Assessing that Canada will be the Last Superpower

Sharon Burke is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and is currently the President of Ecospherics, a Washington, DC-based research and advisory organization focusing on environmental security. She can be found on Twitter @burkese and occasionally writes for the website and The Boston Globe. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing that Canada will be the Last Superpower

Date Originally Written:  May 26, 2022.

Date Originally Published:  June 6, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a former U.S. defense official who believes that natural resource issues and industrial age legacy pollution will be shaping factors for the 21st century strategic landscape.

Summary:  If the world’s industrial nations fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the near term, global environmental conditions will likely become increasingly inhospitable for human societies throughout the 21st and 22nd centuries. Canada, with its cold climate, vast territory, “green” mineral wealth, stable political culture, and its relative inaccessibility has the best prospects for adapting to a more extreme climate and becoming the next superpower, perhaps by default.

Text:  Even as global consensus about climate change has strengthened, greenhouse gas emissions have steadily increased[1]. Absent an abrupt geopolitical about face toward a massive global economic transformation[2], climate change will continue unabated for centuries to come. And while the Earth has experienced significant climate variability throughout its 4.5-billion-year geological history[3], humanity has not[4]. Whether the changes unfurl slowly over the next 50-200 years or suddenly if certain tipping points occur[5], the effects and impacts will hit all parts of the globe, if unevenly within countries and across regions[6]. Populations in sub-tropical, tropical, and dry or desert regions, for example, are already struggling with high heat[7] and changes in precipitation[8], which result in everything from adverse human health impacts to prolonged droughts to an increase in wildfires. In disadvantaged communities or countries with weak underlying political, legal, social, and economic foundations, these conditions can be unaffordable and destabilizing[9].

The current “Great Powers,” the United States and China, are relatively well positioned to manage climate change, both in terms of adaptive capacity and the comparatively mild, mid-latitudes climate. Both countries, however, have vulnerable communities as well as dry and sub-tropical areas that are likely to be heavily impacted by high heat and volatile weather, with the possibility of significant internal displacement[10]. In addition, shifts in access to resources, including water, arable land, energy, and critical minerals, will likely challenge economic growth and social cohesion for both nations[11].

While countries in the most northern latitudes will also have to contend with access to resources and more volatile natural conditions, including sea level rise[12], shifts in precipitation, and extreme weather events, they have more potential to absorb shocks. Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland currently rank among the most stable countries in the world[13], the most resilient to climate change[14], and all have low population density, given the cold temperatures and harsh conditions in much of their territory. These Arctic and boreal regions are warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world[15], and the land left behind by retreating ice and melting permafrost may eventually be suitable for agriculture, forestry, and habitation. While the rest of the world will be struggling with managed and chaotic retreat from increasingly uninhabitable areas, the northern countries may well be contending with a managed advance into new territory. Though to be sure, this advance would be highly disruptive, too, given the release of additional greenhouse gases and destruction of existing Arctic ecosystems and native cultures.

Based upon the above mentioned global environmental conditions, Canada has the potential to not only adapt but emerge a superpower. The world’s second largest country, Canada’s population is today almost entirely clustered along the southern border. The vast majority of the land mass is uninhabited or lightly populated by indigenous peoples uniquely adapted to current, disappearing conditions. With the world’s longest coastline, Canada will have entirely new sea lines of communication through the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, Canada’s only contiguous neighbor is the United States, which will be dealing with climate displaced populations but is unlikely to have as much northward out migration as more heavily impacted areas with lower adaptive capacity, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Canada also has significant natural resources, including digital age minerals critical to modern military and energy technology and agricultural adaptation[16]. Again, no country will be immune to the negative effects of climate change, but with a stable, migrant-friendly political culture, Canada has the potential to manage this transition better than any other nation. As a high north country, Russia should enjoy these relative advantages, too, but the rigidity of their authoritarian form of government, the opportunity cost of their bellicosity, proximity to highly affected populations, lack of preparation for climate change, including the disruption to infrastructure built on permafrost, and unwelcoming culture for migrants all suggest a declining power.

The United States faces a range of options for how to deal with the geopolitics of climate change. First, it is always an option to do nothing, and either hope that the projections and models are incorrect, or that the current adaptive capacity in the United States is sufficient. Early experiences with extreme weather attributed to climate change suggest this would not be a prudent choice[17]. Fatalism is also an option – the scope and scale of the economic transformation required to change course is daunting and arguably infeasible, though such fatalism could prove devastating for an already fractious and restive polity. Another option is for the United States to place the highest domestic and foreign policy priority on expediting global cuts in greenhouse gasses. That would involve significantly larger outlays for research and development and climate-resilient economic development at home and around the world, but may present unacceptable opportunity costs for other priorities, such as strategic competition with China. Another option is to focus resources only on adaptation to changing conditions, which ultimately is another form of fatalism. The United States could also pursue a mixed option, making energy transition investments, including in the diversification of critical minerals supplies, and also building resilience and preparedness for shifting weather patterns. Across all options, the United States could consider deepening the bilateral relationship with its closest ally, Canada, given the country’s relative strength for a disrupted future.

