Canada’s policy towards IS

As long promised, the Canadian government has announced its policy on dealing with Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Syria-Iraq.  Recall that while merely an opposition member Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was critical of the offensive mandate chosen by the Conservative government, mockingly referring to it as “whipping out our CF-18s”.  If elected, he promised he would cancel Canada’s role in the airstrikes.  Now that he is PM, he has done exactly that.

So, what does the new policy look like?  Well, it contains several parts, including:

  • $264 million to extend the military mission in Iraq and Syria for one year until March 31, 2017 (the CF-18s come home but we leave refuelling and surveillance aircraft).
  • $145 million over three years in non-military security efforts, such as counter-terrorism initiatives.
  • $840 million over three years  in humanitarian assistance.
  • $270 million over three years to “build local capacity” in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees.
  • An increased diplomatic presence in the region.

What to make of all this?

As I have commented on several aspects of this issue before some of this will seem repetitive, but here are the main consequences of the government’s decision.

  1. Yes, all agree that airstrikes are not the ideal solution and will not destroy IS, but the withdrawal of Canada’s contribution, however small it may have been when compared to that of other nations in the alliance, may cost us when it comes to reputation.  Then again, we are keeping some aircraft in the fray.  Airstrikes are having some impact after all, but they are only a precursor to an inevitable ground commitment which is necessary if we really want to defeat IS.
  2. It is unclear what the “non-military counter terrorism initiatives” are but these will be critical in the long term fight against extremism.  Are they local (i.e. in the region) or do they apply to Canada?  We have already started several great campaigns here and those should be beefed up.  It is far from certain what the government thinks we can do in the region to counter the ubiquitous nature of terrorism and terrorist groups.
  3. The commitment to humanitarian assistance is obviously a smart move as we need to help the millions displaced by war.  Jordan and Lebanon are punching well above their weight and deserve some help. We are well placed in Canada in this area and can do more.
  4. Increasing our diplomatic presence is a no-brainer.  The previous government appeared to want to talk only to friends and skewed our traditional way of including all parties in the fray (as evidenced by its fawning of Israel and its decision to close our embassy in Tehran).  Winston Churchill said is best: jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

All in all there is a lot to like about this policy.  Canada remains engaged in a big way and steps up its game in needed areas.  At the end of the day IS will go to its destruction at the hands of local partners who have seen its cruelty and wanton carnage first hand.  We can help with that in a training and non-combat fashion.

Not surprisingly, some are critical of these moves, especially the Conservatives whose policies, insofar as the CF-18s are concerned, have been reversed.  And we have to acknowledge that much will change in the months to come.  There will be an requirement to adjust our approach as those changes occur.

Overall, kudos to the government for taking its time on this issue.  Rash decisions are seldom good ones.  We will see how this plays out and yes, things may go wrong.  After all, it is the Middle East where angels fear to tread (and you know the part about fools).

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply