By Stéfanie Von Hlatky and Thomas Juneau
On August 2, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted his thanks to Canadians who participated in the defence policy review consultations during the last four months. Over 20,200 submissions were received through the online portal and 4,700 people participated in the virtual discussion forum. It is worth asking how the Department of National Defence will now make sense of this input.
We think that defence diplomacy should emerge as a compelling theme in Canada’s new defence policy. This encompasses a spectrum of activities, ranging from capacity-building programs to bilateral defence relations and participation in international military fora.
While defence diplomacy has not featured prominently in the Canadian defence lexicon, it is an essential but vastly underexploited tool for a medium-sized country like Canada to expand its influence abroad. In the context of the Liberal government’s expected announcement in the coming weeks of a new peace support operation in Africa, Canada’s limited defence diplomacy assets are likely to be in high demand.
One of the primary vehicles of defence diplomacy at the moment is the Military Training and Cooperation Program. The MTCP offers assistance to partner countries in three areas — French and English language training, professional development and staff courses, and peace-support operations courses.
To be sure, the MTCP is small but it accomplishes a lot with an annual budget of approximately $15 million. It is a road-tested model that has proven its value, alongside its counterparts in Global Affairs Canada such as the Global Partnership Program (GPP), a threat-reduction initiative for weapons of mass destruction, and the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START). These programs deliver a big bang for a relatively small buck — and they could achieve much more with a modest boost to their budgets.
By providing training and assistance, such capacity-building and training programs strengthen the capabilities and professionalism of armed forces and security services in partner countries, allowing them to better prevent or manage future crises. For Canada, these efforts yield important information about regional contexts and how military organizations evolve in other countries, while providing useful contacts that it can leverage in times of crisis. Ukraine, for example, was a major recipient of Canada’s GPP and is now the top participant in the MTCP.
At a time when Canada does not face a major, direct military threat, the government can afford the luxury of investing in flexible diplomatic tools. Such a niche capability allows Ottawa to expand its presence in specific countries, in the pursuit of targeted interests.
Expanding the MTCP’s mandate and tripling its annual budget to about $50 million would allow Canada to maximize the benefits of such initiatives at minimal cost. While we propose bolstering the MTCP’s resources, we recognize that the defence budget is unlikely to significantly increase for the next few years. However, this proposed increase — which represents a droplet in the total defence budget of about $20 billion — would be sufficient to support an expanded mandate while it could provide a visible signature item in the new defence policy.
Concretely, this investment could boost the MTCP in areas that are core defence priorities, such as counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation capacity-building, Special Operations and regular forces training, high-level and staff exchanges, and intelligence co-operation and training.
Defence diplomacy is also an easy fit within the parameters the Trudeau government has set, namely its focus on diplomacy, conflict prevention, and peace operations. As the soft power arm of the military, defence diplomacy simultaneously contributes to better communication with other nations, improved access to early conflict signals, and better peace support practices through CAF-delivered training.
The benefits of defence diplomacy are clear and will resonate beyond the armed forces. Stronger co-operation with partner countries, especially in volatile regions, will contribute to Canada’s international reputation and standing within organizations like the United Nations. The Canadian Armed Forces, for their part, will strengthen their world-class expertise in military training.
Stéfanie von Hlatky is an assistant professor at Queen’s University and director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy.
Thomas Juneau is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. From 2003 to 2014, he was an analyst with Canada’s Department of National Defence.
This article was first published on 29 August 2016 in The Hill Times.