Interview article

Lt-General Michael Jeffery

Vision and Leadership
CLIVE ADDY  |  Mar 15, 2010

Canada Must Face the Potential for Domestic and Global Threats!

In an editorial published recently in the Ottawa Citizen, former Head of the Army, Lieutenant-General Michael Jeffery reviewed a survey of Canadians’ perceptions on various potential threats to Canada. He decried the lack of general awareness and emphasized an urgent need for leadership commitment and sacrifice to prepare for potential threats. FrontLine’s executive editor, Clive Addy, interviews him:

Q:What priorities would you wish to see in any coherent Security Strategy for Canada?

Let me put my remarks in context. The CDFAI poll asked people to assess critical threats to Canada over the next 10 years. So we were not talking about imminent threats – certainly this is not a case of suggesting the sky is falling. What concerned me was that Canadians’ sense of threats is declining when any reasoned assessment would indicate that the mid to long term threats are growing.

My concern is that if we want to avoid having to face these threats at a critical level, we need to start dealing with them now and that is really where leadership comes into play. My own sense of the current state of national security policy and how it is being managed is not necessarily very positive.

To my mind, our National Security Strategy needs to follow four thrusts:

The first is that it should increase the responsiveness & efficiency of our security structure. Approximately 26 federal institutions, 10 provinces, three ­territories and the myriad municipalities across this nation, all have a role to play in the security challenge. The overall coherence of the structure, through cooperation coordination and/or integration, is the first thing that needs to be improved. The sharing of information and intelligence, and the effectiveness of our risk management approaches are also measures that we must take, rather than just talk about. Only in this way can we ensure that Canadians get best security value for money.

Second, I think there needs to be an effort to decrease the vulnerability of our critical national infrastructure to threats. “Critical infrastructure protection” is important, but a higher priority should involve the reshaping of national infrastructure, over time, to make it less fragile and more resilient to shocks; not just terrorist attacks but also natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms. Reshaped infrastructure could be more resilient and able to withstand those threats.

Third, though some might disagree, I do believe that we must work to reduce the underlying factors that increase threats – and here I mean “root causes.” I recall, early post-9/11, some commentators at the UN and in other government for a voicing the opinion that these were an excuse for 9/11… that is certainly not what I am saying. However, to suggest that there are not root causes for some of the threats we face and the sort of attitudes that are being expressed around the world is naïve in the extreme.

For example, in the matter of terrorism, what are the economic and social issues which generate the level of disenchantment in young men that leads them to use force? You are always going to find and have to deal with extremists, but I am convinced that many among these groups are just poor and desperate individuals with no alternative to support themselves and their families. There is a serious economic and social underpinning to the terrorism threat.

Immigration is another aspect. This nation has grown and survives because of it. We benefit from having people of various nations come to live here and we should continue to welcome them. But, we need to ensure we not reach the state of other countries, like the UK, where those groups tend not to integrate into the greater society, but become microcosms of their home nation, bringing all of those difficulties and problems with them. We don’t need that. We have not had it in the past and we must ensure that we do not in the future.

Other security challenges brought on by climate change, globalization and pandemics need to be addressed. This nation must take a positive leadership approach in dealing with these issues on an international scale. I believe that requires linking our security requirements to everything we do by integrating security objectives into all government policies and initiatives. All policies, foreign, aid, trade, economic etc should contribute to minimizing these underlying factors. Solutions are not necessarily military ones or even security agency related, so reducing these underlying causes will require a broad range of capabilities throughout government and beyond. Some of this is happening now, but not in any ­particularly coherent way. Much more should be done.

Finally, and the TOP PRIORITY is that all of this requires Leadership & Education of the people. There needs to be a clear statement of intent from government and a strong message that we need to deal with these issues. The nation must have the will to do so – must see the need and be prepared to sacrifice to achieve it. This is foremost a matter of leadership and education by our leaders. These are not disjointed things but part of an overall policy to improve the security and well-being of the nation and its place in the world.