Note that this is a highly speculative assessment, given that this level of environmental change is unprecedented for humanity, and a thawing cryosphere will have unpredictable consequences[18].


[1] IPCC (2022). Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[2] Dupont E, Germain M, Jeanmart H (2021, 11 May). Feasibility and economic impacts of the energy transition.  Retrieved May 20, 2022 at

[3] Westerhold, Thomas et al (2020, 11 September). An astronomically dated record of Earth’s climate and its predictability over the last 66 million years. Retrieved May 20, 2022 at

[4] Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al (2009, 23 September). A safe operating space for humanity. Retrieved May 21, 2022 at

[5] Ripple, William J, et al (2021, September). World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency 2021.  Retrieved May 21, 2022 at

[6] Schiermeier, Quirin (2018, April 20). Clear signs of global warming will hit poorer countries first. Retrieved May 26, 2022 at doi:

[7] Zachariah, Mariam et al (2022, May 23). Climate change made devastating early heat in India and Pakistan 30 times more likely. Retrieved May 23, 2022 at

[8] Ayugi, B., Eresanya, E., Onyango, A.O. et al (2022, March 14). Review of meteorological drought in Africa: Historical trends, impacts, mitigation measures, and prospects. Retrieved May 19, 2022 at

[9] National Intelligence Council (2021, October). National intelligence estimate: Climate change and international responses increasing challenges to US national security through 2040. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[10] Lustgarten, Abrahm (2020, September 15). How climate migration will reshape America. Retrieved May 26, 2022 at

[11] IPCC (2022). Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerabilityContribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. See especially chapter 10: Asia and Chapter 14: North America. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[12] Note that if the certain climate tipping points occur, the magnitude of sea level rise could be catastrophic and overwhelm even the most resilient country’s adaptive capacity. See Slater, T., Hogg, A.E. & Mottram, R (2020). Ice-sheet losses track high-end sea-level rise projections. Retrieved May 26, 2022 at

[13] The Fund for Peace (2021). Fragile states index. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[14] Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) country index. Retrieved May 25, 2022 at

[15] Turton, Steve (2021, March 6). Climate explained: why is the Arctic warming faster than other parts of the world? Retrieved May 26, 2022 at

[16] Maloney, James (2021, June). From mineral exploration to advanced manufacturing: Developing value chains for critical minerals in Canada. Retrieved May 25, 2022 at

[17] Ornes, Stephen (2018, August 14). How does climate change influence extreme weather? Impact attribution research seeks answers. Retrieved May 23, 2022 at

[18] Newton, A (2010). Arctic ice across the ages.  Retrieved May 25, 2022 at

Canada Environmental Factors Great Powers & Super Powers Sharon Burke

Assessing the Relationship of Sikh-Canadians with Canada and India

Editor’s Note:  This article is the result of a partnership between Divergent Options and a course on nationalism at the George Washington University.

Nikita Khurana is an undergraduate student at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and minoring in International Affairs.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing the Relationship of Sikh-Canadians with Canada and India

Date Originally Written:  October 19, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  December 9, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author of this piece identifies as a first-generation Indian-American. This article is written in the point of view of Sikhs living in Canada that have a strong religious identity.

Summary:  Canada is home to nearly half a million Sikhs, thus becoming one of the largest Sikh diaspora populations in the world. While most diaspora populations have difficulty settling into their new home countries, political tensions with the Indian state was a driving force in Sikh-Canadian integration. Even though Sikh-Canadians faced discrimination from white Canadians, the Khalistan movement (a Sikh separatist movement) helped create a strong Sikh community within Canada.

Text:  Canada is home to one of the largest Sikh diaspora communities in the world. As of 2011, Sikhs accounted for 1.4% of the Canadian population with over 400,000 residents[1]. Legal immigration from the Indian province of Punjab is the root cause for the prominence of the Sikh religion in Canada. Sikh immigration into Canada can be separated into two waves: the early twentieth century and the 1960s. Due to political differences in their homeland, Sikhs in Canada have been able to integrate into Canadian society and even gain political power, despite the initial unwelcoming actions of white Canadians.

South Asia has been home to numerous religious movements including the creation of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. In the late fifteenth century, Guru Nanak established the Sikh religion. Sikhism is a prominent ideology with over 27 million followers, thus making it the fifth largest religion in the world. Followers of Skihism believe that there is a total of ten gurus, including Guru Nanak, and upon the death of the final spiritual leader, the essence of the eternal Guru transferred itself into the sacred Sikh scripture[2].

