What is Canada's military strength

Basic principles

Wolfgang Taus

On July 1, 2017, Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary and the beginning of the confederation according to the official language regulation.1) In 1867 the British North America Acts negotiated with the motherland came into force and gave rise to a new nation on the North American continent: Canada, a largely sovereign Dominion within the British Kingdom with the Queen as the distant head of state.
Canada then took part in the First World War as a member of the British Commonwealth. Thousands of Canadians lost their lives for "King and Country" on the battlefields of Flanders. Canada also worked on the side of the Allies during World War II.
With the status of Westminster in 1931, Canada (along with other Commonwealth members) was granted full legislative independence. From now on, it was exclusively the Canadian parliament in Ottawa that determined the country's domestic and foreign policy. It was not until the Canada Act 1982 that the Canadian Parliament was also given the right to amend the constitution.
With the Constitution Act of 1982 under the then liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the basic constants for an increasingly multicultural immigrant country Canada were laid down. At the same time, the apparent distancing from its large neighbor, the USA, increased at the time. As an opponent of the Vietnam War and an advocate of good relations with Cuba, Trudeau snubbed Washington. Under Trudeau's son Justin (the current Prime Minister of Canada), this foreign policy course was revived, after an increased reliance on the world power USA had previously been pursued in the era of his conservative predecessor Stephen Harper (2006-2015). During his tenure, Harper had gradually changed some positions that had hitherto been considered typically “Canadian”: critical distance from Washington; a multipolar foreign policy of good offices with their own armed forces, which were understood more as blue helmets than combat troops.
Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, these “Canadian values” of a multipolar foreign and security policy seem to come to the fore again. In her keynote address in the Ottawa Parliament in mid-June, the current Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland insisted on the implementation of a “clear and sovereign course” for her country and warned against placing one's own military security too much in the hands of Washington Leaving the American protective shield would make us a satellite state, ”said Freeland.2)

Canada's canon of foreign policy values

Canada's involvement in Afghanistan in the wake of the US military invasion in 2001, which ultimately led to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Kabul, had turned out to be Ottawa's most significant politico-military involvement since the Korean War.3) Over the past few years, Ottawa has taken on a whole range of diplomatic, political, military and socio-economic commitments to rebuild the country that has been badly torn by civil war. For example, Canadian-Afghan relations have taken a central place in the government in Ottawa. The most important and most visible component of this commitment to stabilize and consolidate the Afghan government was Canada's military deployment on the ground. Ultimately, up to 3,000 Canadian soldiers were to be deployed in Afghanistan, most of them in the Afghan capital Kabul and in the province of Kandahar. As a member of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under the command of NATO, Canada's military presence changed dramatically - from a peacekeeping operation with logistical support to a direct combat mission, where, among other things, the training of the Afghan armed forces was on the program. In the course of these operations in Afghanistan against the insurgent Taliban, 150 Canadian soldiers were ultimately killed and more than 600 injured.4) At the same time, Canada, in conjunction with its Western allies, increasingly tried to ensure the establishment of law and order on the ground by specifically training Afghan police officers in order to be able to cope with the major challenges in the country. The training courses for the Afghan police officers were also carried out overseas. Politically and administratively, Canadian government officials gave the Afghan authorities a wide range of assistance in order to strengthen the civil society sector in the best possible way. In addition, a number of confidence-building measures between the Afghan government and Pakistan have been launched in terms of foreign policy, including the 2010 initiative to improve control of both sides of the border. In 2011, Canada's active military role in Afghanistan ended.

The military engagement in Afghanistan5) Within the framework of NATO, it took place against the background of the neoclassical realism of the unipolar world power view of its large neighbor USA, the domestic foreign policy consensus of the political elites on the Atlanticist security policy to be carried out and a more or less dissident, autonomous executive strategy of Ottawa vis-à-vis Washington. This set of preconditions is important in order to better understand Canada's military-political burden-sharing in the North Atlantic alliance in the form of a “coalition of the willing”. Finally, Canada's numerically significant military engagement in Afghanistan in the context of Western counterinsurgency operations represented a paradox of realism. A realistic Canadian foreign policy has hitherto been understood as the pursuit of largely national interests. When the US asked Ottawa whether Canada would take part in a military action within the framework of NATO in Afghanistan, Ottawa initially sent "just enough" of its own troops to demonstrate its support for the US and to take over at the "allied table" to be involved in the strategic-military decisions. Canada's original military engagement (2001-2005) initially followed the realpolitical logic of “limited responsibility”. The subsequent expansion of the Kandahar mission (2009-2011), however, could no longer be explained with the logic of “limited responsibility”. As some experts have suggested, it was a kind of “forward-shifting” security strategy for Canada, even if, according to critics, Canada had not really become “safer” at home and the Canadian armed forces were also reaching the limits of their local capabilities. Ultimately, it was a military engagement in search of more international prestige.6) It was also striking that Canada carried out around 10% of NATO's air strikes in the 2011 Libyan War.7)

