Time to rethink national security

Date: February 25, 2019

Publication Type: Articles

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We live in a world of unilateralism and multidimensional conflict – the use of unconventional and usually non-military means to attack and influence targets in the context of geopolitical objectives.

State actors can interfere with our democratic process, exploit our internal divisions, sow confusion and distrust through fake news, seek to harm our economy and turn information technology into a powerful weapon. In fact, today everything can be weaponized and combined to intimidate and destabilize. Fighting for their survival, authoritarian regimes will go to extraordinary lengths to maintain their grip and advance their geopolitical and domestic objectives. And in this new world, friend can turn quickly to adversary.

In light of these realities, we must rethink national security, national defence and foreign policy. In Canada, we need to prepare intellectually for multidimensional conflict, know our vulnerabilities and understand the playbooks of potential adversaries. When facing direct threats, we need to know when and how to respond, while avoiding the pitfalls of passivity and overreaction.

While continuing to advocate for human rights and other fundamental values, as a middle power we need to fully align and co-ordinate our objectives and actions with like-minded allies.

Multidimensional conflict has the potential to affect everyone. For our businesses, access to foreign markets and protection of intellectual property are essential to economic success. For the Canadian financial system in particular, which is on the front lines of financial and cyberwarfare, extreme vigilance is the order of the day. The Canadian business community and the federal government need to work together to protect our country and our institutions from the malicious designs of foreign states. This includes increasing our cyber capabilities, limiting our vulnerability by diversifying our trade, and monitoring the level of our government debt sold to foreign investors.

Preparedness for multidimensional conflict requires a level of government commitment and investment that is commensurate with the potential disruption and harm that could result in the event of a concerted campaign against Canada by a determined adversary. Since defending our country is the objective, funding for augmenting our cyber capabilities and building other relevant capabilities should be included in our overall defence budget and justified from the perspective of Canada’s commitment under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to devote two per cent of gross domestic product for this purpose.

Let us seize this moment to do what is necessary, both in terms of policy shift and administrative organization to ensure full preparedness. Enhancing our capabilities to better defend Canada and our democratic way of life in the new age of multidimensional conflict is imperative.




Louis O. Vachon, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Bank of Canada

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