From their initial migration to Canada, Sikhs were met with profound racial discrimination[3]. This discrimination took the international stage in April of 1914 when the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship ship carrying Sikh passengers, was refused entry into Canada[4]. Nonetheless, Sikhs established strong religious institutions through gurudwaras or Sikh temples. South Asian immigration was completely halted until 1920, when wives and children of Sikh-Canadians were finally allowed to enter the country.

In contrast to the American society depicted as a ‘melting pot,’ Canada is seen as a ‘mixed salad’ of cultural differences today, where all faiths, ethnicities, and traditions are accommodated instead of assimilated. However, throughout the twentieth century, white Canadians were resistant to non-white immigrants. From the 1920s to the 1960s, Sikhs in Canada experienced a religious revision. Instead of maintaining traditional practices, children of immigrants adopted Sahajdhari practices. Being a Sahajdhari meant that men were able to break from practices that prevented them from cutting their hair and adopting Canadian dress codes[5].

The second wave of immigration coincided with the birth of the Sikh separatist movement in India. Even though Sikhs and Hindus lived peacefully amongst each other for centuries, tensions arose in the late 1960s when the Sikh population in Punjab gained economic prosperity following the Green Revolution in India. With growing wealth and a flourishing agricultural industry, Punjabi society slowly became increasingly more detached from mainstream Indian culture. In an effort to relieve political stress, Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi attempted to transfer the city of Chandigarh to the Punjab province. However, with no success, this olive branch was never fully executed, further strengthening distrust of the Prime Minister amongst the Sikh population. By the 1980s, the Sikh Khalistan movement was in full force.

The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement that calls for an autonomous Sikh nation-state. As scholar Stephen Van Evera suggests that nationalist movements are inherently violent, the Khalistan movement quickly turned violent against the Indian state[6]. In 1984, the Indian army staged a siege of the Golden Temple, a sacred Sikh shrine, in an effort to take down Sikh extremists. After the altercation, more than 1,000 people died, and the temple was nearly destroyed. This results of the siege ignited support from the Sikh diaspora in Canada, both financially and socially. Sikhs in Canada began to fund the separatist movement in India, which resulted in the deterioration of the relationship between Canadian Sikhs and their Indian homeland[7]. Additionally, the sudden violence of the Khalistan movement caused a mass migration of Sikhs to western countries, most prominently in Canada.

The growing Sikh population in Canada has recently become a concern to India. Within the last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become wary of Canada and their foreign policies. Indian officials worry that western governments have become sympathetic to the Sikh separatists and will act in their interests when considering foreign policy[8]. In 2017, the Canadian Parliament declared the siege on the Golden Temple in Punjab a genocide committed by the Indian state against the Sikh religious minority. This genocide declaration has further strained the relationship between Sikh-Canadians and the Indian State. Being a stateless nation, the Sikh population in Canada has essentially become a political organization where they have gained the agency to influence politics in Canada[9]. Thus, the Canadian government has been an active participant in accommodating Sikh-Canadians and Sikh immigrants. On March 2, 2006, the Canadian Supreme court notably struck down a ban on allowing Sikh students to carry a kirpan, ceremonial dagger, in school[10].

Pop culture is another important indicator of the relationship between white Canadians and Sikhs. Within the past century, major pop culture figures of Sikh roots have gained popularity among all Canadians. Most famously, Lilly Singh, also known as iiSuperwomanii, was the highest paid female on the video hosting website YouTube in 2016. She is a vocal Sikh who was born and brought up in the Ontario province of Canada[11].

Sikh immigrants were not initially welcomed with open arms into Canada. Due to racial discrimination by white Canadians, South Asians had a slow assimilation into Canadian society. However, political tensions with the Indian state weakened the connection Sikh immigrants had with their homeland. Hence, integration and assimilation into a new national identity was possible. Sikhs in Canada have risen to political power with nearly twenty Sikh Members of Parliament. While Sikh-Canadians’ connection to India may have been weakened, Sikh identity in Canada was strengthened due to support for the Khalistan movement and Sikh nation, instead of the actual Indian state.


[1] “History.” Canadian Sikh Heritage. Accessed August 11, 2019.

[2] McLeod, William Hewat. “Sikhism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., June 21, 2019.

[3] “Sikhism in Canada.” Sikhism in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed August 9, 2019.

[4] “History.” Canadian Sikh Heritage. Accessed August 11, 2019.

[5] “Who Is a ‘Sehajdhari’?: India News – Times of India.” The Times of India. Accessed August 11, 2019.

[6] Evera, Stephen Van. “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War.” International Security18, no. 4 (1994): 5.

