within diplomatic missions accredited to Canada, ensures our method is consistent with our aims and that the relationships – developed with potential partners, allies and others – is executed in a coherent manner.

CDA Poland attends a commemoration event for Canadian military personnel who died in Poland during WWII.

DFL, through the CDAs and FLO, facilitates the accomplishment of defence engagement aims and objectives through a holistic approach to engagement with a target nation’s defence organization both domestically and abroad. This recognizes that what we do in Canada with any given nation can be as critical to our objectives as what we do overseas. DFL ensures that links are supported, reinforced and sustained so the array of stakeholders get the information, connections and results required to support Canada’s defence and security objectives.

The CDA network of representatives is governed under the oversight of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. In this way, the collective effort is guided by Defence Policy and integrated with Foreign Policy objectives through coordination with the key stakeholders in the global Attaché network.

Canada’s defence engagement works to build and maintain partnerships, secure influence and help understanding of the international defence and security environment. Our global network of Defence Attachés sets conditions for and executes programs aimed at building visibility and influence, while seeking to keep Canada and our interests secure.

As the center of an empowered global network, Canada’s Defence attaches feed strategic leaders with critical information that directly informs choices related to immediate, short-term and long-term issues. In addition, liaison officers overseas, coupled with the connections to foreign defence officials in Canada, create a network that allows a nuanced understanding of the perspectives and motivations of global actors and regional security dynamics.

Most importantly, partnerships signal Canada’s commitment to work together with allies, partners, and the broader international community to address common security challenges and contribute meaningfully to global security and stability. They are a living example of Metcalf’s Law (a network’s value is the square of its members) – where a small investment in the attaché network can lead to exponential increases in effectiveness.

Colonel Acton Kilby, Director, Directorate of Foreign Liaison (DFL)