Why National Security Matters: Just Take a Look Around the World

The world has always been a dangerous place but is it becoming more dangerous, even more so than during the Cold War?

This piece first appeared in The Epoch Times Canada on March 25, 2024

Who’d have thought we would ever pine for the days of the Cold War?

At a time where Russian aggression in Ukraine has led President Putin to muse publicly about using ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, who in his right mind would want to go back to the days of MAD (mutually assured destruction), a time where international tensions between the world’s superpowers (and their allies) could very easily have descended into exchanges of bombs magnitudes of order bigger than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II?

When we look at the international security threat level today, those decades of East-West animosity look like a picnic.

The most recent U.S. annual threat assessment produced by that country’s intelligence community (a very large group of civilian and military agencies) does not make for comforting reading. Here is the very first line: “During the next year, the United States faces an increasingly fragile global order strained by accelerating strategic competition among major powers, more intense and unpredictable transnational challenges, and multiple regional conflicts with far-reaching implications.”

And it goes on from there.

It should come as no surprise that there are the usual cast of bad actors: China (“ambitious but anxious”), Russia (“confrontational”), and Iran (“challenging longstanding rules of the international system”). The report also cites Hamas and how its heinous terrorist attack on Israel last October has had “widespread spillover effects” (several plots have been thwarted, even here in Canada). There is reference to the challenges of AI and biotechnologies and the consequences of global warming and climate change. Along the same lines, the director of the FBI has stated that terrorist threat levels towards the United States have reached a “whole other level” since the Hamas barbarism.

Whew, that is a lot to take in.  Put simply, the threat landscape has probably never been this complicated and it will take a lot of resources and money to deal with the multifarious actors.

So what does all this mean for Canada? Quite a bit, it turns out. We are a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing community, of NATO, and of the wider Western alliance of democracies. We have commitments to meet for our friends and for our own citizens.  Canadians expect nothing less than serious efforts to confront and thwart these threats.

The bad news is that Canada is NOT doing well on many fronts. Whether we are talking about Chinese aggression on our soil (election interference, harassment of dissidents, theft of biotechnology from the Winnipeg level 4 lab), assassin squads (India and Saudi Arabia), or Russian cyber attacks, the government is not adequately addressing the menace from abroad.

When you add in the deplorable state of our military (15,000 recruits shy of required manpower in the regular forces and reserves), there is much to worry about. Cutbacks and an admission that Canada has no intention of meeting the NATO 2 percent floor for defence spending is an embarrassment to say the least. We couldn’t even send a ship to the Red Sea to assist our partners in preventing Houthi terrorist attacks on international shipping.

Canada is increasingly seen as a freeloader when it comes to national security. Many in the Great White North are still of the mindset that as a neighbour of the United States we can coast, certain in the knowledge that America has our back and as a cohabitant of our continent will not allow anything bad to happen. Those days may be coming to a close, especially if Trump is re-elected (his views on those who don’t pay up are well known!).

The threat landscape will continue to transform and dangers once believed to be passé (like Islamist terrorism which is showing no signs of ebbing) will add to new entities which put our national security—and interests—at risk. We need the government to take all this seriously and not ignore intelligence and our shared values with our allies.  National security may not be a vote-getter in Moose Jaw, but that is not a reason to relegate it to the sidelines.

The world has always been a dangerous place but there is a sense that the nature of these threats has become something else altogether. There is little chance this will ebb any time soon, and the quicker we accept this and invest in the requisite agencies the better.  The latest U.S. intelligence assessment should be a wake-up call for Canada, and Canadians as well.

Anyone yearning for the certainties and simplicity of the Cold War yet?

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.