[7] “Sinews of the Nation: Constructing Irish and Zionist Bonds in the United States” 51, no. 03 (2013).

[8] Sunny Hundal @sunny_hundal. “India’s Indifference to the Sikh Diaspora Is Damaging Western Foreign Policy towards the Country.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, February 25, 2018.

[9] Harris Mylonas & Nadav G. Shelef (2014) Which Land Is Our Land? Domestic Politics and Change in the Territorial Claims of Stateless Nationalist Movements,Security Studies, 23:4, 754-786, DOI: 10.1080/09636412.2014.964996

[10] CBC News, “Ban on Sikh kirpan overturned by Supreme Court,” March 2, 2006.

[11] Maya Oppenheim @mayaoppenheim. “The Highest-Paid Female YouTuber, and the Astonishing Amount She Earns.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, March 6, 2017.


Assessment Papers Canada India Nikita Khurana

Options for Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Five Eyes Alliance

Dan Lee is a government employee who works in Defense, and has varying levels of experience working with Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).  He can be found on Twitter @danlee961.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  Options for Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Five Eyes Alliance

Date Originally Written:  September 29, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  October 29, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of Five Eyes national defense organizations. 

Background:  The Five Eyes community consists of the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), Canada, Australia and New Zealand; its origins can be traced to the requirement to cooperate in Signals Intelligence after World War Two[1]. Arguably, the alliance is still critical today in dealing with terrorism and other threats[2].

Autonomous systems may provide the Five Eyes alliance an asymmetric advantage, or ‘offset’, to counter its strategic competitors that are on track to field larger and more technologically advanced military forces. The question of whether or not to develop and employ Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) is currently contentious due to the ethical and social considerations involved with allowing machines to choose targets and apply lethal force without human intervention[3][4][5]. Twenty-six countries are calling for a prohibition on LAWS, while three Five Eyes partners (Australia, UK and the US) as well as other nations including France, Germany, South Korea and Turkey do not support negotiating new international laws on the matter[6]. When considering options, at least two issues must also be addressed.

The first issue is defining what LAWS are; a common lexicon is required to allow Five Eyes partners to conduct an informed discussion as to whether they can come to a common policy position on the development and employment of these systems. Public understanding of autonomy is mostly derived from the media or from popular culture and this may have contributed to the hype around the topic[7][8][8]. Currently there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a fully autonomous lethal weapon system, which has in turn disrupted discussions at the United Nations (UN) on how these systems should be governed by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCWUN)[10]. The US and UK have different definitions, which makes agreement on a common position difficult even amongst like-minded nations[11][12]. This lack of lexicon is further complicated by some strategic competitors using more liberal definitions of LAWS, allowing them to support a ban while simultaneously developing weapons that do not require meaningful human control[13][14][15][16].

The second issue one of agreeing how autonomous systems might be employed within the Five Eyes alliance. For example, as a strategic offset technology, the use of autonomous systems might mitigate the relatively small size of their military forces relative to an adversary’s force[17]. Tactically, they could be deployed completely independently of humans to remove personnel from danger, as swarms to overwhelm the enemy with complexity, or as part of a human-machine team to augment human capabilities[18][19][20].

A failure of Five Eyes partners to come to a complete agreement on what is and is not permissible in developing and employing LAWS does not necessarily mean a halt to progress; indeed, this may provide the alliance with the ability for some partners to cover the capability gaps of others. If some members of the alliance choose not to develop lethal systems, it may free their resources to focus on autonomous Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) or logistics capabilities. In a Five Eyes coalition environment, these members who chose not to develop lethal systems could provide support to the LAWS-enabled forces of other partners, providing lethal autonomy to the alliance as whole, if not to individual member states.

Significance:  China and Russia may already be developing LAWS; a failure on the part of the Five Eyes alliance to actively manage this issue may put it at a relative disadvantage in the near future[21][22][23][24]. Further, dual-use civilian technologies already exist that may be adapted for military use, such as the Australian COTSbot and the Chinese Mosquito Killer Robot[25][26]. If the Five Eyes alliance does not either disrupt the development of LAWS by its competitors, or attain relative technological superiority, it may find itself starting in a position of disadvantage during future conflicts or deterrence campaigns.

Option #1:  Five Eyes nations work with the UN to define LAWS and ban their development and use; diplomatic, economic and informational measures are applied to halt or disrupt competitors’ LAWS programs. Technological offset is achieved by Five Eyes autonomous military systems development that focuses on logistics and ISR capabilities, such as Boston Dynamics’ LS3 AlphaDog and the development of driverless trucks to free soldiers from non-combat tasks[27][28][29][30].

