By kind invitation of Bob Ainsworth MP, The All Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic and International Security was pleased to host a discussion with Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces, General Walt Natynczyk. General Natynczyk offered his assessment of Canada’s “Canada First Defence Strategy” and Canada’s strategic outlook relating to four spheres: the Arctic; the Americas; Europe and NATO; and Asia. The discussion took place on 25th January 2011 in the House of Commons.
First of all, let me offer my sincere condolences after hearing that you have lost another soldier in combat today. We share your grief. Soldiers are battle buddies on the ground and support for the family is absolutely key and so I want to express my sincere condolences on behalf of the Canadian forces.
It was quite an experience for me walking in here for the first time, to this historic building, and at the same time it is quite appropriate for me to be here as Canada has always enjoyed a very close relationship with the United Kingdom. From Canada’s founding as a modern nation, Canadians and Britons have found themselves standing shoulder to shoulder as allies. In the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Monte Cassino, The Battle of Britain, The Battle of the Atlantic, Normandy Beaches, the Korean peninsula, and today in a place called Afghanistan.
I am here in the UK this week with all of the Canadian forces’ senior leadership including the senior chiefs of service; army, navy, air force, military personnel and intelligence, to meet with our UK counterparts. We are here to show our commitment to the special relationship that exists between us. When I look at the military-military relations around the world, I see that we have always enjoyed a very special and privileged relationship with the UK as well as the United States, Australia and New Zealand. There is a level of trust and respect between our forces, forged on the battlefields around the world and on the high seas and reinforced by our shared values and interests. But it goes beyond intelligence sharing. These are relationships that transcend every aspect of our military-to-military connections, in Head Quarters and in operations around the world.
But, like all great friendships, it is easy to take your friends for granted. Sometimes I feel we are separated by a common language. Great friendships, like great marriages, require effort to maintain and for my leadership team, this is an opportunity to explore how we can forge an even closer bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom.
My visit is also an opportunity for me to share, with you, some of Canada’s security and defence challenges and as I begin, it is important to remember that Canada is a nation of the Atlantic, but also of the Pacific and the Arctic oceans. We are also a nation of the Western hemisphere. And while the importance of our transatlantic relationship is enduring and as important to Canada as ever, I see this relationship as one of four spheres of interest and influence for our nation as it relates to defence and security.
The first sphere extends to the Arctic and the challenges wrought by dramatic changes to the climate. These changes are having a profound effect on the far north and the Canadians who live there. The arctic is an area of increased activity. The second sphere extends to the south and to our neighbours in North America and indeed, South America. Of course, we enjoy a special economic and defence relationship with our neighbour to the south, but beyond the United States, this sphere extends beyond to Central and South America. A third sphere extends across the Atlantic to Europe and is focused on our role within NATO. Finally, a forth sphere extends to Asia which is becoming more and more important to Canada from the stand point of economics, immigration, defence and security as I am sure it is to Britain as well.
For Canada, these spheres of interest are reflected in the roles our government has given us in the defence policy; the Canada First Defence Strategy, which I will refer to as CFDS, unveiled in 2008. Through CFDS, the Canadian government has given its forces three roles.
First, we must defend Canada and that is our priority mission, to guarantee the defence of Canada and allow our government to exercise its sovereignty. Just like we did in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last year, we had 4,500 men and woman of the Canadian forces, in support of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and all of the civilian police forces, to provide security for the games. That is why we are increasing our efforts, presence and expertise in the arctic.
Second, we have a reliable and strong partner in the United States and the defence of North America; a partnership that we have operationalised every day, since 1957 through the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) to maintain awareness of and defend our air space. More recently we have begun to explore how NORAD can develop better awareness of the maritime approach to the defence of the continent.
Third, and finally, the government of Canada directed the Canadian forces to project leadership abroad. Not only in symbolic contributions to international peace and security but in giving Canada a leadership role in military operations as we have done in Kandahar since 2005. Today, we are in the third year of this strategy that has a twenty year horizon. This strategy provides for a force growth and a modernisation plan for the force. Like all of our allies in NATO, we are busy in a way that we have not been for many years. A year ago, this month, the Canadian forces had over 12,000 men and women committed in operations: about 3,000 in Afghanistan and another 3,500 preparing to go to Afghanistan, the 4,500 in Vancouver supporting the police at the Winter Olympics and in the midst of this high operational tempo, we launched 2,000 soldiers, sailors airmen and women in Haiti.
