Canada Command & Climate Change
Defending Canada: one country, one command, one theatre of operations
In a just released book, Global Warring, noted Canadian writer and Chatham House Fellow, Cleo Paskal writes on how the environmental, economic and political crisis will redraw the world map. In her 253 page book Paskal details how changes in climate will impact the world. She writes in conclusion:
“Preparing for environmental change will take the political will, good basic engineering, education, long-term planning and sustain funding. If this doesn’t happen, economies will be bled dry by a thousand environment-related cuts. Meanwhile, more environmentally adaptive countries will rise, as the countries with less expensive infrastructures that can take hits and still stay functional. Environmental change is the wild card in the current high-stakes game of geopolitics.”
It is clear that climate change is the wildcard both domestically and internationally. It’s safe to predict the Canadian Forces will take on an ever increasing importance in the coming decades as Canada grapples with environmental challenges that will impact its future security and sovereignty. These changes include direct environmental impacts and indirect geopolitical aspects which are exceeding difficult to plan for and respond to.
One example, as smoke shrouds the lower mainland of British Columbia in August 2010, is the increasing frequency and more intense forest fires which are a direct result of climate change. Premier Gary Filmon, who chaired the British Columbia 2003 Firestorm Provincial Review, examined the response of the Federal government and British Columbia to the 2,500 wildfires in 2003. At a cost of $700M, these fires destroyed 334 houses and saw 45,000 residents evacuated. Premier Filmon had some concluding comments on how to deal with future risks in a report entitled Firestorm 2003: “The time to prepare is now. The responsibility for action is shared among all levels of government and private individuals.”
These comments can equally be applicable to strategic thinking with respect to the coming climate change. In fact, climate change, as Paskal rightly points out, is going to drive geopolitics. It is beyond doubt that the Canadian Forces are up to the challenge. Canada Command is well suited to lead thinking and strategic thought on this subject, however, it is not the lead federal agency and takes it policy direction from civilian political leaders. The motto of Canada Command, as noted above – “One country, One command, One theatre of operations” – is aptly suited to the coming threats. Having one Canadian Forces portal to address this issue is a very good thing.
Climate change is the overarching concept which embraces a variety of threat issues such as the Arctic, myriad environment disasters and more indirect threats. The only constant we have is change, and the rubric of climate change can serve to define one of the major functions of the CF in a post Afghanistan deployment scenario after 2011. Lessons learned from the complex multi-threat environment in Afghanistan coupled with the challenges of dealing with a variety of other federal departments is good training for the complex issues of climate change in the future.
Given that Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie has been appointed as the new Chief of Transformation of the Canadian Forces, it seems relevant that a careful examination of climate change is going to be central to the transformation of the Canadian Forces in the coming decades. New threats require new thinking and a new approach to how we look at Canada’s security and sovereignty. LGen Leslie is well known for his broad and forward thinking. This bodes well for Canada.
More importantly, the coming changes will have major geopolitical implications for the future. Canada will be neither isolated nor insulated.
There has been very little written on the geopolitical effect, but the United Kingdom is one example where this has been done very successfully.
There, the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), a Directorate General of the Ministry of Defence based at the Defence Academy, has produced an enlightening document called Global Strategic Trends which examines climate change and its impact on future events. The most recent publication takes reaches out to 2040. Pulling some 200 experts together, this document examines various strategic trends and serves as a useful planning tool for responsible leaders.
The United States has begun to look very seriously at the issue of climate change. For example, in May 2010, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, released an overarching roadmap that will guide Navy policy, strategy and investment plans related to a changing global climate. The U.S. Navy also established a task force on climate change that is examining all aspects of its activities. This also embraces a dramatically changing Arctic Ocean.
Changes in ocean climate will have a major impact on Canada, the largest coastal state. A recent scientific study looking at 100 years of oceanographic data noted a 40% decrease in phytoplankton since 1950. Considered the lungs of the planet, these microscopic ocean plants produce much of the oxygen we breathe. It remains to be seen how this will effect our future.
Dr. Gwynne Dyer, another Canadian, in his timely book Climate Wars published last year, looked at the geopolitical implications of climate change and the increasing strategic importance of this issue in the 21st century. Dyer effectively makes a case for responding in a strategic way to climate change. He writes that two important factors caused him to author this book, one was the changing food supply, and the other was “the dawning awareness that, in a number of great powers, climate change scenarios are already playing a large and increasing role in the military planning process.”
