National Security Policy – Time to Get SERIOUS!
May 15, 2004

What happened to the National Security Policy (NSP) during the federal election campaign? After being announced amid considerable fanfare on April 27, 2004, it quickly ­disappeared from the radar during the ­federal election campaign. So much for it being a priority.

The NSP reads like the pre-election document it was, apparently intended to plug a hole in the Liberal election agenda. It looks like more of a shopping list than a true strategy.

Now that the election is over, the NSP needs significant work. To be fair, there are some positive aspects in the document.

First, it exists (better late than never).

Second, it admits that a fundamental role of government is the protection of its citizens at home and abroad. However, it never does say how it will protect Canadians abroad.

Third, the NSP recognizes and pursues the requirement for a truly integrated approach in securing Canada. It captures the requirement to consult, cooperate and interoperate widely, from the individual level to international organizations.

Finally, in what is perhaps its strongest point, the NSP recognizes the full breadth and complexity of the threat spectrum, from natural disasters, through pandemics, human-based accidents (the August 2003 blackout in eastern North America), and finally transnational threats such as organized crime, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But the NSP does not inspire. It never manages to articulate the grand idea of national security. Major disappointments linger in the NSP.

It is passive and falls into the trap of trying to defend against all tactical level threats, everywhere, all the time, but this is not only a Canadian mistake.

Given the political consequences that can result from a devastating terrorist attack, it may be no surprise that most governments of the western world declared their countries at grave risk and then engaged in knee-jerk, wide-scale spending designed to prove to their citizens how much they care, and, particularly in Canada’s case, how much they are not a “soft-touch” for terrorists hoping to operate against the US.

While the NSP goes part way in describing how the government will identify threats before they reach Canada, there is no indication of what will be done in the event of those threats.

The US national security strategy, on the other hand, is quite clear in its intention to preempt any threat, no matter what it is, where it is or from whom it might come. Canada’s new NSP, on the other hand, ignores the point completely, apparently expecting threats will go away once spotted.

The NSP is also disappointing in its half-way effort to improve the government intelligence process. A number of new government entities have been established, all of which have an intelligence function to some degree, but human resource requirements of this expansion are ignored completely.
How, and from where, will the government find, recruit, and train all the operational and intelligence specialists required to populate the entire NSP system? What arrangements will be made for the continuing training, education and professional development of these people? The people issues have yet to be dealt with.

It is also troubling to see the NSP descend into a politically-correct apology to some, while trying to reassure others that national security measures will not unfairly impact their lives in this country. It claims that Canada has, in the past, addressed threats to its security “in a way that has strengthened the openness of our country – open to immigrants from around the world and respectful of the differences among us.” This might be true if we ignore the incarceration of thousands of Japanese-Canadians during World War II and the detainment of hundreds of innocent Quebecers during the FLQ crisis in 1970.

Then there is the apparently well-intentioned but patronizing call for the establishment of a Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security because, “no one better appreciates the need to protect our society than those who chose this country as a place to build a better life…”

Roundtable membership will represent ethno-cultural and religious communities from across Canada. If this is so, then we can look forward to seeing ample representation from the groups who (some since the 16th century) have given much to our way of life and (according to the NSP) appreciate better than others, the need to protect our society. Aboriginal Canadians, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, English, French, Irish, Italians, Scandinavians and Scots have all made longstanding and significant contributions to Canada’s national security and defence forces, helping to create the conditions enjoyed by all new Canadians.

The NSP now requires re-crafting, to present Canadians with a richly articulated grand idea that clearly explains the strategic elements of national security and how the government plans to go about protecting all of us. It should probably be crafted as a non-partisan document that can be supported by all relevant parties in Parliament.

Without any hint of apology, the NSP should clearly state that Canada will not tolerate any terrorist or other man-made threat and that we will respond aggressively with all elements of our national power to counter and defeat such threats, when and where they arise. Such action will usually be in conjunction with allies and friends, but it must also be unilateral when there is no other alternative – if the government is serious about its ultimate role being the protection of Canadians, at home and abroad.

Most importantly, the NSP must now be restored to its proper profile. The speed with which the new government acts will be an indication of the importance they attach to Canada’s national security. Let us hope it is higher than in the first half of 2004.

BGen (ret) Jim Cox is FrontLine’s National Security and Intelligence Editor.
© FrontLine Defence 2004