When CFDS was unveiled in May 2008, we knew that we would have to refresh it every 3 to 4 years. But it allowed us to put out a plan that had these 3 roles involved. And within these roles were 4 pillars that were in balance: growing the force to 70,000 regulars and 30,000 reserves; recapitalising the major fleets; readying fuel, ammunition, rations and so on to keep our forces properly trained and ready to deploy; and finally, the fourth pillar was infrastructure and we laid out the whole picture over a 20 year period of time with the direction from the treasury to apply accrual accounting, or for a layman, ‘cruel’ accounting.
Government gave us a 2 percent growth factor: 0.5 percent real plus 1.5 percent inflation. Military inflation is much higher than 1.5, but we were happy getting an escalator in this regard. Having said that, the 2010 budget subjected the department of national defence to a strategic review where each department was required to undertake a review of all their programs; identifying the lowest priority or the lowest performing programs then shedding 5 percent of their budgets from those programs. This 5 percent was then given back to cabinet who decided whether we got it back or not. Except for the case of national defence, we lost the 5 percent. That is why transformation is key, because we want to maintain the modernisation and the growth of the Canadian forces and look to our overhead in terms of looking for the savings. In a broader context, this transformation that we are going through now has to be seen through the lens of the changes we went through in the 1960s with integration of the force and the changes we went through in the 1990s and the program review of 1994/1995 where the Canadian economy was in desperate straits and we had to figure out our financial house. The Canadian force was chopped 35 percent in terms of resources and 35 percent in terms of personnel. We came out of that period in 2005 when the government at the time gave us an injection of cash and then the subsequent government (the current government) gave us an escalator and CFDS and now we are trying to tweak the organisation to maintain the operational effectiveness that we have learned the hard way in Afghanistan, in Haiti and in other international operations and at the same time, be more efficient.
One of the things we are working on at the moment is the guidelines for the next transformational step which has four main trust lines. The first is looking at efficiencies. We still have this mandate to grow to 70,000 and the uptake has been huge. I have more people coming in to sign up for the infantry because they want to go to places like Afghanistan. It has always been that way. So the growth is there, but it is about how we apportion the force to ensure that we reduce what I will call corporate overhead and invest into operational units and tactical headquarters that go out the door. The global economic situation means we have more to do, while at the same time are required to find ways and means of tightening our belts, finding the efficiencies and better focusing on ways of delivering the operational output. In view of these fiscal pressures, the lessons of our experience and strategic outlook, all drive our ongoing efforts to transform the force. But transformation is a journey for which there is no destination. We have to maintain agility and flexibility to adapt to a changing world. Finding our efficiencies will ensure that we can deliver our CFDS and the recapitalisation on our major equipment fleets. It will also enable us to find new investment space to institutionalise the capabilities which our experiences in recent operations, like in Afghanistan, have shown us to be necessary to do the job and to save lives. It will let us take stock of the future security environment and ensure that we have the capabilities and competencies to be agile for the future.
The second line is continuing the modernisation of the force. I need to recapitalise our navy, which is the biggest challenge that I have. You can go out and buy an aircraft with relative ease, for example, when we purchased Chinook helicopters, from the government decision to the point of operationalising the Chinooks in Kandahar took 9 months. We purchased C 17s and put them into the force right away and C 130Js are being delivered and deployed into theatre rapidly. Tanks and artillery can also be purchased very quickly and put into the force. But I have a challenge in building ships. Ships are hugely complex and the best record we have from concept and decisions to commissioning of a hull takes 8 years. 8 years. It is hugely expensive and comes with a lot of technical risk. So moving that through government is a challenge. I have the oldest replenishment ships in the world, they are 40 years old. I have the oldest destroyers in the western navy, the Iroquois-class; they are 40 years old also. They are great ships, but they are old ships. So we need to give our sailors new ships and that is a major challenge.
