Bob Auchterlony’s job is to prepare for the next crisis, whether it’s a wildfire, flood, hurricane, or war on another continent.
As Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, the Lieutenant-General has had an extraordinary year, coordinating the airlift of Canadians from Sudan and Israel, developing evacuation plans from Lebanon and Haiti, and addressing growing support needs at home. I spent .
Looking ahead to 2024, Auchtelrony believes pressures will continue to mount, saying Canadians are “overly confident” about their safety as the world changes.
In a recent year-end interview, he listed a list of international issues he is closely monitoring, from Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s war against Hamas to the recent series of coups in African countries and friction in the Balkans. he said in a rattled voice. and the challenges of South American countries like Venezuela, which are promoting mass immigration.
“We’re in the middle of it right now, and I don’t know if everyone understands that the global security and defense situation has deteriorated significantly,” he said.
Ouchterrony said Canadians have always felt relatively safe because they’re surrounded by three oceans and the United States, but it’s up to Canadians to be aware of what’s to come and is optimistic. He said it was not the point.
“I’m very happy that Canadians feel safe. I also think that’s very naive,” he said.
He cited increasing competition between the world’s major powers and tensions between countries that uphold the rules-based international order and those that challenge it, such as China, Russia and Iran.
All of this makes it more difficult to become a middle power, especially one whose investment in new security capabilities has not kept pace, Auchterrony said. He wouldn’t say whether Canada’s influence is less than it once was, but he said he’s being asked questions he hasn’t faced before.
“Our closest allies ask us questions about our work, questions about our status as a trusted partner, questions about our future investments,” he said.
Defense spending commitments are a longstanding issue for Canada. Norad’s next commander, Lieutenant General. During his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate last summer, Gregory Guyot said he intended to have tough conversations with Canadian officials about funding for continental defense.
NATO allies have agreed to spend a minimum of 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defense and a fifth of that on new equipment, but Canada has proposed a plan to increase spending to the 2 per cent threshold. He claims the following: Adopt a different method to achieve your goals.
The federal government has launched multibillion-dollar procurement projects including new Arctic and maritime patrol ships, F-35 fighter jets, P-8A reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned drones, and surface combatants, many of which are still in the pipeline. It will take several years.
And the military is grappling with a staffing shortage that senior leadership has called a crisis.
There are approximately 16,000 unfilled positions in the military, even though rebuilding has been a top priority since late 2022. Gen. Wayne Eyre, the commander of the Defense Force, said in his year-end message to his troops that troop numbers are “beginning to stabilize” but it will take several hours. Work for many more years.
Officials told the House Defense Committee this fall that as many as 10,000 more soldiers lack the training they need to prepare for deployment.
At the same time, Canada has committed to increasing its presence in NATO’s eastern flank in Latvia and in the Indo-Pacific.
Special forces are being sent to the Middle East to monitor the Israeli-Hamas war, and a three-officer detachment is being sent to the Red Sea as part of an international mission to protect vital shipping lanes targeted by the Houthi rebels. .
Canada’s military personnel have also been called upon to help the country recover from natural disasters and extreme weather events at a pace unprecedented in recent years.
All of this means “trade-offs will have to be made within the Canadian Armed Forces and within the Canadian government,” Auchtelrony said.
In 2023, more than 2,000 military personnel were deployed to fight wildfires across Canada for 131 consecutive days.
When the city of Yellowknife was threatened by fires in mid-August, the military worked on evacuation plans for the city and helped evacuate 158 people from hospitals and nursing homes. In this case, the military was a last resort and had the necessary special equipment, Auchterrony said.
But he argues that this is not always the case.
Mr Auchterrony said time spent on domestic operations meant the military was not training for international missions.
Domestic demand is unlikely to slow. Climate change is causing more extreme weather events, and Defense Minister Bill Blair said Canadians would be relieved to see uniformed troops helping in times of disaster.
Auchterrony hopes there will be important discussions about where the military fits into disaster response and whether emergency management agencies can take over.
However, he said if the federal government requests assistance, “we will respond as we have always done.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2023.