Canada & Terrorism
May 15, 2004

In an article written in 1989 and published in the Marine Corps Gazette, the authors, Colonel Lind and a number of strategic planners, hypothesized that there would be a new type of warfare that nations would soon face. It would be unrestricted warfare characterized by premeditated ­violence and vicious attacks against ­civilians, hospitals, institutions and the economic infrastructure of a nation. Soon, nations would need to have not only the military power to fight in a conventional war but also the special resources, doctrine and training required to combat a terrorist war that was going to be waged on their own soil.

There would be only one rule that the Fourth Generation War fighters would follow – that there would be no rules. Any institution, service, citizen or agency could and would be a target for this new type of “terrorist.” Their asymmetrical attacks could include the use of prohibited weapons such as biological, chemical and radioactive weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass effect, cyber attacks and bombing campaigns against the target nation’s financial institutions, key industries, educational institutions, medical facilities or government agencies. It would be a “total war” that would be fought against an entire nation in order to compel it to accept the terrorist’s demand.

These terrorist groups would strive to create such chaos and bloodshed that Western governments would have to capitulate in order to avoid incurring further casualties to their people and their infrastructure, and to have the ability to restore some order to the chaos. It is a very bleak landscape.

While the United States has conducted a relatively robust review of their security weaknesses and made massive structural and administrative changes to address their shortfalls, Canadian officials have, thus far, made only token gestures to address the issues. The response seems to have been to provide another bureaucracy to coordinate other bureaucracies.

There are a number of reasons for our reluctance to take action. For most of our short history as a country, Canadians have been blessed to avoid major destructive wars or major terrorist activities on their soil. Unfortunately this fact has enabled our successive governments to willingly subscribe to the popular myth that somehow Canada is exempt from any such ­catastrophes – “a fireproof house far away from combustible materials.” After all, as Prime Minister Laurier once explained to Major General Dundonald, either the Americans or the British would come immediately to our aid should Canada ever be attacked.

Other politicians, poets and activists have also declared their unshakable belief that two great generals protect Canada: General Pacific and General Atlantic. “Geography has and will always save us,” is their popular mantra.

Besides, our nation is small, and we have given no offense of any consequence to any other nation. We view ourselves as “Little Canada.” That may have been so a hundred years ago but we are hardly that now. With 30 million people and an economy in the top 7 of the world it is hard to make such a case today.

2003 – Members of HMCS Regina's naval boarding party (part of Coalition Task Force 151, responsible for escorting ships, intercepting and boarding suspect vessels and guarding against attacks on shipping) receive orders from under red light conditions (to preserve night vision) in the ship's hangar prior to the night boarding of a suspect vessel in the Gulf of Oman.  (Photo: Mcpl Frank Hudec, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

We have used this argument since Confederation to avoid major military expenditures and other “militaristic costs.” In doing so we, as a nation, have firmly come to believe that there is no reason in peacetime to be militarily prepared. If we do go to war it will always be in concert with our Allies and there will be time to prepare and equip our military. The worst that could happen to us as the result of a terrorist assault on North America, we have reasoned, is that there is a slight possibility of “collateral damage.” Because of our proximity to the United States any asymmetrical attack would only result in damage that is more notional than physical. It could cause, for example, a slowdown in trade or perhaps some American ill-will if we did not assist them more fully.

But Canadians and their governments never quite get around to asking if this analysis is a legitimate or logical evaluation of the current American assessment. Can they refute the American view that security environment of the whole of North America is “threat rich?”

When we consider the Canadian historical record and match historical events against the realpolitik landscape of today’s world, then the answer would appear to be an overwhelming no. If we consult our past concerns about safety, we quickly ­discover that Canada has been and is extremely vulnerable to external hostile actions. Geography has not really saved us from any threat.

From the earliest days, when Canadian territory was fought over by warring European powers, to the events of the Cold War, there has been a long list of incursions into Canadian sovereignty. If we consider just the hostile military actions on Canadian soil or in littoral waters, we soon discover that Canada was attacked on both coasts by Axis forces in WWII. Everything from Japanese submarine naval artillery firing on a West Coast lighthouse, to the German Navy U-boats sinking Canadian ships in the Gulf of the Saint Laurence, suggests that our view of a protective geographic isolation is not well founded.

To suggest that, with the vast trickle-down of sophisticated weaponry such as cruise missiles, Canada still remains safe today – is both specious and foolish. There are always potential enemies to confront peaceful nations such as Canada.

Canada, like all modern nations, faces a constant threat from the non-governmental actors such as the narco-terrorists, ethnic criminal organizations, state-sponsored terrorists and as well as any number of terrorist sympathizers residing in Canada who are willing to serve their “cause.”

Thus far, most of these suspect groups have confined their activities to securing funds through illegal or quasi-legal activities, but the potential to expand to terrorist acts remains real. As our neighbour to the south found on 9/11, many of these supposedly benign and law-abiding agencies have potential to support or conduct ­violent illegal acts. They have been successful in achieving their goals with relative ease within a ­security-lax society. Activities as money laundering, fraud and theft, and drug smuggling have netted important support revenue.

Moreover, the level of barbarity of their acts demonstrate that there was no compunction about the use of extreme violence in any circumstance or against any group. There is no regard for international law or even their own cultural or religious canons against such acts.

It is easy to imagine that Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal could be attacked in a similar fashion with equally devastating results. Given the reluctance of Canadians to acknowledge the threat or even to insist on governments being moderately prepared will likely mean that there are insufficient government resources or adequate numbers of military forces to combat the terrorists, provide assistance to affected citizens or to protect private and public property. But how do we put this to the test, you may ask?

Consider the consequences if terrorists (of any stripe) decide to put four hundred well-armed and well-trained guerillas on to the streets of Toronto?

How would the local security forces be able to cope? How long would it take to provide an adequate military force to kill or capture these guerillas?

Far fetched? Consider the effectiveness of smaller groups in London at the Iranian embassy, at the Munich Olympics and a dozen more recent venues.

Even with substantial well-trained troops available, the incidents took days and not hours to resolve. We as a nation need to address these issues and quickly. It is the primary role of any government to provide physical protection for the citizens of the country. Because of this there are security questions that need to be answered and not simply brushed off by re-stating some old tired cliché.

If we persist in thinking that there is nothing worth attacking in Canada that would injure the Americans greatly just remember power lines, pipelines and airlines. Are we ready for Fourth Generation Warfare? Regrettably, the answer is no. Hopefully, we will soon come to our senses and realize that Canada is a member of the world community and not a small, isolated nation safe from the realities of the world that surrounds her.

Major Robert Day is currently a serving officer in the Air Force and works in strategic planning. His service has included posting in almost every region of the country and in Canadian Forces Europe. He has several degrees including an MA in War Studies from RMC where he was the Hunt Prize winner as the top graduate of his graduating year. He is currently completing his PhD in Canadian History. His dissertation is an investigation into the relationship between defence policy and defence procurement.
© FrontLine Defence 2004