Canada can no longer be ‘naive’ about the ‘real’ threats it faces: defence chief – National

Canada can no longer be ‘naive’ about the ‘real’ threats it faces: defence chief – National

Canada must not let up on growing its military and confronting the reality that the threats posed by a challenging and complex global environment have arrived on its doorstep, the outgoing chief of the defence staff says.

Gen. Wayne Eyre said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the Canadian Armed Forces is on the “upswing,” with new commitments to defence spending, slow improvements to recruitment, and a recognition of security as a top priority for both the government and Canadians.

But that growth is still “not fast enough,” he told Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that aired Sunday on The West Block — likely one of his last in the top military post before he plans to retire this summer.

“There still remains lots of work to do,” he said.

Listing off the threats that Canada and its allies face — foreign interference, climate change that has opened the Arctic to security vulnerabilities, violent extremists at home and abroad, technological advancements in warfare, and the rise of hostile global powers like Russia and China — Eyre said Canadians can no longer be “naive” about national security.

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“We’ve been relatively isolated here, thankfully, in this country — (we’re) protected by three oceans and a superpower to the south,” he said.

“Well, security is becoming global. We live in a globally-integrated threat environment, and we need to be prepared for it.”

Click to play video: 'Canada promises more support for Ukraine by bolstering NATO’s eastern flank'

Canada promises more support for Ukraine by bolstering NATO’s eastern flank

Eyre said the military itself also needs to be on guard against foreign interference, including attempts by hostile states to recruit current and former CAF members and get sensitive information from them.

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Canada and its Five Eyes intelligence allies warned earlier this month that China is “aggressively” pursuing efforts to recruit western military members to train its fighter jet pilots and People’s Liberation Army.

New legislation passed by the House of Commons last week adds military intelligence to the list of classified information that will be illegal to share with foreign state actors.

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“We know we’re a target,” Eyre said. “We know our members have some coveted information, skills, experience. And so it’s something we have to be very much on the lookout for.

“This is real. The threat is real.”

Eyre, who recently marked the 40th anniversary of his military career, said he has viewed the recent history of Canada’s military as “a history of unpreparedness,” where the country would have to “scramble” to meet challenges.

He said that posture was formed by a lengthy period of relative peace, which he defined as lasting from 1998 to 2020, where the pressures of competition and conflict among the great powers during the world wars and the Cold War subsided. That, in turn, then informed decision-makers in government tasked with approving defence budgets, he said.

“Well, history is back, and we need to take a long-term view of history and have that sense of tragedy that goes along with it,” he said.

“History has not been kind to many countries over the arc of conflict.”

Asked if he believes the current government understands that renewed threat, Eyre said: “That’s not my place to say.”

Click to play video: 'Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s defence chief, will retire this summer'

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s defence chief, will retire this summer

But he did say he believes a “national security dialogue” is needed to better inform Canadians of the threats that exist, so they can then demand their members of Parliament take security more seriously.

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Eyre said he’s expressed a need to his team for the Canadian military to scale up its readiness by the end of this decade at the earliest, pointing to the military buildups taking place in China and Russia.

“We need to, as our top national security objective, avoid great power war,” he said.

“That’s best done through the ability to collectively deter adventurism, expansionism, imperialism. And so that is the endpoint that we are looking at internal to the Canadian Armed Forces: everything we can do to build up our deterrence … by that time.”

Pursuing that deterrence through alliances like NATO is a collective advantage Canada holds, he added — though he also suggested that could also be its greatest vulnerability.

Canada continues to miss NATO’s target of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence, though the government insists it will meet the benchmark in the future. Even after committing billions in new spending in its updated defence policy, Canada is still projected to hit just 1.76 per cent five years from now, drawing frustration from the United States ahead of next month’s NATO Summit in Washington.

“We need to ensure that we maintain our influence, our credibility with that group, continue to cooperate, continue to be able to interoperate around the world with our closest allies,” Eyre said.

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Continuing on the current pathway to increased readiness will be the biggest challenge for Eyre’s successor, who has yet to be named. He said the process to find his replacement is ongoing.

He said he has “almost a full notebook of advice” and transition notes ready to hand over to whoever takes the position next.

That person, he said, will need to provide advice and options to the government as crises occur, “because they will continue to occur at increasing frequency.”

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