Given the low level of satisfaction of parliamentarians throughout the Euro-Atlantic area, one could be forgiven for assuming that any substance would emerge from NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Annual Session in Halifax. Instead the findings and recommendations of the Defence and Security Committee coupled with expert presentations was a much-needed reminder of challenges facing Canadian security. They presented an international system rank with volatility and increased prospects of confrontation due to the return of great power politics. Consequently, as these threats are globally interconnected there is reason to review and update Canada’s 2017 defence strategy – Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE).
As an element of Canada’s security is derived from the stability of its European allies, Ottawa has a role to play in reinforcing NATO’s deterrence in the east. President Putin continues to probe for opportunities to expand Russia’s military presence and political leverage on the continent. When combined these policies are designed to sew disaccord within the Alliance. As Russia’s escalatory action in the Sea of Azov confirm, NATO must remain vigilant in deterring similar aggressions on its eastern front. Consequently, in the words of Lt Col French, Canada must be “be ready to fight tonight” to protect Latvia as the head of the enhanced Froward Presence (eFP) battlegroup. The decision by the Trudeau to government extend Canada’s eFP mandate to 2023 serves to enhance deterrence and build cultural bonds between the five other battlegroup nations. What must not be ignored as it relates to Canada’s eFP presence, is the posture of the yet to be composed new Latvian government. Elections in October resulted in the pro-Russian party winning the most seats and the populist KPV LV finishing second. The ramifications of these results and its impact on Canada are still be determined. Additionally, when surveying future areas of contributions, Canada should not neglect any chance to be part of an early warning system to detect potential Russian incursion into the Suwalki Corridor.
The shaky foundations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) between Washington and Moscow is significant security theme to monitor. The Trump administration’s position that Russia’s SSC8 missile system renders their compliance void produces military and political implications for Canada. On the former, Washington’s formal withdrawal (after giving six months notice to Moscow) could be the catalyst for a 21st century style arms race. Its initiation would usher in a “security dilemma” scenario and erode a longstanding pillar of Cold War international security. Politically, it is another unwelcomed source of division that could be repurposed to drive a wedge through allies. Although it will most likely fall on deaf ears, Ottawa with the support of the EU should aggressively advocate for Washington to remain compliant.
Complicating Canada’s persuasions efforts will be assuaging America’s concerns on China’s growing missile arsenal. Currently, Beijing is not party to any arms control treaty that has enabled them to procure 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles. It is noteworthy that 95% of those missiles would be classified as INF violations. A further alarming development is China’s integration of maneuverable warhead (MaRV) technology to its missiles that help locate its target while defeating an adversary’s defense systems. Due to its INF commitments, America cannot respond by developing or deploying missiles to the South China Sea. Adding to Beijing’s military prowess is their rapidly expanding shipbuilding industry. When taken together the sum of these features puts America at a distinct strategic disadvantage in of the most contested strategic waterways in the world. This consequently to a certain degree justifies Washington’s potential INF withdrawal leaving Ottawa with no negotiating ammunition.
Furthermore, Beijing’s reassessment of its military doctrine and possible shift to utilizing its nuclear first strike capabilities would represent a seismic shift in the regional security architecture. What should underscore Ottawa’s calculus as it relates to this issue is that deterrence in the 21st century goes beyond missiles. The rise of technologies like hypersonic missiles as well as the gradual weaponization of space and response of counter-space weapons will be the next security challenge of this century.
Finally, the inability for the Alliance to agree on the pacing threat or spending commitments is worrisome for Ottawa. Despite collective declarations, a sensation that members are loosely following transatlantic values and drifting apart seems more pronounced. Reconciling differences between northern and southern members is an objective Ottawa should prioritize. With Canada’s soft power credentials it has the capacity to bridge this growing gap to restore a semblance of political unity. As the outcomes of the Annual Session and the litany of threats, now and into the future, have confirmed revising Canada’s current SSE is an imperative exercise.