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Defending the homeland: what does globalized terror mean for Canadian policy?

Security and Defence in the Terrorist Era Elinor C. Sloan McGill-Queen's University Press 198 pages, hardcover ISBN 077352973X

Canadians are all too aware of the events of September 11th, 2001. What is far less evident is whether we have yet fully their implications for national defence. Those few hours of explosive activity in Manhattan and Washington highlighted the new challenges of what Elinor Sloan calls our "terrorist era," one defined by itinerant actors with an unprecedented global reach and destructive capability that leave the state and its citizens facing danger from both within and without.

Does Sloan's book provide new insights and understandings about what this means for Canada? If we are to ponder the full meaning of her book's title--Security and Defence in the Terrorist Era--our reading of her work should offer us a compelling understanding of how the new era she describes has altered the security and defence of Canada and North America. Moreover, her work should allow us better insight into the policy decisions that must be considered and the consequences of choices made.

Elinor Sloan has provided readers with two very important considerations: a North American context and a sense of the incommensurability of the origin of the threat to the threatened target. The North American context is fundamental since it not only provides Canadians with a reality check on our relations with the United States but also clarifies why 9/11 has had such a pervasive impact on continental politics. Her book also should be read by our American neighbours and others to help them appreciate the complexities of national boundaries. Just as commentators note the increased permeability of borders and argue that globalization reduces the centrality of the geographically defined state, this book reminds us that, together, geography and identity do matter when it comes to a sense of well-being and personal as well as national security.

The incommensurability issue highlights the tensions around a policy arena that has been organized hierarchically (governments and militaries) facing threats that may be from other states, but could also be from non-state actors, even just a few individuals, organized horizon-tally. Furthermore, while many, if not most, threats may originate from outside our country and continent, others who exercise threats may already be part of our own societies.

As important as these factors are, Sloan's book does not analyze them or employ them as a means for organizing her work. They are there as background and as context for her concern about whether the United States and Canada have developed policies appropriate for this new era. This study will not provide the reader with a critical examination of the world of international peace and security. It will not offer a theoretically sophisticated critique of existing policy. It does not engage in a thorough and critical examination of underlying assumptions about threat or about security, and therefore it cannot engage the policy community in terms of challenging how they view the world and thus what needs to be done. If this is what you are looking for, then turn elsewhere.

However, what this book does extremely well is to provide the reader with a clear and careful explication of institutional responses to the post--9/11 world. Sloan allows the reader to see how and why the governments of the United States and Canada responded to the al Qaeda attacks in terms of policy initiatives, legislation, institutional reorganization, budgetary decisions and defence procurement. To create the Department of Homeland Security, for example, U.S. officials combined responsibilities previously distributed among approximately 44 departments and agencies--the massive reorganization accompanied by expensive new programs such as Project Bioshield, a US$5.6billion attempt to stockpile medicines and vaccines in preparation for biological attack. Sloan also provides insight into the way Canada and the U.S. interact on matters of domestic, bilateral and continental defence, as well as some aspects of international defence and security policy and operations.

In a relatively short study not all of this can be covered in detail. Her chapter-long discussions on homeland security, homeland defence, and space and ballistic missile defence each provide a fine introduction, capturing some of the central aspects of the complex world we share with the United States, and especially the challenges to be faced in managing our bilateral security and defence relationship. Its complexity is especially clear in, for example, Sloan's discussion of joint Smart Border efforts, of programs aimed at increasing border security while facilitating trade. Even assuming the U.S. has more to fear from terrorist attacks, she emphasizes, we have a much greater economic stake in avoiding border closures: 40 percent of our gross domestic product comes from exports to the U.S., while only 2 percent of theirs depends on exports to Canada.

Although each of these chapters covers an array of topics that, to put it mildly, are the scene of contested politics, this sense of critique and dispute is not strongly evident. In both Canada and the U.S., legislation regarding homeland security is under challenge, as is the consequent reorganization of government. In both countries, the weaponization (or, as Foreign Affairs Canada prefers, the securitization) of space is hotly contested as both policy and practice. In both countries, the procurement implications are uncertain and the force deployment policies of homeland defence are challenged. And to add still more drama, although these are arenas of domestic affairs, they have considerable international importance and therefore allies as well as international organizations are, to some degree or another, expressing views on these issues. Thus, as informative as each chapter may be, a more explicitly analytical approach would have been a welcome addition to the excellent descriptive presentation provided. We need more commentary from a perspective clearly rooted in a sense of where Canada sits and what Canada can and should do, and Sloan has the knowledge to provide this.

Two aphorisms have captured much of the concern harboured by those engaged in the study of contemporary Canadian defence and security policy. The late John Holmes, perhaps Canada's most important observer of Canada's place in the aftermath of World War Two and during much of Cold War Canada-U.S. relations, was known to comment to students and colleagues alike that "Canada was a regional power without a region." His expression was a nod toward our sense of potential, both in terms of capabilities and aspirations. And in exploring this sense of the possible, he never failed to locate Canada within the context of our relations with the U.S. and our need to work within the multilateral arenas borne out of war. The late Rod Byers offered the counterpoint to this. At times a colleague of Holmes and certainly sympathetic to his views, Byers's focus on Canadian defence and security policy was well summarized in his concern with what was, even in the mid 1980s when he was still writing, the protracted "commitment-capability gap." In this Byers saw the growing chasm between those Canadian aspirations of having global interests but without a global reach, and his view, in light of Holmes's assessment, that Canada must create operational capacity to work bilaterally with the Americans as well as to be a responsible actor within the multilateral organizations created to bring peace and security, notably the United Nations and NATO.

