.
U

nderstanding another country’s national security and foreign policy perspectives is critical to making smart policy. It’s said so often that it’s practically a cliché. Yet, looking at the world from another country’s perspective is not only illuminating for the country in question, but also helpful to understand and think about the challenges facing the United States. Stephanie Carvin, a professor at Canada’s Carleton University, offers a fascinating look at the national security threat landscape facing America’s northern neighbor in “Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security”. 

Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security | Stephanie Carvin | University of Toronto Press | May 2021.

Carvin opens “Stand on Guard”—a copy of which was kindly provided by the author—with a brief overview of Canada’s security community, before diving deeply into what she sees as the most immediate national security threats—violent extremism, espionage, economic security, foreign malign influence, and disinformation. Each chapter is well structured and contextualizes the issue itself, but also the challenges of confronting these threats in the context of Canada’s security establishment and legal structures, to include oversight. On the latter, Ottawa has slowly been expanding both the capabilities and oversight of its security apparatuses, which is particularly interesting from an American perspective with its nominally robust Congressional oversight bodies in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Read more: Can Washington break the cycle of the "insanity defense?"

It is particularly interesting to read about national security threats from a foreign perspective, and to see how allies view those threats. In Carvin’s telling, national security does not really feature in the Canadian public dialogue or consciousness outside of terrorism, and even then, it is not a constant presence. Contrast this with the United States where in one form or another, national or economic security is a near-daily feature, particularly for those of us residing inside the Beltway.

In some ways, this is not terribly surprising. Canada is bordered by three oceans, and two, presumably benevolent, neighbors to the south and east. While Ottawa has had overseas deployments and is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group, Canada has very little in the way of a constant overseas presence. It is here that one would have liked a touch more discussion on Canada’s interests and place in the world, but that is perhaps a subject for a follow-up book. “Stand on Guard” is very much an inwardly looking book with a broad scope, and a very successful one at that. Here too, especially for a U.S. audience, it would be very interesting to have Carvin explore the nexus of transnational security issues and U.S.-Canadian cooperation. 

Read more: No reconciliation without truth.

Carvin’s book is decidedly more academic in orientation and that may limit its reach, which is a shame as the issues she covers, the way she approaches them, and the questions she raises, are of critical importance to the national security debates within Canada and our understanding of a close ally. She and her publisher would do well to spin off the chapters into smaller “Ladybird”-style  books popular in the United Kingdom that present a subject in a concise and clear, easy-to-digest format. As it stands it is likely the single best volume on the national security issues facing Canada today and a very good summary of the subject she addresses full stop. 

Carvin’s core warning is to avoid “securitizing” every threat and to reevaluate the threats themselves in light of the best possible allocation of resources and energy against those challenges. For example, “Is a pandemic a national security threat?” she asks. In her mind, no, it is a public health emergency that contains elements of national security. If one views it solely as a national security threat, it becomes securitized and there is a risk of allocating the wrong resources and achieving the wrong outcomes, not the least of which is an alienation of the affected population. 

From an American, relatively hard-nosed, realist perspective, reading about empathy in a national security textbook is somewhat unexpected. Carvin argues that approaching the challenges she outlines requires a measure of empathy for the groups most affected by the national security threats in question, in particular violent extremism of any flavor or variety. Vilifying an entire community because of the actions of a few is foolish and counterproductive, to say nothing of immoral. As Carvin argues, being empathetic to the families, communities, and groups affected, one can potentially achieve better outcomes than if one brushes the whole based on the actions of a few. 

Read more: Doom: The politics of catastrophe.

In advocating for empathy, Carvin touches upon core issues facing national security policy, not the least of which is applying the right tools and tactics against the relevant threats. Importantly, she asks if the solution is doing more harm than good. How can Canada, or the United States for that matter, pursue its security without violating morals or the law for that matter? In attempting to ensure security, how can one balance privacy and human rights? 

These questions may sound very “soft” in comparison with the harder realist threats facing Ottawa and Washington, but it speaks to the very core of the security dilemma. What Carvin seems to be arguing for is more “smart security” than anything else. Will the proposed solution do more harm than good? In the heat of the moment or in response to an incident, there is a rush to do something, whatever that may be. As time progresses from said incident, that initial action may not be viewed as favorably or need recalibration. 

“Stand on Guard” also avoids diving into the politics of national security beyond the legal reforms and oversight of Canada’s security apparatuses. One suspects that that would be a book in and of itself, but one also has to imagine that there is a great deal tied up in the political debates surrounding these policies. Given the intended audience of this book—Canadian citizens—it is a minor omission; for outside readers, such as myself, it made me want to know more about Canadian national security politics. I imagine I’ll have to begin reading Carvin’s other writings to stay abreast of these developments and issues. 