Risk:  In the event of conflict, allied combat personnel would be more exposed to danger than the enemy as their nations had, in essence, decided to not develop a technology that could be of use in war. Five Eyes militaries would not be organizationally prepared to develop, train with and employ LAWS if necessitated by an existential threat. It may be too late to close the technological capability gap after the commencement of hostilities.

Gain:  The Five Eyes alliance’s legitimacy regarding human rights and the just conduct of war is maintained in the eyes of the international community. A LAWS arms race and subsequent proliferation can be avoided.

Option #2:  Five Eyes militaries actively develop LAWS to achieve superiority over their competitors.

Risk:  The Five Eyes alliance’s legitimacy may be undermined in the eyes of the international community and organizations such as The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the UN, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Public opinion in some partner nations may increasingly disapprove of LAWS development and use, which could fragment the alliance in a similar manner to the Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty[31][32].

The declared development and employment of LAWS may catalyze a resource-intensive international arms race. Partnerships between government and academia and industry may also be adversely affected[33][34].

Gain:  Five Eyes nations avoid a technological disadvantage relative to their competitors; the Chinese information campaign to outmanoeuvre Five Eyes LAWS development through the manipulation of CCWUN will be mitigated. Once LAWS development is accepted as inevitable, proliferation may be regulated through the UN.

Other Comments:  None

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Tossini, J.V. (November 14, 2017). The Five Eyes – The Intelligence Alliance of the Anglosphere. Retrieved from

[2] Grayson, K. Time to bring ‘Five Eyes’ in from the cold? (May 4, 2018). Retrieved from

[3] Lange, K. 3rd Offset Strategy 101: What It Is, What the Tech Focuses Are (March 30, 2016). Retrieved from

[4] International Committee of the Red Cross. Expert Meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems Statement (November 15, 2017). Retrieved from

[5] Human Rights Watch and
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. Fully Autonomous Weapons: Questions and Answers. (October 2013). Retrieved from

[6] Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Report on Activities Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems – United Nations Geneva – 9-13 April 2018. (2018) Retrieved from

[7] Scharre, P. Why You Shouldn’t Fear ‘Slaughterbots’. (December 22, 2017). Retrieved from

[8] Winter, C. (November 14, 2017). ‘Killer robots’: autonomous weapons pose moral dilemma. Retrieved from

[9] Devlin, H. Killer robots will only exist if we are stupid enough to let them. (June 11, 2018). Retrieved from

[10] Welsh, S. Regulating autonomous weapons. (November 16, 2017). Retrieved from

[11] United States Department of Defense. Directive Number 3000.09. (November 21, 2012). Retrieved from

[12] Lords AI committee: UK definitions of autonomous weapons hinder international agreement. (April 17, 2018). Retrieved from

[13] Group of Governmental Experts of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects – Geneva, 9–13 April 2018 (first week) Item 6 of the provisional agenda – Other matters. (11 April 2018). Retrieved from$file/CCW_GGE.1_2018_WP.7.pdf

[14] Welsh, S. China’s shock call for ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems. (April 16, 2018). Retrieved from

[15] Mohanty, B. Lethal Autonomous Dragon: China’s approach to artificial intelligence weapons. (Nov 15 2017). Retrieved from

[16] Kania, E.B. China’s Strategic Ambiguity and Shifting Approach to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. (April 17, 2018). Retrieved from

[17] Tomes, R. Why the Cold War Offset Strategy was all about Deterrence and Stealth. (January 14, 2015) Retrieved from

[18] Lockie, A. The Air Force just demonstrated an autonomous F-16 that can fly and take out a target all by itself. (April 12, 2017). Retrieved from

[19] Schuety, C. & Will, L. An Air Force ‘Way of Swarm’: Using Wargaming and Artificial Intelligence to Train Drones. (September 21, 2018). Retrieved from

[20] Ryan, M. Human-Machine Teaming for Future Ground Forces. (2018). Retrieved from

[21] Perrigo, B. Global Arms Race for Killer Robots Is Transforming the Battlefield. (Updated: April 9, 2018). Retrieved from

[22] Hutchison, H.C. Russia says it will ignore any UN ban of killer robots. (November 30, 2017). Retrieved from

[23] Mizokami, K. Kalashnikov Will Make an A.I.-Powered Killer Robot – What could possibly go wrong? (July 20, 2017). Retrieved from

[24] Atherton, K. Combat robots and cheap drones obscure the hidden triumph of Russia’s wargame. (September 25, 2018). Retrieved from

[25] Platt, J.R. A Starfish-Killing, Artificially Intelligent Robot Is Set to Patrol the Great Barrier Reef Crown of thorns starfish are destroying the reef. Bots that wield poison could dampen the invasion. (January 1, 2016) Retrieved from

[26] Skinner, T. Presenting, the Mosquito Killer Robot. (September 14, 2016). Retrieved from

