Skip to main content

Priorities for Future Canada - United States Defense Relations

Christopher Sands

Click here to listen to the testimony.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and Honorable Members of the Committee for the invitation to appear before you today to discuss defense cooperation between our two countries. I am particularly honored to appear alongside Professor Charles F. Doran who, in addition to being one of the most eminent observers of the U.S.-Canadian relationship was also my dissertation supervisor. And I would also like to thank the Clerk of the committee and staff at Johns Hopkins University for arranging for us to appear before you by videoconference.

As the Members of the Committee well know, the United States and Canada have a strong defense relationship that has endured through numerous wars and conflicts of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries. It is commonplace but worth noting that we are able to celebrate this year 200 years of peace between our great nations, since the Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812.

Yet since 2001, the emergence of asymmetric threats has caused our militaries – and our domestic security establishments – to rethink the requirements for national defense at a time when the threats to our citizens and their well-being can emerge from cyberspace, infected travelers from abroad, or radicalized youth here at home.

Recent world events have seen Canada and the United States to face threats to our interests from Ukraine to the South China Sea, in the Middle East region that has been seized in the name of the Islamic State and the Korean peninsula.

This means that both the United States and Canada must undertake two important tasks at once: we must prepare to face conventional military threats in a diverse array of theaters for which we cannot discount the need for air, land, and sea capabilities; and we must also prepare for myriad asymmetric threats.

Doing so will put a definitive end to the period when some in Washington and Ottawa sought to take a “peace dividend” out of defense budgets – ironically, without peace! According to NATO data, the United States’ defense budget (excluding domestic security and intelligence) was 3.8 percent of U.S. GDP and therefore exceeding the NATO target of 2 percent of GDP in annual defense expenditure. Canada’s defense spending (with the same exclusions of domestic security and intelligence) reached only 1.0 percent of GDP in FY 2013.

Honorable Members, we cannot begin a discussion of how to better prepare to meet the threats to our national security in the coming decade without accepting first that we must be committed to doing more, and alas spending more, in this area. And while Canada has further to go to reach NATO targets for defense spending, it has, thanks to the prudent fiscal management of Canadian governments and strong – enviable – economic growth, even greater capacity to increase defense spending at this time that the over-indebted United States today.

Let me be clear, however, that I am not suggesting that all that is needed is to “throw money at defense.” What is necessary is to think through priorities and pathways to greater security preparedness for the challenges we face together, and for the threats we may face in the near term.

To that end, I would like to focus on three areas: (1) Enhancing domain awareness; (2) Attaining the capacity to respond through better employment of the means we have today; and (3) Improving the capacity to respond to threats through new defense acquisition, which requires reform of current procurement practices.

All of these priorities apply to both the United States and to Canada. I believe that we can undertake the needed changes to our security preparedness in these areas more effectively if we do so cooperatively and embed better practices and new capacities firmly in the institutions and traditional close cooperation of our respective security establishments – from NATO and NORAD to law enforcement and intelligence.

1. Domain Awareness

One of the greatest challenges we face in confronting asymmetric threats to citizens is domain awareness – having the ability to know what is crossing our borders, and what is going on inside them. And in an increasingly networked and interdependent world economy, our interests are at stake far from our shores and deep within our homes. In the 1950s, this inspired our countries to build the Distant Early Warning system with radar stations in the far north, and to stand up NORAD to coordinate patrol flights and airborne threat assessments.

Today, domain awareness requires monitoring and seamless communication between our governments and individuals in the private sector about cyber threats to critical infrastructure, our financial sector, and government databases. Our intelligence agencies must be able to consult one another and share information rapidly and efficiently in order to detect and pre-empt threats from home grown terrorism, whether coordinated from abroad or of the “lone wolf” variety that we sadly witnessed here in Ottawa a scant two months ago.

Technology is the key to this mission, whether it is unmanned surveillance drones patrolling remote coastal and border areas, satellite telemetry, or sensing and detection of internet threats. In recent years, both our countries have taken steps to improve information sharing among the “Five Eyes” community of nations, including Australia, Britain and New Zealand as well as our countries.

The next frontier of domain awareness is sifting through “Big Data” that is generated in millions of transactions every hour, from social media to border crossing, cell phone records and open source intelligence looking for patters and anomalies. Such tasks can be automated to a significant degree, but as with automated weaponry, for our democratic societies such tools must be deployed with adequate oversight and attention to remediation when errors or accidental breaches occur.

2. Capacity to Respond and the Importance of Jointness

The task of improving domain awareness must be accompanied by the enhancement of our capacity to respond to threats we become aware of in our respective domains. And in this regard, the concept of “jointness” has taken on new significance.

Since the Goldwater-Nichols defense reforms of 1986 in the United States, the U.S. military has worked hard at developing the capacity of each military service – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines – to work together in the field and to coordinate the use of resources, vehicles, ordnance and even personnel. This in turn affected the Canada-U.S. defense relationship by prompting efforts at jointness between U.S. and allied militaries, and the Canadian military has risen to this challenge, particularly as we have seen in Afghanistan.