Carvin’s exploration of Chinese traditional and economic espionage should give Ottawa cause for concern. For an American audience, these threats are not surprising—Beijing uses its intelligence apparatuses to coerce, coopt, and compromise potential targets to gain information into Canada’s political and military activities, but just as alarming is China’s pursuit of information from Canadian businesses. Intellectual property theft, both outright and via seemingly legitimate partnerships, results in the transfer of valuable research and development from Canada to China, giving the latter an increasing competitive advantage. For Washington, it is also important to understand how Beijing may also go after Canada—or Australia or Britain—to send a message to Washington without risking a direct response from the United States.

It is interesting that Carvin does not explore money laundering or drug trafficking in any great depth. The former receives brief attention in her chapter on violent extremism, but the latter isn’t addressed at all. One would imagine that both issues present a challenge to Canada’s security. In late July, a drug trafficker linked to El Chapo was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the United States and in the wake of the assassination of Haiti’s president, questions were raised about how the wife of a Haitian senator purchased a $3.4 million Montreal mansion. 

Read more: Crossover criminal vessels: a growing illicit maritime trend. 

“Stand on Guard” successfully diagnoses the threats to Canada’s security within the confines of Carvin’s outline and argument. In narrow-scoping her book, which is broad nonetheless, she avoids unnecessary mission-creep into more traditional defense issues. It would be particularly interesting if she were to craft a second, follow-on volume to explore issues such as Arctic security and Canada’s global role. Her presentation of the issues, their context, and their meaning would undoubtedly spark a much-needed debate on how Canada will approach that issue, as well as what Canada’s defense posture should be in the 21st century. 

Carvin avoids diving into policy prescriptions to the threats she identifies, and her restraint is welcome. It is a thought-provoking look at Canada’s security challenges without attempting to define some grand theory or approach. It is a book that is meant to spark a conversation within Canada and encourage readers to engage with the primary issues, but also their secondary and tertiary effects. This is undoubtedly a challenge, especially in a country where security issues aren’t necessarily above the fold every day. It is hard enough getting Americans to engage with critical security issues in a substantive fashion, and those issues are on display nearly constantly—perhaps leading to an unintentional exhaustion, numbing, or simply existential despair. 

In the end, “Stand on Guard” is a rich book that neatly frames a segment of the national security issues facing Canada today. These issues are not wholly different from those facing the United States, but merely on a smaller scale and with different legal and political frameworks to address these challenges. Understanding those differences is, however, critical to ensuring positive bilateral relations and confronting mutually shared threats.


About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security

Photo via Unsplash.

July 31, 2021

Stephanie Carvin's soon-to-be-released book "Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security" is the single best volume on the national security issues facing Canada today, writes Joshua Huminski.

U

nderstanding another country’s national security and foreign policy perspectives is critical to making smart policy. It’s said so often that it’s practically a cliché. Yet, looking at the world from another country’s perspective is not only illuminating for the country in question, but also helpful to understand and think about the challenges facing the United States. Stephanie Carvin, a professor at Canada’s Carleton University, offers a fascinating look at the national security threat landscape facing America’s northern neighbor in “Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security”. 

Stand on Guard: Reassessing Threats to Canada’s National Security | Stephanie Carvin | University of Toronto Press | May 2021.

Carvin opens “Stand on Guard”—a copy of which was kindly provided by the author—with a brief overview of Canada’s security community, before diving deeply into what she sees as the most immediate national security threats—violent extremism, espionage, economic security, foreign malign influence, and disinformation. Each chapter is well structured and contextualizes the issue itself, but also the challenges of confronting these threats in the context of Canada’s security establishment and legal structures, to include oversight. On the latter, Ottawa has slowly been expanding both the capabilities and oversight of its security apparatuses, which is particularly interesting from an American perspective with its nominally robust Congressional oversight bodies in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Read more: Can Washington break the cycle of the "insanity defense?"

It is particularly interesting to read about national security threats from a foreign perspective, and to see how allies view those threats. In Carvin’s telling, national security does not really feature in the Canadian public dialogue or consciousness outside of terrorism, and even then, it is not a constant presence. Contrast this with the United States where in one form or another, national or economic security is a near-daily feature, particularly for those of us residing inside the Beltway.

In some ways, this is not terribly surprising. Canada is bordered by three oceans, and two, presumably benevolent, neighbors to the south and east. While Ottawa has had overseas deployments and is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group, Canada has very little in the way of a constant overseas presence. It is here that one would have liked a touch more discussion on Canada’s interests and place in the world, but that is perhaps a subject for a follow-up book. “Stand on Guard” is very much an inwardly looking book with a broad scope, and a very successful one at that. Here too, especially for a U.S. audience, it would be very interesting to have Carvin explore the nexus of transnational security issues and U.S.-Canadian cooperation. 

Read more: No reconciliation without truth.

Carvin’s book is decidedly more academic in orientation and that may limit its reach, which is a shame as the issues she covers, the way she approaches them, and the questions she raises, are of critical importance to the national security debates within Canada and our understanding of a close ally. She and her publisher would do well to spin off the chapters into smaller “Ladybird”-style  books popular in the United Kingdom that present a subject in a concise and clear, easy-to-digest format. As it stands it is likely the single best volume on the national security issues facing Canada today and a very good summary of the subject she addresses full stop. 

