Canada in Libya Strategic Lessons Learned

Canada in Libya Strategic Lessons Learned
Canada in Libya
Strategic Lessons Learned
Rachael Bryson
Katie Domansky
Rebecca Jensen
Centre for Military and Strategic Studies
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DRDC CORA CR 2012-271
November 2012
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Centre for Operational Research & Analysis
Canada in Libya
Strategic Lessons Learned
University of Calgary Centre for Military and Strategic Studies
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In 2010 the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies (CMSS) and the Defence Research and Development Centre for
Operational Research and Analysis (DRDC CORA) entered into a partnership agreement, and this report has been
produced by CMSS through that agreement.
This document contains proprietary information. It is provided to the recipient on the understanding that proprietary and
patent rights belonging to CMSS are not to be infringed.
The scientific or technical validity of this Contract Report is entirely the responsibility of the Contractor and the contents do
not necessarily have the approval or endorsement of Defence R&D Canada.
Defence R&D Canada –CORA
Contract Report
DRDC CORA CR 2012-271
November 2012
Principal Author
Original signed by Rachael Bryson; Katie Domansky; Rebecca Jensen
Rachael Bryson; Katie Domansky; Rebecca Jensen
Centre for Military and Strategic Studies
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Original signed by Dr. Charles Morrisey
Dr. Charles Morrisey
Acting Section Head Strategic Analysis
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Original signed by Mr. Paul Comeau
Mr. Paul Comeau
DRDC CORA Chief Scientist
Defence R&D Canada – Centre for Operational Research and Analysis (CORA)
© Centre for Military and Strategic Studies (CMSS), 2012
Abstract ……..
In March 2011 Canada formed Operation MOBILE in response to the humanitarian crisis in
Libya. This operation became part of the US led Operation ODYSSEY DAWN and later joined the
international coalition Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR in response to UN Security Council
Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Publicly framed as a humanitarian mission, and described as the
implementation of the Responsibility to Protect, the mission served as an opportunity for Canada
to demonstrate its value and relevance as an ally and coalition member. This paper explores the
strategic lessons of the Libya intervention for Canada.
This paper first provides an overview of Canadian foreign and defence policy in the post- Second
World War era. Next, it discusses Canadian strategy and Canada’s specific strategic interests in
the Middle East. This provides the framework for the analysis of domestic and international
considerations which influenced Canada’s role in the intervention and the scope of its
commitment in Libya. The paper concludes with eight strategic lessons that Canada and the CF
should learn from Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR.
Résumé ….....
En mars 2011, le Canada met sur pied l’opération Mobile afin d’intervenir face à la crise
humanitaire en Libye. Cette opération devient une composante de l’opération Odyssey Dawn,
sous commandement américain, et, ultérieurement, de l’opération Protecteur unifié, menée par la
coalition internationale en application des résolutions 1970 et 1973 du Conseil de sécurité des
Nations Unies. Présentée publiquement comme une mission humanitaire, et décrite comme la
concrétisation du principe de la responsabilité de protéger (RdP), elle est l’occasion pour le
Canada de montrer son importance et son utilité en tant qu’allié et membre d’une coalition. Ce
document vise à examiner les enseignements stratégiques que peut tirer le Canada de
l’intervention en Libye.
Il fait d’abord un tour d’horizon de la politique étrangère et de défense canadienne dans la période
postérieure à la Deuxième Guerre mondiale. Il y est ensuite question de la stratégie canadienne et
des intérêts stratégiques précis du Canada au Moyen-Orient. Cette information forme le cadre de
l’analyse des considérations d’ordre national et international ayant influé sur le rôle du Canada
dans l’intervention et sur la portée de son engagement en Libye. En conclusion, le document
énonce huit enseignements stratégiques que devraient tirer le Canada et les Forces canadiennes
(FC) de l’opération Protecteur unifié.
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Executive summary
Canada in Libya: Strategic Lessons Learned
Rachael Bryson; Katie Domansky; Rebecca Jensen; DRDC CORA CR 2012271; Defence R&D Canada – CORA; November 2012.
Canada’s contribution to the 2011 intervention in Libya, which stemmed from UN Security
Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, included 635 personnel, seven fighters, two patrol aircraft,
two tankers, two frigates, the commander of the mission, as well as its involvement as part of a
broader coalition. Publicly framed as a humanitarian mission, and described as the
implementation of the Responsibility to Protect, the mission served as an opportunity for Canada
to demonstrate its value and relevance as an ally and coalition member. This paper explores the
strategic lessons of the Libya intervention for Canada.
The basic principles underlying Canadian foreign policy have remained constant since their first
explicit articulation in Louis St. Laurent’s Gray Lecture of 1947. This statement specifically
addressed a national responsibility to defend political liberty and the rule of law abroad while
maintaining national unity at home. The subsequent 1964 White Paper on Defence presented
participation in international organizations and collective defence as on a par with territorial
defence as Canadian priorities. These fundamental aspects of Canadian defence policy endure
today, as a trend toward multilateral interventions with a humanitarian element accelerated in the
post Cold War years. A dominant element of Canada’s post-1989 defence strategy includes
advancing human security as a means of preventing threats from growing and reaching Canada.
Promoting stable and accountable governments has the dual effect of increasing democratic
control over the military, and reducing the risk that it be used against its own people. This
consideration has shaped Canada’s Middle East strategy since the end of the Cold War, as has the
increasing number of family and economic connections between Canadians and countries in the
These factors and the consistent principles underlying defence policy since the end of the Second
World War are represented in Canada’s Libya contribution. Canada’s participation in Libya
advanced Canadian interests in two different ways, each with domestic and international
implications. First, the CF assisted in enhancing human security in Libya, an intrinsic good and
also a factor in promoting stability in the broader region. Second, the mission demonstrated a
willingness and capacity for Canada to play a meaningful role in coalitions, and as a partner with
the United States.
Although the Libya mission took place before and during a federal election, electoral and partisan
politics played a minimal role in determining whether and how Canada should participate. While
public opinion on the intervention was tepid, senior members of all major parties showed little
disagreement about the necessity or the nature of Canada’s role in Libya. Voters, too, did not
identify Libya, the military, or defence as factors influencing their vote during pre-election
polling. Explicit political concerns appear not to have been a significant influence on the
government’s decision to join the Libya coalition.
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Judged by narrowly defined goals – preventing the Gadhafi government from using military force
against its own citizens – the mission was a success. From a broader humanitarian perspective,
the verdict is mixed. Violence against the population continued after the coalition ceased
operations, as rebel groups and other factions fought for power and dominance. Al Qaeda in the
Islamic Maghreb has also gained influence as well as access to weaponry. Canada acted to fulfill
the responsibility of the international community to protect the Libyan people from their
government of the day, but it is not clear that successor governments will be more responsible in
this regard. While regime change was never an explicit part of either UN resolution, it became a
de facto part of the mission to protect the Libyan population.
Initially tasked with enforcing a no-fly zone, Canada’s CF-18s progressed to carrying out
bombing missions. Despite contributing only 3.5% of total aircraft and 4.5% of total personnel in
the international mission, Canadian aircraft carried out 10% of total sorties during the
intervention. Canada thus demonstrated an ability to make a meaningful contribution to the
coalition effort, even with minimal dedicated resources and little planning time. It also positioned
itself as a reliable partner for humanitarian interventions, particularly in contrast with the more
tepid response from most NATO member countries.
On balance, then, the mission was largely a success for Canada. Gadhafi was removed from
power and the Libyan population is no longer at the mercy of his regime, although in the longer
term the situation may deteriorate again. With respect to Canada’s place in the international
community, Canada demonstrated its worth as an ally, contributing both operational capacity and
It is likely that Canada will soon be asked once again by NATO, the UN, or a ‘coalition of the
willing’ to commit its armed forces to similar action overseas. Before that time, it is imperative
that Canada evaluate its experience in Libya from a strategic perspective, with respect both to the
planned role in the intervention and to its execution, to determine where such commitments fit
within overall Canadian defence strategy and how Canada should approach similar situations in
the future.
The following, in no particular order of importance, represent the strategic lessons Canada should
learn from its intervention in Libya, and which should be taken into consideration before the next
time the nation considers a major military commitment.
1. Canada must articulate national interests as motivating factors in mission participation.
2. Canada must make proportional commitments to international operations.
3. Canada must develop contingency plans for shifting mission priorities.
4. Canada must consider preventative elements of the R2P while also ensuring that its
intervention results in a net benefit to the affected region.
5. Canada must maintain an expeditionary capability, beyond just “boots on the ground.”
6. Canada must contribute to maintaining the viability of NATO.
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7. Canada must strive to maintain positive relations with the United States in future international
8. Canada must develop a strategic voice.
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Sommaire .....
Canada in Libya: Strategic Lessons Learned
Rachael Bryson; Katie Domansky; Rebecca Jensen ; DRDC CORA CR 2012-271
; R & D pour la défense Canada – CARO; novembre 2012.
La contribution du Canada à l’intervention de 2011 en Libye, en application des résolutions 1970
et 1973 du Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies, a donné lieu au déploiement de 635 militaires,
de sept avions de combat, de deux avions de patrouille, de deux avions de ravitaillement en vol et
de deux frégates. À cela s’ajoutent le détachement d’un commandant de la mission ainsi que la
participation aux efforts déployés par une coalition élargie. Présentée publiquement comme une
mission humanitaire, et décrite comme la concrétisation du principe de la responsabilité de
protéger, cette opération a été l’occasion pour le Canada de montrer son importance et son utilité
en tant qu’allié et membre d’une coalition. Ce document vise à examiner les enseignements
stratégiques que peut tirer le Canada de l’intervention en Libye.
