“Comprehensive” National Security

15 November 2010

The current and perceived future security environment is both complex and challenging. It is complex because of the various issues, trends, and threats that are now included in a broad and comprehensive national security context. It is challenging because of the need to assess these ­various factors in terms of their importance and relevance to ensure the most effective allocation of resources to the preservation of our interests and safeguarding and promotion of our values. No longer the sole purview of the military, the responsibilities of “National Security” continue to involve and challenge other government departments under the ‘whole of government’ rubric.

The Current and Future Security Environment and Canada’s National Interests
At its most basic level, a concise definition of national security was penned by retired Capt(N) Bernard Thillaye in 1973. He described national security as “the matter of guarding national values and interests from both internal and external dangers.”

Of course, this leads to the next question: “What are those national values and interests?” Our fundamental national values or beliefs are generally described as:

    Democracy – a freely elected, representative democratic government, implying the acceptance of the Rule of Law.

    Freedom – individual freedom to pursue ones interest to the point that it does not infringe on the rights of others.

    Human Rights – the intrinsic and ultimate value of human life, leading to a strong sense of social justice domestically and internationally.

These values are indeed matters for which we are prepared to fight to defend. In discussions of values versus interests, values both form and inform our interests. The specifics of ‘interests’, however, are often not clarified.

Our national interests, which we also hold in common with our allies, are sometimes called national objectives – conditions we seek to maintain or achieve, commonly found in foreign and defence policy documents. They can and should be the lenses through which we view the world to assess its impacts on us, and assist in developing appropriate policy and action responses. Such an approach assists both decision-makers and citizens in understanding what events or issues are affecting which interests. Our fundamental interests are clear and should be expressed in the following order:

    Security – the defence of Canada and North America – Freedom from Fear.

    Prosperity – the economic well-being of Canadians – Freedom from Want.

    Stable World Order – contributes to Security and Prosperity.

    Promotion of Canada’s Values – not to impose on others, but to represent democracy and the Rule of Law, freedom, social justice and to contribute to stable world order.

The order in which these interests are stated is important. Without security, achievement of prosperity would be difficult, and a stable world order contributes to the other two before it.

What is National Security?
Several different agencies and organizations in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and NATO have recently conducted studies attempting to analyze the range of issues and trends that may be rele­vant to national security and our national interests. The first conclusion in examining these documents is how much they have in common, and the recognition that the term ‘national security’ now has a very broad meaning and may be referred to as comprehensive national security.

If the various studies are consolidated and reduced to rather simple terms, a list of issues, trends, risks and threats to national security would include the following:

  • Globalization/International Economy (including issues of debt, credit and investment capital)
  • Terrorism
  • Cyber-warfare and Cyber-terrorism (disruption of communications, institutions, operations, finance)
  • World Order (political/economic restructuring in many states in many regions)
  • Regional Conflict (failed / failing states)
  • Weapons Proliferation (including weapons of mass effect)
  • Resources (including energy, oil, water)
  • Environment (climate change, ­natural disasters)
  • Pandemic Disease (swine flu, bird flu, HIV/AIDS)
  • Refugees (population migration, human trafficking)
  • Organized Crime (money laundering, drugs)
  • Demographics (major age profile differences across regions)

These 12 headings may not be a list of conventional security concerns, but times have changed. In addition, one or more of these issues can create or intensify others. For example, a natural or humanitarian disaster could lead to unexpected refugee immigration that could lead to migration of foreign conflict tensions, with or to ex-patriate communities in Canada.

In 1981, a more broadly-based definition of national security was adopted at the former National Defence College of Canada, and the concept was further developed by Barry Buzan in his 1983 book People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era. More recently, the Thillaye definition has been incorporated in a new definition to describe the ‘comprehensive’ approach to national security.

“National security is the first and most important obligation of government. It involves not just the safety and security of its citizens. It is a matter of guarding national values and interests from both internal and external dangers – threats that have the potential to undermine the state, society and citizens. It must include not just freedom from undue fear of attack against their person, communities or sources of their prosperity and sovereignty, but also the preservation of the political, economic and social values – respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights, economy and environment – which are central to the quality of life in a modern state.” 

November 2010 – George Sproul (third from left), a Correctional Service Canada officer with the Kandahar PRT, mentors a warden who is training coworkers in self-defence at Sarpoza prison. Canada’s whole-of-government approach in Afghanistan reflects three pillars: security, governance and development, and draws upon resources and expertise from across the federal government.

If national security is indeed the first and most important responsibility of government, then surely citizens should be well informed in terms of which national interests are at stake in an issue and why, and then, how the government plans to deal with it, and with what resources.

Grappling with this now comprehensive list of security issues requires an orderly process, lest opinion or whim dictate priorities. By using the four national interests as ‘lenses,’ each issue or risk may be assessed in terms of its relevance to each national interest. In addition, using a system of assigning a level of ‘intensity’ or importance of an issue to each interest, the comparative importance of each issue in terms of the national interests will be identified, and may even suggest the general means by which to address it. The levels of intensity suggested by Dr. Don Nuechterlein, who developed this technique, includes survival (critical), vital (dangerous), major (important) and peripheral (bothersome), to which may be added humanitarian (when our values demand a response). Clearly, responses for many issues could range from military force to no use of force at all, hence involving other government departmental capabilities, or even sequential combinations.

