Academic journal article International Journal

A Not So Benign New Century: Conventional Security Challenges to Canadian Interests

Academic journal article International Journal

A Not So Benign New Century: Conventional Security Challenges to Canadian Interests

Article excerpt

THE TERRORIST ATTACKS AGAINST THE UNITED STATES in September 2001 led the Canadian government to pay renewed attention to the security of the country and its citizens. Whether to provide enhanced protection to Canadians or to assuage concerns in Washington, the government moved rapidly to improve security at airports and border crossings, to broaden the powers of police and intelligence agencies, to tighten laws governing immigration and refugee flows, and to stockpile antidotes to a variety of biological warfare agents. All of these measures were aimed at combating what were traditionally referred to as 'unconventional' security threats but are now often called 'asymmetrical' threats. They do not, however, significantly improve Canada's ability to confront enduring or emerging 'conventional' security challenges to its interests, rooted in political instability or interstate conflicts in many areas of the world.

Throughout the years of the cold war, Canada's international security policy was reasonably well focused and had a fair degree of coherence, largely because there was an identified adversary, the Soviet Union, and a well understood threat, a global nuclear war resulting from a military confrontation between the two superpowers. With the end of the cold war and the demise of the Soviet Union, the adversary and the quasi-existential threat both disappeared.

Like most Western countries, Canada experienced considerable difficulties in adjusting its international security policy to the new realities of the 1990s. By the middle of that decade, the government decided to adopt a security policy that gave pride of place to the so-called human security agenda on the grounds that 'serious long term challenges are posed by environmental, demographic, health and development issues around the globe' and that the best response to those challenges was to be found in 'the promotion of democracy and good governance, of human rights and the rule of law, and of prosperity through sustainable development.'(1) In pursuit of this new policy orientation, the Canadian government launched a variety of initiatives, which generally garnered strong domestic support and widespread international attention, positive and negative.

Whatever the merits of the new emphasis in Canadian security policy, and they are debatable,(2) one of its by-products is a steadily diminishing attention by policy-makers to more traditional security challenges to Canada's political, security, economic, and social interests worldwide. This is not to suggest a lack of awareness of these issues within the Canadian government system (as the Department of National Defence's excellent annual Strategic Overview makes clear(3)), but rather that they have not been given the attention they deserve by Canada's political leadership. A good part of the evidence for this is to be found not only in the statements and actions of Canadian political leaders, but also in the steady erosion throughout the 1990s of the diplomatic, military, and financial resources Canada would need to address these issues seriously.(4)

This article attempts to identify and examine a few of the major long-term international security challenges to Canadian national interests and suggests in general terms some of the capabilities Canada will need to address these challenges in co-operation with its allies and other like-minded countries.


In the cold war era, Soviet strength was the primary concern of the West; in the post-cold war era, it should be Russia's weakness. The collapse of the Soviet system left in its wake a Russia beset with formidable problems, most of which have grown worse in the intervening years. The central government is corroded by cronyism, corruption, and organized crime and is daily faced with challenges to its authority from a variety of centrifugal forces. The economy is in a lamentable state: Russia's gross domestic product is smaller than that of Sweden, a country of only nine million people, and its per capita GDP is less than half that of Malaysia. …

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