There are numerous parts the world teetering on the edge of conflict. How can Canada prepare?
The recent “Four Wars” series on The Mark highlighted four potential conflicts that should give pause to any citizen of the world. They surely give pause and concern to military analysts in Ottawa who have to develop options for responding to these crises. How, readers of The Mark might ask, do those officers develop the skills and wisdom required to conduct such analyses?
Staff and war colleges – the graduate schools for senior military officers – focus on just these sorts of problems. Students there take courses in IR and military capabilities where they learn how to analyse problem cases and develop possible options for government action.
We are not talking about just military action, as might have been the case during the Cold War. Over the last decade there has been a definite shift to look at problems and solutions through a “whole of government” lens. This approach has been called DIME (Diplomatic Information, Military, Economic) in the U.S., and 3D+C (Defence, Diplomacy, Development + Commerce) in Canada. Complex case studies usually involve the participation of officials and experts from a range of backgrounds, including government departments and agencies, international organizations, and NGOs. Military options are generally seen as the last resort, but they are almost always considered as part of the scenario.
In real life, as in the classroom, analysts hope that the government will clearly define what the “end state” should look like – what is it that Canada seeks to achieve in a conflict zone? Too frequently, “let’s help establish peace, order, and good government” covers too wide a range of possible actions, while not giving enough insight into what costs the country is willing to accept.
Analysts also hope that government will appoint a lead department and that the supporting departments will take on their share of the task at hand. One of the great frustrations in Afghanistan, at least in the early years, was that the military was not given adequate help from many other departments.
It’s easy to look at these points of friction critically, but defining and effecting international intervention is not small potatoes.
So let’s say the four scenarios from the series land in the “in basket” (and hopefully not on a Friday afternoon). The first three – Southern Sudan, the Niger Delta, andYemen – have disquieting similarities that might cause the analysts to lump them together, at least to some extent. They all focus on Africa (broadly defined), involve fragile regimes with have and have-not schisms, revolve around oil and the economy, and concern large or wholly Muslim populations. Two of the three have blue water coasts. Other than the coastal aspects they all look not unlike the current Afghan mission.
It would therefore not be unreasonable for military analysts to suggest options similar to the current strategies and capabilities that the Canadian Forces and the other departments have deployed to Afghanistan and Middle Eastern waters. There are, of course, questions to be answered: Can the army and the air force support what might amount to a continued rotation of about 2,300 personnel? Might a ship or two be required for offshore security? While there is certainly no lack of will among military people to serve their country, there would need to be a decision by the political leadership to continue to spend significant amounts outside of the country on activities which do not bring apparent or immediate returns. The cabinet might decide that these three regions are simply too problematic for Canada and decline to act.
But those conflicts are offshore – cyber war can strike at home, and so cannot be ignored. The response to cyber threats is well outside the military purview – it involves the protection of public data (even census data!), as well as commercial, economic, and health information. But there is also security information which must be defended from tampering or exploitation. To deal with this, analysts would have to recommend the investment of time, people, and resources to build robust firewalls and other safeguards. Easy to suggest, but harder to implement. Information experts and computer wizards are always in short supply and tend to work for the highest bidders; and typically the public service does not pay as well as industry or even some of the bad people out there. As well, technical solutions need to be integrated with other government sectors and allies so that essential data isn’t held up. So, what may seem, at least to most technically savvy Canadians, like the most benign of the four scenarios could just be the toughest one to define and address, even if it’s only a matter of ones and zeros.