Depuis que l’ancien secrétaire d’État aux Affaires extérieures Louis Saint-Laurent les a énoncés
explicitement pour la première fois, lors de la première série de conférences Gray, en 1947, les
principes fondamentaux de la politique étrangère canadienne demeurent inchangés. Le secrétaire
d’État évoquait spécifiquement la responsabilité nationale de défendre la liberté politique et la
primauté du droit à l’étranger, tout en maintenant l’unité nationale au Canada. Ultérieurement,
dans le Livre blanc sur la défense de 1964, la participation à des organisations internationales et à
la défense collective est présentée comme l’une des priorités canadiennes, au même titre que la
défense territoriale. Ces aspects fondamentaux de la politique de défense canadienne demeurent
les mêmes aujourd’hui, d’autant que, dans les années de l’après-guerre froide, l’augmentation des
interventions multilatérales avec un volet humanitaire s’est accélérée. Après 1989, l’un des
éléments dominants de la stratégie de défense du Canada consiste à promouvoir la sécurité
humaine comme moyen d’empêcher que les menaces ne s’amplifient et n’atteignent le Canada.
La promotion de gouvernements stables et responsables a pour double effet d’accroître le contrôle
démocratique de l’appareil militaire, et de réduire le risque que celui-ci soit utilisé contre la
population. Depuis la fin de la guerre froide, c’est sur ce principe que se fonde la stratégie du
Canada pour le Moyen-Orient, ainsi que sur l’épanouissement des liens familiaux et économiques
entre les Canadiens et les pays de la région.
Ces facteurs et les principes immuables qui sous-tendent la politique de défense canadienne
depuis la fin de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale trouvent leur expression dans la contribution
canadienne en Libye. En effet, les efforts canadiens au profit de ce pays ont aidé à promouvoir les
intérêts canadiens de deux façons différentes, chacune ayant des conséquences d’ordre national et
international. Premièrement, les Forces canadiennes (FC) ont aidé à accroître la sécurité humaine
en Libye, ce qui est en soi une bonne chose et a également contribué à promouvoir la stabilité
dans la région élargie. Deuxièmement, la mission a permis de montrer que le Canada avait la
volonté et la capacité de jouer un rôle utile au sein de coalitions, et en tant que partenaire des
Même si la mission en Libye s’est déroulée avant et pendant une élection fédérale, la politique
électorale et partisane a joué un rôle négligeable lorsqu’il s’est agi de décider si le Canada devait
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y participer, et selon quelles modalités. Si l’opinion publique a manifesté peu d’engouement pour
une intervention, par contre les têtes dirigeantes de tous les principaux partis n’ont contesté ni la
nécessité ni la nature du rôle du Canada en Libye. Dans un sondage réalisé avant le scrutin, les
électeurs ont déclaré, quant à eux, que la Libye, le déploiement de militaires ou les questions de
défense n’influaient pas sur leur choix électoral. De même, des préoccupations politiques
évidentes ne semblent pas avoir beaucoup influé sur la décision du gouvernement de participer
aux efforts de la coalition en Libye.
À l’aune d’objectifs strictement définis – à savoir empêcher le gouvernement du colonel Kadhafi
de recourir à la force militaire contre ses citoyens –, la mission a été une réussite. Dans une
perspective humanitaire plus générale, le résultat est moins évident. C’est ainsi que les violences
contre la population se sont poursuivies après la fin des opérations de la coalition, et que des
groupes rebelles et d’autres factions se sont affrontés pour ravir le pouvoir et asseoir leur
supériorité. Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (AQMI) a aussi gagné en influence et eu accès à de
l’armement. Si le Canada est intervenu, c’est pour aider la communauté internationale à
s’acquitter de sa responsabilité de protéger le peuple libyen contre le gouvernement de l’époque.
Toutefois, il n’est pas certain que les gouvernements qui lui succéderont se montreront plus
responsables en ce domaine. Même si un changement de régime n’avait jamais été prévu
explicitement dans les résolutions des Nations Unies, dans les faits, cela est devenu l’un des
objectifs de la mission, afin de protéger la population libyenne.
D’abord chargés de faire respecter la zone d’exclusion aérienne (ZEA), les chasseurs CF-18
canadiens ont procédé ultérieurement à des missions de bombardement. Et, même si le Canada
n’a déployé que 3,5 p. 100 des aéronefs et que 4,5 p. 100 des effectifs de la mission
internationale, les avions canadiens ont effectué 10 p. 100 des sorties durant l’intervention. Le
Canada a donc montré sa capacité à apporter une contribution utile aux efforts de la coalition,
même par l’affectation d’un minimum de ressources, y compris sur court préavis. Il a aussi
montré qu’il était un partenaire fiable dans le cadre d’interventions humanitaires, tout
particulièrement eu égard au peu d’engouement manifesté par la plupart des autres membres de
Tout bien considéré, la mission a été, dans une large mesure, une réussite pour le Canada. Le
colonel Kadhafi a été renversé et la population libyenne n’est plus à la merci de son régime,
même si, à la longue, la situation pourrait se détériorer à nouveau. S’agissant de la place du
Canada au sein de la communauté internationale, celui-ci a montré ce dont il était capable en tant
qu’allié, par sa contribution aux ressources opérationnelles et au commandement.
Prochainement, il est probable que l’OTAN, les Nations Unies ou une « coalition des
volontaires » demandent au Canada de s’engager à nouveau à déployer des forces dans le cadre
d’une intervention similaire à l’étranger. D’ici là, il est essentiel que celui-ci évalue son
expérience en Libye dans une perspective stratégique, en ce qui concerne à la fois le rôle prévu
dans l’intervention et l’exercice de ce rôle. L’objectif est de déterminer la place qu’occupe de
genre d’engagement dans la stratégie de défense globale du Canada, et d’examiner l’approche
qu’il doit prendre dans des situations similaires à l’avenir.
Voici, sans ordre particulier de priorité, les enseignements stratégiques que le Canada devrait tirer
de son intervention en Libye, et prendre en considération avant de s’engager de nouveau à
participer à une importante opération militaire :
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1. Le Canada doit définir ses intérêts nationaux, étant entendu qu’il s’agit de facteurs de nature à
justifier la participation à une mission.
2. Le Canada doit prendre des engagements proportionnels aux opérations internationales.
3. Le Canada doit élaborer des plans d’urgence pour modifier les priorités d’une mission.
4. Le Canada doit prendre en compte les aspects préventifs de la responsabilité de protéger (RdP),
tout en veillant à ce que son intervention procure des avantages nets à la région touchée.
5. Le Canada doit continuer à disposer de capacités expéditionnaires, qui ne se limitent pas à des
« troupes au sol ».
6. Le Canada doit contribuer à maintenir la viabilité de l’OTAN.
7. Le Canada doit s’efforcer de maintenir des relations constructives avec les États-Unis dans le
cadre de futures interventions internationales.
8. Le Canada doit acquérir la capacité de se faire entendre sur les aspects stratégiques.
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Table of contents
Abstract …….. ................................................................................................................................. i
Résumé …..... ................................................................................................................................... i
Executive summary ........................................................................................................................ iii
Sommaire ....................................................................................................................................... vi
Table of contents ............................................................................................................................. x
Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................ xi
Introduction............................................................................................................................... 1
Canadian Foreign and Defence Policy...................................................................................... 4
Post-Second World War ................................................................................................ 4
Post-Cold War ............................................................................................................... 6
Canadian Strategy ..................................................................................................................... 7
Canada’s strategic interests in the Middle East ............................................................. 9
Canadian public opinion and the federal election........................................................ 12
The humanitarian dimension ....................................................................................... 14
Other drivers of Canadian intervention ....................................................................... 17
The Canadian contribution in Libya............................................................................ 21
Strategic Lessons Learned: Operation MOBILE .................................................................... 24
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The authors would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Terry Terriff and Dr. John Ferris of the
University of Calgary for their supervision and feedback in writing this paper. They would also
like to thank the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies for supporting this project.
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Canada played a key role during the 2011 international intervention in Libya. In the conflict,
Canadian units carried a burden that ranked fourth among contributing nations, behind only the
United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), and France. This commitment is significant, not
only for the scale of Canadian involvement, but also for the questions it raises about Canadian
defence policy. To what overall strategic end did the Canadian government contribute to the
Libya intervention? Was the decision simply a reaction to commitments already made by others?
Did it further Canadian interests? What are the probable repercussions for the Canadian military?
Ultimately, what are the strategic lessons to be learned from the Libya intervention, by Canadian
The intervention in Libya occurred in response to state-sanctioned violence against civilians.
Peaceful demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya – part of the larger “Arab Spring” movement – began
on 13 January 2011, to protest the 42-year rule of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. These protests
were met with violent repression. As the protests developed into armed rebellion, the Libyan
government reacted with systematic attacks by air and ground forces, frequently against non2
combatant civilians. Gadhafi promised “no mercy or compassion” for those who fought against
him, going so far as to publicly threaten the lives of residents of Benghazi on 15 March 2011.
The international community reacted to this violence through the United Nations (UN), which
passed two resolutions, both fully supported by the Arab League. The first, Resolution 1970
(2011), created on 26 February 2011, called for an international arms embargo on Libya while
freezing the assets of individuals close to the Gadhafi regime or implicated in major violations of
human rights. The second, Resolution 1973 (2011), passed on 17 March 2011, condemned the
gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya, involving arbitrary detentions, enforced
disappearances, torture, and executions. This resolution introduced active measures including a
no-fly zone over Libya and authorized member states, acting nationally or through regional
organizations, to use “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, excluding only a
foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory. By not precluding the
possibility that international forces might destroy the regime, the UN Resolution left open the
option of such action in the future.