The third line is to codify and institutionalise all the lessons learned; the hard lessons learned in Afghanistan. We have bled for those lessons. Institutionalising things like human intelligence, counter-IED, dog units and so forth. But also, there are valuable lessons to take away from Haiti such as operating in a littoral region and there are lessons to be learned from operating at home and in the Arctic such as working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and government partners in the Olympics. All these lessons; how do we codify them and institutionalise them? That must constitute a priority for us.
The fourth line is how we maintain agility for tomorrow’s conflicts which may not be in a landlocked, desert environment like Afghanistan. We could be in jungle, mountain, arctic or littoral environments. How do we put that into Canadian forces? We have purchased a core worth of Chinook helicopters, state of the art CH47 Fox Trot helicopters. So how do we adapt in air mobility and parachute operations? These four strands are, in general, a proposal that we are working on with government.
For the next few minutes, I want to describe the challenges I see in each of our four spheres of interest. First, the challenges we face in the Arctic. For Canadians, the Arctic is 40 percent of our land mass and an essential part of our national identity. The fact is the Arctic is huge. North of the Arctic Circle, the European continent will almost fit into our Arctic territory. It is populated by 104,000 people, most of those in three communities and it is a difficult place to operate. In many respects, it is actually easier to operate in Afghanistan where you have host nation support than it is to operate in the Arctic where your logistic support base is 3,500 miles away. In the Arctic, there is no infrastructure other than the communities and it is changing rapidly. Ice conditions are changing in ways that would have been unthinkable only a decade ago. This month, for the first time in historic record, Frobisher Bay was free of ice, in January. The changes in the Arctic are having other important impacts. We have a lot more traffic in the north; last summer, ship traffic was at historic levels. We have adventurers too, launching off and trying to reach the North Pole. We have sailboats going through the Northwest Passage; when I contacted the deputy commissioner of the coast guard and asked him to monitor a German sailboat going through the passage, he said “that’s nothing, we have a row boat with a Briton and a dog and they are rowing in the opposite direction!”
The CFDS gives the Canadian forces an important supporting role to play in the Arctic. With distances so vast and infrastructure so sparse, Canada’s forces are a key enabler for all the other government departments and agencies. It is a vast and hostile land and it is the Canadian forces’ assessment, and many other think tanks’ assessment, that there is no conventional military threat to the Arctic. In fact, if someone were to invade the Canadian Arctic, my first challenge would be to rescue them!
Every community, generally, has a ranger patrol and they patrol within 300km of their villages. But those people are tied to very sophisticated satellite coverage of the region: maritime patrol aircraft; fighter aircraft with forward bases; an ability to refuel our aircraft underway. We are purchasing UAVs as part of CFDS to layer that cover through to sub-surface and underwater surveillance. We also operate to save lives through the Arctic. Last March, we saw a number of adventurers take on the annual pilgrimage to the North Pole; 15 people headed off to the North Pole and we carried out one rescue mission 500 miles north of Ellsmere Island. As part of the CFDS, we are investing in 6 to 8 Arctic offshore patrol ships. These are ships of 5,000 to 6,000 tons, able to patrol not only in the archipelago, but in the Arctic Ocean. We are also investing in a birthing and refuelling facility for these vessels on the shores of the Northwest Passage, an army Arctic training facility in Resolute Bay, and the expansion of our Canadian rangers, who are our reserve component.
We also need to reach out to others in the Arctic so that they understand and indeed share our common concerns. This is a key tenet of Canada’s recently announced foreign policy statement on the Arctic. The statement pledges that Canada will work with its partners to address regional issues, including, through the Arctic Council – the premier forum for international cooperation between Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the US – on northern issues. A prime example of the work that Canada has been pursuing with the Arctic Council is the development of an international instrument for cooperation in search and rescue in the region. My concern for the future, when I look out to 2020 to 2050, is that the Arctic Ocean will be open and will become the primary transpolar route. Less and less shipping will go through the Northwest Passage where it is almost like a country lane compared to the highway across the top of the world. Search and rescue will actually be a key issue for the North.