[27] Defence Connect. DST launches Wizard of Aus. (November 10, 2017). Retrieved from

[28] Pomerleau, M. Air Force is looking for resilient autonomous systems. (February 24, 2016). Retrieved from

[29] Boston Dynamics. LS3 Legged Squad Support Systems. The AlphaDog of legged robots carries heavy loads over rough terrain. (2018). Retrieved from

[30] Evans, G. Driverless vehicles in the military – will the potential be realised? (February 2, 2018). Retrieved from

[31] Hambling, D. Why the U.S. Is Backing Killer Robots. (September 15, 2018). Retrieved from

[32] Ministry for Culture and Heritage. ANZUS treaty comes into force 29 April 1952. (April 26, 2017). Retrieved from

[33] Shalal, A. Researchers to boycott South Korean university over AI weapons work. (April 5, 2018). Retrieved from

[34] Shane, S & Wakabayashi, D. ‘The Business of War’: Google Employees Protest Work for the Pentagon. (April 4, 2018). Retrieved from


Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning / Human-Machine Teaming Australia Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) Autonomous Weapons Systems Canada Dan Lee New Zealand Option Papers United Kingdom United States

Options for the Strategic Goals of the Royal Canadian Navy

Lieutenant(N) Fred Genest is a Naval Warfare Officer in the Royal Canadian Navy and has deployed operationally in HMCS Charlottetown and HMCS Fredericton.  He is currently completing a Master of Public Administration degree while on staff at the Royal Military College of Canada.  He tweets at @RMCNavyGuy.  This article does not represent the policies or opinions of the Government of Canada or the Royal Canadian Navy.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is in the process of recapitalizing its fleet but has not had a significant debate on its strategic goals in decades.

Date Originally Written:  December 19, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 12, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the senior Canadian political and military leadership.

Background:  Successive governments have asserted that Canada must deploy warships overseas to help maintain international security and stability[1].  Despite the RCN’s fleet recapitalization, there has been no debate about the best way to employ its forces.

Current RCN employment is based on history, Cold War thinking, and national myths. Canada sees itself as “punching above its weight” since the Second World War.  In that war, Canada gave control of its forces to the British and American leaders, with disastrous results at home such as the closure of the St. Lawrence seaway.  During the Cold War, Canadian warships deployed with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Standing Naval Forces; this continues in the 21st century.  In its role as a “junior partner” since World War 2, Canada has followed the British and American lead in security and defence, subordinating its national interest to the alliance’s goals.

Significance:  As a sovereign middle power, Canada can set its own strategic priorities[2].  A commitment-capability gap—insufficient units to accomplish designated tasks—has been identified in the RCN since at least the 1964 White Paper on Defence[3].  The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) saw this as normal at the end of the Cold War[4].  A 2013 report[5] stated that Canada would have difficulty meeting its readiness and force posture requirements until well into the 2020s.  Adjusting the current strategy could help reduce the gap.

Option #1:  Maintain the status quo with a medium global force projection navy[6], constant rotations with NATO, and a worldwide presence.

Risk:  With Option #1 the commitment-capability gap could grow.  The Government of Canada (GoC) intends to be prepared to participate in concurrent operations across multiple theatres[7].  However, readiness goals will not be met until the late 2020s[8], perhaps even until the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project is completed in the 2040s.  Manning is, and will remain, a problem in certain areas like anti-submarine warfare and engineering.

By continuing the historical pattern of letting alliance leaders determine its strategy, Canada is abdicating its responsibility to protect its national interests.

Gain:  There is prestige in being one of the few navies that routinely deploys around the world[9], and RCN ships are recognized by its allies as the “go-to” during operations[10].  Option #1 improves Canada’s standing in the world, especially amongst peer allied nations, and allows Canada to exercise some leadership in international affairs.  This increased leadership role allows Canada to further its interests through diplomacy.

Furthermore, there is a morale-boosting effect in having regular overseas deployments; sailors, like soldiers, are keen to acquire “bits of coloured ribbon.”  In the RCN, this is achieved through overseas operations.  Regular overseas deployments or lack thereof may therefore be a factor in recruitment and retention.

There is also an internal political gain: by highlighting successes abroad, the GoC can raise awareness of the RCN and increase popular support for its foreign policy[11].  This is beneficial to the RCN, as popular support can translate into political pressure to obtain the tools required to achieve its institutional goals.

Option #2:  Downgrade the RCN to a medium regional power projection navy.  Cease overseas deployments except for specific, time-limited United Nations or NATO missions critical for peace or security.

Risk:  No longer routinely deploying internationally would be seen as a loss of prestige, and could lead to a loss of informal diplomatic leadership.