The Canadian Forces stood up Canada Command in February 2006, as part of, then Chief of Defense Staff, Gen Hillier’s transformation process. The role of Canada Command has been to create a single portal to provide aid to civilian authorities, defend Canada and interact with our neighbour, the United States, through the US NorthCom. This is in addition to Canada’s NATO and NORAD obligations.
In many respects this was a response to 911, but having a single unified command made sense and flowed from the CF’s response to the Ontario/Quebec ice storms and Manitoba floods of the late 1990s. It is beyond the scope of this article to dive into the structure of Canada Command’s 5 regions but a number of Commanders in the regions are cross hatted. For example on the west coast, the Navy’s Pacific Commander MARPAC is also the commander of Joint Task Force Pacific. The key here is that Canada Command is tasked with defending Canada, job one of the Canada Forces and arguably its most critical and important mission.
Unlike most other federal departments, one of the underlying strengths that the Canadian Forces provide when asked to assist civilian agencies is their ability to deal with strategic issues in a forward-looking way. The Canadian Forces strength is an ability to plan with efficiency. Most other federal departments do not have strategic planning staff or mechanisms to develop the concepts and doctrines that are the underlying fabric of military operations. Such strategic planning is a core capability of the military system, as is the ability to respond effectively to these threats in real time. Many other federal departments and agencies are operationally focused and lacked the managerial expertise and staff to develop these strategic responses as it not within their specific mandates. These departments tend to be reactive and operate within the lawful confines of their enabling statutes. For example, the Privy Council Office (PCO) in the Government of Canada has this capability but is not an operational department.
The Canadian Forces combines thinkers, planners and operators in a well founded organization that is both operationally robust and results-focused. The increased operational tempo of late has focused a new breed of leaders who are well positioned to deal with wildcards that will increase with climate change and will involve close cooperation with other government groups and the private sector. The 2010 Games are one example of the expertise of the Canadian Forces being successfully brought to bear. MARPAC Commander, Rear-Admiral Pile, was triple hatted as Commander Joint Task Force Games.
Climate change creates an environment where it is difficult to forsee and develop scenarios that are rapidly changing. Operational military systems have the ability to deal with a rapidly changing threat environment. In the case of Canada, and Canada Command in particular, we need to develop, nurture, and strengthen this ability through discussion and debate, training workshops and exercises within the Canadian Forces – with other departments and the private sector.
While this can be done in conjunction with other federal departments and provinces, Canada Command needs the resources to ensure that climate change threats, whenever and wherever they exist, are examined in a synchronized and sustained fashion.
We are starting to see out-of-the-box thinking come into play with respect to Arctic operations, which is changing rapidly as a result of climate change. The recent Operation Nunalivut 10 saw unique results-focused responses, such as sled dogs used by the Danish military working in conjunction with state-of-the-art technology and traditional knowledge of the Canadian Rangers in international operations. It is a uniquely Canadian solution to problem solving brought about by climate change and we are going to see more of this type of thing in the future.
The recent Deep Horizon oil spill and resulting clean-up response has shown the need for a robust command and control system that can respond to new threats. The appointment of Admiral Thad Allen (the recently retired Commandant of the US Coast Guard) as the Unified Incident Commander reporting directly to the President of the United States, clearly showed have one person in charge to take effective control of any major incident. Committees of one are effective.
Much of the emergency management process that has been developed for various threats using a risk management approach calls for an incident command system (ICS). This bottom-up lead process was developed out of the California wildfires in the 1970s. British Columbia’s first responders have developed and adapted a common emergency management system. A preestablished emergency response system works if the threats have been identified, the strategic planning completed, and contingency plans developed. With climate change there are many unknowns and we need to be ready for these new threats. We need to create a nimble responsive system to deal with climate change wildcard events. Canada Command is well suited to address this problem.
While a unified incident command system is useful in the early stages of an incident, if the magnitude of the incident is very large, as in the case of the Gulf oilspill, a more robust command and control system may need to be developed. The C2 system used for war fighting lends itself very well to dealing with major environmental and pollution incidents. This is going to be a more frequent occurrence with climate change. However, forward looking strategic planning response is necessary to deal with these new and emerging threats. Climate change is one of the largest challenges facing our country and one that the CF must embrace.
