Canada’s Defence Contribution to International Peace and Security

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr

Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.


Project Ploughshares is a peace centre of the Canadian Council of Churches and affiliated with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo. We are supported financially by 10,000 individual Canadians, as well as by grants from Foundations, Canadian churches, and the Government of Canada. A special grant from the Simons Foundation of Canada supports work related to Canadian defence policy.

The invitation to participate in today’s meeting, which is part of the Committee’s study of the Defence section of Canada’s International Policy Statement, invited attention to “the appropriateness of the policy generally,” and to “NATO issues.”

Accordingly, the following brief review of the Defence policy statement emphasizes four broad points, all focused on Canada’s contribution to international peace and security (North American and national defence roles are not addressed in this submision):

  • that Canadian Defence Policy should be more explicitly framed within a Human Security framework;
  • that effective responses to current security challenges require a greater emphasis on economic, political, and social contributions to security, which in turn requires a shift in Canadian security spending priorities;
  • that Canada’s military contributions to peace and security should be more explicitly oriented toward the protection of the most vulnerable; and
  • that the role and function of NATO beyond the areas of its member states must be evaluated in the context of the United Nations’ special authority and legitimizing function in international interventions in local crises, and that regional stability is best served by regional mutual security arrangements rather than defence allies.

I. The Human Security Framework

Human security is now, of course, a widely accepted framework for understanding and responding to the security needs of people, and Canada has led the international community in encouraging national and international security measures that focus on advancing the safety and well-being or people in their homes and communities.

The Canadian Consortium on Human Security, an academic-based network funded by Foreign Affairs Canada to promote policy-relevant research on human security, describes what the human security concept brings to the pursuit of international peace and security:

“With its focus on protecting the state, the national security paradigm continues to dominate international relations teaching and research as well as policy practice. Yet this approach is becoming decreasingly relevant in a world where most wars take place within, and not between, nation states. In contrast to national security, human security focuses on the threats to personal and communal safety – rather than the defense of borders.”i

That is not to say, however, that human security is in competition with state security or with concerns such as secure borders. Rather, human security is both the objective and the measure of state security. A state can be said to be secure only to the extent that its people live in safety in their own homes and communities.

II. Operationalizing Human Security: A Declining Military Role

For people to live in safety in their own homes and communities, they of course need to be protected by secure borders – for example, from the uncontrolled and illicit flows of small arms from external sources into their communities where their presence is then manifest in escalating crime and violence. But in addition to secure borders, the safety and well-being of people depends on a range of economic, political, and social conditions that meet the basic needs of people and encourage the peaceful settlement of disputes.

It should be the fundamental, if obvious, requirement of Canada’s international peace and security policies that they respond to the ways in which people and communities actually experience insecurity. The most immediate threats to the security of vulnerable people in  troubled societies derive from unmet economic and health needs, political exclusion, denied rights, social and political disintegration, and the criminal and political violence that invariably accompany conditions of chronic insecurity. Since in most cases the primary threats to the security of people are not external military forces bent on attacking the territorial integrity or sovereignty of their state, the primary contribution to the security of these people is not likely to come from armed forces. Human security depends on favourable social, political, and economic conditions that are advanced by measures to:

  • combat poverty and promote human development;
  • foster good governance, including political inclusion and participation, respect for basic rights, restored confidence in public institutions – in other words democracy;
  • end the ready availability of the instruments of violence (small arms in particular, since they are the primary means by which political grievance and social disintegration are transformed into violence) through arms control and disarmament; and
  • support diplomacy that promotes development, democracy, and disarmament, and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and that ensures that the resort to force is in accordance with international law.

Together with defence, these are the 5 Ds of security, and even when the first four Ds fail, emergency protection and stabilization operations rely on more than military responses. Foreign Affairs points out that “contemporary conflict, in which civilians are the primary tools and targets, has forced traditional peacekeeping missions to evolve into broad and multidisciplinary ‘peace support operations’,” and that to be effective such operations must be “expanded to include civilian experts, such as human rights monitors, refugee and child protection experts, corrections officers to rebuild justice systems, and civilian police to monitor and train local police forces.”ii Security is not only a broad concept; it is a multi-dimensional reality that requires multi-dimensional support.

III. Reshaping the Security Envelope

Does Canadian spending on these 5 Ds reflect the multi-dimensional reality of a world in which conflicts are primarily intrastate and in which the insecurity or vulnerability of people is increasingly linked to failed and failing states? The National Security Policy emphasizes that failed and failing states are “one of the most disturbing recent security developments” (NSP, p.7), and that Canada’s policy “is focused, first and foremost, on prevention, through development strategies, support for human rights and democracy, diplomacy to prevent conflict, and contributions to build human security” (IPSDiplomacy, p. 9).

