More than 500 people packed the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa Feb. 24 and 25 for the annual Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) symposium. The speakers at the two-day event were distinguished as always, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Dr. John Hamre, president of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in the United States.
The CDA is an umbrella group of military associations of which The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest member. This year the meeting had two themes, Canada-United States security interests 10 years after 9/11 and the Canadian Forces after the combat mission in Afghanistan.
Hamre started off the conference with a talk on managing our shared defence during a time of fiscal austerity. His main theme was that Canada and the U.S. need to work together more, but to do this, the U.S. needs to change its policy thinking. “We are going through a great change in the U.S. during a recession and it has been a wake-up call for almost everybody,” he said.
Hamre said both countries’ main fault is homeland security. He said his one wish is that when there is a next attack that we don’t do more damage to ourselves that the terrorists do. He said that presently, instead of parties working together to solve a problem, they work against each other to find weaknesses. The U.S. also needs to change its way of thinking as it is currently in a 1950-60s policy framework and needs to work with other countries, instead of trying to do everything itself.
Three panel discussions followed the keynote address. The first, with former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Michael Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Canada James Blanchard and Lieutenant-General Frank Grass, deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command (NorthCom), focused on Canada-U.S. relations since 9/11. All agreed that Canada and the U.S. need to continue to work closely together. The average Canadian citizen doesn’t know how closely the two nations work together, but more communication is necessary, especially when dealing with Norad (North American Aerospace Defence Command) and NorthCom, which have integrated staff from both countries. We also need to help each other with border patrolling, but not see the border as a wall between the two countries. The other panels discussed contemporary security concerns, primarily the Asia-Pacific area and the Arctic, and post-Afghanistan.
On Friday morning, MacKay, the first speaker, touched briefly on the crisis in Libya. “For their struggle for democracy, [the Libyan people] have endured unforgettable chaos, violence and a regime that outrageously attacks its own citizens,” he said. “The outrageous and insidious abuse of government power must stop and we, Canada, stand ready to fight alongside the peaceful nations to support the legitimate aspirations of the people in Libya.”
He explained 2010 was a busy year for the CF, which undertook international operations in Afghanistan and Haiti, and domestic operations like the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, the G-8 and G-20 summits and relief efforts after Hurricane Igor. In June alone, 12,000 CF personnel were deployed.
“To say the least, we are witnessing historic changes in the Middle East, dictators are falling like dominoes, yet no one can predict the backlash of what will follow,” said MacKay. This backlash could define the potential for issues of future security threats and the CF needs to make sure they are effective and reliable. They are doing this through government commitment, by opening more support centres and acquiring new equipment.
“I would like to be frank,” he said. “The world needs more of what our country has to offer. The CF needs the right mix of modern capabilities to remain a ready, credible and effective partner.” Canada also needs to keep fundamental international partnerships, including our strong positive relationship with the U.S. “Over the past 200 years our two countries have progressively developed the closest, warmest and most successful relationship on the planet. We’ve come a long way since we marched to Washington in 1812,” said MacKay. “This relationship has undoubtedly made our country safer.”
He warned Canada’s greatest vulnerability as a nation is by water. “We are the longest vacant coastline in the world; beware of the water.”
Following MacKay was Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, vice-chief of defence staff, standing in for Chief of the Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, who cancelled due to an urgent family matter. He talked about the post-combat mission in Afghanistan, explaining CF personnel’s main effort will be located in the city of Kabul.
“There will be no CF units located in Kandahar province after 2011,” said Donaldson. “That said, a small number of CF personnel may be assigned to other areas of Afghanistan where the risks to our personnel is assessed to be no greater than that found in Kabul.”
General Mieczyslaw Bieniek, deputy commander of NATO Supreme Allied Command Transformation, discussed the importance of revamping NATO and keeping it a strong international entity.
One of the most interesting speakers of the conference was General Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director, National Security Agency, who explained both Canada and the U.S. face a serious cyber threat and are relatively unprotected.
“The amount of information transmitted this year on the network will exceed all the information we’ve seen in the last 5,000 years,” said Alexander. “Let’s look at the Library of Congress. When you look at the amount of information in the Library of Congress, it’s 15-20 terabytes [one thousand gigabytes] of information, and that two centuries worth of information now transmits over the network in five minutes.”
The amount of information printed in one week of the New York Times exceeds all the information people in the 1800s saw in their lifetime, 107 trillion e-mails were sent last year on the network and 89 per cent were spam. There are over 600 million Facebook users, making it the third largest country in the world.
“This has tremendous opportunities. However, it also has significant vulnerabilities,” he said. “When you think about vulnerabilities, you only have to look at some of the things we’ve seen. For example, on our military networks in the U.S., we are spammed 250,000 times an hour.”
Currently there are 4,000 terrorist websites in control of other sites. In the U.S., 75 per cent of people have had a cyber problem, like a virus or intellectual property theft. Last year the cost of cyber crime exceeded a trillion dollars according to McAfee, the Internet-security provider. He expressed concern about our nations’ ability to recoup, regenerate and get back on the network after a breach. “We are going to see in the not-too-distant future—estimates are within three years—destructive attacks on our network and [neither of us] are prepared to defend against these attacks,” said Alexander. Back in 2008, a cyber issue turned into a national security issue when malicious spyware was accidently transferred from an unclassified network to a classified network through the use of a thumb drive. The issue was dealt with quickly, he said, but it shows defences are needed.
Military and government officials need to be educated and solutions need to be identified and put in place. He stressed the importance with examples of how simple operational mistakes have had major effects, including the power outage on Aug. 14, 2003, that knocked out 45 million U.S. and 10 million Canadian homes due to a software glitch.
“Look at what happened on just errors we make, now think about what can happen if someone wants to attack it,” said Alexander. There are tremendous consequences and both countries need to work together. It will be hard, because you can’t see what to defend, but it’s necessary. “We can’t wait for a crisis; we have to solve this problem.”
Delegates heard other updates on the Canadian Forces, including comments from Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, chief of the land staff, who reported that the army is in a stage of “reloading” after Afghanistan and will be prepared for future conflict. Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, chief of the air staff, and Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, chief of the maritime staff, also delivered updates.
The day wrapped up with a panel discussing future challenges for the CF and DND. The main information came from Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, chief of transformation, who said there are nine plans for the future CF structure and that, if necessary, before cutting equipment, forces or reserve, he thinks the CF should look at headquarters staff.