A coalition joint task force led by US Africa Command under Operation ODYSSEY DAWN began
launching air operations on 19 March 2011 to enforce the no-fly zone described in Resolution
The “Arab Spring” consisted of a series of popular uprisings that rocked the Arabic-speaking countries of
North Africa and the Middle East throughout 2011.
For an interactive timeline of the “Arab Spring” protests see: “Arab spring: an interactive timeline of
Middle East protests,” The Guardian, accessed 22 March 2012,
David D. Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim, “Qaddafi Warns of Assault on Benghazi as U.N. Vote Nears,”
The New York Times (17 March 2011), accessed 27 May 2012,
United Nations, Security Council, S/RES/1970, 26 February 2011.
United Nations, Security Council, S/RES/1973, 17 March 2011.
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1973; Canada joined this joint task force the same day. Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR
began on 22 March 2011 as a NATO-led maritime mission to enforce the UN-requested arms
embargo. By 27 March, NATO assumed responsibility for both of these operations, creating the
Combined Joint Task Force (JTF) Unified Protector. On 31 March 2011 Lieutenant-General
Charles Bouchard of Canada received command of JTF Unified Protector. Under his command,
NATO ships stopped and searched any vessel they suspected of carrying arms or mercenaries to
or from Libya, while aircraft enforced the UN ban on all flights in Libyan airspace – except those
for humanitarian and aid purposes – to prevent any attacks on civilian populations. Operation
UNIFIED PROTECTOR was officially suspended on 31 October 2011, after NATO determined
that the Libyan people were free of Gadhafi’s regime and were finally in a position to protect
Canada played a key role in these operations. LGen Bouchard served as the commander of the
NATO mission, while air and naval assets were assigned to Operation MOBILE, the Canadian
Forces’ (CF) contribution to Operation ODYSSEY DAWN and later Operation UNIFIED
PROTECTOR. Operation MOBILE began on 25 February 2011 as a non-combatant mission
based in Malta to evacuate Canadians and other foreign nationals from Libya. In March 2011 it
became a combat mission with air and maritime capabilities based in Italy. During the sevenmonth conflict in Libya, Canada provided 635 personnel, seven fighters, two patrol aircraft, two
tankers, and two frigates. The air forces focused on enforcing the no-fly zone, while the sea
component helped to enforce the arms embargo and escort supply ships and other vessels
involved in NATO operations.
In a public statement on 28 October 2011, Prime Minister (PM) Stephen Harper announced the
end of Canada’s mission in Libya, calling it a “job well done.” He described the mission in purely
humanitarian terms. Canada acted to “protect innocent civilians against a cruel and oppressive
regime…saw a blatant wrong being perpetrated by a brutal regime and took a leadership role with
Canadian allies to help set it right.” Throughout the Libya campaign the Canadian government
consistently promoted the protection of human rights as the rationale for Canada’s involvement.
Humanitarian considerations were central to the government’s decisions about Libya, but many
other elements contributed to the Canadian decision to participate. The general idea of the
“responsibility to protect” was not a sufficient condition for Canadian or NATO intervention, as
US Department of Defence (DoD), “Coalition Launches ‘Operation Odyssey Dawn’,” last modified 19
March 2011, accessed 7 June 2012,
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), “NATO Arms Embargo Against Libya, Operation UNIFIED
PROTECTOR,” Fact Sheet, last modified 25 March 2011, accessed 16 March 2012,
NATO, “NATO and Libya – Operation Unified Protector,” last modified 13 January 2012, accessed 16
March 2012,
Department of National Defence (DND), “Operation MOBILE,” National Defence and the Canadian
Forces, last modified 21 February 2012, accessed 22 March 2012,
Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), “Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada On the End of NATOled Libya Mission,” Canada News Centre, last modified 28 October 2011, accessed 16 March 2012,
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demonstrated by their tolerance of repressive regimes around the world, particularly in the ongoing conflict in Syria, which shares much with the Libyan revolution. 12 Many issues beyond the
desire to protect human rights must be considered when evaluating the decision to participate in
Libya. These include: Canada’s obligations and ambitions as a NATO member and ally of the
US; the opportunity for a Canadian to command the mission; the chance to show Canadians and
the world the operations of the CF, particularly of its fighters, which were slated to be replaced in
an expensive and controversial process; and the substantial Canadian investments in Libya.
In order to explore these issues and, ultimately, to illuminate the strategic purpose behind
Canadian involvement in Libya, this paper will examine the role of the government and the CF
throughout the course of the intervention and determine how the public perceived and understood
these actions. It will provide a strategic analysis that combines civilian academic approaches with
open source material to answer the following questions: what is Canada’s defence strategy? What
are Canadian strategic interests in the Middle East? How does the Libya mission, and Canada’s
military contribution in particular, fit this policy? What was the role of public discussion in the
decision-making process that led to Canada’s involvement? Finally, what strategic lessons can
Canada take away from this experience? The answers to these questions will increase
understanding of Canada’s foreign and defence policy, and perhaps inform future decisions
regarding participation in international interventions.
While many analysts, including the Canadian architects of the Responsibility to Protect, touted Libya as a
test case and even textbook example of the doctrine in action, it must be noted that the Government of
Canada never formally adopted this as a justification or guiding principle of the Libyan mission.
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Canadian Foreign and Defence Policy
Post-Second World War
The national interests that guided foreign and defence policy within Canada after the Second
World War still rule today. These ‘basic principles’ or ‘agreed upon fundamentals’ were
articulated by Secretary of State for External Affairs, later Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent in
his 1947 Gray Lecture. He recognized that respect for political liberty, human values, and the
rule of law shape most Canadian activities at home and abroad. A willingness to accept
international responsibilities in defence of these ideals, together with a recognition that this
pursuit must never destroy our national unity, forms the foundation for Canadian external
policies. Accordingly, Canadian foreign policy since 1945 has identified with the premises of
liberal internationalism and its associated doctrines of functionalism, middlepowermanship, and
The 1964 White Paper on Defence – the first official post-Second World War articulation of
Canadian defence policy – defined Canada’s national defence objectives as: the preservation of
peace through support for collective defence measures intended to deter military aggression;
support to foreign policy within the context of Canadian participation in international
organizations; and protection of, and surveillance over, Canadian territory, airspace, and coastal
waters. These three fundamental objectives have informed the framework for all subsequent
expressions of Canadian strategy. There is remarkably little variation in the objectives espoused
by successive Canadian governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, throughout the period
from 1945 until today.
This continuity has led Canadian defence policy – in its entirety, including both its domestic and
international elements – to be characterized by three distinct themes. First, that national territorial
security can be focused predominantly on roles of sovereignty protection (such as surveillance,
presence, civil emergency, and search and rescue). This belief demonstrates an acceptance of the
fact that a large standing military force will not deter any of the perceived threats facing Canada.
Further, it suggests that a primary goal of national defence is the demonstration of sovereignty,
especially the ability to exercise some degree of independence from the Americans. As Henning
Frantzen notes, the national tasks that Canada assigns to defence “are not so much related to
military defence in the traditional sense of the concept.” Rather they refer more to symbolic
The 1947 Gray Lecture, given by Louis St. Laurent at the University of Toronto during the early Cold
War in memory of Duncan and John Gray, outlines the basic principles and interests of Canadian foreign
Louis St. Laurent, Secretary of State for External Affairs, “The Foundations of Canadian Policy in World
Affairs,” University of Toronto Gray Lecture given on 13 January 1947.
Jean-Francois Rioux and Robin Hay, “Canadian Foreign Policy: From Internationalism to Isolationism?”
A Discussion Paper, No.16 (Ottawa, ON: Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, 1997), 16.
DND, White Paper on Defence (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1964), 6.
For access to all Canadian white papers on defence see the Canadian Defence Policy Archives:
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presence, monitoring, and domestic humanitarian or emergency operations. 18 These ideas are
evident in all Canadian policy documents, including the most recent Canada First Defence
Strategy (CFDS), which focuses on providing “surveillance of Canadian territory and air and
maritime approaches; maintain[ing] search and rescue response capabilities that are able to reach
those in distress anywhere in Canada on a 24/7 basis; and assist[ing] civil authorities in
responding to a wide range of threats – from natural disasters to terrorist attacks” – as the primary
tasks of the CF in domestic defence. 19
While this suggests that Canadian domestic defence provisions have clear and pervasive
connotations for sovereignty protection, Frantzen’s characterisation of these provisions as entirely
“symbolic” underemphasizes their purpose and importance. Both of the latest policy documents
produced by DND – the 2005 International Policy Statement (IPS) and the CFDS – clearly state
that the defence of Canada is the first priority of Canadian policy. In fact, in 2005 there was a
major transformation of the CF command and control arrangements that saw the stand-up of an
operational-level command responsible for the conduct of domestic operations, from ‘defence of
Canada’ missions through to surveillance and response. The priority on Canadian defence and
security was stated clearly and has remained the top priority. 20
The second theme is the tendency to view defence as a task to be undertaken with others, the
inherent assumption being that Canada recognizes the necessity of collective security and defence
to the protection of Canadian national interests. The third theme follows the same logic, in that a
belief has developed that multilateralism and peacekeeping are components of defence that
facilitate the objectives of securing a voice in international affairs, while preventing Canada from
being dragged into war. This latter theme is consistent with the perceived, if not necessarily
accurate, non-military culture of Canadians. Both of these themes demonstrate recognition by
Canadian policy-makers that Canada’s defence, considered in its entirety including both domestic
and international considerations, will never be a completely Canadian affair. The comparative
value of Canadian material resources is such that the country simply cannot afford to take care of
all of its defence objectives on its own. In addition, Canada has seen, over time, the value in
collaborating with the Americans and with other regional and international organizations in terms
of gaining a voice on the world stage – however large or small at any given time – and in making
comparatively smaller resources count.
