By Colonel (ret'd) Pat Stogran
“A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries — admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness — want to follow it. In this sense, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions. This soft power — getting others to want the outcomes that you want — co-opts people rather than coerces them.”
~ Joseph Nye, “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics”
Thus far in these series of articles, I have proposed what the strategic objectives are specifically for Canada’s engagement in coalition operations in the Middle East today. These include keeping Canadians safe at home and abroad, being seen by our friends and allies to be contributing to a common cause, and satisfying our nation’s moral responsibility to protect people in peril. We have discussed the three levels of military operations, the planning process, and the concept of Centres of Gravity (CofG) and the consideration of war on the moral as well as the physical planes. Also, I introduced readers to a method of CofG analysis proposed by Dr. Strange of the United States Marine Corps War College that, I believe, will lend itself to understanding how Canada should be mobilizing all of the instruments of national power.
Readers are directed to the Letter to the Editor from Joe Fernandez (see page 7), who frequently offers me insightful comments on my columns, for an excellent summary of how the CofG, Critical Requirements, Critical Capabilities and Critical Vulnerabilities framework proposed by Dr. Strange can be applied to our involvement in the Middle East today. Coincidentally, an understanding of Dr. Strange’s framework in the moral domain should enlighten readers on why I dipped my toes into the putrid waters of politics. Let me explain.
At the risk of being overly simplistic, I suggest there are basically three ways to mitigate the risk associated with a threat such as ISIL. The default method for the vast majority of people is to use the military and police. This amounts to preventative or pre-emptive operations directed at eliminating the physical manifestation of the threat. Another method is damage control, given a successful attack against Canadians and Canadian interests.
The aim of terrorism is not as much in the physical domain of killing people, but in the moral domain of injuring the hearts and minds of the general population. ISIL’s ability to recruit miscreants and deviants to attack innocent civilians gives ISIL huge legitimacy in the eyes of their followers and makes sovereign governments look weak or incompetent in the eyes of their own citizens. Importantly, the terror it generates creates civil unrest, hatred and bigotry, reactions that are excessive given the relatively minor risk that the vast majority of the civil population is actually exposed to by these sporadic attacks. This is exactly what the enemy hopes to achieve in such attacks. Such over-reactive and belligerent behaviour fuels the enemy’s cause and ability to rally support, especially in this information age and when it is viewed in the context of the collateral damage that is being inflicted on innocent people in the Middle East.
When the only tools in the box are hammers — police services and military forces — then problems take on the appearance of nails to be driven out of existence. To the uninitiated, killing ISIL and their terrorist elements offers citizens instant gratification and the common misperception of the risk having been mitigated. Politicians are quite happy to exploit those spurious outcomes for their short-term survival or to bolster their prospects of unseating the incumbent government.
We saw former Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually stoking the fire with his very public and inappropriate locker room talk of killing people, choosing sides in the Middle East conflict, and the fear-mongering of warning Canadians that his opponent and, ultimately, his successor was unfit to deal with the extant threat.
Former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson joined in the fear-mongering with his assertions only days after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and subsequent failed attempt on the prime minister and his caucus that it was a jihadi attack.
At the same time, it is lost on the People of Canada that our political system has long since abandoned its responsibilities that are uniquely theirs to mitigate the risk to Canadians by the likes of ISIL, whether it be hazard avoidance, or taking actions to disrupt the ability of the threat to project its power. This is what Mr. Fernandez summarizes so eloquently in his Letter to the Editor.
The black market and illicit drug and arms trades are the nexus between crime and terrorism, and they are not impeded by borders or national boundaries. International terrorism is linked symbiotically to transnational crime by the huge amount of money that the latter activity can bring to the former, which in turn is founded in and fuelled by domestic crime.
It is well established that criminal activity at home can be traced to the social ills that our nation is experiencing. These include a mental health epidemic that successive governments pay but lip service to, precarious work, chronic unemployment, growing wealth disparity and poverty, and a host of other social injustices. Addressing such issues constitutes hazard avoidance, the third method of dealing with if not defeating terrorism against Canada and Canadians. Indeed, criminal acts must be dealt with through law enforcement, the judiciary and corrections, but hazard avoidance and damage control remain very much the purview of other government departments, and especially our elected officials.
Mental health care, education, social programmes in arts, athleticism and for general wellbeing, and a vibrant economy, especially as they affect our youth, would make it more difficult for organizations such as ISIL to gain a foothold in Canada. Moreover, leadership by example — by actually endeavouring to live up to the myth of a kinder, gentler Canada that is trying to correct the gross injustices of our colonialist past and distancing ourselves from the imperialist legacy and lingering ambitions of some of our allies — would go a long way to dislocating the CofGs of groups such as ISIL.
Most importantly, we should not allow ourselves to be deluded by our political masters into thinking that these very complex issues have binary solutions that can form the foundation of one political party or the other. When you hear debates in the House of Commons about how our soldiers are conducting their business in some shit-hole in the world, send the members of Parliament an email and tell them to spend more time worrying about doing their own jobs. The government can start by articulating clearly what the strategic goals are for our interventions and assigning operational objectives to ALL of the instruments of national power — diplomatic, military, economic, social and cultural — that are specific, measurable, realistic, achievable, and timely. These are no more silver bullet solutions than pre-emptive and preventative military operations and law enforcement, but they are vital components of a multi-dimensional risk mitigation strategy that our government so desperately lacks.
That was my principle motivation for joining the leadership race for a left-wing political entity, one that requires significant re-engineering if Canadians will ever consider it fit to form government. Unfortunately I failed, but I am not out of the fight. The problem remains with our dysfunctional government. The so-called failure of our “whole-of-government” effort in Afghanistan demonstrated just how incompetent the whole of our government really is.
My book Rude Awakening is but one of the whistleblower texts that give Canadians a snapshot of how bad the system is. We have all heard the horror stories of the suicides and murders committed by injured and abandoned veterans of military service; it is only a matter of time before the seriousness of such incidents intensify in terms of frequency and magnitude. Another book I would recommend strongly is Shiv Chopra’s Corrupt to the Core to get a feeling for just how ready, willing and able our government is to harm Canadians. One more book that Canadians should well consider as fundamental to understanding the importance of resolving social issues here in Canada is that of former Queen’s professor Dr. Douglas Bland. In Time Bomb, Bland discusses the national security implications of the severely dysfunctional relationship between Canada and the First Nations. While these in and of themselves do not offer any silver bullet solutions to any of the problems, they certainly underline the importance of fair, effective government in maintaining the security of Canadians.
As usual, I look forward to hearing from readers on issues related to national security and the management of conflict in the 21st century. I will send a copy of my book Rude Awakening: Canada’s Secret War Against Canada’s Veterans to any submissions that I can use in upcoming articles.