Canadians have not always thought of the Americas when they consider their place internationally. But if we consider where Canada’s special bit of geography lies, our connections are as much south as they are east or west.

The Prime Minister has clearly stated that Canada’s re-engagement in the Americas is a national priority and the Canadian Forces (CF) have a role to play in advancing the government’s strategy for the Americas under its security pillar. Recent visits by senior military and departmental officials in the Americas have underscored the region’s importance.

The challenges in the Americas are not always easy, and the security and defence issues are not necessarily ones that we are used to. The issues are complex and must be addressed with a number of different tools and measures. Armed forces are only one of the tools in the toolbox – and not always the tool most needed.

There are clearly opportunities for cooperation and exchange with the states in the hemisphere. Canada has a wealth of experiences to offer others and there are numerous opportunities for us to learn from our neighbours.

Current challenges
While the risk of full-scale inter-state conflict in the Americas is currently low, there are still close to 30 unresolved border-related disagreements in the hemisphere. Most are under control, but several could trigger diplomatic incidents or lead to limited armed clashes.

Most of the threats to the security of the Americas are non-traditional in nature and include political, economic, social, health and environmental issues such as perennial hurricanes or earthquakes. The region faces a number of critical challenges including continued poverty and increasing socio-economic disparities that sow dissent, social discontent and insecurity. As well, widespread corruption undermines the rule of law and, by extension, security, especially when combined with weak state institutions and limited public sector capacities. Narco-trafficking, urban violence and organized crime threaten the states throughout the region. Terrorism, whether domestic or international, also remains a risk.

Extra-regional actors are increasingly interested in the Americas. In addition to their growing economic and trade presence in the hemisphere, countries such as China, Russia and Iran are challenging the traditional role of the United States in sectors such as military training and cooperation and defence procurement. Venezuela’s rapprochement with Russia and Iran is but one example.

Security of the hemisphere must be seen as multidimensional in scope. Consequently, the military defence of the hemisphere is now only a small part of the spectrum of responses. The traditional use of national military forces is unlikely to be appropriate against many of these new threats.

However, in some Latin American countries, the military could be the strongest national institution and the only reliable organ of government that has the ability – and often the legitimacy – to maintain internal order or mount a credible defence against transnational threats.

This can lead to the migration of the armed forces into the civilian national security or law enforcement spheres. And it also raises potential concerns for civilian-military relations.

With a tradition of military juntas and lack of civilian control of the military, the return of democracy throughout most of the region during the 1990s led to a needed reassessment of the roles and responsibilities of the armed forces in many countries. Troop numbers and budgets were significantly reduced, while many armed forces embraced professionalization, opened their doors to women and minorities, and adapted, sometimes uneasily, to functioning under civilian oversight.

In a number of nations, the domestic role of the military was curbed while new international mandates were created, leading to a significant increase in participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Since 1989, involvement by the countries of the Americas in UN peacekeeping operations has increased by 750 percent, compared to 120 percent for the rest of the world.

This increased international engagement is most evident in Haiti, where countries of the Americas, under the leadership of Brazil, provide the great majority of troops to the UN mission.

In keeping with this new international focus, many countries of the Americas have opened peacekeeping training centres and actively pursue partnerships with other nations for expertise, advice, cooperation, training and eventually partnership in operations. Canada has played a long-standing role as partner and mentor in this regard. The examples are many and include our involvement in Haiti, and with others such as Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, and with organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS).

Hemispheric multilateral cooperation on defence and security matters is steadily progressing, as is the regional confidence- and security-building measures regime.

Engagement in the Americas
All of this forms the backdrop against which we must consider Canada’s defence and security interests in the Americas. We have much to offer but there are areas where we can learn from our hemispheric partners. Our engagement and cooperation must focus on activities and arrangements that are effective, tangible and enduring. With no history as colonizer or meddler, we are a credible and trusted partner.

What does this mean for how the CF engages in the Americas? It is based upon contributions to three key areas:

First, we will contribute to regional security through peace support operations, bilateral military operational assistance and consequence management for natural and man-made disasters.

Second, we will continue to undertake defence and security capacity building and training, specifically through military education, professional development, and institutional and operational capacity building.

Third, we will continue to provide assistance in defence governance issues. These include:
· integrating military operations in a whole-of-government approach;
· civil-military relations;
· minority and gender integration;
· military justice;
· ethics and human rights;
· transparency;
· white paper development;
· defence budget and comptrollership; and,
· security/defence reviews.

We have many useful approaches available to help us achieve our strategic objectives. These fall under a broad defence diplomacy umbrella that encompasses engagement, operations and training. In carrying out our defence diplomacy, we have a number of key instruments and tools:
· our Canadian Defence Attaché program;
· formal bilateral defence dialogue;
· multilateral regional fora such as the OAS and the Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas;
· visits by Canadian Forces and Departmental representatives to the region, as well as visits to Canada by officials from the region;
· Canadian representation at key regional events;
· establishing and maintaining close relations with defence attachés from countries in the hemisphere;
· promoting cooperation opportunities between Canadian defence industries and potential clients in the Americas;
· engaging academics with expertise on the Americas; and
· using defence and other publications to disseminate our views, experiences and models throughout the hemisphere.