Prevention requires urgent action in support of development, democracy, disarmament, and diplomacy, but current and planned future spending among the 5 Ds does not reflect this focus. Canada’s 2004 spending on development, democracy, disarmament, and diplomacy beyond Canada’s borders, when combined with defence, represented a total commitment to international peace and security of about 1.3 percent of our Gross Domestic Product.iii Development, at less than 0.3% of GDP, accounted for about 20 percent of total security spending. Defence, at just over 1% of GDP, accounted for about 75 percent of the total, with the remaining 5% roughly spent on diplomacy, disarmament, and the promotion of democracy. The defence to development spending ratio was thus about 3.8:1.

Given the special capital and personnel needs of the military, it is not a surprise that defence spending would dominate the security envelope, but it is nevertheless important to ask whether the balance is right, and interesting to speculate what the balance would be if Canada actually increased its overall contribution to international peace and security especially to accommodate reaching the official goal of development spending at 0.7% of GDP. If the overall security envelope were in the process increased to about 2% of GDP, development would come in at about 30 percent of the total, and defence at 65%. The defence to development ration would be closer to 2:1 – as it is in the Nordic states and the Netherlands.

The spending projections in the February 2005 budget, however, push us in the opposite direction. It projects that in five years development spending is to reach only 0.33% of GDPiv and by our calculations that would drop it to only 18% of security spending, while defence is to reach 1.6% of GDPv, thus representing about 78% of total security spending (the other 3 Ds, democracy, disarmament, diplomacy, would make up the other 4% of the total).

In other words, in an international security environment in which the threats are increasingly found in dire economic, political, and social conditions, rather than in overt military threats, does it make sense to proportionately decrease spending on development, democracy, disarmament, and diplomacy, and instead focus the bulk of our security spending increases on military forces? Again, defence, given its extraordinary requirements, will continue to take the most resources, but given what we know about the sources of insecurity, and given that the “responsibility to protect” doctrine emphasizes the responsibility to prevent and rebuild along with the need for protection operations, are the current and planned proportions appropriate?

Jeffrey Sachs, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals, was in Waterloo last week at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and talked about efforts to get fertilizer and seeds to Malawi so that crops could be planted in time for this growing season to meet the food needs of five million people. An appeal was put out for US$37 million (less than an hour of Pentagon spending and just over a day of Canadian military spending). Governments have responded only with pledges for $12 million, and thus we knowingly condemn millions to certain and catastrophic hunger. We’ve again been hearing the message of Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and a tireless campaigner for a just and humane global response to the needs of Africa. It is the same story, only multiplied many times over. By its spending choices, the world knowingly allows children to inherit the virus and others to die early and thus leave still more orphans because we fail to provide the needed funds that amount to less than the world spends in a single day on military forces.
IV. The Military Dimension

It is surely a form of high hubris to assume that the current cases of state failure and armed conflict that have proven intractable and durable for decades will be readily amenable to either military or diplomatic quick fixes. Such conditions and conflicts tragically persist and persist. They are rooted in toxic mixtures of soil depletion, resource scarcity, the absence of health care and basic infrastructure, political exclusion, religious and ethnic competition, and plentiful arms – and the list goes on. There are effective responses, but they are long-term peacebuilding strategies that address the fundamental economic, political, bureaucratic, police, and social deficits that fuel failure. Those efforts we know require resources far beyond those now available, but which in total are still tiny in comparison to the trillion dollars the world spends annually on armed forces. At the same time, the international community must also become much more determined and much better equipped to protect those civilian populations most grievously affected and imperilled as the process of slow change unfolds in the midst of ongoing violence and abuse.

That really describes the military dimension of the R2P Challenge. And the Defence statement addresses it when it declares that “the ability to respond to the challenge of failed and failing states will serve as a benchmark for the Canadian forces” (IPS-Defence, p. 11). The statement properly recognizes that responding to people imperiled by failed and failing states must be the particular task and focus of Canada’s armed forces operating beyond North America.