Local operations are often unpopular with sailors, and removing the opportunity to go overseas could lead to a loss of morale, with obvious effects on retention.  Also, one of the main ways Canadian sailors are trained for full-spectrum operations is through workups leading to an overseas deployment, and through multinational exercises while deployed.  Removing those training opportunities could reduce personnel readiness.  Option #2 could also harm the justifications for future, or even current, procurement projects.

Gain:  RCN commitments would be more in line with capabilities.  The GoC’s commitments will continue to be difficult for the RCN to meet in the next decade[12]; reducing the level of commitment would allow the RCN and its allies to plan based on actual capabilities.

Carefully selecting operations as part of Option #2 would also let Canada set its own priorities for its warships.  In recent years, Canadian ships have taken part in operations that were only vaguely related to Canadian interests, such as European Union migrant activities.  Not committing to those operations would free up the RCN to take part in more nationally-relevant operations.

With the CSC, Canada will maintain a full-spectrum capability, and being a medium regional power projection navy does not preclude overseas deployments.  Option #2 would bring Canada in line its European NATO peers, who keep their warships near their own waters, to protect their national interests.

Another challenge for the RCN is its maintenance budget, which is insufficient to meet all requirements. One of the effects is that ships have to swap parts to achieve material readiness and some repairs are left undone due to a lack of parts or available personnel.  Deployments, especially repeated overseas deployments by the same units, are hard on equipment. Reducing the number of overseas deployments under Option #2 would reduce premature failures and maintenance costs.

Other Comments:  Option #2 may not be feasible in the current political climate, but this does not preclude vigorous examination.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Department of National Defence. (2017a). Leadmark 2050: Canada in a New Maritime World. Ottawa. Retrieved from 
— Leadmark 2050 is a document produced by the Royal Canadian Navy to set its long-term vision beyond its five-year strategic plan. It is a follow-up to the 2001 publication, Leadmark 2020.

[2] Lindley-French, J. (2017). Brexit and the Shifting Pillars of NATO. Retrieved from

[3] Department of National Defence. (1964). White Paper on Defence. Ottawa. Retrieved from — While it did not call it as such, the concern was evident.
  In Commonwealth countries, White Papers are used to provide information about government policy to parliamentarians and the public.  In Canada, there have been three White Papers on Defence since World War 2: 1964, 1971, and 1994. Major defence policy documents were also released in 1984, 1992 and 2017.

[4] Department of National Defence. (1987). Challenge and commitment : a defence policy for Canada. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[5] Department of National Defence – Chief Review Services. (2013). Evaluation of Naval Forces. Ottawa. Retrieved from 
— This document evaluated the RCN’s performance from 2008 to 2013, particularly the ability to generate and employ naval forces as directed by the GoC.

[6] Department of National Defence. (2017a). Leadmark 2050: Canada in a New Maritime World. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[7] Department of National Defence. (2017b). Strong Secure Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[8] Department of National Defence – Chief Review Services. (2013). Evaluation of Naval Forces. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[9] Department of National Defence. (2017a). Leadmark 2050: Canada in a New Maritime World. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[10] Department of National Defence – Chief Review Services. (2013). Evaluation of Naval Forces. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

Canada Fred Genest Maritime Option Papers Policy and Strategy

Assessment of Canada’s Fighter Replacement Process

Jeremiah Cushman is a senior analyst at Military Periscope, where he writes about weapons.  He holds an M.A. in European and Eurasian Studies from the George Washington University.  He can be found on Twitter @jdcushman.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessment of Canada’s Fighter Replacement Process

Date Originally Written:  September 30, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  November 6, 2017.

Summary:  Canada’s aging CF-18 fighters need replaced.  While the U.S. F-35 was expected to be the choice, domestic politics, rising costs, and development problems caused controversy.  As such, both the Harper and Trudeau governments have hesitated to launch an open competition for a replacement.  The current plan is to upgrade existing jets and acquire interim platforms while carefully preparing a competition.

Text:  After more than three decades of service, Canada’s CF-18 Hornet fighter jets are due for replacement. This has proven easier said than done.

Delays and ballooning costs in the U.S.-led F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter program have made it a controversial option, despite Ottawa’s participation as a Tier 2 partner.  Domestic politics and a trade dispute have become another obstacle.  The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) says with additional upgrades it can keep the Hornets in the air until at least 2025.

The Hornet replacement was not expected to be so difficult.  Canada was an early contributor to the F-35 program and anticipated fielding the advanced fighter along with its closest allies.  Participating in the program was seen as a way to obtain the latest technology, while minimizing costs.  Interoperability with the allies Ottawa would most likely operate with was another bonus.  For these reasons, the RCAF has continued to favor the jet.

As development problems arose, defense officials began to emphasize that Canada’s contributions to the program did not guarantee a purchase.

