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Preparing for the unpredictable

Preparedness: It’s a word often overshadowed by a more common military term, readiness. But in a world of increasing instability and unpredictability, it is crucial to understand the security environment in which the Canadian Forces might operate, and to create the necessary conditions for their success.

Along with conducting 16 current operations around the globe, “preparedness” is now a core function of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command and a key area of investment. CEFCOM commander Lieutenant-General Stuart Beare spoke with editor Chris Thatcher about improving preparedness through understanding and engagement.

 

You have emphasized “understanding” and “preparedness” in recent presentations: what does that mean to CEFCOM?

We are committed to the effective provision of Canadian Forces contributions to multilateral and bilateral interventions. And our interests are really three things. First, that our people performing those missions are safe. Second, that our contribution is keeping pace with the needs and changes of the mission, that we’re evolving with the mission and adapting our structure and our people to it over time. And third, that the mission itself is effective, relevant and credible. To use an illustration, in the Balkans pre-NATO, in two of the three cases we fell short. From the top down the UN mandate wasn’t credible or relevant to the security condition at the time, which meant it was not credible to the factions, which put the mission at risk and then put our people at risk.

So we are not just a passive provider of bodies to other people’s ideas; we’re actively engaged in making sure the idea within which they are participating makes sense. And that is a template we can use virtually anywhere. We do not aspire to control the missions we engage in, nor do we have a mandate to do so, but we have an obligation to understand them.

So my key leader in theatre has a mandate to understand the mission at large, not just do his day job. Mission commanders have the responsibility to provide that understanding of the campaign and be a vehicle for us to shape and influence it where necessary. There is an explicit expression from me to provide us with a lens into the full breadth of the mission so that when we hear or read about the mission from the UN or open sources, we have a more thorough understanding of the mission dynamics.

CEFCOM then provides that strategic lens, that understanding to decision makers and stakeholders. They can then use it to put into context the shocks and the setbacks, such as the Koran burning, that we will continue to see in incredibly challenging missions. If you don’t understand, you don’t have context.

Fit the government and military’s Global Engagement Strategy into that. How do you define it?

Through defence and military engagement, promote Canadian national interests in the world, within means and within the policy boundaries of the government of Canada: that’s my definition. So, achieve success in Afghanistan through NATO; establish defence relationships and cooperation with Gulf and Middle Eastern partners, new and traditional. Qatar, the UAE – notwithstanding Camp Mirage – and Kuwait are all regional actors and in some cases new partners. We need to understand them; they need to understand us. We invest in regional stability through their development. In places where cooperation may be required in the future, establish the ability to cooperate military to military. Who would have thought that Gulf state air forces would be flying with the RCAF over Libya or maritime forces sailing with western maritime forces? That kind of interoperability is in our national interest.

In Africa, continue to invest in the capacity, effectiveness and sustainability of African defence and security forces in those countries where it is in the national interest to do so. And in the Americas, we’re not worried about civil war breaking out, but we have clear national interests as they relate to organized crime and the drug trade. So the strategy is about using defence and military means, but it goes well beyond operations.

Are there specific areas of focus?

If there are three trends we have seen in the last 18 months across what some characterize as the arc of instability – the band from North Africa through the Middle East to Southwest Asia – instability is on the rise, uncertainty is on the rise and unpredictability is on the rise in many sectors, including security. And everybody is tracking: the Libyan aftermath; Egypt and what comes next; the Sinai on the Arab-Israeli border; Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians and its neighbours; Syria; Turkey and its regional view; the Iranian challenges; Iraq and what might follow; Yemen; Somalia; the Sudan…

Where there is unpredictability, we need to enhance our understanding of what’s playing out. Government and its agencies will do that in their lanes, be it economic, diplomatic, security, crime, terrorism, you name it. They’ll be trying to enhance their understanding. I’m trying to do the same, but from the lens of the region: what are the trends from a defence and security context as they could potentially affect Canada’s national interests? The global engagement strategy helps us understand what they are.

Is there a nexus between CEFCOM, Defence Intelligence and other intelligence agencies around this?

There is more of a unified effort to create understanding because there is more urgency. Syria is incredibly galvanizing right now, not to plan for any contingency but to understand the defence and security dynamics at play – who are the actors within that dynamic, be they rebels, indigenous security forces, governments, proxy actors, international criminal networks, terrorism organizations?

We also need to understand the defence and security interests of the regional actors and their defence institutions – what’s their posture? – and the interests of our traditional and new partners. And then which relationships do we want to ensure are established to facilitate that understanding and maintain the capacity to respond to crises or prepare for contingencies? Good relationships before a crisis are never a bad thing.

How is CEFCOM accomplishing that?

We have become more strategic in how we use attachés. Their focus is not on current operations but on the possibility of future conflict or crisis and the potential for response. It’s relations; it’s networks. They help us create military-to-military relationships and raise that floor of understanding.

Our other means of engagement is through our liaison officers with our traditional partners. We have LOs in the U.S. combatant commands and with the Permanent Joint Headquarters in the U.K. and the Centre de Planification et de Conduite des Opérations in France. They provide us a lens into the disposition and interests of our friends, military to military.