The statement also acknowledges that “this focus will not see the Forces replicate every function of the world’s premier militaries” (IPS-Diplomacy, p. 11), and thus the specialization question seems finally to be settled. Canada will not try to mount forces designed to respond to every contingency that might be conceived of or faced. Instead, the commitment is to focus – to develop a capacity to make a contribution in some circumstances while recognizing that in others it won’t. In developing that focus for the Canadian Forces, planners should pay particular attention to the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in laborating on what the Defence statement says will be “more relevant” forces for responding to failed state instability (IPS-Defence, p. 11). The Defence statement commits the Armed Forces to supporting Canada’s R2P efforts, but it does not address the question of whether R2P operations require any changes to Canadian equipment and training.

The ICISS report, however, is clear that the force that is to be deployed and used for humanitarian purposes must be distinguished from military war-fighting methods and objectives. It repeats the point several times. While noting that peacekeeping was designed to monitor ceasefires between belligerent states, the ICISS report says “the challenge in this context is to find tactics and strategies of military intervention that fill the current gulf between outdated concepts of peacekeeping and full-scale military operations that may have deleterious impacts on civilians.” (p. 5) Later it makes the point that “military intervention [for humanitarian purposes] involves a form of military action significantly more narrowly focused and targeted than all out war-fighting.” (p. 37) Winning the acceptance of civilian populations, says the report, “means accepting limitations and demonstrating through the use of restraint that the [military] operation is not a war to defeat a state but an operation to protect populations in that state from being harassed, persecuted or killed.” (p. 63)

Canadian military leaders have not liked to hear it, but it is still simply the case that overseas military engagements in failed and failing states must function much closer to a policing model than a war-fighting model. It is inevitable that in some instances protection forces will face heavily armed and unrestrained adversaries, but military operations to protect people are analogous to policing in the sense that the armed forces are not employed in order to “win” a conflict by defeating an army or even a regime. They are there to protect people in peril and to maintain some level of public safety while other authorities and institutions pursue solutions to underlying problems. And in all this, they must ultimately be accountable to the communities that host them and which they are sent to serve.

In the list of types of international operations that Canadian Forces will participate in, there is no reference to civilian protection operations – the closest being “complex peace support and stabilization missions” (IPS-Defence, p. 28) – but the Defence statement does acknowledge a new context: “Our soldiers, sailors and air personnel must increasingly operate in environments where the lines between war and peace have blurred” (IPS-Defence, p. 26). It then identifies a variety of tools required – “from negotiation, compromise and cultural sensitivity to precision weapons” – but it doesn’t adequately explain how Canadian Forces’ training, equipment, and rules of engagement need to be adjusted in order to privilege, as the statement says they must, “the sanctity of human life” (IPS-Defence, p. 27).

V. Defence Alliances vs Cooperative Security Arrangements

It would be hard claim that the world has been ineffective in deploying collective military forces in support of stability and the protection of people in failed and failing states because military forces are inadequately funded. It is true that virtually half of the world’s military spending is by a single state, a state that is conspicuously not oriented to participating in such collective missions, but at $500 billion per year, the rest of the world is not bereft of military capacity. So the issue is not a lack of military capacity, but a primary impediment to timely and effective engagement is the lack of political will and, related to that, the absence of a reliable means of infusing such actions with legitimacy.

The failure of the international community to act effectively in support of people in extraordinary peril in Darfur, for example, is due, not only to a lack of attention, but also to the lack of international consensus on when such operations are required, who decides, and who carries them out.

Nowhere more so than in its discussion of NATO does the International Policy Statement fail to acknowledge this fundamental flaw in the international system (the World Summit declaration on R2P only partly addresses the issue), and in fact throughout the government’s discussions there is an implied equivalence between NATO and the United Nations, with only a brief reference to the UN’s role of conferring, or by implication withholding, legitimacy with regard to international operations, and a clear focus on NATO as the preferred context for Canadian participation.

The National Security Policy speaks of ensuring “the continued and enhanced relevance of both NATO and the United Nations” (p. 51). There is an implied equivalence between the two, and even when the NSP does make a distinction, calling NATO “our best insurance policy” in the face of a dangerous world, while a reformed UN is “our best hope for a truly global peace” (NSP, pp. 51-52.), the distinction is not compelling. It implies immediate concrete benefits from NATO and only hoped for future security benefits from the UN, if it is meaningfully reformed. The Defence statement continues the equivalence theme – “The Canadian Forces will…maintain their contributions to international institutions such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization” (p. 24) – and defines NATO as key to international security outside its own area and supports the development within NATO of “a global power projection capability to manage crises and respond to threats” (p. 25).