These themes have ensured that the objectives of Canadian defence have been pursued – to
differing degrees at any given time – through four parallel methods: collective measures for the
maintenance of peace and security under the auspices of the United Nations, collective defence as
embodied in NATO, partnership with the United States in the defence of North America, and
Henning A. Frantzen, NATO and Peace Support Operations 1991-1999, Policies and Doctrines (New
York, NY: Frank Cass, 2005), 133.
DND, Canada First Defence Strategy, “Roles of the Canadian Forces,” Government of Canada, 2008,
accessed 4 August 2012, english_lowres.pdf.
“Canadian Forces in the 21st Century,” CBC News (21 April 2008), accessed 29 August 2012,
Frantzen, NATO and Peace Support Operations, 120-124; Colin S. Gray, Canadian Defence Priorities: A
Question of Relevance (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin and Co, 1972).
Eric Wagner, “The Peaceable Kingdom? The National Myth of Canadian Peacekeeping and the Cold
War,” Canadian Military Journal (Winter 2006-2007): 45-54.
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national measures for the security of Canada. While these methods are invariable, the order of
priority given to them and the degree to which they have been pursued at any given time is
directly related to the particular strategic context within which Canadian defence policy has been
formulated. The priority given to each is directly influenced by a number of variables both
outside and within government control, such as public opinion or the nature of threats versus the
funding allocated to defence.
Post-Cold War
Since 1989, Canadian defence policy has focused primarily on contributions to international and
collective security. While independent territorial defence objectives have not been ignored,
participation in various continental, alliance, and international security operations have
represented Canada’s major contribution to the overall security of the democratic world. This is
largely a result of the fact that international crises became more – not less – common after the
Cold War, placing the entire range of Canada’s abilities in conflict resolution and peacekeeping in
high demand. In addition, the new spirit of cooperation ushered in by the end of the Cold War
did not bypass Canada; Ottawa was inspired by the ‘new internationalism’ that appeared to
support greater interdependence, cooperation between states, and reliance on multilateral
institutions. Multilateralism had consistently been emphasized in Canadian strategy and policy,
but the growing willingness of other states to use multilateral institutions, at least at first,
represented a welcome change.
As the international community involved itself in crises around the world in the post-Cold War
era, Canada continued to play an active role, despite significant reduction in the strength of the
CF between 1989 and 2003. Throughout the 1990s, Canada maintained its record of participating
in almost all UN missions, including major operations in Haiti, Cambodia, and Somalia. It also
supported operations undertaken by coalitions of liberal democracies, usually led by the United
States in conjunction with major powers in the European Union, which increasingly defined
international peace and security in a more activist and robust fashion, going beyond traditional
peacekeeping or humanitarian assistance to peace enforcement.
Canada contributed to
Operation DESERT STORM in Iraq, sent a sizeable contingent to the International Force (IFOR)
in Bosnia, and participated in bombing runs supporting Operation ALLIED FORCE within the
former Yugoslavia. This participatory trend has continued into the twenty-first century with few
exceptions, the most notable being the Iraq War in 2003. Canada’s major contribution to
multilateral operations in the twenty-first century was its participation in the war against the
Taliban in Afghanistan. Its most recent foray into military operations overseas was its
participation in the enforcement of the embargo and no-fly zone in Libya.
Bill Robinson, “Canadian military spending 2010-2011,” Foreign Policy Series, Canadian Centre for
Policy Alternatives (March 2011): 4-5.
Alexander Moens, “Revitalizing our Defence and Security Capacity,” Policy Options (October 1999):
Grant Dawson, Here is Hell: Canada’s Engagement in Somalia (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2007), 911.
For more information see:
Moens, “Revitalizing our Defence and Security Capacity,” 29.
For more information on past and present Canadian Forces’ operations see:
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Canadian Strategy
It is clear that Canada has continued to contribute to multiple military interventions abroad as part
of its overall security policy, choosing to “both fight and keep the peace” alongside its allies.
This trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, but the question is, to what overall
strategic end?
To a certain extent, most Canadian expeditionary action in the post-Cold War era has been
undertaken explicitly or implicitly in support of ‘human security.’ There is rarely a direct threat to
Canada itself when its forces are dispatched overseas. The world is a chaotic and dangerous place,
however, presenting threats that offer indirect repercussions to Canada and which often have the
potential to eventually threaten Canadian interests and values directly. In addition, Canadians
believe in the rule of law while maintaining a strong sense of responsibility to alleviate suffering.
This translates to the belief that Canada should help stabilize the international system by
preventing some localized problems from becoming international challenges. The strategic
importance of keeping the machinery of war in stable and accountable hands dovetails neatly with
the liberal conception of humanitarian intervention, which focuses on ensuring that militaries are
not used against civilians in ‘failed states.’
Unlike during the Cold War, when the dispatch of Canadian troops to distant places served the
national interest by trying to diminish the possibility of a nuclear war, intervention is now seen as
a moral imperative in cases of intrastate disorder and massive human rights abuse. Canadian
policy accepts the fact that human rights abuses are a legitimate justification for international
discussion and intervention. The human security agenda has largely supplied the expeditionary
strategic rationale for the Canadian Forces as they currently stand.
Canada’s 2005 IPS, Canada’s closest approximation to a defence white paper in over seventeen
years, is consistent with this human security programme. The Harper government released a more
recent defence paper in 2008, the CFDS, but while it marked a new approach to procurement, it
did not materially change the substance of the IPS. The IPS provides specific criteria for
involvement in expeditionary action, thus providing an effective tool for evaluating Canada in
Libya. The IPS recognizes the concept of forward defence (meeting security threats as far from
Canada’s borders as possible) as a critical component of security at home and abroad. An
integrated ‘all of government’ strategy of diplomacy, defence, and development is included for
dealing with complex conflict and post-conflict situations. In military terms, this approach
translates into a focus on expeditionary capabilities in failed or failing states and an emphasis on
leadership roles in these activities when it is in Canada’s ability to do so. This policy is meant
to “enhance Canada’s status as a responsible and contributing member of the international
Joe Jockel and Joel Sokolsky, “Lloyd Axworthy’s Legacy, Human security and the rescue of Canadian
defence policy,” International Journal 56:1 (Winter 2000-2001).
Ibid., 5-6.
DND, Canada First Defence Strategy.
DND, Canada’s International Policy Statement: A Role of Pride and Influence in the World – Defence.
NDID A-JS-005-000/AG-001 (2005), 2.
Ibid., 6.
Ibid., 2-3.
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community, including in key institutions such as the United Nations and NATO.” With a
stronger voice on the world stage, Canada can play a more active role in maintaining international
peace and stability, thereby contributing to Canadian security as well.
This focus on enhancing Canada’s status with its allies – predominantly the United States – rather
than implementing a uniquely Canadian strategy is a recurring theme within Canadian defence
policy development. Canadian security is inextricably linked to the strategy of others. It could be
argued that the true purpose of Canadian defence policy has been to adapt to the strategy of other
more powerful states in such a way that Canadian contributions are minimally sufficient to ensure
a future voice in security operations, and in diplomatic and trade relations as well. Hence,
Canadian defence policy has a decidedly political or diplomatic, rather than strategic, character.
The IPS also includes a commitment to being “selective and strategic” in the consideration of
which expeditionary operations Canada should undertake. The conditions specified for the
assessment of possible deployments are: 1) the mission supports Canada’s foreign policy
objectives; 2) the mandate of the operation is realistic, clear, and enforceable; 3) international
political and financial support, as well as other resources, are sufficient to achieving the desired
end; 4) the proposed forces are adequate and appropriate for the mandate; 5) an effective process
of consultation between mission partners is in place; 6) there is a clear exit strategy or desired
end-state; 7) there is a defined concept of operations, an effective command and control structure,
and clear rules of engagement; and 8) the mission does not jeopardize other Canadian Forces’
While these criteria for involvement are appropriate to determining if, how, and when Canadian
forces will contribute to foreign operations, they do not indicate any attempt to implement a grand
strategy. Canada chooses to contribute to international missions instigated by others; while
Canadian efforts in any one mission often aid an outcome considered favourable to its allies and
itself, Canada’s absence would rarely have any strategic impact. Although Canada has certainly
made the strategic decision to align with the West within the international community, it has since
chosen to relinquish strategic control of its military forces once having volunteered them. Canada
continually chooses to develop security as a contributor to a larger cause, attempting to influence
the actions and strategy of others, rather than through independent national action with direct
relevance to national interests.
Recent efforts, such as the reorganization of the CF in 2005, certainly attempted to focus the
efforts of the CF away from numerous small commitments and towards operations with a direct
Canadian interest. For the first time in a long while the CF appeared to begin shouldering more of
the burden, to ‘do the heavy lifting’ required to gain the respect of its allies and a desired strategic
voice. Canada’s contribution to Afghanistan is frequently offered as a case in point, serving as an
example of the government seeking to reverse the damage done by denying a role in US Ballistic
Missile Defence, or as a case in which the defeat of the Taliban/al Qaeda was identified as a
Canadian national interest; moving capable forces into theatre to assist in a collective effort to
prevent for future terrorist attacks was a suitable objective for Canadian defence. 37 The issue
Ibid., 3.
Ibid., 27.
Robert W. Murray and John McCoy, “From Middle Power to Peacebuilder: The Use of the Canadian
Forces in Modern Canadian Foreign Policy,” American Review of Canadian Studies 40:2 (2010).
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remains whether the actual Canadian contribution, and the conduct of the CF and the Canadian
government throughout the campaign, will support the formation of Canadian strategic influence.
Canada provided units in Afghanistan that served an important and necessary operational
function, perhaps demonstrating to its allies that it continues to have a valuable purpose within its
defensive alliances. As of yet, this has not translated into a “Canadian strategic voice.”