I believe that it is time for our political leaders to begin to address these issues openly. I am surprised, and, dare I say, even appalled, at the level of unwillingness to talk about some of the issues. We say we want a debate and as soon as anyone starts to challenge what we are doing, we throw roadblocks like “we’ve got be loyal to our troops.” Such positions are disingenuous. We ensure loyalty to the troops by maintaining loyalty to the nation and ­ensuring their sacrifice is not wasted or misguided. That means we need the nation not just behind them, but also behind the mission – and that requires open debate and strong political leadership.

We must also ensure that we do not create an environment where we induce panic. National leadership needs to take a reasoned long term view that advances an understanding the complexity of underlying issues and the actions necessary. This should lead to a general acceptance that the nation has to change if we are to mitigate the threats we face. None of this will be easy, but such is the role of leaders.

If we do not take this approach, we will wake up some day to find some of these threats on our doorstep, at a critical level, and be unable to respond to them… the cost, in resources and suffering, will be far, far higher than if we start now.

Q: The Canadian government, under both the Liberals and Conservatives, consulted “broadly” on security since September 2001 and produced some changes and guidance documents, such as Securing an Open Society (2004) and Working Towards a National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure (2008). How effective have these been, and what, if any, other process would you encourage the government to follow to achieve as broad a consensus as possible on a major national strategic vision and to resource and action such a Security Strategy?

On this question of Strategy and Policy, might I first recognize that the Martin Government published the first ever Canadian National Security Policy in 2004. While one can certainly take issue with some of the specifics, and argue that it should have done more, I think it was a good start. Unfortunately it seems to have withered on the vine andthe Conservative government has been slow to advance the strategies and objectives espoused within it.They did publish a discussion paper on a National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure (2008) a topic which was identified in the 2004 document and in December 2009 the Federal Emergency Response Plan.

However, given the time gap between them, I am unclear whether the latest documents are a logical progression or, possibly, a de-facto whole new policy under a different guise. So I must say that the real state of actual National Security Policy remains very much unclear to me.

Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates conduct a bilateral meeting at the Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Photo: Cherie Cullen)

As I look back on those documents, I can certainly endorse the strategies and objectives contained in them. They recognize the need for a systems approach across the nation and at all levels of government, by seeking greater integration or by working towards better partnering. All recognize the need for a comprehensive risk management process, and they highlight the need for improved system-wide information or intelligence sharing.

It appears that we have been saying the same thing and identifying, arguably, the right objectives since at least 2004… we just need to get on with it.

If the new Minister of Public Safety can do that, he will serve the nation well. One must recognize, however, that unlike Homeland Defence in the United States, Canada’s Public Safety continues in some ways to be an umbrella department under which divergent and virtually autonomous organs continue to operate without any real attempt to pull them together.

In the present structure, Public Safety lacks the overall authority, the leverage, if you will, to conduct the kind of integration or partnering that we are talking about.

If the system really is to change, it must start with firm direction from the Prime Minister that all departments are to contribute to the security of Canadians. Such a declaration must be very clear in establishing who has the authority (either central agencies like the Privy Council, or a specific department) for changing structures, bringing people together, and creating the dynamic for increased cooperation and integration. Changing the very culture across many, many federal departments will be difficult, as it will be across Provincial and other levels. Indeed, while the requirement is for people to deal with security issues that have not been part of past mandates, or to accept this increased level of integration, some have already fallen back on the comfortable habits of pre-9/11 views of security.

I recognize the difficulty of getting all levels of government to cooperate on this issue. Indeed, getting just one level to work together can be arduous. While there are legal limits to integration in some cases, this is no excuse for inaction; Canadians have a right to expect a more effective and efficient security system.

Another challenge is the spectre of resources, but, I am convinced that, in the longer term, the move to a more coherent and integrated system would actually save money. We are wasting resources because so many agencies are duplicating work. An integrated approach will ensure much better value for the money we are investing in our collective security systems.

