Operating context: conditions affecting our work

National Defence faces both external and internal factors that may influence its ability to meet its stated goals or shape the development of new priorities.

Externally, Canada faces an uncertain, complex and fluid security environment consisting of a multi-faceted array of threats and challenges, both traditional and unconventional. While conditions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East are currently of significant interest, a number of other trends need to be considered. The Defence Policy Review has assessed these trends with a view to developing a new defence policy for Canada that best positions the Defence Team to address challenges before they reach our shores, and to seize opportunities to achieve strategic effect for Canada.

As Russian aggression in Ukraine has made clear, threats from state actors – which often blend traditional and unconventional tactics – persist in the international security environment. Geopolitical rivalries and disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, and weapons proliferation and ballistic missile tests in places like North Korea, are of growing concern. A number of regional flashpoints in the Middle East and Africa could flare up quickly and have serious consequences for regional and international stability, potentially leading to mass migration and refugee flows.

Ongoing challenges linked to fragile states – such as poor governance, weak and non-inclusive political institutions, ethnic strife, porous borders, and religious extremism – persist, and threats from non-state actors also continue to pose genuine dangers. The rise of terrorism in ungoverned spaces, as violent extremist organizations increase their geographic reach, continues to be a key feature of the international security environment. Furthermore, instability abroad impacts Canadian security; the threat of terrorism on North American soil continues to exist and the CAF plays a vital role in addressing this threat before it reaches our shores. As the terrorist threat evolves and homegrown terrorism continues to pose challenges to law enforcement, and while the presence of foreign fighters continues to complicate counter-terrorism operations abroad, the interplay between the domestic and international dimensions of terrorism requires careful consideration. Our national security is closely connected to international security.

Canada must also deal with rising international interest in the Arctic and the challenges related to the changing environment and increased accessibility of our northern waterways. An increase in human activity, coupled with growing international interest in the Arctic has generated greater demand for a CAF presence in the North. This includes persistent surveillance and monitoring, increased preparedness to conduct operations in the region, and rising demands for emergency response. As the level of activity in the North grows, defence and security concerns such as disaster response, illegal dumping, and espionage will likely increase.

Beyond the Arctic, the CAF is occasionally called upon to assist other government departments with recurring issues such as illicit trafficking and illegal shipping. With the growing frequency and severity of natural disasters in Canada, particularly an increase in fires and floods, the military is increasingly called on to help provide relief to Canadians impacted by these events.

The emergence of new capabilities is shifting the way militaries operate. With this evolution comes the need to adapt, both in terms of capability requirements and the necessary skill sets to support the future force.

Cyber and space are increasingly prominent among the security and defence challenges facing Canada and its allies. The CAF depends heavily on the cyber environment, and space-based capabilities are becoming an increasingly critical component of military operations. Threats in these domains are of significant concern.

The rapid evolution of cyber technology and the diversity of cyber-capable actors make it extremely challenging to keep pace with the threat. There has been a steady increase in the number of countries and non-state actors (e.g., terrorists, criminals, hackers) with the capability to conduct disruptive cyber operations and a willingness to target Western interests. This has been coupled with the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated cyber tools and techniques that can be used to achieve a range of effects (e.g., espionage, theft, sabotage) with relatively little financial investment. This is a highly complex threat environment that poses significant challenges for the CAF and for Canada as a whole.

While space used to be the domain of a few advanced states, an ever-increasing number are developing space capabilities for military purposes. Furthermore, commercial companies offer highly advanced space capabilities on the open market, such as satellite communications and radar, and optical data, which can be used for both civil and military purposes. Moreover, certain states are purportedly developing a range of counter-space or anti-satellite weapons that threaten our collective access to and use of space. Such weapons join environmental issues, man-made hazards, and a growing amount of space debris in posing a threat to allied space assets.

At the same time, the CAF is highly dependent on space-based capabilities, such as the precision provided by GPS to enhance the manoeuverability of forces and to accurately strike targets and limit civilian casualties. As well, satellite communications are essential for the command and control of military operations, especially in remote regions in Canada and around the world. Space-based search and rescue capabilities allow the CAF to respond more quickly to Canadians in distress. And reconnaissance satellites provide incredibly detailed images of otherwise inaccessible areas, including Canada’s maritime approaches.

Overall, the modernization of military operations requires new capabilities and skills. There will be an increasing need for employees with special skill sets in these emerging domains. Consideration will need to be given to how these requirements are best filled. Furthermore, the unpredictable nature of national and international security will drive the requirement for an agile and adaptable force that can support a range of operational tasks. This requires well-selected, educated, and trained personnel who are physically and psychologically fit and resilient to meet the ever-changing defence requirements of Canada.