Building agility into Canadian security
Two events of significance for Canadian national security took place in February: the release of Canada’s new counterterrorism strategy, “Building Resilience Against Terrorism,” and the emergence of the National Capital Security Partners’ Forum (NCSPF) at its sold-out Feb. 15th event in Ottawa.
Both the counterterrorism (CT) strategy and the NCSPF are building agility into the Canadian security network, and with it, resilience. The CT strategy will build agility through a slower, top-down broadening and restructuring of the security network through developing new international and domestic partnerships and shared awareness among Canadians, affecting Canadian security beyond counterterrorism efforts.
The recently emerged Forum is building agility in a rapid, bottom-up reorganization of the security community through networking security-related associations and personnel into the Forum. The convergence of the two will be noteworthy.
Comparing along four markers of agile networks – scale, ambition of objectives, unification of motivations and intentions (but not operational control), and network durability – the CT strategy may succeed on the first three, and the Forum is already achieving results along all four.
The strategy signals five changes to the security network – one that may increase network scale; two consistent with increase ambition; and two that may merge network motivations and intentions.
The strategy may increase the security network’s scale with the federal government, moving toward new load-sharing security partnerships internationally, vertically at all levels of government, and horizontally with the private sector, NGOs and Canadians. The strategy signals more ambitious security objectives, calling for an added robust capacity to act on threats earlier and proactively, and a capacity for clear and focused precision in addressing complex threats.
It may also contribute to uniting motivations and intentions among security network partners, through unprecedented frank communication on threats and risks, and clear communication of strategy. The resulting shared understandings and common direction would ideally merge motivations and intentions within the network, particularly within the highlighted relationship of intelligence support for law enforcement, although the latter may merge operations, possibly limiting agility.
Last, the strategy reflects a government push outward to create durable partnerships within the security network. It is unclear, however, what pull factors may draw network partners toward government within the network, making durability and unification of motivations and intentions uncertain over time.
The Forum operates on an unprecedented scale in Canada, with some 40 associations networked or plugged into the NCSPF alone. Forum structures have since emerged in Toronto, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador, the B.C. Interior, Greater Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and the Yukon, and additional structures will launch in Alberta and elsewhere. A national-level Canadian Security Partners’ Forum (CSPF) is now coordinating among them.
Representation includes tens of thousands of security personnel who effectively are the Canadian security capacity, consistent with U.S. Central Command Commander General James Mattis’ indication at the recent Conference of Defence Associations conference that a personnel-focused approach is the way forward in achieving agility, effectively replacing NATO effects-based operations approaches.
The Forum’s objective is ambitious – the professional expansion of the Canadian security network’s capacity writ large – and is resonating within a security community wanting to elevate Canadian security effectiveness, credibility and legitimacy, and effectively unifying motivations.
The Forum is a plug-and-play enabler for the security network, including often resource-strapped associations, facilitating open communication and collaborative opportunities among its network, yet neither competing with, nor interfering in operational-level command and control within associations. In addition to this pull, the Forum provides push, populating the nation-wide security network with links among previously isolated associations and personnel, enabling shared awareness and common intent.
Through self-synchronization and rotating leadership, the Forum’s security personnel are communicating and forwarding the best that security has to offer from the level of the individual upward. These push and pull factors are enabling partnership durability within the Forum network.
The top-down CT strategy and the bottom-up Forum approaches are mutually supportive. As the government reaches out to partner with the NGO sector, the Forum is already improving security agility. Both strive for offensive capabilities, though the CT strategy is threat-centric and relies on higher-level activity with population buy-in, while the Forum is proactive and capacity-centric/personnel-centric. Combined, they signal the emergence of a more agile security network that will rebalance Canadian comprehensive efforts. With security able to play a more proportionate role, military back-filling within Canadian efforts will be alleviated.
Bonnie Butlin is executive director of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies (CASIS) and co-chair of the National Capital Security Partners’ Forum.
The next NCSPF event, National Security vs. Corporate Security, is at the NAC in Ottawa on May 31.