The Diplomacy section of the International Policy Statement (IPS-Diplomacy, p. 6)vi also focuses on NATO as the vehicle through which Canada will cooperate with the United States in building greater capacity for participation in peace support operations.

This focus on NATO’s reach and military preparedness does not speak to the needs of Darfur, or Northern Uganda, or Zimbabwe. It lauds military prowess but ignores the profoundly political, legal, and moral quandary that the world has not found a means of timely and consistent access to people in situations of extreme vulnerability, no matter how powerful the military forces it maintains.

To the extent that military forces can come to the aid of people terrorized in their own homes and communities, the priority challenge is to develop means of timely access – and that is a problem of political will and legal legitimacy. And NATO is the source of neither.

NATO is not a regional organization in the United Nations system – that is, NATO is not, like the Africa Union or the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, a politically inclusive body that has the mandate to make decisions for and politically represent regional interests. NATO is like any coalition of the willing, and cannot be the author of its own legitimacy – for that it relies either on the United Nations Charter (the right to defence), the UN Security Council, or in some circumstances the decisions of bona fide, politically inclusive, regional organizations.

Neither Canada nor European states depend on NATO to be able to participate in international forces mandated by the United Nations to come to the aid of people in failed and failing states. In fact, as the Defence statement acknowledges, it is NATO, still uncertain of a compelling post-Cold War role, whose relevance depends “critically” on it finding a “global power projection” role (IPS-Defence, p. 25). Without that role, the Defence statement implies that NATO is aimless, and indeed, a recent report by a group of Canadian academics (well known to this Committee and I think it is safe to say ardent supporters of enhanced military capacity in Canada) characterizes NATO as “in obvious decline” (Stairs, et al, p. 4).vii

Part of NATO’s inevitable political decline can be found in the inescapable fact that the Defence statement’s claim that NATO allies have “shared values and interests” leaves out the obvious reality that there are also sharply conflicting interests among NATO states. Certain fundamental interests are shared, including with many states outside of NATO, but interests are perceived and articulated by national leaders in particular contexts, and in the Canada-US case sharp differences are common. While Canada’s interests are obviously linked to a world order that is stable and prosperous and that functions on the basis of agreed rules that apply to all, the current administration in Washington frequently regards internationally agreed rules to be contrary to its interests. Examples include the International Criminal Court, the Landmines Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – all of which Canada and other NATO members consider important for global and national security, and all of which Washington rejects as too limiting of its options and actions.

Another factor in the decline of NATO is the recognition that regional mutual security arrangements offer a much more compelling model for regional security than do defence alliances. A central security obligation of states is to ensure that they do not threaten others and that threats to their neighbors do not emanate from within their own territory. Canada’s National Security Policy emphasizes the same point, albeit in a more parochial context in which it says that Canada must ensure that it “is not a base for threats to our allies” (NSP, p. 5). In the Horn of Africa, for example, a defence alliance among states in the sub-region would have no relevance, but a cooperative security pact in which each state would commit to measures to ensure that threats to its neighbors not emanate from its own territory (addressing small arms flows between the states of the region, for example, and prohibiting the kinds of clandestine destabilization operations that have been endemic) would have an enormous impact on relations among states and on the internal security and stability of all the states in the region, and hence on the safety and well-being of people in their homes and communities. In the context of European security, a switch from a security order dominated by a military defence alliance of selected states to one that is comprehensive and built on a mutual non-aggression or security commitments would be a significant maturation of the security architecture of Europe.




iii We acknowledge the difficulty in achieving a precise measurement of relevant and relative security spending. The Committee would do a great service of transparency by commissioning a formal economic study of Canadian spending on international peace and security. Our effort to do this is detailed in, Reshaping the Security Envelope: Defence Policy in a Human Security Context, by Ernie Regehr and Peter Whelan, Project Ploughshares Working Paper 04-4, 2004.

iv “Budget 2005: Mixed Messages for Canada’s Commitment to Ending Global Poverty, an analysis by Brian Tomlinson of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, February 24, 2005 (mimeo).

v Don Macnamara, “Happiness is – a rising defence budget?, an IRPP Special Commentary, February 25, 2005 (Institute for Research on Public Policy).

vi Canada’s International Policy Statement, “A Role of Pride and Influence in the World: Diplomacy,” Department of Foreign Affairs, 2005 (

vii Denis Stairs, David J. Bercuson, Mark Entwhistle, J.L. Granatstein, Kim Richard Nossal, and Gordon S. Smith, In the National Interest: Canadian Foreign Policy in an Insecure World, the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, 2003, 45 pp.

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