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February 6, 2020 | Local, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

Canada Unprepared for Military Aggression Via Arctic, Say Defence Experts


Modernizing outdated North Warning System not funded as part of defence budget

No sooner had a gathering to discuss modernizing the defence of North America taken place than two Russian strategic bombers approached Canadian airspace from the Arctic. The menace underscores the message to the Canadian government and public that the country is at greater risk than it has been in decades.

North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) reported the Russian activity on Jan. 31, just two days after the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) hosted a major defence conference in Ottawa.

“They [the Russians and Chinese] have the weapons systems and we are increasingly seeing the intent, so we haven't caught up to that yet,” University of Calgary political science professor and conference panelist Rob Huebert said in an interview following the incident.

The Russian aircraft stayed in international airspace and didn't enter U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace, but it nevertheless highlighted the threat.

Huebert says what's been holding Canada back is a decades-long multi-faceted problem of attitudes.

Canada is accustomed to playing the “away game” instead of the “home game,” meaning it prefers to face its threats as far away from its borders as possible. Thus the protection of the North American continent requires a change of mindset given the advanced capabilities of the Russians and Chinese.

It's also naive on Canada's part to think it can simply talk to Russia and China and get them to play nice.

“We have to be a lot more honest with Canadians,” Huebert said.

A government can favour certain initiatives, and the current one has shown it can generate broad public buy-in for its environmental initiatives. But even if the public isn't clamouring for better military capabilities—as seen in the lack of interest the topic garnered during the election run-up—experts say the government can no longer ignore the military threat from Russia and China.

“What this government has shown no willingness to deal with is a much more comprehensive understanding of security that encapsulates both environmental security and military security,” Huebert said.

For example, the Liberals didn't put forth their Arctic policy until a day before the election was called.

‘People have to recognize there is a real threat'

Canadian governments have put a lower priority on defence spending for decades, and that has left a consistent drop in capability compared to potential rivals. A case in point is that Canada opted in 2005 to not be a part of the U.S. ballistic missile defence program.

Contrast that attitude with the Russians or the Chinese and their imperialist goals.

Russia wants to destroy us and China wants to own us, said John Sanford of the U.S.'s National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office, at the CGAI forum.

A power play is shaping up between the United States, China, and Russia, and the Arctic is the epicentre of the military conflict. That makes it Canada's business, according to defence experts.

“People have to recognize there is a real threat,” said conference opening speaker Commodore Jamie Clarke, Norad's deputy director of strategy. “We are defending our entire way of life.” At risk is Canada's economy and infrastructure, not to mention that of the United States.

At the heart of the matter is an outdated detection and deterrence system with no comprehensive replacement in the works.

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