Carvin’s core warning is to avoid “securitizing” every threat and to reevaluate the threats themselves in light of the best possible allocation of resources and energy against those challenges. For example, “Is a pandemic a national security threat?” she asks. In her mind, no, it is a public health emergency that contains elements of national security. If one views it solely as a national security threat, it becomes securitized and there is a risk of allocating the wrong resources and achieving the wrong outcomes, not the least of which is an alienation of the affected population. 

From an American, relatively hard-nosed, realist perspective, reading about empathy in a national security textbook is somewhat unexpected. Carvin argues that approaching the challenges she outlines requires a measure of empathy for the groups most affected by the national security threats in question, in particular violent extremism of any flavor or variety. Vilifying an entire community because of the actions of a few is foolish and counterproductive, to say nothing of immoral. As Carvin argues, being empathetic to the families, communities, and groups affected, one can potentially achieve better outcomes than if one brushes the whole based on the actions of a few. 

Read more: Doom: The politics of catastrophe.

In advocating for empathy, Carvin touches upon core issues facing national security policy, not the least of which is applying the right tools and tactics against the relevant threats. Importantly, she asks if the solution is doing more harm than good. How can Canada, or the United States for that matter, pursue its security without violating morals or the law for that matter? In attempting to ensure security, how can one balance privacy and human rights? 

These questions may sound very “soft” in comparison with the harder realist threats facing Ottawa and Washington, but it speaks to the very core of the security dilemma. What Carvin seems to be arguing for is more “smart security” than anything else. Will the proposed solution do more harm than good? In the heat of the moment or in response to an incident, there is a rush to do something, whatever that may be. As time progresses from said incident, that initial action may not be viewed as favorably or need recalibration. 

“Stand on Guard” also avoids diving into the politics of national security beyond the legal reforms and oversight of Canada’s security apparatuses. One suspects that that would be a book in and of itself, but one also has to imagine that there is a great deal tied up in the political debates surrounding these policies. Given the intended audience of this book—Canadian citizens—it is a minor omission; for outside readers, such as myself, it made me want to know more about Canadian national security politics. I imagine I’ll have to begin reading Carvin’s other writings to stay abreast of these developments and issues. 

Carvin’s exploration of Chinese traditional and economic espionage should give Ottawa cause for concern. For an American audience, these threats are not surprising—Beijing uses its intelligence apparatuses to coerce, coopt, and compromise potential targets to gain information into Canada’s political and military activities, but just as alarming is China’s pursuit of information from Canadian businesses. Intellectual property theft, both outright and via seemingly legitimate partnerships, results in the transfer of valuable research and development from Canada to China, giving the latter an increasing competitive advantage. For Washington, it is also important to understand how Beijing may also go after Canada—or Australia or Britain—to send a message to Washington without risking a direct response from the United States.

It is interesting that Carvin does not explore money laundering or drug trafficking in any great depth. The former receives brief attention in her chapter on violent extremism, but the latter isn’t addressed at all. One would imagine that both issues present a challenge to Canada’s security. In late July, a drug trafficker linked to El Chapo was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the United States and in the wake of the assassination of Haiti’s president, questions were raised about how the wife of a Haitian senator purchased a $3.4 million Montreal mansion. 

Read more: Crossover criminal vessels: a growing illicit maritime trend. 

“Stand on Guard” successfully diagnoses the threats to Canada’s security within the confines of Carvin’s outline and argument. In narrow-scoping her book, which is broad nonetheless, she avoids unnecessary mission-creep into more traditional defense issues. It would be particularly interesting if she were to craft a second, follow-on volume to explore issues such as Arctic security and Canada’s global role. Her presentation of the issues, their context, and their meaning would undoubtedly spark a much-needed debate on how Canada will approach that issue, as well as what Canada’s defense posture should be in the 21st century. 

Carvin avoids diving into policy prescriptions to the threats she identifies, and her restraint is welcome. It is a thought-provoking look at Canada’s security challenges without attempting to define some grand theory or approach. It is a book that is meant to spark a conversation within Canada and encourage readers to engage with the primary issues, but also their secondary and tertiary effects. This is undoubtedly a challenge, especially in a country where security issues aren’t necessarily above the fold every day. It is hard enough getting Americans to engage with critical security issues in a substantive fashion, and those issues are on display nearly constantly—perhaps leading to an unintentional exhaustion, numbing, or simply existential despair. 

In the end, “Stand on Guard” is a rich book that neatly frames a segment of the national security issues facing Canada today. These issues are not wholly different from those facing the United States, but merely on a smaller scale and with different legal and political frameworks to address these challenges. Understanding those differences is, however, critical to ensuring positive bilateral relations and confronting mutually shared threats.


About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.