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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 arctic.

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

March 15th, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal 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 Liberal 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 Liberal York West, ON

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

11:30 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

The last point is if it's not the F-35, we're going to need something along that line. We need something that has stealth capability. We need something that is going to be under Canadian control, and we're going to need something that provides us with the fast air capability of getting, say, from Ottawa to Tuktoyaktuk in a very quick period of time.

That's the reality of the future, and the real problem we face—I do have sympathy for the decision-makers faced with this situation. There aren't competitors any more. You can't go to, say, an F-37, as we could in the past, when we were considering.

This is going to be the problem. It's going to be expensive, but I don't see an alternative, to be perfectly honest.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

It has to be very difficult. There aren't a whole lot of alternatives. The need is there. You've indicated that, because it's not just Canada that's looking at this situation, but you're saying there are no alternatives.

11:30 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

That's the problem.

This is why countries like Norway and Australia, as much as it's paining them from an expense perspective, have not pulled out. They're hoping the Americans do not reduce the numbers. The critical point is not how much the Australians or the Norwegians or us, for that matter...it's the Americans going back on their initial promises. They said they were going to buy about 3,200. They cut that substantially, and that's where the cost will balloon.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

In the interest of our last half hour here and trying to make sure everybody gets a chance to ask some questions, we're going to reduce the time in this round to four minutes.

Mr. Norlock, you have the floor.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and through you to the witness, thank you for coming today. Because it's such a short period of time, I'd like to home in on one area of your expertise, which is the Arctic.

The specific questions are: how has the establishment of facilities such as the Arctic training centre and the Nanisivik Naval Facility enhanced the readiness of the Canadian Forces in the Arctic, and additionally, how do facilities like those two contribute to the overall development of the region?

11:30 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

Of course, the critical point that we often forget, once we have the Arctic offshore patrol vessels, is if you're sending forces from Halifax up to Nanisivik, you're travelling a distance that is greater than if you're sending those same vessels to London. I think a lot of people don't recognize the distances involved.

The other problem we face when we look at Nunavut and parts of the Northwest Territories is that there is no infrastructure. What the communities have in terms of oil supplies, gas, any type of fuel, is what they need for themselves. There is no Esso, no Shell, up there that can sell to our forces. The question of having Nanisivik, the question of having the ability over at Resolute Bay, means that we have pre-positioning capabilities when the requirements arise. They will increasingly arise.

For a state of readiness for the Canadian Forces, these are initial steps. These are simply getting the type of infrastructure that, say, the Soviets/Russians and the Norwegians have had for quite some time.

We're playing a certain degree of catch-up for that capability. It's going to be difficult. It's expensive. There's no question whatsoever, but unfortunately, I have to tell you they are first steps.

We are going to have to be looking, then, at what we do in the western Arctic, which is quite frankly the next area we are going to have to be looking at in terms of these pre-deployments for readiness.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you very much.

In a similar vein, could you touch on whether the international SAR treaty will improve relations between Canada and the Arctic Council allies?

At the same time, how does a treaty such as this assist the Canadian Forces in maintaining a ready force in the high north?

11:35 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

I can't be a bigger fan of what we've seen for the Arctic Council. Let's be clear—and once again it's a bipartisan push—that both Mulroney and Chrétien deserve a lot of credit for their push and support of the Arctic Council. When Canada put the Arctic Council forward, that's precisely what we wanted it to do: we wanted it to be a high-level, regional, political body to address issues such as search and rescue, confidence-building, and so forth. It was the Americans who said, “No, we're not ready for that”, and basically put the brakes on it.

Now the Americans have changed their position, thank goodness. As a result, the search and rescue agreement is a superb first step. It unifies us. It gets us talking to the Russians. It gets us talking to the Americans. It gets us talking to the Danes in a way that if we have these little hiccups such as Hans Island, we can perhaps avoid them in the first place by having the person-to-person conversation. They can say, “Okay, this is silly. Let's not send our frigate to land troops on the island.” And we can just avoid it that way.

So it opens up avenues. It forces us to train. I also hope that we are open and honest in terms of the shortcomings, and there will be massive shortcomings when we start saying, okay, what do we actually have to respond to the next time a liner hits an iceberg or a rock and we don't get perfect conditions, as we've had in the last few years? And we can start saying, okay, what do we have to do for the next steps? In that regard, this agreement is superb. It starts building the type of confidence that I'm hoping we'll start seeing in terms of other types of exercise operations, so that when we start addressing other constabulatory issues, such as fishing resources, which will become a growing issue in the north, we in fact have at least a common voice amongst the Arctic states. Quite frankly, it's going to be the issues with the non-Arctic states coming into the Arctic region that are going to be diplomatically some of the most difficult ones to resolve.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. Kellway, you're up.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and through you, thank you, Professor Huebert, for coming today. It's been very interesting to date.