Second, to the South, we enjoy a close relationship with another key partner in defence, the United States. And just like our one with the United Kingdom, it is a special relationship that is based on shared values, common interests and mutual trust and friendship. Beyond the United States, Canada has many interests in the Americas. First, Canada’s economic ties to the Americas are substantial and growing in importance. Second, more than 4 million Canadians travel the Americas every year to visit family, for business and for holidays. Finally, security in our hemisphere, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, has a direct impact on security in Canada; it is our yard.
To address these regional challenges and recognise the growing importance to the region, Canada developed the Americas strategy in 2007. This engagement strategy outlines a plan for partnership that is based on three pillars: democracy; security; and prosperity. And it is because of the CFDS that we are able to execute the Americas strategy. We saw this last year in response to the earthquake in Haiti. Indeed, within 24 hours of the earthquake, we were on the ground, in Haiti, saving lives with search and rescue missions. Firemen and Medics were transported into the area with our new C-17 aircraft that were purchased as part of CFDS. Then, in the days following the earthquake, we flowed in a joint taskforce of ships, infantry, engineers, hospital logistics; a force of about 2,000 on the ground for 60 days, providing life saving support.
Third, and to the West, it is important to realise that Canada is also a Pacific nation. When you are in a cold place like Ottawa – and today it is minus 25 degrees in Ottawa – then you always focus to the East. But we have to remember Vancouver and Victoria and the fact that we are a Pacific nation. It is a region whose importance is growing to Canada at an expediential rate.
Today, China and Japan are Canada’s second and fourth largest trading partners accounting for over $60 billion in annual two-way trade. But our interests in the Asia-Pacific region go beyond just trade and finance. There are many security challenges in the Pacific and its environment is different to the one in the Atlantic. For instance, there is no multi-national organisation, like NATO, in the Pacific. That makes our bilateral relationships in the region all the more essential.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States are our key partners in defence in the Pacific. In the same way, Australia and New Zealand have proven to be key partners in defence in NATO to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and following the Lisbon summit, I think it is important for NATO to recognise the contribution these partners have made in areas like Asia and the Pacific. When nations make significant contributions of combat forces to NATO missions, they deserve a place at the table of operational discussions.
There are many potential challenges in the Asia Pacific region and that should give us all concern given the interconnectedness and interdependence of our interests in a globalised world. So in maintaining the momentum that we have built over the past two decades, Canada will continue to become increasingly involved in Asia-Pacific through multilateral organisation such as ASEAN, Regional Forum and APEC and I also find that the Shangri-La Dialogue is a great forum and a time to connect with our friends and allies. We will continue to participate in the regions evolving security architecture and support the development of a longer term framework for sustaining multilateral cooperation.
Fourth, and finally, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about Canada’s relationship with Europe and particularly with NATO. As a founding member of NATO, the alliance remains very important to Canada. Within the NATO framework, Canada and the UK have always enjoyed a unique defence relationship that continues to this day. We have similar perspectives on major alliance issues such as the new strategic concept and NATO transformation. We share common perspectives on reform of NATO command structure and we both want to improve NATO’s financial and budgetary management practices. Looking to the point of the spear, our operations together in the toughest regions of Afghanistan have strengthened the length of respect and trust between our two forces yet again through a shared history of experience that goes back generations. Since 2005, nearly 30,000 Canadian troops have served in extremely difficult conditions in Kandahar, shoulder to shoulder with our NATO and Regional Command South partners, most notably the UK, the US and the Netherlands. In particular, I would like to congratulate and thank the UK for the exceptional leadership of Regional Command South where Canadian Task Force served under the command of a Briton named General Nick Carter who did a simply outstanding job recently in a very difficult mission.
As you know, the Canadian forces will transition this year from a combat mission to a mission focused on training the Afghan security forces. We should have all of our combat troops out of their four operating bases by the end of July. This is a new commitment that will maintain our solidarity with our NATO, ISAF and Afghan allies and support the plan to progressively transfer increased responsibility to the Afghan government leading up to 2014. We are still in the process of sorting out the details for this mission, indeed, our reconnaissance team is just returning back to Canada this week and I expect to hear back from them shortly and report to Government. The new mission will involve a commitment of up to 950 Canadian Force personnel as well as teams from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from our Foreign Affairs, and from our Aid agencies. We will focus our effort on training and building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces, specifically the Afghan National Army. But a key issue from government guidance to me is that there will be no Canadian forces located in Kandahar province after this year. Our training effort will be Kabul-centric meaning that main effort will be in and around the city of Kabul. In this training mission, the current mandate will extend until 2014. What we do in this mission will be pivotal to NATO’s ultimate ability to transfer responsibility for Afghan security back to the Afghans.