Such savings are not only to be found in the security architecture but can be seen in many other areas. Take energy for instance. Arguably, the move to new forms of energy will require considerable investment in new infrastructure. A properly structured energy policy could guide the development of a more resilient, less vulnerable, distribution system than the current centralized one. This could also reduce the security costs of subsequent infrastructure protection. In short, proper government policy development can increase our security and ensure good value for money spent. Government alone cannot do it, but it must provide the leadership. Of course, achieving consensus will be a major challenge, but this is where leadership is most required.

I believe it is the federal government’s role, and in particular, the Minister of ­Public Safety’s responsibility, to create a political and organizational environment that will bring all stakeholders together and ultimately see the emergence of a more effective national system.

Q:As with SARS, H1N1, Haiti, climate change, economic recovery, the Olympics, Afghanistan and other missions at home and around the world, there continues to be a need for multi-level internal and international coordination and cooperation to deal with the predictable and the unexpected threats to the safety and security of Canadians. Under past leadership, we had the “Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America,” with the U.S. and Mexico. If nothing else, this gave annual regional leadership focus to many common security and safety problems. Would you consider this SPP approach valuable to get more of the public interest and support that you deem might be needed?

First, I must say that my recent visit to its Web Site would indicate to me, and to the rest of Canadians, that the SPP is no longer in effect. There is no question that we need to work closely with our U.S. neighbour on all aspects of security. Our nations are so closely tied together that it is in our mutual interest to do so, both to ensure the security of our societies but equally to facilitate continued economic activity.

The problem with the Security and Prosperity Partnership is that it was undertaken without sufficient public discussion. Canadians became suspicious of the process and in particular saw it as the increasing domination of the United States. Indeed, for this reason, I think that the SPP initiative is for all practical purposes dead.

That being said, could something like it be undertaken in the future? Something must replace it. Whether it includes Mexico or not is another matter. Our requirements and situations are so different that one might legitimately ask why at all. With the change of government in the U.S., the conditions are more favourable. Any future such initiative would need very much to take Canadian sensitivities into account. Our political leadership would have to convince Canadians of a need and provide assurances of protecting their rights and Canadian sovereignty. I believe John Manley’s smart border initiative was effective in this realm for this reason. Small steps well taken can often prove most effective.

We also must not forget the powerful sensitivity about security that still permeates the American political psyche. We must deal with that in discussions about our common border and the free flow of legitimate goods, services and people for our common security and prosperity.

Essentially, I believe there are really two major options that we must consider for our future relationship with the U.S. One is to have a more integrated border serving us both, with better agreed and facilitated transit both ways. In short, a “one stop shopping” approach. The second is to get rid of the border altogether and focus on more integration of our economies… and before ranting about loss of sovereignty drowns out discussion, we should just reflect for a moment at what has happened to Europe… with old very sovereign members operating well with invisible borders. It would certainly prove much cheaper. However, we proceed, this relationship and its management will remain perpetually a top security priority for our government.

Q:Your Institute recently released (October 2009), a fine analysis of the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). One of its main criticisms is that “it is very general in its strategic framework and fails to prioritize any of the initiatives described. The existence of a small but steady increase in defence funding over the longer term is very positive for planning purposes, but the ability to meet the demand for capability with the supply of resources will remain a major challenge. Adjustments to the Strategy will certainly be required, as circumstances and priorities evolve, suggesting the need for a mechanism to make modifications from time to time.” Do you agree with this assessment and what adjustment mechanisms or processes would you think should be proposed, particularly in this economic environment?

HMCS Toronto and CCGS Pierre Radisson, during a refueling operation while at anchor in Iqaluit harbour. The Ships are participating in Operation NANOOK '09. (DND Photo: Cpl Dany Veillette)

I believe the CDFAI report is a good analysis and raises a number of important issues and I would highlight two of them.

CFDS Funding
The strategy provides a commitment to long term stable funding, which I believe is essential if DND is to maintain or improve its capabilities and achieve a degree of efficiency, particularly in Defence procurement. However, as all such documents tend to do, this strategy tries to leave the impression that the funding commitment will solve all of the problems – I don’t believe that to be the case. The CF went through at least a decade of significant cutbacks in the 90s, which seriously eroded many of the core capabilities. Subsequent increases to defence funding have been vital in stemming and reversing that trend but it would be wrong to believe that they have been completely resolved.