Often we hear the term “whole of government response to threats to our security and sovereignty.” A comprehensive public/ private approach is one that needs to be further developed. Two incidents that come to mind include the massive volcanic eruption in Iceland and the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which continues to create a lasting environmental incident.
As with many types of incidents, a joint response between the private and public sector is often necessary. The private sector may have the necessary technical expertise and experience but doesn’t have the command and control experience required for efficient deployment and management. With Adm Allen in the Gulf of Mexico, we are seeing how unified command can work and how a military command and control can be applied in a civilian context. And it works. More events will require this type of approach in future.
The 1970 oil spill from the tanker Arrow highlighted the critical role that the Canadian Armed Forces played in response to that catastrophic accident in the waters off Nova Scotia. The Canadian Navy’s Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic played a key innovative role as the incident unfolded; there was no cookbook. We can learn from these past lessons and incorporate them into strategic planning for future wildcard events.
In my article on Arctic search and rescue in the last issue of FrontLine Defence, I touched upon the concept of risk management in the context of search and rescue. Risk management requires foreseeable risks to be indentified in order to prepare and plan for such events. However, with climate change, we face additional unforessen events and risks. This makes it difficult to prepare using traditional approaches of risk management. Strategic thinking and mechanisms to handle these wildcats are going to be a challenge in Canada’s future.
With climate changing so rapidly, we need to develop horizon scanning techniques to project changes brought about by a warming planet. We need to develop strategic thinking for a comprehensive approach for Canada. Without a sustained model to indentify possible wildcards, we will be at a disadvantage when it comes to climate change. Forward thinking is necessary to develop the appropriate cooperative response options across and between government and the private sector.
In a 2006 FrontLine Defence article, entitled “Government Must Have a Clear End-State Vision,” Captain(N) Peter Avis wrote about the challenge of strategic thought which is very relevant to the issue of climate change:
“To achieve the comprehensive perspective required for strategic thought, the traditional prisms or stovepipes of bureaucratic government must be broken down by the institution of permanent, high-level, interdepartmental strategic think-tanks that set government priorities in such a way as to ensure continual engagement of government in the allocation of resources over the long term.”
In the 2008 Vimy Paper: Canadians and Asia-Security, Rear Admiral (now retired) Roger Girouard, the former Commander Joint Task Force (Pacific) writing on the “Joint Force Requirements: JTF Pacific” examined the challenges facing Canada’s western domain and provided recommendations for future force development. In his concluding paragraph he writes:
“Canada Command and JTF(P) are barely two years, yet much has been achieved in providing coherent local liaison with Provincial agencies concerned with security, disaster management and law enforcement. Much potential remains to be explored, just as the dynamic evolution of the Indo-Pacific reality is being recognized. What remains to be decided is whether the latitude for decision-making delegated to the Pacific Commander, and the assets, which the force development calculations has assigned to the coast, together offer an opportunity for taking the initiative or relegate the Canadian forces in British Columbia to after-the-fact reactivity. Time will tell.”
RAdm Girouard’s comments in 2008 ring even truer on the issue of climate change. As a country, Canada does not have the luxury of reacting after-the-fact; we need to plan ahead for these coming changes. This will require leadership in a whole of government and comprehensive response. We need, as Avis wrote in 2006, to break down the stovepipes of federal departments and create an institution and/or mechanism by which forward thinking is encouraged and accepted so that we are better equipped as a nation to deal with new and emerging wild-card threats.
The private sector, the provinces and academia need to be includedf in this process. A cauldron of ideas tempered with operational experience will create solutions to these myriad challenges.
Climate threats are both real and unpredictable; they can and will affect the sovereignty and security of our country in ways that are presently unimaginable.
In a transformed Canadian Forces, Canada Command needs to be front and center, leading the thinking on this important subject. This can be Canada’s cornerstone role in the new millennium; it is a great opportunity. Canadians have never shied away from dealing with real problems, and we are not afraid of wildcards. This will ensure that the 21st century will be Canada’s (Prime Minister Laurier was just off by 100 years).
Joe Spears testified before the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on Arctic Search and Rescue.
© FrontLine Defence 2010