Their analyses still resonate. Canadian governments continue to aspire, in the words of the Martin government's recent International Policy Statement, "to make a difference." Surely no one would dispute that a country as rich and as privileged as ours should be prepared and able to allocate resources to lead in some areas and to provide support in others. Both Holmes and Byers saw our roles and responsibilities as entwined with enhancing the capacity of international institutions while finding ways to work with as well as to engage and, if necessary, constrain the interests and the impulses of our American neighbours. Elinor Sloan's book continues in that tradition, seeking to understand the international security and defence issues that concern both Canada and the United States, and hence also to chart those areas where we need to do more or to do things differently if we are, from her perspective, to ensure our own sovereignty while also realistically addressing those challenges to Canadian and North American peace and security. And, like Holmes and Byers, she also sees virtue in finding a balance between our need to work in partnership with the U.S. and our impulse to commit to the preference of doing things multilaterally.

Sloan's analysis of missile defence policy provides a controversial example of this approach. The 9/11 al Qaeda attacks only reinforced Clintonera fears about threats to the U.S. from "rogue states" like North Korea, making the development of ballistic missile defence systems a long-term planning and spending priority for the Bush administration. Since one important element of the U.S. plan is an orbiting missile interceptor, Canada has so far refused to participate in these efforts, maintaining that they constitute an unacceptable weaponization of space--a breach of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which both countries are signatories. Sloan argues, however, that the technologies of missile defence and space surveillance are inextricably connected: she believes that by forgoing any role in continental missile defence systems, Canada also risks cutting itself out of the U.S. orbital intelligence loop. This could mean not only losing any say in how to respond to a missile attack--if and where it should be intercepted in our airspace, for example--but also being left unaware that an attack is even underway. She therefore criticizes Canada's refusal to participate in missile defence development as a blow to the country's sovereignty, one endangering our ability to both protect ourselves and effectively monitor global developments in space.

More broadly, Sloan argues that "one of the most important questions for Canada and the United States to address is whether it is more effective to defend North America by taking homeland security and defence measures against terrorism or by seeking out and destroying international terrorism overseas." This is the core issue for Sloan's study, and she answers it by exploring the balance between the costs and benefits of investing in "defensive measures and forces at home and ... on offensive forces for operations abroad." Two concluding chapters pull together her analysis in a decisive and guardedly prescriptive manner. Threat is seen as originating from abroad. Hence, for the Canadian Forces to serve responsibly overseas, the commitment-capability gap must be eliminated. But acting requires a capacity both to engage in war-fighting and also have the appropriate force capabilities to commit to stabilization operations, reconstruction missions and peacebuilding.

"Warfighting is only one role of military forces abroad in the post-9/11 security environment--and not the most likely," writes Sloan. "Stabilization and reconstruction missions to rebuild a country in the wake of a warfighting operation, prevent a slide into warfare, or stabilize and restore order to a failed or failing state will be far more commonplace." If she is right, and I believe that she is, then the implications for the Canadian Forces are profound in doctrine, in training and in procurement. Sloan estimates, for example, that Canadian Forces brigade groups would require a minimum of approximately 5,000 additional support and service troops to participate effectively in stabilizing operations. Her message should also compel the government as well as the Department of National Defence to undertake some fundamental decisions about those roles to which we are prepared to commit and those we are willing to acknowledge are beyond our means. Simply repeating the mantra of supporting a "combat-capable, multipurpose force" is no longer appropriate, if it ever was. It satisfies neither our North American roles nor those we may face abroad.

It is here where Sloan provides strength of presentation that calls out for more. Her assessment of the comparative needs of these two sets of overseas operational demands is measured, informed, and insightful. When read after her chapters on North American defence relations and of homeland security and defence, the reader has a much better appreciation of the complexities of the post-9/11 world. For some, her view that "a key and perhaps unstated objective of Canada's national security strategy must be to increase Canada's credibility and influence with the United States" may seem unsettling. Yet she notes that "Canada needs to diplomatically engage America in order to urge it along a multilateral path and to encourage it to exercise its unipolar power through multilateral, rather than unilateral, means." There is an attractive logic to this position, and though one may find fault with Sloan's rather uncritical acceptance of what to define as a threat and how broadly to examine security, her decision to focus this book on defence has resulted in a clear, concise and most welcome contribution to our knowledge of Canada-U.S. defence relations.

David Dewitt is Associate Vice-President of Research and Director of the Centre for International and Security Studies at York University. He is editing a two-volume set on Canada and international security to be published by University of Toronto Press in 2007.
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Title Annotation:Security and Defence in the Terrorist Era
Author:Dewitt, David
Publication:Literary Review of Canada
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
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