Canada’s strategic interests in the Middle East
As with Canadian strategy writ large, Canada’s Middle East strategy has consistently reflected the
centrality of the American-Canadian alliance. While Canada’s positions on Israel/Palestine and its
decision not to participate in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM have differed from those of the US,
these differences reflect “differences in tactics and power, not strategy and values.” US and
Canadian perspectives on Israel/Palestine are similar, with both countries seeking a two-state
solution, but the US has the ability and resources to offer much more powerful incentives. With
regard to Cuba, as another example, both governments share a concern with human rights
violations and a desire to see a democracy there, but Canada has chosen political and commercial
engagement over sanctions and isolation in trying to achieve this outcome. Despite these different
policy responses, shared values include support for a liberal world order, a preference for
democracies over dictatorships, and an emphasis on human security as essential to national
interests as well as to international stability. This has included intervention in intra-national,
ethnic, and tribal conflict.
During the Cold War era, Canada’s Middle East policy was inextricable from its membership in
NATO. Since the region was one of many potential flashpoints for indirect conflict between the
superpowers, military intervention in the form of peacekeeping served Canada’s needs as part of
an alliance, and simultaneously advanced humanitarian goals more broadly. This dynamic no
longer characterizes Canada’s policies in the Middle East in the post-Cold War world. The state
was replaced as the primary referent by bodies both larger, in the frames of the broader Arab and
Jewish nations and diasporas, and smaller, as with human security. Events of the Arab Spring and
the NATO intervention in Libya suggest that the predominant role of state as the most important
variable in diplomatic and military strategy is being challenged.
Domestic dimensions have also shaped Canadian security policy and continue to do so.
Immigration from the Middle East, North Africa, as well as Southeast Asia makes up more than
half of total immigration to Canada, which means that the Canadian public increasingly has
personal and familial links to those regions, as well as economic and geopolitical interests there.
This adds a new complication to the decades-old preference of the Canadian public that Canada
be a moral force in the international community, in that particular preferences can be conflated
with national interests. This tension is illustrated by the vocal support expressed by the Harper
Michael Hart, From Pride to Influence: Towards a New Canadian Foreign Policy (Vancouver, BC: UBC
Press 2008), 332.
Tami Amanda Jacoby, Canadian Peacebuilding in the Middle East: Case study of the Canada Fund in
Israel/Palestine and Jordan (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development, 2000), 1.
Jockel and Sokolsky, “Lloyd Axworthy's Legacy,” 2-4.
Denis Stairs, David J. Bercuson, Mark Entwistle, J.L. Granatstein, Kim Richard Nossal, and Gordon S.
Smith, In the National Interest: Canadian Foreign Policy in an Insecure World (Calgary: Canadian Defence
and Foreign Affairs Institute, 2003), 9.
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government for the state of Israel, and by the increasingly vehement criticism of this support by
factions of opposition parties and within specific communities. In addition, a strain of popular
anti-Americanism, and its more benign manifestation as the definition of Canada as nonAmerican, has not driven a wedge between the two countries at the strategic level with respect to
the Middle East.
Canadian participation in Operation DESERT STORM and in the Balkans marked a shift towards
greater military involvement in the comparatively smaller conflicts that characterized the postCold War world before 9/11. In addition to emphasizing peacekeeping and membership in
institutions oriented towards collective security, Canadian strategy has adopted a more
interventionist approach, sometimes called peacebuilding, as the vehicle for promoting human
security. In the final years of the twentieth century, the theoretical foundations were laid for
integrating military intervention with humanitarian concerns under the concept of the
Responsibility To Protect (R2P), itself a Canadian creation. The endorsement in principal of the
R2P was part of a trend described by Joseph Nye as a “definition of the national interest [which]
does not accept the distinction between a morality-based and an interest-based foreign policy.
Moral values are simply intangible interests.”
The events of 11 September 2001 were a watershed, but their implications for Canadian Middle
East strategy were not necessarily congruent with each other. Canada’s immediate response to the
first implementation of NATO’s Article 5, in which it agreed to contribute to a collective
response if the attacks “were directed from abroad,” signalled an affirmation of collective defence
in theory and in practice. Opting out of Iraq, by contrast, indicated that Canadian strategy with
respect to the Middle East, in parallel with most of its NATO allies not including the US, was
characterized by a reluctance to use force to neutralize a specific potential threat. Under PM
Paul Martin, Canada’s participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in
Afghanistan became reoriented towards the 3D approach. 48 In the broader Middle East, Canada
opted to prioritize collective security and human security over more traditional warfighting or
More recently, PM Harper has shown a preference for NATO and its priorities over extensive
participation with the UN. Membership in both the UN and NATO became a central pillar of
Canadian strategy following the Second World War, as the forum for Canada’s major
John Herd Thompson, “Playing by the New Washington Rules: The U.S.–Canada Relationship, 1994–
2003,” American Review of Canadian Studies (Spring 2003): 5-26.
Murray and McCoy, “From Middle Power to Peacebuilder,” 177.
Jockel and Sokolsky, “Lloyd Axworthy’s Legacy,” 3.
Joseph Nye Jr, “Redefining the national interest,” Foreign Affairs 78 (July/August 1999): 24.
Edgar Buckley, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Operations from 1999 to
2003, “Invoking Article 5,” NATO Review (Summer 2006), accessed on 18 April 2012,
Daniel Drache, Friends at a Distance: Reframing Canada’s Strategic Priorities after the Bush Revolution
in Foreign Policy (Toronto: Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, York University, 2005), 3.
For more information on Canada’s 3D approach in Afghanistan see: “Canada in Afghanistan, Assessing
the 3D Approach,” a conference report prepared by Julian Wright of the Institute for Research on Public
Policy after a conference at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Canada, 12-14
May 2005, accessed on 12 April 2012,
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contribution to the challenge of the Cold War and as a check on the overwhelming influence of
American priorities and actions. The Harper shift to NATO priorities is in keeping with a
reorientation towards roles requiring active combat, but also continues to reflect humanitarian and
development elements, representing an expansion, rather than displacement, of the soft power
positioning of the Chretien and, to a lesser extent, Martin administrations.
While the rhetoric of the Harper government has certainly emphasized a more muscular military
and accordingly a strategy more inclined to use that capability, with respect to the greater Middle
East there are more continuities than discontinuities between Harper’s terms of office and his
predecessors’. The leadership role assumed by Canada in crucial Kandahar province dates back
to Martin’s leadership, and the move towards replacing the CF-18 as the star of the RCAF
predates that. While former minister Lloyd Axworthy agrees with the current government on
very little, he also conceived of the CF of the twenty-first century as a force capable of stabilizing
a region and enforcing a peace as part of R2P. Working solely from open sources, however,
which penetrate less into the workings of government and defence issues, it is hard to explain
how the decision to intervene was made and how far politicians consulted military experts, or can
consider such issues.
On the eve of the intervention in Libya, then, Canada’s approach to the Middle East was
characterized by several factors. The overarching priority for engagement in the region was to
advance Canadian interests through two main channels: the enhancement of human security for
its own good and also as a factor in building a more secure international community; and the
demonstration of Canada’s commitment and capability to play a meaningful role in direct military
action within the context of the NATO alliance, and more particularly as a substantial partner
with Washington.
The first of these major objectives can be broken down further into a strong desire to protect
civilian populations around the world, for altruistic, international and domestic political factors,
as well as a willingness to use force against potential perpetrators of crimes against humanity in
addition to development and relief efforts. The second consideration suggests that Canada’s
approach to the Middle East is advanced by making carefully chosen contributions to those
operations carried out under the NATO aegis, and to American missions that are broadly
compatible with Canadian interests and values. While these elements of Canadian policy were
articulated differently under different prime ministers, their general contours have been largely
stable since the shock that ran through the international system in the wake of the fall of the
The Libya intervention is notable in that it harmonized these different considerations. Ensuring
human security, strengthening international collective security, solidifying Canada’s role as an
American ally and NATO member, and demonstrating the need for a strong and responsive CF
Jack Granatstein, “Harper’s foreign policies have made Canada a world player,” National Post (30
January 2012), accessed on 18 April 2012,
Andre Pratte, “Libya and Canada’s “new” foreign policy,” Canadian International Council (24 August
2011), accessed on 12 April 2012,
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were mutually reinforcing considerations in the intervention, rather than any of them being in
tension with the others. This is the framework within which Canada’s involvement in Libya is
now examined, with respect both to the planned role in the intervention and to its execution.
Canadian public opinion and the federal election
National level governments face the challenge of reconciling the international repercussions of
their actions, on economic and diplomatic levels, with domestic political dynamics. Various
theorists have suggested that states can act in the national interest without reference to domestic
factors, and also that the wellbeing of the government of the day and the interests of existing
institutions dictate foreign policy. Robert Putnam’s ‘two-level game’ model reconciles these
positions, and describes how governments simultaneously manage their domestic concerns and
their relationships with other states, whether friendly or in tension. Putnam’s theories consider
dimensions of relationships beyond the economic and diplomatic. The interaction of foreign
policies and domestic pressures are particularly relevant in the twenty-first century with respect to
human rights promotion overseas.
Canada’s involvement in Libya falls within the scope of analysis of these theorists. Altruistic
elements, such as the desire to advance democracy and protect innocent populations, interacted
with pressure exerted by factions within Canada to take or refrain from certain actions, the need
to maintain and enhance Canada’s role in its alliances, and the desire to maintain stability in a
volatile region with which Canada has a trade relationship. The political considerations weighed
by the Harper minority government during the first phase of the Libya campaign, during which
Canada’s involvement was determined, were particularly significant. It coincided with the fortyfirst federal general election, an election in which observers believed PM Harper had to deliver a
majority government or risk losing his leadership of the party.
