Evidence of meeting #33 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was going.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Robert Huebert  Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Sorry, Mr. Strahl.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to the professor for his comments.

When we are operating in an expeditionary manner, we are always going to be doing that with our allies. You're suggesting that this model may not always apply in the future. But given the current context and the desire to work with our allies when we go abroad, how important is it to have interoperability with our allies when we procure new equipment?

11:20 a.m.

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

The key to interoperability is communication. When push comes to shove, interoperability depends on the ability to communicate, to integrate intelligence. The type of environment, the type of future, I'm talking about is one in which we won't be operating strictly by ourselves but rather with allies who will be providing us with less assistance. So interoperability has to remain a top priority. But the ability of these forces to defend themselves, to provide force protection, and to act as an independent unit is going to be that much more critical to the safety of the Canadian personnel we deploy. We have to have interoperability, but we also have to make sure that the equipment we buy in the future can operate more independently, because the support that our allies will be able to provide us with will be much more limited.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I know that you have written extensively on the Arctic. I would like your comments on Canada's readiness as it pertains to the Arctic. Are we doing what's necessary to have a military presence there? How is our level of readiness in the Arctic in comparison with Russia's?

11:20 a.m.

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

I like our plan. You can see the change that we have in our thinking. It goes back to the Martin administration. That's where we start to see the Arctic figuring quite prominently. The Harper government has followed through in both enforcement and in surveillance capability. The question for the Arctic is always whether we will actually do what we say we're going to do. We have a long history of coming up with extensive plans and not following through. I'm more optimistic: I see indications that we are going to go ahead this time.

How do we compare with others? The Russians are redeveloping their strategic capability. Their strategic capability is based in the Kola Peninsula. Even if the Arctic wasn't melting, even if the Arctic wasn't the Arctic, the Arctic is going to be remilitarized because of its geopolitical location and increasing Russian capability. The American submarine forces are already responding accordingly, and we're starting to get back into some signs of the so-called great game.

The other country that we have to start looking at very seriously is China. The Chinese are making massive expenditures in their Arctic science and capabilities. They're building their own icebreakers and they're saying they're going to become an Arctic power. They are a country we haven't paid much attention to in the Arctic. If we're having this conversation in about five years, I think they are the ones we're going to be looking at.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

You have one minute.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I still have one minute. Okay.

Going back to your comments, do you believe that the Canada First defence strategy adequately addresses going forward? I have heard the minister refer to that as an evergreen document recently. I just wanted your comments.

In terms of the future that you have laid out for us, do you think the CFDS is going to be adequate to address those concerns?

11:25 a.m.

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

I need to choose my words carefully here. I like the direction in which the Harper white paper went. Let's be blunt; it's a white paper. We don't call it that, but that's in effect what it is.

I like the attempt it has made in maintaining what I see as a bipartisan recognition that you have to have multi-capable forces dealing with a whole host of issues. That's really what the paper does.

What I don't like—and this isn't just about the Canada First paper, but it's our whole mindset—is this deal where we think we've done the strategic heavy thinking, we've come up.... And you can find it going all the way back to Trudeau's white papers, and we see this with every single government that then comes in. They do the defence white paper right up to the beginning and say, “We've thought about it; nothing is going to change.” In fact, historically we've never done a second white paper in one administration.

We need an ongoing process that deals with those big questions and constantly is having course adjustments as we go by. So you have the big picture, but you're also dealing with the issues that are developing. A lot has changed since the Canada First strategy in terms of some of the details. We have to re-entrench that thinking also, I think.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Ms. Sgro, you have the floor.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Thank you very much.

Mr. Huebert, it's been fascinating listening to you. Where do you see the next threats coming from?

11:25 a.m.

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

If we're going to be honest with ourselves, it's going to be somewhere where we don't think of it.

Once again, if you look back at the end of the Cold War, you'll see that nobody was thinking we'd be going into Yugoslavia to the degree we did. Regarding East Timor, no one was thinking we were prepared to fight the Indonesians. In other words, we have the succession of basically being surprised, but that's the nature of the beast.

I'm really fearful of what's happening in Mexico right now, because that is not a discretionary conflict. If that state does in fact implode on the trajectory that some people are now saying it is headed, I don't see how Canada could avoid being involved in that context. We can say no perhaps to Syria; we can say no to the Horn of Africa. If Mexico implodes, we can't say no.

The other really troubling one, I think, that we have not been paying any attention to is if Saudi Arabia deteriorates into the type of inter-fighting we're seeing in northern Africa. If Saudi Arabia collapses, I do not see how we can avoid going into that particular conflict. That one will be very messy because the stakes are so big and everybody will be involved.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

I think your comments today are very helpful for all of us, as parliamentarians, to ensure not only the safety today of Canadians but safety worldwide with the ongoing nuclear threats and other issues that are there.

With the F-35s, are we going in the right direction? What if Canada ends up going alone on them?

11:25 a.m.

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

If we look into the future, the two certainties I would say about the Canadian Forces are that we are going to have to ensure that we have the ability to maintain the protection of North America and our part of aerospace protection, and that we remain a country that sees its security by involving our military overseas. Those are the two constants I see regardless of the mythologies we may have about ourselves. That's what the empirical evidence tells me.

The empirical evidence also tells me that the Americans are heading into a situation where, if they are not surrendering the air dominance they've had, they're going to be severely reducing it. For the protection of North American airspace, given the types of environments we see in China and Russia—and I'll be blunt in terms of those being the two most obvious successor countries to aerospace threats to Canada—we are going to need to have some maintenance of aerospace protection or the Americans will do it for us.

On the American issue, okay, if we surrender sovereignty on that, it's not going to be a problem. Not being able to protect aerospace, that's a problem.

We are also going to have to have the types of capabilities the F-35 gives for the proper protection of an increasingly dangerous surface-to-air missile capability that we're going to be seeing. This is why you want stealth.

The F-35 itself, is it a good plane or is it not? We're not going to know until it's really operational. The problem is that there are no alternatives. There are no other equivalent stealth capabilities short of the F-22, which an act of Congress says they can't sell to anyone else. Ergo, we face the situation of losing aerospace protection in North America in the long term as the F-18s have to be retired, and we also face the difficulties of telling our troops to go into danger zones without adequate aerospace protection. I do not think we can rely on our allies into the future as we have in the past.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

I wanted to give you the last minute to make some further points.