Richard Fadden said Ottawa needs to acknowledge the United States is withdrawing from global leadership
Canada needs to be "clear-eyed" about the threat posed by Russia and China — and the power vacuum at the global level left by the United States' growing isolationism — a former national security adviser to prime ministers told an audience of military and defence officials Friday.
"The risks posed by these two countries are certainly different, but they are generally based on advancing all their interests to the detriment of the West," Richard Fadden, former national security adviser to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his predecessor, Stephen Harper, said in a speech to the Conference of Defence Associations Institute (CDAI) Friday.
"Their activities span the political, military and economic spheres."
Fadden, who also served as the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and as deputy defence minister, made the remarks at the CDAI's annual Vimy Dinner in Ottawa.
He said his criticism was not political or aimed at any particular government, but was meant to prompt public debate about security and defence policies — a subject that was virtually ignored during the recently concluded federal election.
Both China and Russia have demonstrated they are prepared to "use virtually any means to attain their goals," while the U.S. has effectively withdrawn from the world stage, Fadden said.
That emerging vacuum means Canada will have to work harder with other allies to address global crises at times when the Americans are unable, or unwilling, to lead.
'Clear limits to what we will accept'
But to do that, Fadden said, Canada will have to be "clear-eyed" about the way the world has changed over the last decade or more.
Canada should "recognize our adversaries for what they are, recognize we have to deal with them, but draw clear limits to what we will accept," he said.
Ottawa also has to recognize, he said, that the old post-Cold War world order "with comprehensive U.S. leadership is gone, and is not coming back in the form we knew."
In some respects, Fadden's remarks are a more blunt and urgent assessment of the geopolitical landscape than the one Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered in a landmark speech in June 2017, when she warned Canada could no longer depend upon U.S. protection and leadership.
The comments by the former top security official came just as French President Emmanuel Macron also was lamenting the loss of American leadership, saying NATO is facing "brain death" without Washington's full involvement.
When he was director of CSIS a number of years ago, Fadden warned about increasing Chinese influence over Canadian municipal and provincial politics.
He said during his speech Friday that "the West does not have its act together as much as it could and should" and its response to emerging threats has been dysfunctional.
Meanwhile, Fadden said, the rise in violent radicalism in the West is no longer being confined to Islamist extremism.
"Right-wing terrorism is growing and, like its cousin jihadist terrorism, it is a globalized threat," he said. "We will ignore it at our peril."
His speech also touched on emerging threats in cyber warfare.
Many western democracies have not felt threatened in the globalized world of the last three decades — but that era is ending now, said Fadden, and Canadians have to face new sources of risk.
"This issue is especially visible in Canada," he said. "We are surrounded by three oceans and the U.S., so we don't really feel threatened when, in a totally globalized world, that is unrealistic."