Canada's claim to territorial power over parts of the Atlantic and Arctic

After Russia in particular had announced and staked its national territorial claims in the Arctic with a lot of media noise in recent years, Canada has now followed suit. The former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird accordingly announced on December 9, 2013 that Canada was claiming “larger parts” of the Atlantic and the Arctic.8) In it, the government under Prime Minister Harper justified its claim to an expanded sea area, based on new survey results of the seabed in the east and north of the Canadian coast. Hardly anything seems to have changed about this even under his successor in office Trudeau.
Thus Canada de facto regards the entire continental plate up to the North Pole as Canadian territory.9) Meanwhile, in August 2014, Canada went to great lengths to find the wrecks of the two ships of Sir John Franklin's polar expedition of 1845, in order to underpin its sovereignty over the Arctic,10) and finally they found what they were looking for.
Canada's Coast Guard claims to have 18 icebreakers. Only two are real heavyweights; another four are considered to be medium-weight icebreakers; the rest are multi-purpose vessels with limited ability to navigate ice water.
The Royal Canadian Navy operates on the concept of two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Arctic is now becoming the third ocean. It is two thirds of the length of Canada's coastline.11) A few years ago, the former Canadian Prime Minister Harper had the strategic goal of significantly expanding a fleet of Arctic-ready ships by adding up to eight new units. However, for cost reasons, the project has so far only been approached and advanced to a limited extent.
In the Arctic Council as a supranational forum for the reconciliation of interests between the neighboring countries (Canada, USA, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland) and the indigenous peoples, five countries belong to NATO. In addition, the Arctic Council has granted observer status to twelve states. This also includes India, because changes in the climate at the North Pole influence the monsoons. This also includes the up-and-coming China, which Canada is watching with suspicion because of its growing economic interest in natural resources in the region.
Ottawa seems to have gained little from the idea of ​​an internationalization of the Arctic - on the model of the Antarctic - even in the Trudeau era. Even if there are many differences between Ottawa and Moscow, so far, at least in the Arctic, the cooperation with Russia has been described as “astonishingly good to critically distant”.12) Canada and Russia have set themselves the goal of integrating the North Pole into their respective territories as much as possible.
Canada justifies its demand for sovereignty over all waters with the ancient presence of Nordic peoples on its present-day territory, both on land and on water.
Russia, on the other hand, by no means understands its military presence in the far north as a "militarization" of the Arctic region, but this corresponds to Moscow's view13) the growing demands (of increased shipping traffic and the exploitation of oil and natural gas14)). Against this background, only the military is able to guarantee the necessary control.15) - Canada also sees the situation similarly.
This strategic mixed situation still harbors a lot of explosive power - especially in the far north. Even if, in the context of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, diplomatic efforts are always being made to balance national disputes of interests in the Arctic as much as possible, an open conflict does not seem to be ruled out, especially in view of further warming in the region.
In the course of the Russian annexation of Crimea and the heightened tensions with the West, which finally launched sanctions against Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin also imposed economic sanctions on Canada, among other things. This is likely to increase tensions in the Arctic region in the future.

Strategic re-engagement in the Asia-Pacific region

In the era after the end of the East-West conflict, Canada also ended its security and defense policy focus on Europe during the Cold War in order to repel a possible attack by Warsaw Pact troops. With the corresponding reduction in its military capacities, Canada expanded its involvement, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, until the Canadian government scaled back the capacities used for short-term reasons due to fiscal budget cuts, not least due to the global financial crisis. With the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ottawa recently expanded its strategic interests to the Asia-Pacific region, where the important port of Vancouver is the gateway to Asia. Despite Canada's recently concluded comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the EU, Canadian trade and the economy have long since moved away from Europe. After the end of the Second World War, Canada significantly expanded its economic relations with its large neighbor and partner, the USA (despite all phases of greater demarcation) - to the detriment of the European market.
In the 21st century, the huge Asian market now seems to place Europe in third place from a Canadian perspective. In terms of security policy, the two NATO partners Canada and the USA remain closely linked, not least in the course of the events of 9/11 - for example within the framework of the North American Air Surveillance Command (NORAD). The military-secret service cooperation is also oriented and anchored worldwide in the form of the strategic partnership of the "Five Eyes" between Canada, the USA, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, which has meanwhile become more publicly known in the wake of the Snowden affair. A central goal is and remains to keep the maritime trade routes open in the region and to guarantee the greatest possible stability and prosperity in the greater area, which is ultimately of great importance for Canada.16)