In your comments you made a statement, “...if we choose to follow our historical orientation.” Yet, in your assessment of security risks, it almost suggests that following our historical orientation may in fact be impossible, especially if we are forced, through economics, to act more unilaterally on defence and security issues.

Could you tell us how much of your assessment is based on actually following our historical orientation? Or is your assessment free from that? Is there another way of reorienting ourselves, in fact?

11:35 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

This is the hard one, because we have attempted to bring in a greater independence, a greater withdrawal from the international community. We see this in the inter-war period. We see some of the issues in terms of when Trudeau brought forward the defence and foreign policy review. But ultimately, I think, it's the fact that we are an international trading country, with one of the highest standards of living, where Canadians come from such multiple backgrounds. And even though we really do have the political ability to say no to the world, if we wanted to cut ourselves off, we'd never go isolationist to the degree of, say, Albania, or whatever. But we could pull back. We do not have to be the country that everyone looks to as soon an international crisis occurs.

How many times did people look to, say, China for involvement, for providing peacekeepers, peace enforcements, or whatever, or Japan? There's a whole lot of historical reasons why not. We could choose to be like that, but I think because our interests are ultimately so tied into the international system now, we will not ever choose to do so. Therefore, that means that the security requirements that come with that type of integration that we have with the international system, with our culture, with who we are, mean that we will continue, even though we have the option of saying no without a complete destruction of Canadian security.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Thank you.

In response to Mr. Christopherson's question, your first step, you suggested, was to put together—and I think I got the words right—a greater mindset, which almost suggests to me, if I understood you correctly, that we need, in a sense, a greater mindset to even start thinking about this issue of readiness. This is interesting, given that we're supposed to be writing a report on readiness.

How do you start to put together that greater mindset? What does that greater mindset look like? Is it pulling in thoughts and people from outside the military establishment itself?

11:40 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

It's a little bit of both.

I'll give you an example. The navy, very much on its own—and once again, the full story hasn't been told—back in the 1990s started saying that they had to have a reassessment of what Canadian sea power meant. Through a series of the CMS at the time, they had the vision statement, and then they had the subsequent strategy known as Leadmark.

That created a lot of discussion and debate within the navy itself in terms of how to approach the procurement issues and set a standard of strategic thinking that lasted. The problem is that once they had Leadmark...basically you were told that you had a Canadian sea power strategy; it was done. The problem is that the efforts to bring something they're calling Horizon now, which will be the next follow-up, has certain political difficulties coming forward.

The air force and the army also have to start thinking with the same type of mentality that we saw in that context. We also have to be encouraging the ability to think of the strategic thoughts that are coming from the outside. We've taken a couple of steps backwards. It's self-interested, I'm very aware, but we've cut the academic sort of strategic analysis, and the SDF community is about to lose its funding. I think it's a bad step. Once again, in my self-interest, I'm not going to be too openly critical about it, but we need the type of thinking that comes from people saying that maybe we should be thinking in terms of isolationism, or more connection with it—in other words, considering all options, because that's the only way we can really stay on top of where the crisis is or will be coming.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. Chisu, you have the floor.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for your points.

I would be interested in the point of unilateralism that you expressed in the context of readiness and sovereignty in the Arctic. Let's face it, you were talking about the western Arctic, but there are two, one superpower and one less superpower on the betting street, so I'm not concerned about that, but I am about the Northwest Passage. The Northwest Passage is in our own territory. As you alluded to, there will be some other players in the game in the Arctic. I'm looking at the European Union and other people there. How do you think we should be ready for our Northwest Passage in the eastern Arctic?

11:40 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

That's easy. We do what the Russians are doing.

The Russians are basically saying they will follow international law and they will participate in every multilateral improvement of environmental standards. They're a major player in what's referred to as the polar code, which is going to be strengthening the creations of the environmental standards for new ships. They're basically putting in an enforcement capability that says they will follow international standards, which are the highest standards, but that they have rules for what you need to do if you're coming into the northern sea route, which is their term for the Northeast Passage.

What the Russians have been doing very successfully is saying, “World, come on in, we want you to come in, we want you under Russian standards, and, by the way, this is what happens to you if you don't follow our standards. We have these new port facilities. We're calling them the research and rescue, but we're deploying naval assets. And, by the way, we are also making sure that you have to pay a certain fee to support that infrastructure, and, by the way, you have to sign these contracts, which, in effect, say that you're acknowledging the northern sea route as internal waters.”

What we need to do is play by the international standards, create the type of vision that we want, but have that enforcement capability, so that when the Europeans—and they are probably going to be a bigger threat than the Americans, in my view, for the sovereignty—finally start saying “No, this is an international strait”, we can say, “Well, you can call it whatever you want, but these are our rules”, which means, de facto, that we would have control.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Do you think we should have a little bit more investment in that area and get more prepared?

11:40 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

Absolutely, there is no question, because the future is coming, and it will be there. Are we prepared for the Europeans or not?

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

I was raising this issue because the Russian mapping system is much better than ours, so we are behind on that.