We can also use the footprint of our whole-of-government partners in those regions to keep us smart about interests beyond the military domain, to provide us with context about relationships at large before we engage with our military partners.

If I add it all up, it means more understanding and a better engagement network, which equals better preparedness. And preparedness is all about being better positioned to provide that understanding to decision makers. Preparedness is about having pre-existing relationships and partners so you can operationalize your command and control, your intelligence and sustain the frameworks were you to commit forces. It also means being better positioned to translate a generic contingency plan from non-combatant evacuation into a regional-specific, event-specific action.

Has the relationship between the military attaché and the embassy changed?

That is exactly it. The defence attaches are part of that network and it is completely transparent to the embassies. Our interests are complimentary to the government of Canada. A good example is Kuwait. The embassy in Kuwait now has an assistant CDA whose secondary duty is oversight of the logistics hub at Ali Al Salem Air Base, which provides us the capacity to sustain our effort in Afghanistan. We have an explicit purpose for that defence engagement. It is creating opportunities for new relationships, including military, that will be explored, chief-to-chief. At the end of the day, I now have the phone number to my counterpart in the Kuwaiti armed forces who, in the case of a crisis, I can call. I wouldn’t have that if I didn’t have that connection into the embassy. Defence attachés and liaison officers are key to this.

This obviously requires more than CEFCOM. Do you have the necessary level of inter-departmental cooperation you need to deliver on this?

In the missions we are in today, yes. Codifying this idea of preparedness has to be done. It is written into the CEFCOM concept of operations and it will continue through to CF Transformation for operations in the future. It is codified today for domestic ops, if you think about it; our posture is established and reinforced routinely by current law and policy. We have relationships with the provinces, with national security organizations, and we prepare contingencies. That is a well-established whole-of-government framework. It also exists for NORAD in the continental context. But each international engagement may have a unique policy framework. Making preparedness a normal idea with whole-of-government partners is work in progress.

Is the intent to explore military-to-military assistance along the lines of Canada Command’s recently adopted western hemisphere strategy?

We are certainly positioned to understand their ambition for capacity building. If you look at it from the western hemisphere perspective, shared security is probably the first instance with likeminded partners. Plenty of countries are not looking for our help, but are interested in security cooperation that is complimentary, [for example] interoperability and security cooperation exercises with Chile. Where it makes sense and it is within our capacity to do so, we should entertain it.

The other is capacity development. You can certainly see that in the Caribbean basin. A lot of the intervention there is about supporting the emerging capacity of sovereign states and their defence forces. Jamaica is a great example. Invest for their benefit and ultimately satisfy Canadian interests in regional security.

I want to make sure that as we are building up our capacity to deliver the force, we are generating more understanding of where and why and how to deploy it effectively. Our engagement with Jamaica, helping their joint operational centre for the Jamaican defence forces, that’s a natural hub that we can compliment if Canadian forces are required to respond to a crises or emergency in the Caribbean basin.

The more capacity a country has, the less requirement there is for us to intervene on their behalf. If you look at Africa, the majority of engagement is capacity building. As you swing through to Asia, I don’t think the Chinese are looking at us for capacity development. But perhaps we want better understanding, military to military, from a defence and security cooperation perspective.

How do you and Canada Command divvy up responsibilities in the Americas where there is clearly an overlap?

Essentially, for military-to-military engagement, Canada Command does the Americas. But for crisis or contingencies, it is CEFCOM. If we were to project CF power or capability to a crisis or contingency operation in the region, CEFCOM commands the execution of that mission element. If for whatever reason a major Canadian task force with international partners were to be generated, like the DART, we’d command.

One of the reasons for the stand up of CEFCOM was to ensure a distinct Canadian footprint on missions. That’s certainly evident in Afghanistan and was true in Libya; is it the case elsewhere?

It may not make the news but we are inside the tent, part of the mission discourse and the discourse between the mission and its international headquarters – UN, NATO or otherwise. In Haiti, for example, Col Stephen Charpentier is the chief of staff to MINUSTAH and able to maintain a Canadian understanding of the leadership orientation of that mission at large. That’s also the case with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai and Canada’s contribution to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator in Jerusalem.

The stand up of the operational commands in 2005-06 was incredibly well timed. It allowed us to design the how-to while we were actually doing it: how to do operational support while delivering it, how to do effective command and control domestically and continentally while we were doing it at the Olympics, the G8, Haiti. And effective C2 oversight in missions around the world, including interacting at the theatre level with the mission designers and architects while the demand to do that was on the rise.

I’ve heard the expression operational tempo is down. I’d say the deployment tempo of the CF baseline is down, but the demand for an understanding, the demand for engagement, the demand for preparedness is not down. If anything it is going up because the uncertainty, the instability, the unpredictability are going up. We don’t measure the load on the operational command in terms of numbers of troops deployed, the load is on how many places do you want to understand better, how many places do you need to invest in relationships, with a view to enhancing our preparedness for crisis and contingency.

 

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