The writ dropped on 26 March 2011 for an election held 2 May. Due to the turbulence of the
political climate, however, the prospect of an election was perpetually in the air. While prior to 26
March there was no official campaign, the pressures of an impending election influenced the
behaviour of all parties, even before the election was formally called.
While an impending and then realized election campaign can be expected to increase voter
scrutiny of major political issues and party positions, it does not mean that the timing of the Libya
intervention piqued Canadian public opinion on Libya or on other related policy issues. From the
beginning of 2011, through the election, and continuing to summer 2012, voters never identified
defence, foreign policy, national security, or Libya as among their top five priorities.
Examining opinion polls, news, and editorial coverage of the Canadian involvement in Libya
Robert D. Putnam, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International
Organization, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Summer, 1988), pp. 427-460.
William M. LeoGrande, “From Havana to Miami: U.S. Cuba Policy as a Two-Level Game,” Journal of
Interamerican Studies and World Affairs , Vol. 40, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), pp. 67-86.
Laura Feliu, “A Two-Level Game: Spain and the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights in
Morocco,” Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 8, No. 2-3 (2003) pp. 90-111.
“Anticipating the election that nobody wants,” 28 May 2012, Telegraph-Journal [Saint John, N.B] 28
Mar 2011: A.5.
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shows no significant relationship between the announcement of Canada’s mission and electoral
intentions, or between actual events in Libya and their coverage in the Canadian media and
electoral intentions.
While some analysts, both academic and in the media, argued that Canada’s role in Libya would
benefit the government of the day in the election, this does not mean that the decision was
explicitly influenced by political considerations. Nor did military action in Libya put the
governing Conservative party at rhetorical odds during the run-up and actual campaign; the
Liberals made few substantial criticisms and the NDP advocated diverting funding from a
proposed new fighter to renewed shipbuilding, but stressed that this too would maintain the CF’s
Parliament sat for five days between the announcement of the deployment of CF-18s to Libya and
the dissolution in preparation for the general election. The Minister of National Defence
responded on 21 March to an NDP question with the following statement, which characterizes
government comments on Libya in Hansard: “I can tell the hon. member that we are there to
comply with the resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations Security Council. We
are there primarily to protect civilians on the ground in Libya from their own administration. We
have clearly seen evidence in the past number of days, if not weeks, that Gadhafi has wreaked
havoc on the ground against his own civilians. We are there with an international partnership
providing as much protection as we possibly can.” Questions posed in the House pertaining to
Libya requested clarification of terms of engagement, projected duration of the commitment,
expressions of support for the CF, and queries as to why further measures were not being taken to
isolate Gadhafi and protect the Libyan people. Opposition discussion of Canada’s role in Libya
criticized two primary areas: Canada’s failure to adopt non-military measures, such as freezing
funds and isolating senior regime members, and the absence of a clear “exit strategy”, but there
were few substantive criticisms of the engagement itself or its nature.
The lack of partisan political dissent at the national level, particularly given the federal election, is
noteworthy. Political parties are in the business of winning votes, and on the surface it should
therefore follow that when there is non-trivial opposition to any policy – and only 41% of
Canadians supported the Libya intervention in an April 2011 poll, with 33% opposing it and 26%
unsure – there should be a corresponding movement to capture this vote on the part of a major
party. And yet neither the NDP nor the Liberals offered a different position on Libya during the
campaign. One explanation is the phenomenon of elite consensus, in which the preponderance of
authorities in the field share similar views on the viability or desirability of participation in
alliance stability operations, without reference to the popularity of these opinions amongst the
Survey of Globe & Mail and PostMedia newspaper archives January 2011 until May 2011; rolling
opinion polling before and during the election from Ipsos-Reed and Nanos.
Iype, Mark, Libya situation hands Harper an image boost, expert says; PM seen with world leaders as
election nears,” The Ottawa Citizen [Ottawa, Ont] 21 Mar 2011: A.3.
Kevin Libin, “NDP takes a hawkish turn; Pacifist party leans right on foreign policy,”
National Post [Don Mills, Ont] 09 May 2011: A.1.
40th PARLIAMENT, 3rd SESSION, EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 145, Monday, March 21, 2011.
Hansard March 21, 2011 to March 25, 2011
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broader public. In this case, structuring the Libya intervention under the aegis of NATO meant
that the benefits of joining the coalition may have outweighed the merits of the mission itself for
the leaders of all parties and institutions, not simply the government of the day.
The humanitarian dimension
The wording of both UN resolutions regarding Libya was inherently vague, allowing for their
initial approval from unenthusiastic states such as Russia or China. While critics later claimed
that NATO was overstepping its bounds by pursuing regime change, the removal of Gadhafi from
his position of power was implicit in the initial resolutions. NATO and allied government
statements on the intervention in Libya tied both the legitimacy and the imperative of intervention
to human rights abuses by the Gadhafi government throughout the campaign. If the Gadhafi
government could not be dissuaded from these abuses, its displacement was the logical
alternative. This reflects domestic political considerations as well as the politics of the
international community. Humanitarian intervention is perceived, with some validity, as a tool for
increasing international goodwill, by the US in particular but with similar effects for other
countries. Domestically, public opinion surveys in NATO member states document more
willingness to expend resources and deploy forces for humanitarian purposes than for more
traditional military missions.
If humanitarian intervention in Libya is judged solely in terms of Gadhafi government-sponsored
assaults, it was a successful undertaking. However, recent reports from a number of aid and news
organizations with delegates working within Libya suggest that success, in terms of civilians free
from violence – the overall rationale for the NATO mission from the beginning – is far from
realized. Evidence of ongoing torture, murder, and racial and religious attacks against civilians
is emerging from Libya, as former rebel groups and emergent militias compete for influence and
control. Amnesty International reports that widespread torture and ill-treatment of suspected proGadhafi fighters and loyalists is widespread within Libya, and is being carried out by officially
recognized military and security entities as well as by a multitude of armed militias operating
outside any legal framework. Defining humanitarian success as the displacement of a regime
that abused human rights, without regard to whether successor governments will protect their
Kreps, S. (2010), Elite Consensus as a Determinant of Alliance Cohesion: Why Public Opinion Hardly
Matters for NATO-led Operations in Afghanistan. Foreign Policy Analysis, 6: 191–215.
Richard Wike, Associate Director, Pew Global Attitudes Project, “Does Humanitarian aid improve
America’s image?” Pew Global Attitudes Project (6 March 2012), accessed on 18 April 2012,
Jamie Shea, “Keeping NATO Relevant,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook
(April 2012), accessed 25 April 2012,
Amnesty International, “Libya: Deaths of detainees amid widespread torture,” Amnesty International
News, last updated 26 January 2012, accessed 24 March 2012,; Tom Heneghan, “Freed from Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis
face violent Islamists,” Reuters (1 February 2012), accessed 24 March 2012,; Timothy BancroftHinchey, “The West, Syria, and Libya,” Moscow Top News, last updated January 2012, accessed 24 March
Amnesty International, “Libya: Deaths of detainees,”
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populations, is an exceedingly narrow and problematic construction of a desirable end state.
Further complicating the evaluation of Libya as a successful intervention is the issue of ripple
effects from the toppling of the Gadhafi regime. The recent conflict in Mali appears to have been
fed – at least in part – by arms taken from Libyan arsenals as the government there fell with no
clear or organized successor. Similarly, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has gained
access to weapons and resources, as well as increased influence in Libya in the months since
Gadhafi’s ouster. 66
While the R2P is frequently interpreted as the justification for, or necessity of, armed
intervention, the origins of the concept are slightly but significantly different. The notion of
formally linking the legitimacy of a state’s sovereignty with its protection of its own people was
explicitly developed in the 1990s, primarily by UN diplomat Francis Deng. The titular
responsibility applied not to the international community writ large, nor to a specific intervening
power, but to the government of a state to its people. 67 The Canadian-convened International
Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) – by whom the R2P was conceived –
provided a theoretical framework for integrating this inversion of the state as servant to the people
with the principles guiding international relations, and asserted that the R2P takes precedence
over non-interference in the sovereignty of a state that cannot or will not protect its citizens. 68
This was not the tenor of the NATO intervention in Libya. Lloyd Axworthy, one of the founding
fathers of the doctrine, states that R2P “is about the protection of civilians, should be considered
primarily preventative and considers military action a very last resort.” 69 Axworthy and former
cabinet minister Allan Rock describe Libya as “the first real test case” of R2P in action, and
consider it a victory for the principle. 70 Even stipulating that failed states are a threat to
international stability, and further that NATO and Canada have a moral obligation to act in the
interests of human security, the harm done by taking actions before the conflict triggered the need
for this “very last resort” is not mitigated. From the uprising’s first manifestation as protests in
Benghazi to the adoption of UN Resolution 1970 a week and a half later, between 300 and 500
Libyans were killed by the Gadhafi regime. Further, a full month passed before Resolution 1973
made provisions for the use of force on humanitarian grounds. In this interval, the absence of
mediation or second tier diplomacy, the creation of safety zones, and active negotiations with
Yahia H. Zoubir, “Qaddafi's Spawn: What the Dictator's Demise Unleashed in the Middle East,” Foreign
Affairs, July 24, 2012
F.M. Deng, S. Kimaro, T. Lyons, D. Rothchild, and W. Zartman, Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict
Management in Africa (Washington: Brookings Institute, 1996).
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), The Responsibility to Protect:
Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (Ottawa: International
Development Research Centre, 2001).