Canada's Armaments Project - Current Strengths and Weaknesses

Canada is and will remain an active participant in international security operations. In recent years, however, the Canadian Department of Defense has had to accept several postponements or postponements of planned investments in new military systems. However, a large number of service-specific and joint procurement programs have been launched to address these shortcomings.17) Acquiring new combat aircraft to retire the Royal Canadian Air Force's CF-18 HORNET is high on the Department of Defense's emergency plan. In the meantime, of the original 138 jets, only 76 are in use due to material wear and tear. The original plans in the Harper era to replace the CF-18 fleet with new American F-35A Joint Strike Fighters have since been abandoned due to delays and excessive costs, especially for Canada. In November 2016, Ottawa announced a new procurement plan to phase out the obsolete CF-18. So could as an interim solution in addition
18 F / A-18E / F Super Hornets are purchased by the US company Boeing to expand the CF-18 fleet. So far, however, there is still no agreement with Boeing about the counter-deals for Canadian industry.18) Alternative considerations would be the purchase of Swedish Saab JAS39 Gripen or French Dassault Rafale. According to the latest defense white paper, a total of 88 new combat aircraft are to be purchased.
Armed drones are also to be procured for the first time. According to the Canadian Armed Forces commander, General Jonathan Vance, these are not intended for killing operations. The drones should only expand the range of conventional weapons for the classic battlefield.19)
The renewal of the aging Canadian CC115 (DHC-5) Buffalo transport machines from the manufacturer de Havilland Canada is also of great urgency. A decision has already been made in favor of the successor to the machines.20) At the end of 2016, the Canadian Air Force selected 16 Airbus C-295W transport aircraft for delivery between 2019 and 2022. In addition, Canada has started to replace its now aging Sea King marine helicopters with 28 modern CH-148 Cyclone multi-purpose transport helicopters from the same manufacturer Sikorsky for submarine hunting, but also for rescue missions on the high seas.
In 2007 Canada bought 80 Leopard 2A4 and 20 Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks from the Dutch Army to replace the previous Leopard I. Since then, the main battle tanks have been further modernized and upgraded. The Leopard 2A6M in particular performed well in the most recent Afghanistan mission.21)
The delivery of the new all-wheel drive Tactical Armored Patrol Vehicle (TAPV) as a further development of the US-American M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle from the manufacturer Textron Systems has been in progress since 2016. A total of 500 TAPVs are to be integrated into the Canadian land forces (with an option for an additional 100 units). The TAPV are delivered in two versions: for special reconnaissance purposes and for general transport missions. The new armored personnel carriers should then be ready for operational use by mid-2020.22) They will gradually replace the outdated Armored Patrol Vehicle RG-31 and part of the Coyote Light Armored Vehicle Wheeled.23)
As part of the modernization plan for the land forces, the increase in combat value of the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) III continues. It is the third generation of lightweight armored personnel carriers developed and built by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada and has been in service since 1999. The vehicles are based on the Swiss Mowag Piranha IIIH 8 × 8. It is currently the primary combat vehicle for the Canadian infantry forces.24) The Canadian Army currently has 651 such wheeled infantry fighting vehicles, 550 of which are being modernized. In February 2017, Ottawa decided to bring a further 141 units up to date.
As it became known in mid-December 2016, the Canadian special forces of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) will receive 78 Dagor (Ultra Light Combat Vehicle - ULCV) vehicles from the US company Polaris Industries worth around CAD 15.5 million (EUR 10.4 million).
However, the maritime units of the Canadian armed forces are currently showing operational deficiencies. Affected are, for example, the diesel-electric powered and now modernized four submarines from the Upholder class in the UK. The submarines are listed in Canada as Victoria class, which were delivered to Canada between 2000 and 2004.
The twelve Halifax-class frigates continue to form the backbone of the Royal Canadian Navy and are designed as multi-purpose vessels with an emphasis on submarine hunting. Since the Halifax class, which went into service in 1992, is to remain in use well into the 21st century, a modernization program called FrigatE Life EXtension (FELEX) is being worked on - an estimated cost of CAD 4.3 billion (CAD 2.9 billion). EUR). In the medium term, the Halifax-class frigates and the Iroquois-class destroyers are to be replaced by new destroyers, the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC), from 2021. The new destroyers are being designed under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Program. A total of 15 new combat ships, including frigates, are to be purchased for the Canadian Navy. With the new destroyers, the Canadian Navy wants to be able to operate globally, despite limited logistics.
Also in view of the rapidly changing situation in the Arctic region, Canada needs an increased military presence on its northern borders. The 103m long patrol ships of the Harry Dewolf class25) are specially designed for this application area. Of the originally planned eight units, there will now be five (with an option for a sixth such patrol ship), which are to be put into service from 2018 in order to protect Canada's national interests in the Arctic region.


