National Security
Jul 15, 2006

Some analysts have noted inadequacies in certain Canadian national security strategies. The fault may lie elsewhere. Any strategy, no matter how robust and well thought out, will not be fully effective in a policy vacuum, because strategy is derived from policy, or at least it should be. Without a sound policy to provide guidance and context, strategy is like the Maple Leafs at the end of the regular hockey season – lots of activity, but going nowhere.

This article offers a conceptual description of policy and evaluates Canada’s National Security Policy (NSP).

Policy as Concept
National policy describes what is to be achieved, in a broad sense. Policy is an idea, based on ideas, like values. Government officials have been notoriously enthusiastic in invoking Canadian values and interests to justify various actions, but seldom making the effort to specify what those values and interests are. Prime Minister Harper has been consistent in defining Canadian values as freedom, democracy, rule of law and human dignity. Page vii of the NSP’s Executive Summary mentions the “core Canadian values of openness, diversity and respect for civil liberties,” values that cannot be found in any other government document of the time.

A well-articulated policy can come in many forms. Some might not even look or sound like policy at first blush, but upon reflection, the grand idea and the values upon which it is built become clear. Perhaps the greatest policy of the modern era went like this:

“… we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. – Winston Churchill in a speech to the British House of Commons on 4 June, 1940.

Winston Churchill’s short policy statement generated a number of successful Allied strategies. It has three compulsory characteristics of good policy – it expresses a desired end-state in the form of a grand (hopefully inspiring) idea; it identifies broad objectives which subordinate strategies must achieve; and it is concise.

Policy spawns one or more strategies, each of which must be consistent with national policy objectives. Given the link between policy and strategy, one can immediately see how the absence of adequate policy can make the development of effective strategy an almost impossible task. Ineffective strategy, in turn, can be fatal to hopes for the successful conduct of subordinate operational campaigns and can render tactical victories and their cost pointless.

Is the NSP really a policy at all? The answer comes from a review of the three criteria mentioned earlier – the presence of an inspiring grand idea, broad objectives to be achieved by particular strategies and brevity. These will be addressed in reverse order.

The NSP is too long. At 52 pages (59 en français) it could be considerably shortened by a few format changes and the elimination of all elements that do not belong in the high ranks of policy. Specific organizational changes listed in each section are operational actions that need not be included in the policy proper. Nor should policy dwell on specific allocations or expenditure of funds, which might be more appropriately found in operational plans. Similarly, lists of measures taken, such as implementing the Smart Border Action Plan, are strategic level concerns at best.

Broad Objectives
The NSP starts reasonably well by making the point that a core responsibility of government is to provide for the security of Canadians, noting that “the right to life, liberty and security of the person is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” It identifies three national security interests, but fails to describe a broad, but achievable, objective for any of them.

Take for instance the first national security interest – Protecting Canada and the safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad. It cannot be done. Given the extent and nature of the elements of Canadian national power, the Gov­ern­ment cannot protect all Canadians abroad, period. Maher Arar knows this all too well.

The second national security interest is ensuring that Canada is not a base for threats to our allies. Does this mean that threats to those who are not our allies will be tolerated? Probably not. This negatively worded aim typifies the pathological inferiority complex that plagues most Canadian policy makers. A better broad objective might be, “Eradicate all forms of terrorist activity in Canada.” This puts our security first – the real point of the policy – and incidentally solves the problem of exporting terrorism from Canadian soil. It is also refreshingly offensive.

Contributing to international security is the third national security objective. It advocates simple participation, perhaps via military or developmental activity, probably in failed or failing states. There is no objective, end-state or desired effect offered. It seems process trumps effect here.

Chapter 2 of the NSP, Building an Integrated Security System, initially brings hope that it might produce a true broad policy objective, sound enough to generate its own strategy. It does a reasonably effective job in setting policy objectives for an overall protection and prevention capability, consequence management, and evaluation and oversight.

However, as promising as Chapter 2 is, Chapters 3 to 8 do not live up to the advance billing.

Chapter 3 – Intelligence – essentially declines change when it says, “No changes to the current mandates and structures of Canada’s security and intelligence agencies are being proposed at this time.” It goes on however, to advise that intelligence collection and assessment capabilities will be increased and that a greater proportion of effort will go to security intelligence. As benign as all this may be, it is, nonetheless, sound policy guidance.

