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Capping a sweeping transformation that began in the late 1990s, the Canadian Forces recently issued their first counterinsurgency (COIN) operations doctrine, which will help Canadian soldiers prepare to fight the wars of today and the "foreseeable future," alongside its chief ally and the sole global superpower, the US.
In development since 2005, the COIN manual was authorized by Chief of Land Staff Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie in the waning days of the Bush administration. It was not formalized for another two months—six weeks after the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Obama's administration has sent clear signals, through political appointments and holdovers (such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates), that the US military and national security apparatus' transformation toward fighting smaller, "irregular wars" begun under Bush will continue apace.
Only a week before Bush left office, Gates, together with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Director of USAID, Henrietta Fore, co-signed the US Government Counterinsurgency Guide. Neo-conservative historian Eliot Cohen, who oversaw the Guide's creation, wrote in its introduction:
Insurgency will be a large and growing element of the security challenges faced by the United States in the 21st century...Whether the United States should engage in any particular counterinsurgency is a matter of political choice, but that it will engage in such conflicts during the decades to come is a near certainty. This Guide will help prepare decision-makers of many kinds for the tasks that result from this fact.
According to Lt. Gen. Leslie, the Canadian Army is "at the cutting edge" of Western armies readying themselves to fight 21st-century wars.
"The paradigms of the past based on the Cold War have changed a great deal. We have demonstrated beyond any doubt that we can adapt our doctrine and training quickly in order to meet scattered, complex operations focused on counterinsurgency missions," Leslie told a Senate defence committee meeting in March.
Shifts in Canadian policy adhere closely to those of her allies, like the US, the UK and other NATO partners. These governments are at the forefront of institutionalizing COIN principles and practices in military culture, across the "whole-of-government," and, eventually, within the "whole of society."
Based on the "comprehensive approach," the Canadian COIN manual represents a synthesis of two recent US Army Field Manuals: Counterinsurgency (FM 3-24); and Stability Operations (FM 3-07).
In 2007, after over one-and-a-half million downloads, the US Army COIN manual was published in print by the University of Chicago Press and received wide media coverage. The subsequent US Army Stability Operations Manual, published in early 2009, has also been widely distributed. By contrast, the Canadian manual is not yet publicly available. A copy of the Canadian COIN manual was obtained by The Dominion from the Department of National Defence.
Writing in the Canadian Military Journal last fall, Leslie defined the comprehensive approach as the "ability to bring to bear all instruments of national and coalition power and influence upon a problem in a timely, co-ordinated fashion." This definition aligns with that of the US Army, as found in the Stability Operations Manual:
A comprehensive approach...integrates the co-operative efforts of the departments and agencies of the United States government, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, multinational partners, and private sector entities to achieve unity of effort toward a shared goal.
The concept of "unity of effort" is drawn from classical counterinsurgency theory and doctrine.
In 1966, John J. McCuen wrote in The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War that, "Unity of effort...is extremely difficult to achieve because it represents the fusion of civil and military functions to fight battles which have primarily political objectives."
As the Canadian manual foregrounds, today's insurgencies remain inherently "a political problem."
"The nature of operations today and in the future will resemble the Three Block War construct—one that demands that soldiers interact with many different players other than their own armed forces, and undertake non-traditional tasks," wrote Leslie in the Canadian Military Journal.
In October 2003, [then Chief of the Land Staff and Lt. Gen. Rick] Hillier made the Three Block War scenario "a guiding concept for the Canadian Army."
Hillier's support for the Three Block War was one of the reasons he was selected to be Chief of Defence Staff in 2005. According to then-Prime Minister Paul Martin, "[Hillier] advocated a concept called the 'three-block war,' to describe the [military's] mission...This was not a rejection of our peacekeeping tradition, but a revision to suit tougher times, and I supported it."
Martin's government dovetailed the Three Block War approach with the broader institutionalization of the "whole-of-government" (or 3D: Defence, Development, Diplomacy) foreign policy approach in its International Policy Statement of 2005. This trajectory has continued, with minor modifications, under the minority Conservative governments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
That Canada should shift its foreign and defence policies in concert with the US comes as no surprise given their close historical relationship, even if the level of integration is often downplayed by the mainstream media. "No two militaries are more closely united than those of the United States and Canada," said US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins in 2007.
With counterinsurgency practices and principles on the rise under the Obama administration, an increasing level of "COIN-synergy" exists between the two militaries.
"We are learning from others. I happen to know General David Petraeus, who is very good man. You will find that some of our recent philosophies closely match his and those of the US Army and our friends and allies," Lt. Gen. Leslie told the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in March.
Gen. Petraeus is likely the person who contributed the most to the resurrection of a new "counterinsurgency era" in the US. He oversaw the drafting of the US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual in 2005 and 2006, and supervised its implementation during "the surge" in Iraq in 2007.
As Commander of US Central Command, Petraeus currently oversees both the Iraq and "AfPak" wars. Many followers of Petraeus have risen to prominence within Obama's cabinet; others have gone on to become "experts" in private think-tanks and appear regularly in the US media as proponents of counterinsurgency war.