Lloyd Axworthy, “Don’t allow Libya to define R2P,” World Brief (13 March 2012), accessed on 12
April 2012,
Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, “Op-Ed: A Victory for the Responsibility to Protect,” The Ottawa
Citizen (25 October 2011), accessed on 4 July 2012,
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both the Gadhafi regime and emerging leaders in the opposition “reduced the likelihood of a
mediated solution to the crisis.” 71
Officially, Canada began its mission in Libya in support of NATO’s objectives of protecting
civilians and civilian-populated areas, and in enforcing the UNSC Resolution 1973 (2011). One
commentator referred to the mission as “classic humanitarian intervention,” particularly as it
followed former PM Paul Martin’s call to the UN to bring forward a resolution for the use of R2P
doctrine. 72 Despite the framing of a humanitarian mission in Parliament, however, comments by
Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird alluding to goals of regime change indicate that
considerations other than those of a purely humanitarian nature influenced the choice to deploy
the CF to Libya, as well as how it operated there.
Baird is quoted as saying that in addition to providing humanitarian assistance, the military
mission will “degrade the capabilities of the regime and create the conditions for a genuine
political opening.” 73 While removing Gadhafi from power was a stated objective of the US, 74
LGen Bouchard repeatedly denied that there was a similar Canadian regime change objective.
However, one NATO member after another recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC)
as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, attempting to isolate Gadhafi and his
supporters in order to ensure that the regime no longer had any legitimate authority in Libya. 75
Canada made a statement in support of the TNC in June 2011. 76 Also in June, representatives of
Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR gave voice to the need for a change in regime: on 10 June
2011, Wing Commander Mike Bracken, military spokesperson for Operation UNIFIED
PROTECTOR, gave a statement arguing that Gadhafi “no longer has any right to call himself
[Libya’s] leader… Gadhafi will not win this fight. He must go… Gadhafi’s only future is out of
power and out of Libya.” 77
Canada’s role expanded over the course of the Libya mission. Canadian troops originally “went
on a mission to rescue people in the line of fire, then to deliver aid, then to escort sorties. Now
they are dropping bombs,” 78 and are announcing support for new governments. One Canadian
scholar goes so far as to call the humanitarian lens put on Operation MOBILE a “weak excuse” to
enter a war of choice. 79 Participating in a mission with allies who support regime change,
Sid S. Rashid, “Applying Preventive Diplomacy and Mediation in Libya: A missed opportunity for the
Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and Syria,” presented at the CIPS conference, Ottawa, 23 March 2012.
Craig Martin, “Debating Canada’s Objectives and Role in Libya,” The Huffington Post (13 June 2011)
accessed 12 April 2012,
Aaron Wherry, “The Commons: Getting the words right,” Macleans (14 June 2011), accessed on 12
April 2012,
Karen Parrish, “Gates Outlines U.S. Role as NATO Takes Over Libya Mission,” American Forces Press
Service, News, (31 March 2011), accessed on 18 April 2012,
Statement by Oana Lungescu, Press briefing on Libya by Oana Lungescu, the NATO Spokesperson, and
Colonel Roland Lavoie, Operation Unified Protector military spokesperson, 19 July 2011.
Statement by Oana Lungescu, Press briefing on Libya by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu and Mike
Bracken, Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector, 17 June 2011.
Statement by Wing Commander Mike Bracken, Press briefing on Libya by NATO Spokesperson Oana
Lungescu and Mike Bracken, Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector, 10 June 2011.
Barry Cooper, “Libyan Mission is War of Choice,” The 3-Ds Blog: Diplomacy, Defence, Development
(2 August 2011), accessed 4 June 2012,
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combined with Baird’s statement above, suggest that Canada’s evolving role in Libya
demonstrated “mission creep,” 80 as the mission grew beyond its originally-stated objectives in
Operation MOBILE to involvement in driving the Gadhafi regime out of Libya in Operation
Other drivers of Canadian intervention
If the mission to Libya did not fall completely under the parameters of a humanitarian mission,
why did Canada so willingly, even eagerly, commit combat resources to the mission? The
timeline for Canada’s involvement becomes particularly significant when answering this
question. It is important to note that Operation MOBILE became a combat mission under the
aegis of Operation ODYSSEY DAWN, before the NATO mission had been fully formed or
approved. In fact, Canada was participating in the air campaign a full eight days before it came
under the mantle of the NATO mission. A Congressional Research Service report from April
2012 states that “[some] analysts argued that Canada took part in the mission in order to
demonstrate its continuing commitment to the North Atlantic alliance”. 82 The allusion to
Canada’s desire to demonstrate its commitment to NATO is somewhat misleading. Indeed, it was
primarily to the US that Canada sought to demonstrate its commitment to a strong defence
There are several reasons highlighting the importance of Canada’s participation in ODYSSEY
DAWN to the Canada-US defence relationship. First, as J.L. Granatstein notes, the Harper
government put significant effort into improving the North American defence relationship and
showing the US that Canada is a good ally well before the Libya mission. Granatstein states that
the Harper administration prudently recognized the US as the only defence partner on which it
can truly rely. He writes: “The Germans won’t fight, the Dutch can’t, the British can no longer
afford a military, and the French want to run everything.” 83 It was not the NATO relationship that
Canada was primarily tending to during the deployment to Libya, but its relationship with the US.
Cooperation between the two North American states took a prominent place at a joint press
conference held between Minister Baird and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 4 August
2011. 84 But why did Canada choose to take such a strong position in this particular conflict? It
was, after all, Britain and France who initially called for collective action in Libya. Derek Burney
argues that, in this instance, it was extremely beneficial to both states for Canada to back the US.
He writes that the US was not interested in taking the lead on a combat mission in a third Middle
Eastern Muslim state. More pertinently, the US did not have an overriding strategic interest in
John Allemang and Daniel Leblanc, “As politicians hit hustings, Canada’s Libya mission flies under the
radar,” The Globe and Mail (24 March 2011), last updated 25 March 2011, accessed on 12 March 2012,
Martin, “Debating Canada’s Objectives,”
Carl Ek & Ian F. Fergusson, “Canada-U.S. Relations,” CSR Report for Congress (5 April 2012), p.12.
J.L. Granatstein, “A Very Albertan Foreign Policy,” The 3-Ds Blog: Diplomacy, Defence, Development
(19 September 2011), accessed 4 June 2012,
Luiza Ch Savage, “Transcript of Clinton-Baird presson conference on Libya, Somalia and Keystone
pipeline,” Bilateralist (5 August 2011), accessed 4 June 2012,
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engaging in Libya. 85 There is also speculation that Canada may have additionally benefitted from
its involvement by being offered the leadership role for the NATO mission. Mark Collins wrote
soon after the announcement that LGen Bouchard would command the mission that the
assumption among defence analysts was that a British or French commander would lead in light
of their initial call to action. This implies that the choice of a Canadian lead was a surprise one,
possibly supported by the US. 86 Canada is the most interoperable with the Americans out of all
NATO allies and Canadian leadership rather than European would possibly allow a greater degree
of American influence without their appearing to lead the mission. It is evident that “alliance
tending” was a motivational factor for Canada’s early involvement in Operation ODYSSEY
DAWN. The question now remains, what other factors influenced Canada’s decision to take action
in Libya?
As identified in Canada’s 2005 IPS, there are eight criteria for Canadian involvement in an
expeditionary operation. Only five of the eight criteria were clearly met in the initial stages of the
Libya case.
• First, the mission supported Canada’s foreign policy objectives in terms of multilateral
international action to ensure respect for political liberty and human values.
• Second, there was adequate international political and financial support for the mission,
shown by the passage of several UN resolutions and the voluntary participation of many
NATO and non-NATO countries, sixteen providing air assets and twelve delivering naval
resources. 87
• Third, there was an effective process of consultation between mission partners in place;
the Foreign Ministers of the allies and operational partners participating in the NATO-led
mission met regularly to discuss their joint efforts in Libya, and also regularly consulted
with UN representatives and other regional actors and international organizations. 88
• Fourth, the mission did not jeopardize other CF commitments, given the downgrading of
the Canadian engagement in Afghanistan.
• Fifth, the total proposed forces were appropriate for meeting the stated mandate. Seven
jets represent a significant portion of deployable Canadian air assets. Further, contributing
ten percent of total air sorties over Libya represented a commitment commensurate with a
meaningful role in a mission of this scope. 89
Of the three remaining criteria, two can be considered fulfilled if they are liberally evaluated.
• First, the mandate of the operation was realistic, clear, and enforceable in terms of
supporting a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. However, intervening to “protect
civilians” by “all necessary measures” is inherently vague and unclear. In addition, this
Derek Burney, “Libya: Why Are We Involved, A Policy Update Paper” CDFAI (March 2011).
Mark Collins, “Look Who’s in Charge of NATO’s Libya Actions,” The 3-Ds Blog: Diplomacy, Defence,
Development (25 March 2011), accessed 4 June 2012,
NATO, “Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, Final Mission Stats,” Fact Sheet (2 November 2011),
accessed 18 April 2012,
Statement by Carmen Romero, Joint press briefing on events concerning Libya by the NATO Deputy
Spokesperson, Carmen Romero and by Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, Chief of Allied Operations,
Allied Command Operations, 12 April 2011.
The Canadian Forces website states that seventy-seven CF-18s are currently in operation by the RCAF,
however this number does not reflect the jets grounded for maintenance.
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initial mandate became increasingly blurred as Canada began to expand its participation
in bombing and regime change related activities.
Second, there was a defined concept of operations and an effective command and control
structure within Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, but it is not clear if this was the case
within Operation MOBILE on its own. Additionally, as was demonstrated by the
evolution of the bombings of Libyan targets carried out by the CF, there were no clear
rules of engagement.