The amount of funding forecast would see a real growth in the defence budget in the order of 0.6% which could be even less if inflation grows as it is forecast. So, while the increase in funding and the stable forecast are all good signs, the CF will face tough decisions in the years ahead to maintain an effective force. The Department is not getting a lot more money; it is largely growing at the rate of inflation. Some, of course, will argue that the nation has other priorities and we should not be spending money in this area. I certainly recognize the importance of balancing priorities and to not spend more on defence and security than the nation needs and can afford.

However, I remind your readers that the first job of government is to protect its citizens, and with the growing threats we may need to spend more in this area.

I would also highlight the fact that, as a nation, and for a long time, our defence spending has been among the lowest of any developed country, and even with the recent increases, it ranks about 8% of the Federal budget and only 1% of GDP. So, if indeed the threat to our security is increasing, the nation does have the flexibility to increase the wealth it devotes to its security.

This second issue gets to the core of what you asked, essentially the whole issue of priorities. The CFDS lacks clear priorities to guide investment. The analysis talks of the lack of mechanisms and I think we are saying the same thing. I believe the reality will be that, given the potential for economic difficulties ahead, the defence cloth will continue to be re-cut to fit the changing economic framework. It has always been that way, and will not change in the future. Indeed history shows that government resource challenges result in such a review at least every couple of years.

The defence strategy needs to establish priorities or mechanisms to allow the force structure and plans to be re-shaped logically, as resource availability changes. If this does not exist, it means that every budget implies a totally new series of time-consuming submissions and conflicting priorities, resulting in higher costs and conflicts and the potential for imprudent discarding of expensive equipment and other resources.

The means of achieving these priorities starts with an overarching vision of how the nation will meet its defence needs, given the resources it can afford. This involves high-level reflection on possible options.

As a very general example, one could focus on forward engagement – where the nation addresses its security concerns and interests primarily on the international stage. Such an approach would mean dealing with the threats at their source; in the worst case, fighting the battles on someone else’s shores.

The alternative would be to focus on continental defence and security, which would see a minimizing of international involvement, but beefing up domestic defences. A Fortress Canada / Fortress North America approach.

In the final analysis, it is probably a ­balance between these two, wherein the priorities are expressed with the required clarity to allow decisions to be made on the type of capabilities required and to apportion the resources accordingly.

If such overarching concepts of priority don’t exist, then with every change in budget, the military is potentially discarding capabilities it has spent years and much money developing. Investment in Military Capital is a long term business and must not be subject to current whims.

Investments must be made in capabilities which are deemed essential to the long-term security of the nation in the type of operations deemed most likely and threatening by the military leadership.

This isn’t to imply that short term requirements don’t arise, as they have in Afghanistan. However, such procurement must be carefully shaped both in quantitative and qualitative terms to ensure overall balance and sustainability of the capital ­programme. Otherwise we are getting no return on investment.

I must reiterate, the military cannot address these issues in isolation. There is a need for coherence within government to ensure that all tools are used to fix any problem before it becomes a major threat to our nation, and to resolve it if it does.

We are a part of Team Canada and must work together. In truth, not all players on the team are as well prepared for the game. As a nation, however, we must look at this more seriously and ensure that all parts of the team we send abroad to support Canadian interests, have the capability to do so together, be they diplomats, economists, police, medical people, engineers, governance experts or military.

Q:How do you see Canada approaching our sovereignty claims in the North West passage? What do you see as threats to our security and their mitigation?

The Arctic is a very important issue for the country and I am pleased to see the increased attention being paid to it. Overall, I believe the sovereignty claims, especially issues like Hans Island, are minor. Even the Beaufort Sea claim disagreement with the U.S., I think is manageable. The Northwest Passage is, of course, not really a sovereignty issue but, rather, a definitional issue – whether it is an internal or international waterway.