I cannot predict the future beyond 2014. For the past two and a half years while I have been the Chief of Defence Staff, I have had clear guidance to leave Afghanistan this year, 2011. Then, just before the Lisbon Summit, government gave me very clear guidance to carry on the mission. I think it is almost normal these days to have these limited mandates. It is not unique, I still remember the Bosnia era, mandates were almost always 6 month or 1 year mandates. It is not my place to forecast beyond 2014 but what I can say is that my men and women are very much focused on this mission now and having spoken to the Afghan army, they certainly want to keep us there. With General Patraeus and General Caldwell, in the NATO training mission, we are looking for ways and means to get the best effect from those Canadians and where they are positioned and their strategic effect and influence and impact on the Afghan army.
Today, we have one of the most successful provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and that is in Kandahar. I would say that our military-civilian team there is the gold standard of the whole-government comprehensive approach. It is military enabled with security and protection but it is led by foreign affairs with huge investment from our development agency. Correctional services have rebuilt and trained the staff of Sarposa prison and there has been an amount of micro financing and other projects that are happening including a mega-project, multi million dollar investment in the Dahla dam which is the major irrigation project in the region. We are also focused on polio eradication and on rebuilding schooling and teaching the teachers. That is what we are doing now but that mission ends this summer. We will not have a provincial reconstruction team come august of this summer and all of the Canadian forces will be focused on training the Afghan army in Kabul.
We need to maintain the ability to stop violence. I have spent two years of my life in peace keeping operations; I have worn Blue Beret for quite some time. I spent a year and a half in Bosnia and in Bosnia we were spectators to a war as we were unable to stop violence and we were unable to protect people because we did not have the tools and we did not have the appropriate rules of engagement. Our men and women are very proud of what they are able to do in Afghanistan today because our role is one of protection and one of enabling Afghans to take ownership of their own country. I will just say that today, we have lost a lot of soldiers. Not as many as the UK, but a lot of soldiers. Yet Canada stands resolute and resilient to ensure that we can defend people when their human rights are violated. When the threats of intimidation force leaders in a country like Afghanistan to lose their way and not take ownership of their country.
We lost soldiers moving into Dand district, just south of Kandahar. Dand is an area that was really beat up following the war with the Mujahedeen, there is not much there at all. We had to fight our way in and lost a lot of soldiers doing so. Today, we do not have to secure that area. There is a district leader who is doing a fabulous job. He has a very strong and credible police chief, 20 schools open in the district and 4,400 boys and girls attending those schools.
We have soldiers on their second, third and fourth tours in Afghanistan because they want to be there and at the same time, they can see, particularly in view of their operations from 2002 to now, the huge difference in Afghanistan and the significant contribution that they have made. Today, in Kandahar province where two years ago, we were alone – we had a Canadian battle group of 3000 soldiers, sailors and air men and women and 3 Afghan battalions – and we were just like a fire brigade moving from spot to spot to put out the fire. We could never secure and stay put to prevent the intimidation that happens from night letters onward. Today, in addition to our contingent of 3000, there are 15 US battalions in the same area and 13 Afghan battalions and their credibility, their capability and professionalism is improving day by day. In fact, I have never appreciated the multiplication effect – the combat multiplier – of education. In a country where the literacy rate is so low, when you teach adults to read, they are empowered to bring security to their country. When you are trying to teach a policeman or a soldier to shoot and you ask them to shoot five rounds into a target and they do not know what “five” is, then you have difficulty. But through education, I see huge progress in the country.
In conclusion, I thank you so much for the opportunity to be here and present in front of this committee. We value our partnership with the United Kingdom, our friendship, and our confidence. And indeed, in a turbulent and chaotic world, we have never had a need for such close partners as we do today.