Under the new Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada is relying on a marked increase in the military budget of 70% with the recognizable efforts of a foreign and security policy that is more self-sufficient in relation to its large southern neighbor, the USA. Defense spending is expected to rise to CAD 32.7 billion (approx. EUR 22 billion) by 2027, according to Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan at the beginning of June 2017.26)
Much of the investment will go to the procurement of 88 new aircraft and 15 warships, it said. An increase in the number of troops by 3,500 to 71,500 is planned. In addition, the reserve service is to be made more attractive, among other things with the help of a recruitment process, which should only last weeks instead of months. In particular, the strength of the special units is to be increased. Canadian Special Forces have recently been deployed in Iraq specifically to train Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia.27) In addition, it is also about significantly expanding your own cyberwar capacities.28)
How the significantly increasing procurement costs will be financed in the military budget remains unclear, however.
Against the background of an emerging race for spheres of influence and raw materials, Canada, the largest bordering state next to Russia, wants to visibly increase its presence in the Arctic by significantly expanding its military spending. Ottawa is concerned, among other things, with better defending its sovereignty in the north, for example against border violations by Russian fighter planes.
As an important NATO member, Canada is also active on the eastern flank of the western alliance. The stationing of multinational NATO units in the Baltic States and in eastern Poland has now taken shape against the background of the East-West tensions that re-established with Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Canada is the lead nation in Latvia, with 1,150 troops subordinated there alone. The military headquarters are in Adazi.29)
Ottawa plans to increase military spending from currently 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) to 1.4% from 2024/25. But that would still mean Canada is a long way from meeting NATO's 2% target.
In addition to deepened engagement within the framework of NATO, Canada also wants to get involved within the framework of the UN with up to two larger missions with 500 to 1,500 men. Canada's voice within the G8 (G7) is always heard.
Right from the start, the liberal Trudeau government has pushed for a multilateral strategy, with Ottawa trying to get a seat on the UN Security Council.30) In view of the obvious imponderables and uncertainties in the global politics of US President Donald Trump, Canada as a middle power must find its way back to its old strengths of multilateral action, it is said. This also includes the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) announced by Trump.
Aside from Trump's overly populist positions, Canada is trying to act as a reliable partner in the world.31) Canada also advocates collective security tasks under the new Prime Minister. This is expressed, for example, through our own maritime presence, for example in the Arabian Gulf.32)
"Strong, Secure, Engaged"33) is the creed in the Trudeau era to get a more robust and independent foreign and security policy on the way - just not to appear "too American".
Ottawa's goals, especially in the field of military defense, are very lofty and ambitious. However, it remains to be seen whether all the financial capacities for the budgeted armaments program can ultimately be raised in order to be able to implement the various specifications in full.