In 2008, the Canadian Department of National Defense decided to reduce its planned procurement from 80 to 65 jets to compensate for growing costs.  The Conservative government of then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to back the F-35 until in 2012 a government auditor reported problems with Ottawa’s procurement process and said that the purchase would cost more than publicized.

An independent review of the program reported in December 2012 that the full cost to buy 65 F-35s was around Can$44.8 billion (U.S. $36 billion), well above the Can$9 billion (U.S. $7.2 billion) indicated by the government in 2010.  Harper decided to conduct a review of other options.  The results were received in 2014, but no decision was made[1].  Instead, Ottawa announced that it would modernize the CF-18s to keep them flying until 2025[2].

The election of the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau in October 2015 began a new stage in the fighter replacement saga.  During the election campaign, Trudeau pledged to end participation in the F-35 program and buy a cheaper aircraft.  This move appeared to be driven by the growing costs outlined by the review in 2012 and ongoing development issues with the aircraft.  Nevertheless, Ottawa has continued to make the payments necessary to remain a program participant.

Such a hard-line seems to be out of step with the progress of the F-35 program.  The U.S. Marine Corps declared initial operational capability with its F-35s in July 2015, and the U.S. Air Force followed in August 2016.  The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, has reported annual reductions in unit costs for the jet.  More North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have signed on to the program, as well as countries such as Japan and South Korea.  Such progress does not seem to have affected the Trudeau administration’s position.

The Trudeau government released its defense policy review in June 2017.  The document made no promises on how a Hornet replacement might be procured or what platform might be best.  The review included a new requirement for 88 fighters, instead of the 65 jets proposed by the Harper government.  While the additional aircraft are a positive development given Canada’s myriad air requirements, the lack of clarity on the next step revealed the administration’s lack of seriousness.  Ottawa has information on several options on hand from the Harper government’s review.  There appears no good reason why a new process for selecting a Hornet replacement could not already be underway.

The government appears to be driven by a desire to keep its campaign commitment and not to purchase the F-35.  Instead of setting up a competition to select a replacement, Ottawa proposed an interim purchase of 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets from the U.S. to fill an alleged capability gap.  The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced that the U.S. Department of State had approved such a sale on September 12, 2017[3].  This has been seen as a way to create a fait accompli, since it would make little financial sense to buy and maintain one jet only to switch to another later.

The slow pace of the procurement process so far might result in fewer options.  The Super Hornet line is nearing its end and there are questions about how much longer the Eurofighter Typhoon will be in production.

In any event, the Super Hornet proposal has fallen victim to a trade dispute.  Boeing, which builds the fighter, complained that Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier received government subsidies, allowing it to sell its C-series airliners at a significant discount.  The U.S. Department of Commerce agreed with the complaint, determining in late September 2017 that the aircraft should be hit with a 219 percent tariff[4].  This dispute has for the moment paused any Super Hornet purchase and led Ottawa to explore the acquisition of used Hornet aircraft.  On September 29, 2017, Public Services and Procurement Canada announced that it had submitted an expression of interest to Australia as part of the process to acquire used Hornets.  The release also said that preparatory work for a competition was underway, raising further questions about why interim fighters are needed[5].

Meanwhile, the RCAF is preparing to spend between Can$250 million (U.S.$201 million) and Can$499 million (U.S.$401 million) on further upgrades for its CF-18s to keep them in service until at least 2025.  Project definition is anticipated to begin in early 2018, with contracts being let in 2019[6].

As it stands, Ottawa appears to be trying to avoid selecting a new fighter.  It makes little sense to invest significant sums of money in interim measures when those funds would be better channeled into a new platform.  For reasons that remain unclear, it seems any decision will be postponed until after the next election, likely in 2020.  In the meantime, the RCAF will have to continue to invest scarce resources in its aging Hornets and hope for the best.


[1] Pugliese, D. (2015, September 22). Canada and the F-35 – the ups and downs of a controversial fighter jet purchase. Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017, from

[2] Canadian Press (2014, September 30). CF-18 upgrades will keep jets flying until 2025, Ottawa says. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017, from

[3] U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency. (2017, September 12). Government of Canada — F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Aircraft with Support. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017, from

[4] LeBeau, P. (2017, September 26). US slaps high duties on Bombardier jets after Boeing complains they were unfairly subsidized by Canada. CNBC. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017, from

[5] Public Services and Procurement Canada. (2017, October 9). Exploring options to supplement Canada’s CF-18 fleet. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2017, from

[6] Pugliese, D. (2017, September 26). CF-18 upgrade plan more critical as Bombardier-Boeing spat puts Super Hornet purchase in doubt. Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017, from

Assessment Papers Canada Capacity / Capability Enhancement Jeremiah Cushman