There are many other activities that fall under operations and training:
· the Military Training Assistance Programme which helps build the operational and institutional capabilities of member countries – 25 percent of MTAP’s budget goes to the hemisphere;
· courses and exchanges where other nations’ military members come to Canada to staff college or for language training, or Canadian Forces personnel travel to the hemisphere;
· exercises;
· ship deployments and visits;
· regular contributions of maritime patrol aircraft and naval assets in support of regional counter-drug detection and monitoring operations;
· peace support operations; and,
· development of contingency plans for a number of possible missions in the hemisphere, including humanitarian relief operations and the evacuation of Canadians abroad.

We work closely with like-minded countries to increase the effectiveness of our engagement in the Americas and to accomplish joint objectives in the hemisphere. The United States is our closest ally and has considerable interests in the Americas. We work with the U.S. in Washington, D.C, and with the United States Southern Command to promote cooperative efforts in the region. This is supported with regular contact at the policy level, continued Canadian participation in U.S.-organized exercises in the Americas and joint implementation of initiatives and programs that serve common objectives.

Mexico, our second North American partner, possesses unique insights into the Americas. Our concerns often coincide – on narco-trafficking, for example – creating a number of opportunities for cooperation. We will engage with Mexico under the framework of the Canada-Mexico political-military talks – established in 2006 – with the aim of forging closer ties on hemispheric defence and security issues. The outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in Mexico showed how the country has the ability to cope with a major crisis.

There are specific issues where Canada has significant experience and expertise to bring to the table – defence governance, the professionalization of military forces, peace support operations, terrorism, and domestic operations. While the concept of civilian control of the military is present in most of the Americas, the ministries of defence and accompanying civilian institutions of several nations remain weak when compared to their corresponding military establishments. This may lead to an imbalance between the military and its civilian counterparts, which can undermine civilian control of the armed forces. And regrettably, some countries – such as Venezuela – are experiencing the politicization of their armed forces.

Canada’s model of defence governance and professionalism may provide a useful example. Our expertise in these important areas could go a long way to help strengthen civilian control of the military in the region, and to help ensure that armed forces view themselves as servants of the public good, firmly guided by the democratically-elected civilian authorities.

Peace support operations are another area in which we have much to offer, especially our historic and on-going involvement in preparing for missions, command and control, and rules of engagement. Further, our efforts over the years to enhance capacity building in the hemisphere have been designed to promote and stimulate regional contributions to international peace support operations. This both stimulates greater regional involvement in this global responsibility and helps to reduce the strains and demands placed on countries like Canada and on the Canadian Forces by a high operational tempo. Essentially, having more nations capably contribute to peace support operations helps to share the global burden.

With respect to terrorism, a number of countries in the hemisphere have struggled with domestic terrorism for decades. In the past, some of these groups have threatened Canadian citizens or interests. During General Natynczyk’s recent visit to Colombia, he discussed terrorism with his hosts, particularly how their experiences domestically might be applicable to their upcoming participation to the mission in Afghanistan. While the situations in Afghanistan and Colombia are quite different, it is a discussion worth having. They may have insight and experience that we can apply to our endeavours in Afghanistan. We have also seen international terrorist groups such Hezbollah and Al Qaida use the region as safe havens or as a place from which to advance their causes.

Finally, Canada may face some similar domestic defence challenges as our southern neighbours. For example, both Brazil and Canada are large countries with vast tracts of rugged, under-populated terrain that are difficult to access, and that may be attractive to parties which are otherwise unwelcome.

While the Arctic and the Amazon are on the surface vastly different, they share similar problems when it comes to maintaining a defence presence in a remote area, and conducting surveillance and sovereignty patrols. There may also be scope to share experiences and lessons between the Canadian Forces and Uruguay’s armed forces – our navy operates in the Arctic while the Uruguayan navy operates in the Antarctic region.

Further, we can learn from the care that Colombia provides to its soldiers injured in combat, particularly those who have lost limbs and suffered severe injuries. Given the experiences of a number of our soldiers in Afghanistan, Colombia’s experiences in supporting injured soldiers may resonate with the Canadian Forces.

Opportunities also exist for Canada to help modernize the hemispheric security architecture, and to ensure that multilateral efforts to address threats to the hemisphere are effective. This means being an active player in the OAS, and helping to define an appropriate role for the Inter-American Defense Board, both in its link to the OAS and in reforming its nature and ability to address the future defence and military needs of the hemisphere.

We will continue to support the Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas. We recognize that it supports Canada’s tradition of multilateralism and is a cornerstone of our defence engagement in the hemisphere.

We also seek a number of other aims, including:
· enhancing bilateral, sub-regional and regional relationships;
· reinforcing the existing hemispheric security architecture;
· reaffirming the continued need for transparency and confidence-building in regional defence and security issues; and
· strengthening democratic civil-military relations in the Americas.

Canada is a country of the Americas; this is our neighbourhood and we want to be a good neighbour. The defence and security issues at play in the region are challenging and require multi-faceted approaches for which traditional armed forces may not always be appropriate. But they clearly have an impact on Canada’s defence and security interests. And as articulated by the Canada First Defence Strategy, the Canadian Forces have a role in meeting the current and potential challenges they pose. In many ways we’ve been quietly working with our regional partners for some time, whether through the Military Training Assistance Program, staff talks or participation in hemispheric service conferences. More opportunities no doubt exist and we intend to pursue them – we will ensure that our re-engagement in the region is modest and affordable as well as tangible and enduring.

Vice Admiral Bruce Donaldson is commander of Canada Command, a post he assumed in May 2009 following 18 months as Director of the Strategic Joint Staff. Prior to that, he served two years as commander of the Canadian Pacific Fleet. This article is adapted from a presentation to The Kingston Conference delivered on behalf of General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff.