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FOCAL Views: New security expertise needed

Canadian security architecture needs to be redesigned to address transnational crime efficiently.

Recent decades have witnessed a fundamental, structural shift in North American security as the asymmetric threats of transnational terrorism and crime have replaced the Cold War ones of guerillas and looming nuclear crises. This is a new, permanent reality that generations to come will struggle with.

Canada has done well so far in responding to the rise of transnational terrorism, by re-tooling its security establishment and institutions and creating new assets. Though there have been growing pains, the terrorism challenge was met by rapid and serious measures appropriate to the new threat.

The same cannot be said about transnational crime, arguably "the" threat to the security of all countries of this hemisphere, including Canada.

Security was one of the three principal areas of focus of the Canadian government's policy toward the Americas, first articulated four years ago. But while the government has made inroads in other areas, progress on security has been slow and grossly disproportionate to the severity of the threat. Pledging $15 million to a Canadian regional anti-crime initiative while the Americans pledge over a billion to theirs is like placing a 50 cent bet at a $25-hand poker table.

If Canada is not going to invest serious money then it will have to be more strategic about the money it does invest. Working with the Organization of American States and other regional bodies may be the country's best alternative. Yet, it is troubling that Canada has not been developing any capacity —people, institutions, networks, linkages and assets— to understand what is happening in the region and how it can impact Canadian security and interests distinctly from those of the United States. Until the country builds this capacity, the last four years will be lived over and over as in the movie Groundhog Day: a perpetual attempt to find disjointed, short-term solutions that have a sub-optimal impact on improving regional security and in protecting Canada.

An example of well-meaning but misplaced efforts is the recently announced funding for initiatives to help Latin American countries "increase their capacity to contribute to peace operations, including the UN mission in Haiti." This comes as a surprise because, for the past seven years, Latin American countries have been doing an admirable job running the UN peacekeeping operation in Haiti. Canada, for its part, has had the second smallest troop contingent in the country, ranking well below not only Brazil but also countries such as Paraguay and Guatemala. The Haiti peacekeeping mission does not fall into the realm of valuable Canadian expertise. There are no guerillas, insurgents, militias, rebels or regular combatants involved. It is an operation to contain criminal gangs. Hiring the Latin Americans to provide training to Canada would be a better use of these monies.

The architecture of Canada's security establishment, the constituent elements of government agencies, NGOs and academia is largely a relic of a bygone age with little, if any, relevance to the current reality in the hemisphere. This will have to change. One place to start is with a comprehensive review of resources in place to see what can be changed, updated, retired or replaced. A critical component will be building the knowledge base outside of government, especially in academia. Canada needs people working, in Spanish, on crucial practical security issues in a way that can be of immediate use to government. A good model may be the Security and Defence Forum of the Department of National Defence. Building on this program would be an efficient way to contribute to security in the hemisphere and also make sure that lessons learned abroad are brought home to benefit Canadians. Creating specific mandates —with resources— at various government agencies is also needed. It will be just as important to encourage the various agencies to better share information. When Public Safety Canada doesn't know what the Department of Foreign Affairs is doing in the region, that is a recipe for disaster. Correcting this situation should not be expensive.

The government did well to identify security as a major area of concern in 2007. Now may be good time to follow through with the easy and more difficult steps to make Canada and the hemisphere safer.

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