1) "Celebrating 150 Years of Canada - On Canada Day". In: DAILY GLOBE-Online v. June 30, 2017: http://www.dailyglobe.co.uk/comment/celebrating-150-years-of-canada-on-canada-day/.
2) See: Book Review: "The Retreat of Western Liberalism" By Edward Luce, 34 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. In: THE NEW YORK TIMES-Online v. July 25, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/books/review/the-retreat-of-western-liberalism-edward-luce.html.
3) See: Dan Fitzsimmons, "Canada, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan". In: International Journal 2/2013, p. 305.313.
4) See: Kenneth Holland / Christopher Kirkey: "An evaluation of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan". In: International Journal 2/2013, p.269.273.
5) See for example: Stephen M. Saideman: "What the Afghanistan Mission teaches Canada". In: International Journal 3/2017, pp. 131-141.
6) Cf.: Caroline Leprince: “The Canadian-led Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team: A Success Story?” In: International Journal 2/2013, pp. 359-377.
7) See for example: Justin Massie: "Canada’s war for prestige in Afghanistan: A realist paradox?" In: International Journal 2/2013, pp.274-288.
8) "Arctic claim will include North Pole, Baird pledges as Canada delays full seabed bid". THE GLOBE AND MAIL-Online v. December 9, 2013: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-delays-full-bid-for-claim-to-north-pole/article15824139/.
9) "Canada's claim to Arctic riches includes the North Pole". CBCNEWS v. December 9, 2013: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-s-claim-to-arctic-riches-includes-the-north-pole-1.2456773.
10) NZZ v. August 19, 2014, page 5.
11) See: NZZ v. 15.3.2014, p.9.
12) Ibid, p.9.
13) "Russia does not plan to militarize the Arctic - diplomat". In: Ria Novosti-Online v. September 20, 2010: http://de.ria.ru/politics/20100920/257304310.html.
14) According to an estimate published in 2008 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the polar cap north of the Arctic Circle may contain 90 billion barrels of degradable oil, a good 47 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of condensate from natural gas. In: U.S. Geological Survey-Online v. July 23, 2008: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=1980#.UySf_cKPKos.
15) In March 2014, Russia reaffirmed its claim to oil and gas reserves there with the largest military maneuver to date in the Arctic. Transport aircraft dropped 350 paratroopers and tons of military equipment on the New Siberian Islands. The battalion had freed an "occupied" landing site during the nightly exercise.
16) See for example: Bernard J. Brister: "Back to the Future: Canada's Re-Engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region". In: Canadian Military Journal 2/2014, pp.15-24.
17) Defense Acquisition Guide 2016 - National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces: http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/business-defence-acquisition-guide-2016/index.page.
18) "CANADA COULD DROP BOEING F / A-18 SUPER HORNET BUY". In: THE AVIATION GEEK CLUB v. May 23, 2017: http://theaviationgeekclub.com/canada-drop-boeing-fa-18-super-hornet-buy/.
19) "Canada's New Military Ambitions". In: FAZ-Online v. June 13th, 2017: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/kanada- stellen-weissbuch-2017-fuer-sicherheitspektiven-vor-15059103.html.
20) See: Sidney E. Dean, "Canadian Armament Programs Update". In: European Security & Defense 5/2017, page 57.
21) Ibid, p.59.
22) "Army to distribute first TAPVs to Gagetown in August but full capability won't happen until 2020". In: Ottawa Citizen-Online v. April 12, 2016: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/army-to-distribute-first-tapvs-to-gagetown-in-august-but-full-capability-wont-happen-until- 2020.
23) "Canadian Army receives first TAPVs". In: SHEPHARDMEDIA.com v. August 22, 2016: https://www.shephardmedia.com/news/landwarfareintl/canada-receives-first-six-tapvs/.
24) General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada - LAV III: http://www.gdlscanada.com/products/light-armoured-vehicles/lav-iii.php.
25) Factsheet of the HARRY DEWOLF class as pdf: http://www.navy-marine.forces.gc.ca/assets/NAVY_Internet/docs/en/aops-factsheet.pdf.
26) "Canada wants to increase military spending by 70 percent". In: DIE PRESSE-Online v. June 8th, 2017: http://diepresse.com/home/ausland/aussenpolitik/5231396/Kanada-will-Militaergabe-um-70-Prozent-erhoehen.
27) "Canada's New Military Ambitions". In: FAZ-Online v. June 13th, 2017: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/kanada- stellen-weissbuch-2017-fuer-sicherheitspektiven-vor-15059103.html.
28) "Canada developing arsenal of cyber-weapons". In: Toronto Star Newspapers-Online v. March 16, 2017: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/03/16/canada-developing-arsenal-of-cyber-weapons.html.
29) NZZ v. July 21, 2017, page 6.
30) Colin Robertson, "How Canada Must Navigate the New Normal of Global Relationships." In: THE GLOBE AND MAIL-Online v. 5.6.2017: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/how-canada-must-navigate-the-new-normal-of-global-relationships/article35210068/.
31) See: Official government website "National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces - Current Operations": http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations/current.page.
32) "Canada extends maritime security mission in Middle East to 2021". In: CBCNEWS-Online v. May 29, 2017: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-extends-operation-artemis-2021-1.4135904.
33) "Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada's Defense Policy" - Information from the Canadian government: http://dgpaapp.forces.gc.ca/en/canada-defence-policy/index.asp.