The loss of ice cover does mean that we can expect a greater level of activity along our northern coast. For practical purposes, I don’t see a significant security threat to our North. However, increased activity will have consequences that we must be prepared to deal with. We have seen a rise in cruise ship and commercial ship activity, and we can expect that to continue. This will mean an increased probability of distressed or lost ships, an increased requirement for Coast Guard presence and a greater probability of the Canadian Forces receiving requests for assistance or search and rescue. This imposes upon us a greater demand for reliable communications and navigation ­situational awareness.

With the extreme distances and temperatures of the North, we must be capable and prepared to make rapid response to calls for help. The truth is, however, that Canada’s support infrastructure in the North is limited, and major events could exceed Coast Guard and CF rationed capacity. Clearly, contingencies for such emergencies must be foreseen in our strategy.

Canada has an integrated northern strategy which is focused on: exercising Canada’s Arctic sovereignty; protecting the North’s fragile environment; promoting economic and social development; and improving and devolving Northern governance.

We rely on National cooperation in the North, with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) as the lead department, and all departments taking a collaborative approach. For its part, the Canadian Forces is working to: increase Arctic capability and capacity; build support infrastructure/logistics; obtain and use ice capable vessels and develop arctic expertise through exercises and training such as Operation NANOOK.

Internationally the country has long pursued a strategy of cooperation and collaboration as we work together with the other Arctic nations.

Key areas are information sharing, search and rescue agreements, Canada/U.S. agreements on shared ice-breaker use and international environmental cooperation in this fragile area. So, while there is much to do in the North, I believe this is an area where the approach is sound and should serve us well over the long term. The real problem, as always, is finding the resources necessary to meet the many challenges faced there.

Q: Non-state actors, such as major international crime syndicates and terrorist networks, pose great threats to our Security, be it in the realms of piracy, drug trade, cyber crime, weapons and people trafficking or nuclear blackmail. The Obama administra­tion has made overtures to reduce nuclear arsenals and to pursue non-proliferation, and is particularly concerned about Iran, North Korea and Pakistan nuclear weapons. It is very much engaged in thwarting drug cartels in Mexico and South America. How and what should Canada do to lessen the threat to our own security from these sources?

Wow! You have covered a great deal of ­territory. I think our global strategy must perforce consider an “all threats” approach. We must endeavour to structure our security systems and policies to allow the resources of the nation to be applied effectively and efficiently to counter them all.

This is a difficult undertaking, as each agency in the defence and security business has different roles and a different legislative basis. These result in a lack of sharing of information and cooperation on common threats, even though they both share the same broad objective of national security. We must work at minimizing and eliminating the barriers, recognizing that some will remain.

Cooperation with international partners is a key component. These threats, although some begin at home, are international in nature – where boundaries and sovereignty are meaningless – and we cannot address them on our own. However, by working together with other nations, by sharing information and coordinating responses to the specific threats, we can achieve much better outcomes and more effective use of resources. That, of course, is happening with such cooperation as Canadian police and our military and allied counterparts at home and abroad in Afghanistan and Haiti. We have to improve that, and ensure we are all on the same international team – ­ultimately to the benefit of Canada.

Q: In wrapping up, what do you see as key long term considerations for Canada?

I would like to remind FrontLine readers that, historically, Canada has been blessed with wealth and security – much of it due to our geographical position. However, given the changes in the world, neither can be assured over the long term.

With increased globalization, many of the problems in other parts of the world will increasingly wash up on our shores. This means that our approach to security at home must change and we need to achieve a much more effective and efficient security structure. We also need to work with other players on the international stage to deal effectively with the root causes and ­mitigate the threats we face.

We don’t face major imminent threats, but we need to start now to better prepare the nation for the inevitable challenges of a new era. This requires real leadership, both domestically and on the international stage, and people of vision to chart a course for our nation through some potentially difficult waters.

Clive Addy is the Executive Editor of FrontLine Security magazine.

Lieutenant-General (retired) Michael Jeffery is a Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute. He also runs his own consulting business focusing on defence, security and strategic planning. Lt-Gen Jeffery retired form the Canadian Forces in 2003 following a 39-year career. He served as Chief of the Land Staff from 2000-2003.
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