The threat posed by North Korea does not warrant the heightened focus, in recent months, on whether there is an urgent need for Canada to join a ballistic missile defence (BMD) program with the United States, and issues like how to deal with cyber warfare might be more pressing, said Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.
A year-end interview with Global News on Friday saw the general share his views on why he says focusing on BMD is “not useful,” what could happen if North Korea launched a missile strike against an ally like Japan to how the massive #MeToo movement of women sharing stories of harassment and abuse will help the military in its efforts to knock out sexual misconduct in its ranks.
While discussions about whether Canada should join the American BMD program have been ongoing for years, they have reached a new fervour as North Korea launches missile after missile in its attempts to prove to the world it has the capacity to develop and use nuclear weapons.
A missile launch by the so-called Hermit Kingdom on Wednesday demonstrated that it may now be capable of hitting New York City — or Toronto — with a nuclear warhead that could kill millions of people.
That prompted renewed questions of whether Canada should join the program but Vance said the discussions about what defensive measures Canada and the U.S. should take together go far beyond the threat posed by the dictator U.S. President Donald Trump has taken to calling ‘Little Rocket Man.’
“I would say it’s an emerging threat. It’s not yet developed to be an extant threat, a proven threat,” he said. “When I say it’s not useful, it’s because, from my perspective, the defence of the continent, of Canada, is about more than incoming missiles.”
WATCH: General Vance on why focus on ballistic missile defence is “not useful”
In the Defence Policy Review in June, the government said Canada would not be joining the program and set the stage for a serious pivot of military resources to focus on cyber warfare and allowing the Canadian Forces to take offensive cyber operations against hostile actors who try to target their activities abroad.
C-59, the government’s national security legislation also tabled in June, lays the groundwork for the Communications Security Establishment to take similar offensive cyber action against enemies abroad.
Vance said determining which threats are most important to focus on needs to involve more than hype.
“Threats have a probability and likelihood to them,” he said, “as well as the devastation they bring to bear.”
WATCH: General Vance on “severe” international consequences if North Korea launched strike
While North Korea has proven it is doggedly determined to obtain nuclear capability, whether it would actually use that capability once it gets it is a whole other matter.
In August, Trump warned North Korea will face “fire and fury” if it threatens the U.S. and that “things will happen to them like they never thought possible” if they were to launch a strike against Guam, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific, as dictator Kim Jong Un threatened this summer.
But so far, North Korean action has been limited to showing off what it can do and stopping short of actually hitting an ally — such as Japan, which the missile used in Wednesday’s test landed near — that Vance says would undoubtedly provoke a huge international response.
“The consequences for the use of force, particularly a nuclear weapon, would be severe not just on the part of Canada but on the part of many,” he said, noting multiple world leaders have made that clear.
“The decision to use it would be facing almost certain destruction of much of their military capability in the short or long-term. The U.S. is certainly on record saying that. Canada would be very involved in terms of its interest in this and again, decisions would be made [by the government] on the specifics. We all need to know that part of what holds back North Korea or any country that has nuclear force at its disposal is deterrence, and that’s very much in place.”
When asked what he sees ahead in 2018, Vance said discussions about modernizing continental defence “will commence soon” and also noted he is eager for the results of the next annual survey by Statistics Canada into sexual misconduct in the military, which is due out in the spring.
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He also pointed to movements such as #MeToo, which has seen millions of women and men come forward to share long-buried stories of sexual harassment and abuse over the last two months and led to a massive public push by survivors to demand justice for abusers, as something that might drive home the message the military is trying to convey through Operation Honour: that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated.
“Operation Honour exists for that very reason, because there are a lot of ‘me-toos’ out there,” he said.
The program launched after a damning report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps in 2015 that found a culture of endemic misogyny and sexual abuse within the military, and pointed the finger at a chain of command that too often covered up misconduct.
Some cases noted victims abused by commanding officers faced the choice between filing a complaint against their boss, which many said they feared would prompt a closing of ranks around the abuser and amount to career suicide, or stay silent in the hope of making it up the chain without ruffling feathers.
“We have deserved the criticism, absolutely deserved the criticism and the coverage of that criticism. I think we also deserve to be critiqued and covered and measured in terms of how we’re trying to change,” he said, noting that getting more women to join the military will be a vital part of creating lasting cultural change.
“We won’t be able to do that if people are afraid to join us because of what they think might happen,” said Vance. “So I have to eliminate what they think might happen.”
Currently, women make up about 14.5 per cent of the Canadian Forces.
The official recruitment target set by the Canadian Forces last year is to have 25 per cent of their force made up of women within 10 years.
WATCH: General Vance on how #MeToo will help military fight misconduct
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