Today, the requirement of greater jointness falls squarely on the relationship between military and civilian security services, both at home and across the U.S.-Canadian border.

Consider that as NORAD has undertaken a maritime surveillance mission since 2006, the United States Coast Guard, Canadian Coast Guard and the RCMP have collaborated on the “Shiprider” program that puts Canadian and U.S. peace officers on one another’s vessels in the Great Lakes or the waters of the Pacific or the Bay of Fundy so that in case of enforcement actions that cross the international boundary, an arrest or seizure by an empowered sovereign agent can be made. “Shiprider” is a model for joint patrols and joint responses that NORAD can be proud of inspiring – but why not link these efforts?

In the case of Aid to the Civil Power, our governments have discussed, in the context of the Beyond the Border Working Group, law enforcement cross-training and cross-designation so that in an emergency, we can loan peace officers to support their peers. Mutual assistance in an emergency has led us to prioritize the elimination of red tape barring fire fighters and medical personnel – even utility workers – from crossing the border to provide mutual assistance after an attack or natural disaster, while law enforcement organizations have worked together in Border Enforcement Teams. Cross-designation is the next step.

The U.S. Northern Command (US NORTHCOM) has played a significant role by defining itself as a “second responder” to domestic incidents for which traditional military capabilities may be required, particularly logistics. There has yet to be a doctrine promulgated by either of our governments to govern the sharing of domestic law enforcement capabilities on a wider scale – even though our security may yet depend on being able to do so. And the jointness of the U.S. National Guard and Canadian Reserve Force troops with the civilian law enforcement agencies in both countries – particularly in a cross-border sense – is a new frontier for the concept of jointness that confronts both governments today.

An important step in this regard is the effort at mutual recognition of credentials and certifications that has been part of the Beyond the Border Working Group and Regulatory Cooperation Council talks. For the purposes of civil indemnification against liability, as well as public confidence, it is important that today we sort out whether a doctor or nurse, paramedic, fire fighter, civil engineer, or computer engineer, or other emergency services personnel trained in Canada or the United States can be recognized as qualified to roll up sleeves and help colleagues on the other side of the border if needed. Sorting out the rules for such civilian jointness now, before a crisis, could be crucial to our future security and resilience after a catastrophic event.

3. Future Capacity to Respond and Defense Procurement Reform

Better use of the capabilities and assets we have for the defense of North America will certainly be necessary, but it is also clear that both Canada and the United States must add to current capabilities in order to be ready for today’s new and emerging threats.

As I noted earlier, both countries have cut defense budgets in recent years, and dangerously so. There are a number of important demands on our treasuries, but national security budgets are an imprudent sources of “savings” that could come at the high cost of lives lost.

U.S. Senator John McCain, well-known to Canadians and well-versed in Canadian affairs over his long congressional career, said this week in an interview that he felt that two areas merited the greatest remedial effort to improve U.S. defenses: cybersecurity and defense acquisition reform.

Hackers working for governments from Russia and China to North Korea and Iran have probed the networks and inflicted damage on western nations – note the unprecedented cyberattack on Estonia by Russian hackers, or the recent attack on Sony systems by suspected North Korean hackers in response to a new film that depicts the North Korean leader unflatteringly.

We have discussed and debated cybersecurity for more than two decades, and at the same time, our systems have become increasingly networked and integrated and intervulnerable—while our own governments’ abilities to monitor, defend or even go on offense in cyberspace have failed to keep pace.

And when it comes to new materiel, costs have risen astronomically while the number of firms in the defense industrial base of the NATO countries has dwindled. Senator McCain has railed against the practice of “cost-plus” contracting and noncompetitive sourcing because they have not provided the Pentagon with good value for tax payer dollars.

As the United States gears up to confront these two problems, another type of jointness is worth pursuing: joint efforts to improve cybersecurity capabilities and to reform current procurement systems in Canada as well – and to do so jointly in the interest of efficiency. The longstanding U.S.-Canada Defense Production Sharing Agreement established linkage between our defense procurement systems following the successful collaboration of our defense sectors in the First and Second World Wars. The principles enshrined in the DPSA in 1956 remain valid today: where possible, we should reform procurement and acquire new capabilities cooperatively, and learn from one another.

It is my firm belief that all of this is feasible and practical, and will be under governments of all partisan stripes in both of our countries.

Thank you.

Related Articles

The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Significance and Role

Seth Cropsey & Jun Isomura

The alliance between the US and Japan continues to play a vital role in the defense of the Japanese Islands and in U.S. regional Indo-Pacific strategy...

View PDF

Notes of Caution on the Navy's Forthcoming Force Structure Assessment

Bryan McGrath

What happens when the U.S. Navy’s force structure planning is built on strategic assumptions that are superseded by a change in the Oval Office?...

Continue Reading

Build Missile Defense Space Sensors Now

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs

Faced with an improving Russian threat, the United States should deploy a serious space sensor layer...

Continue Reading