Emergency Planning and Management is the title of Chapter 4, a chapter that exemplifies the enthusiastic descent into strategy, without the prerequisite policy guidance. Information on strategic coordination reads like strategy, although it does contain one nugget of policy objective; “The Government needs to be able to continue to provide core services to Canadians during emergencies.” There is one other; “… the Government will strengthen its capacity to predict and prevent cyber-attacks.” The chapter ends with statements of action, not policy objectives. Chapter 4 is not policy.

Chapter 5 deals with the important subject of Public Health Management. Astoundingly, it talks only about establishing a robust public health system, nationally and internationally. There is no policy objective describing what it is supposed to do. Again it seems that process trumps effect. Chapter 5 is not policy.

Transportation Security is found in Chapter 6. It lacks a defined, preferred end-state vision and, like Chapter 4, plunges into strategic activity, past and future, in a way that comes across as serving the political end of showing how busy authorities are. There are many worthwhile endeavours in the chapter, but Chapter 6, as a whole, is not policy either.

Neither is Chapter 7 – Border Security. Again, a lot of strategic activity is described here, but nothing is found to define an end-state, or any standard of what all that activity is to achieve.

Chapter 8 focuses on International Security, but does so in a manner that simply provides an introduction to the separate International Policy Statement, the critique of which is beyond the time and space available here. Given its introductory role for the IPS, Chapter 8 is not authoritative policy.

Although the NSP occasionally hints at true policy, it ultimately falls short because it too rarely articulates broad policy objectives to be achieved. To be sure, there are many good strategic ideas and calls to action in the NSP, but strategic action is irrelevant if not aimed at known policy objectives.

The Grand Idea
In the end, one is left in a quandary when trying to answer the question, “what grand national security idea does the NSP promote? The Prime Minister of the time could only say that the NSP “articulates core national security interests and proposes a framework for addressing threats to Canadians.” This is hardly grand, or comprehensive enough to generate significant subordinate strategies.

Nowhere in the NSP are we given the ultimate what that is to be achieved. Almost by default, the document leaves the impression that we will exert a lot of effort and spend a lot of money to ‘address’ threats as they arise, without committing to what effect such ‘addressing’ should have. How happily un-controversial! How conveniently and politically benign!

However, to be fair, the NSP does flirt with true policy in three ways. First, it talks of an integrated approach to security which horizontally spans government departments and vertically connects to all levels of government. Second, it does recognize a broad spectrum of threats that represents a more holistic view of security than in the past. Third, it connects the domestic and international realms of security. But this is not enough to give it a passing grade.

The NSP missed the chance to adequately describe the grand idea it could have and perhaps three principal subordinate objectives. The NSP could have said:

“The Government will lead Canadians in a broad and enduring effort to counter all threats to the national security of Canada, at home or abroad, be they natural, accidental or man-made. Recognizing the nature of global interdependence, we will collaborate, when appropriate, with International Organizations, allies and like-minded nations to predict, prevent and counter threats to international peace and security that affect the national security of Canada. Where threats may be manifest, the Government will ensure the continuation of core national services to Canadians, in addition to the conduct of effective emergency response, emergency management and mitigation, and consequence management; the aim being to maintain or restore the normal conditions of Canadian life as much as possible, with minimum injury and suffering. Our priorities today include counter-terrorism activity (the pro-active, aggressive, offensive action taken to pre-empt terrorist activity directed at Canadian interests) against all terrorist threats to Canada, wherever they may be; positive control and security of national borders and the effective surveillance of all maritime, land and aerospace approaches to them; and the establishment of a nationally integrated emergency preparedness organization capable of managing and mitigating possible natural or man-made disasters in Canada, including geological phenomenon; pandemics; meteorological events; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies; and space-based catastrophes.”

This attempt is hardly Churchillian, but it makes the point.

The NSP was intended to be a policy to guide the post-9/11 national security effort in Canada. There are occasional glimpses of policy in the document but ultimately, the NSP admits its own failure as a policy when the document is referred to as “a strategic framework and action plan….” As such, it may be good strategy, but it is not adequate policy.

Brigadier General (retired) Jim Cox is currently a PhD candidate in War Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.
© FrontLine Security 2006