Petraeus visited Calgary this week for a "social" meeting with Canada's top military brass. Partly a public relations exercise, the meeting saw Petraeus and Canadian Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk, who once served in Iraq at the same time as the US general, donning cowboy hats as they attended the Calgary Stampede. There, according to Petraeus, they discussed "the way forward for the next two years" in the COIN fight in Afghanistan.
Petraeus was subordinate in rank to Natynczyk when the Canadian general was Deputy Commander of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq in 2003-04. At the same time, Petraeus commanded a small number of Canadian soldiers in Iraq on a low-key NATO mission to train Iraqi soldiers, according to declassified documents obtained by The Dominion via Access to Information.
The clearest embodiment of COIN's institutionalization and the Canada-US "comprehensive approach" can be found in the US Army and Marine Corps COIN Center. Established at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 2006 by Petraeus and US Marine General James Mattis, it was from the COIN Center that the US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) was drafted.
The COIN Center's pamphlet describes its purpose as "facilitat[ing] the development of a culture that enables us to more effectively adapt as a whole government when called upon to deal with future COIN or COIN-like threats."
Canada is identified in the pamphlet as a key COIN-partner of the US in the "COIN SITREP reports" that Lt. Col. Daniel Roper, Director of the COIN Center, publishes periodically.
"Each country needs to institutionalize it in a way that works for them," Roper told The Dominion. "But I see some pretty impressive collaboration at the inter-agency level in Canada, with people of cross-functional expertise trying to grapple with some issues; some similar things that we're doing."
Since General Leslie signed off on the COIN manual last December, the COIN Center and Canada have collaborated on more than 20 exchanges, including "COIN Leader Workshops" and "COIN Integration" meetings.
Members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) met with the COIN Center for discussions about "US-Canada COIN synergy" five days after Leslie wrote in his issuing order for the new COIN doctrine that it is "complementary to our allies."
In April, the US COIN Center "visited military installations and think-tanks in Canada to inculcate the Canadian military establishment with COIN doctrine and best practices."
During one presentation with top officials from Prime Minister Harper's government, the COIN Center found that "policy advisors were most interested in how the merits of [Canada's new Afghan COIN] strategy could be explained to the Canadian public and Canadian political leadership."
Figuring out ways to sell the COIN campaign to a skeptical Canadian public has been a key aim of the Canadian government and military, and Canada's COIN manual emphasizes the goal of "creating and maintaining the legitimacy of the campaign." One of the central figures steering the Canada-US COIN-synergy is Lt. Col. John Malevich, who joined the COIN Center in November 2008 by way of a newly created exchange program between the two countries. He is currently the Deputy-Director of the COIN Center and recently gave a series of COIN lectures in Canada.
Reached via telephone upon his return to Ft. Leavenworth, Malevich told The Dominion that the biggest assets that he brings to the COIN Center are his scholarly background in asymmetric warfare and first-hand COIN experience in Afghanistan.
Prior to joining the COIN Center, Malevich was a member of the Strategic Advisory Team—a team of military advisors set up by General Hillier to provide direct advice to top Afghan cabinet ministers. He was later seconded to the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission, where Malevich says he "came up with their operations plan and their security plan" for the presidential elections scheduled for August 2009.
"When I speak, these guys give me a pretty good respect and they're pretty grateful to have this help...they're very grateful to have Canadians among them and grateful for the contribution we've made in Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Malevich of his colleagues at the COIN Center.
Col. Roper, who says he's been to Canada "four or five times" to discuss COIN, told The Dominion that by having Malevich "institutionally embedded" in the COIN Center, "The Canadian Army benefits from having a full-time person working in here with full access to everything we've got and recognizing [when] he stumbles upon something here that, hey, he knows somebody in the Canadian Army that might benefit from that; he can very quickly share that information."
Invoking Gen. Charles Krulak, the US marine who coined the term "Three Block War" and who, in 1997, predicted the importance of "transnational movements" to 21st-century warfare, Roper said that today, "what we're looking at are transnational insurgencies."
Partnering as closely as possible with key allies like Canada is seen as crucial to conducting what some COIN experts call "global counterinsurgency."
According to Malevich, one of his key roles is "bringing [US COIN] expertise up to Canada and bringing it into the Canadian military culture."
Such a level of COIN integration has never been undertaken before, and it is difficult to foresee the possible implications for Canada's military culture, which inevitably spills over into broader society.
"The better the people understand the pros and cons and the risks [of COIN], the more informed a decision they can make," says Roper.
In her introduction to the University of Michigan Press edition of the US Army Stability Operations Manual, Janine Davidson acknowledges that, “[There] are those who see the new doctrine as another dangerous step on the slippery slope toward imperialism.”
Davidson dismisses those critics, writing that they "seriously misunderstand the purpose and role of military doctrine"—because the military doesn't set the policies that send them to occupy other countries.
On the other hand, influential COIN advocates such as Eliot Cohen have argued that the US needs to establish an "Imperial Army," the likes of which Canada is increasingly becoming appended to.
Anthony Fenton is an independent researcher and journalist based in Pitt Meadows, B.C. This article is based on a book he has been researching and writing with Jon Elmer. Fenton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.