The Comprehensive/Whole of Government Approach
A comprehensive approach to national security leads naturally to considering how the military would address such issues. In 2008, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, Mr. Peter Gziewski and Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Rostek published a paper in the Canadian Military Journal titled Developing a Comprehensive Approach to Canadian Forces Operations. In that article they stated:

“CF interest in the development of a more comprehensive approach to operations derives heavily from a ‘whole of government’ perspective recently articulated by the Canadian Government. This perspective calls for bringing previously separate agencies into closer collaboration in achieving policy objectives. In fact, a comprehensive approach encapsulates many of the capabilities that this perspective identifies. Indeed, it involves developing a capacity to interact with such players in a cooperative, constructive manner. As such, it can be seen as a necessary component of a more general whole of government effort. Such an approach is hardly a Canadian invention. Indeed, similar thinking has gained currency among key allies – most notably the United Kingdom and the United States. And yet, all generally involve creating a competency that cuts across departments and ­dispenses with ‘stovepipes.’ “

The ‘comprehensive’ approach to national security and the expected ‘whole of government’ response has placed, and will continue to place new demands on other government departments. The implications of these demands will likely require a change in the ‘strategic culture’, organization and responsiveness of those departments.

Similarly, the Canada First Defence Strategy stated: “Only by drawing upon a wide range of governmental expertise and resources will Canada be successful in its efforts to confront today’s threats.” 

June 2010 – Sgt Andre Wyatt, Durham Regional Police, and Cpl Greg Okell, RCMP, attached with the International Peace Operations Branch (IPOB), issue loaded magazines to Afghan National Police officers prior to training on the pistol range. The IPOB teaches a leadership and management course to commissioned officers of the ANP.

Strategic Culture
‘Strategic Culture’ has been defined as the socially transmitted habits of mind, tradition and preferred methods of operations that are more or less specific to a particular geographically based community (K. Davis “Cultural Intelligence and Leadership”) or, as Colin Gray stated, “strategic culture is the world of mind, feeling and habit in behaviour.”

For over 100 years, Canada’s military ‘Strategic Culture’ has been the deployment of expeditionary forces abroad to protect Canada’s interests and promote Canada’s values. This has been exemplified by the Boer War, two World Wars, the Korean War, the Cold War (with the stationing of some 10,000 personnel in army and air force units in Europe between 1950 and 1993), and dozens of UN ‘Peacekeeping’ operations or coalition interventions (such as the Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan).

Such operations involved thousands of service personnel but very few civilians from other government departments – even in the much-vaunted 3D (defence, diplomacy and development) that has been pursued in Afghanistan.

Of course, it must be recognized that there are huge differences between military personnel and civilian public servants. At the outset, the Canadian Forces is an organization staffed, equipped, trained and educated for deployment in high-risk areas. When not deployed, operational units are training for deployment, attending courses and professional development programs to ensure their operational effectiveness when deployed. All military personnel are trained in certain military skills enabling them not only to look after themselves, but also to do a variety of tasks.

All officers and non-commissioned members are taught planning, administration, management and leadership, and are subject to undertaking an organized series of professional development programs to prepare them for increased responsibility and higher rank. Virtually everyone expects to deploy somewhere sometime.

With very few exceptions, none of this applies to the public service – there is no ‘deployment culture’ – and yet the comprehensive whole of government approach already expects such deployments and will thus require a change in departmental cultures.

Among the many changes will be the need to identify or designate positions that may be ‘deployment capable’. There will be a need to identify necessary skills and the appropriate training and education provided. Particularly important will be the attendance on professional development education programs such as the National Security Program at the Canadian Forces College (CFC), in Toronto, where senior public service officials, together with senior CF officers, can undertake a year-long study of national and international affairs relevant to national security.

A ‘comprehensive/whole of government’ approach to the defence of Canada’s interests and promotion of Canada’s values will require substantial change in the knowledge, skills and experience within Canada’s public service and its senior ­leadership.

There are signs that the need for increased public service attendance at the National Security Program at CFC is attracting some recognition. But until a much broader conceptual and organizational approach and understanding of both needs and expectations, including an effective and relevant public service professional development program, is adopted across the whole of government, Canada’s response to the new comprehensive national security environment may again be left primarily to military resources.

The changing national and international security environment requires a heightened government and public understanding and assessment of the issues, trends and risks that can affect Canada’s national interests.

A comprehensive approach to national security will involve many other government departments – indeed the whole of government; such a policy requires that larger numbers of public servants will likely be subject to deployment abroad to protect Canada’s interests. This will require changes in the organization and staffing in many departments and agencies plus education and professional development programs for both military and public service personnel to ensure effective and cohesive execution of their assigned responsibilities. To do so will most certainly be in Canada’s national security interest.
A specialist in national and international security affairs, Don Macnamara, retired as a Canadian Air Force Brigadier General after having spent 37 years in the Canadian Forces. He then joined the faculty of Queen’s University School of Business as a professor of international business for 20 years. He continues as a media defence and national security analyst and commentator. This commentary was previously published in the CDA’s newsletter, OnTrack.
© FrontLine Defence 2010