Finally, the last criterion was not met at all. There was no clear exit strategy in place at the outset
of the Libya intervention and only a vaguely described end-state for the mission. At the onset of
Operation MOBILE the mandate for the CF was the protection of human life, a nebulous directive
in the absence of clear parameters and authorizations. The original mandate did not explicitly
include regime change, and yet once that had successfully been accomplished, the CF pulled out
of Libya.
If the federal government still subscribes to the IPS, why did we choose to go to Libya when
these eight criteria were not met? Does this case demonstrate that the Canadian criteria for rapid
response deployments need to be reevaluated?
The most prominent Canadian voices from the media relating to the mission in Libya have been
those speculating that the mission was used by the government to justify the purchase of the
highly controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets. As the Royal Canadian Air Force participated
in bombing for the first time since 1999, the exercise was an illustration of the utility of fighter
jets, described by Dan Gardner as the fastest way to respond to unforeseen or rapidly evolving
situations. 90 While one writer pointed out that the CF-18s lack of interoperability with NATO
allies didn’t prevent Canada from participating in the bombing campaign, 91 the majority of voices
used the opportunity to highlight the advanced age of the CF-18s and the need for them to be
replaced, as well as highlighting the virtues of the F-35. 92 As it is unlikely that the CF will
confront a major conflict on any domestic shores, it is a certainty that Canada will maintain an
expeditionary capability. Air support is vital to the success of many missions, whether it be close
air support or the long-range targeting abilities of jets that could obviate the need for “boots on
the ground” and protect these forces when necessary. Libya proved to be a perfect staging ground
to remind the Canadian public of this.
Canada also has substantial economic and trade interests in Libya, which is Canada’s second
largest recipient of investment in Africa. According to the DFAIT fact sheet on Canadian
investment in Libya, Canada exported more than $51 million to the country in 2010 alone. 93
While the direct investment figures for that year have not been released, Canadian companies
Dan Gardner, “Libya shows why Canada needs F-35 jets,” The Vancouver Sun (25 March 2011),
accessed on 14 April 2012,
Aaron Wherry, “Why the F-35?” Macleans (2 April 2012), accessed 12 April 2012,
For example see: Paul Koring, “What the F-35 brings to the fight,” The Globe and Mail (8 April 2011),
accessed on 12 April 2012,
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), “Libya,” last modified March 2012,
accessed 17 April 2012,
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with hundreds of employees in Libya and hundreds of millions of dollars invested, made
headlines for rushed evacuations, significant losses in the region, and some questionably close
ties with the Gadhafi regime. 94
Major Canadian companies such as SNC-Lavalin, which holds construction contracts worth over
one billion dollars in Libya, are heavily invested in the state. Suncor, through forty-nine percent
ownership in Harouge, holds a multi-billion dollar, thirty-year deal with Libya that began in
2008. 95 Suncor’s investment in Libya as of December 2011 was estimated to be more than $900
million, 96 but the company suffered financial write-downs of at least $400 million for each of the
last three quarters of 2011. 97 So great was Suncor’s investment in Libya that members of the
company accompanied Minister Baird to the country in October 2011. 98 The combination of
money, oil, and Canadian citizens working in Libya makes a convincing argument that Canada
may have been eager to protect its business interests there.
A final potential motivating factor is Canada’s need to shore up its international reputation in
light of having lost the UN Security Council seat just months before the deployment to Libya.
Phillippe Lagassé of the University of Ottawa writes that Canada doesn’t have enough political
capital to truly make a difference in Libya, and so restoring its international reputation must be
considered as a possible explanation for the enthusiasm for the mission. 99 Building on this need to
save face internationally, it is clear that one driving force behind Canada’s participation was a
need to fulfill commitments to its largest defence partner, the US, and to NATO.
With so many easily identifiable Canadian interests in Libya, the mission could have been framed
as engaging as an active member of a strong alliance, protecting domestic interests, in addition to
playing to the Canadian ideology of the protection of human life. The question that must be asked
is why Canada chose to frame the mission solely in humanitarian terms given these other
potential rationales? Furthermore, having decided to contribute, why did Canada choose to
participate in the way that it did?
Graeme Smith, “SNC-Lavalin developed close relationship with Gadhafi son: documents” The Globe
and Mail (14 Jan 2012), accessed 30 March 2012,
Chris Sorensen and Erica Alini, “SNC-Lavalin is under scrutiny for its ties to Gadhafi regime,” Macleans
(13 March 2012), accessed 25 March 2012,
“Summary of fourth quarter report,” Suncor Response, last modified 8 February 2012, accessed 8 April
Ibid; “Discussion of Libya in the third-quarter results,” Suncor Response, last modified 7 November
2011, accessed 8 April 2012,; “Update of Libya in Suncor’s Q2
report,” Suncor Response, last modified 2 August 2011, accessed 8 April 2012,
“Suncor Visit to Tripoli with Minister Baird,” Suncor Response, last modified 11 October 2011, accessed
8 April 2012,
Phillippe Lagassé, “Libya and Canada’s Political Influence: A Different Perspective,” Centre for
International Policy Studies Blog (October 28, 2011), accessed 25 March 2012,
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The Canadian contribution in Libya
Throughout its mission in Libya, NATO sought to maintain a high operational tempo against
legitimate targets until three goals had been achieved: all attacks and threats of attacks against
civilians had ended; the Gadhafi regime had withdrawn all military and paramilitary forces to
their bases; and full humanitarian access was granted to the Libyan people. These three objectives
informed all military action taken by NATO in Libya and served as the benchmarks by which the
success of the overall mission was measured.
While conducting these military operations, NATO continually acknowledged that there must
also eventually be a political solution in Libya to ensure the continued protection of the
population against violence. 101 It firmly insisted that these political goals – including possible
regime change – were not the job of the military and thus were not a part of the NATO mandate;
NATO’s stated military objectives certainly did not include mention of Gadhafi’s removal from
power as a condition of success. However, analysis of NATO statements and press releases issued
by the alliance over the course of operations in Libya indicate that regime change became a fully
implied, if not actually articulated, element of the NATO mission. This implication is borne out
by the provision of military support to the rebels.
Canada initially sent CF-18s (supported by CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft, HMCS
Charlottetown, and two tankers) to enforce a no-fly zone, preventing the transport of arms and
munitions into Libya and protecting the country’s civilian population from its aggressive leader.
However, the mission quickly changed as demonstrated by the outline of NATO statements and
actions above. Retired Major-General Lewis Mackenzie noted in late March 2011that “mission
creep has already happened,” referring to the French military’s widening of its attacks beyond the
UN’s formal confines.
While regime change presents complexities both within the
international community and for domestic politics, the feasibility of an intervention that
transforms institutions and relationships to the degree required for humanitarian concerns without
also effecting political change is dubious.
Canada’s deployment of CF-18s and supporting infrastructure demonstrated the importance of air
power to expeditionary action, and further has the benefit of being low-risk with regards to
Canadian casualties. The deployment of the Royal Canadian Navy had the same benefits, and
highlighted the role of a blue water navy on the eve of a new ship building contract
announcement. So soon after the end of Canada’s fighting mission in Afghanistan, Canadians
were wary of any more battle fatalities. Following years of difficult deployments, the Army was
also experiencing organizational fatigue, and a mission not requiring “boots on the ground” was
ideal for Canada. 103 While the decision to send the RCAF and RCN was congruent with the
capabilities of the CF, the broad support of the Canadian public, and the political needs of the
Statement on Libya following the working lunch of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs with nonNATO contributors to Operation Unified Protector, Press Release (2011) 045, 14 April 2011.
Press briefings on Libya: 28 March 2011, 8 April 2011, 14 April 2011, 29 April 2011, 3 May 2011, 10
June 2011, 17 June 2011, 7 July 2011, 26 July 2011.
Allemang and Leblanc, “As politicians hit hustings,”
DND, Canada First Defence Strategy, “Rebuilding the Canadian Forces,” Government of Canada, 2008,
accessed 24 March 2012, english_lowres.pdf.
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government of the day, these factors do not explain why Canada committed only seven jets and a
single frigate.
This issue is especially pertinent in light of Canada’s leadership role during Libya. Seven jets and
a frigate have been referred to as purely symbolic contributions to the mission. When evaluated in
the appropriate context, however, the Canadian contribution is proportionate to that of the other
allies and for the leadership role. Canadian jets flew 446 missions over Libya, ten percent of the
NATO total. 104 This was despite the fact that Canada contributed only 4.5 percent of personnel
In this particular instance the asset commitments
and 3.5 percent of aircraft to the mission.
Canada was able to make were meaningful contributions to the mission. This does not mean that
these contributions will always suffice for future NATO action. Canada must continue to
contribute proportionate capabilities to missions if they wish to retain an influential voice at the
Canada must consider its allies’ ability to remain at the table as well. Operation UNIFIED
PROTECTOR may have revealed serious shortcomings within the NATO alliance. Several allies
within the organization refused to participate in the Libya intervention, while those who did
choose to contribute relied heavily on the US for key intelligence and logistics support. The
Americans were responsible for destroying anti-aircraft defences, often resupplying the
Europeans with weapons, and providing eighty percent of aerial refueling. Only eight of the
twenty-eight member states in NATO even took part in bombing missions: France, Britain,
Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and the US. 106 While Canada’s relationship with the
US is of primary importance, NATO remains one of the possible counterbalances to American
unilateralism, and Canadian involvement in NATO can correct for otherwise overwhelming
American influence.
This lack of NATO enthusiasm, or support, for the Libya intervention suggests a waning interest
in, or more recently the inability to spend money on, the military and defence in Europe. Since
the end of the Cold War, defence spending by European NATO countries has fallen by almost
twenty per cent. In the early 1990s, defence expenditures in European countries represented
almost thirty-four percent of NATO’s total, with the US and Canada covering the remaining
sixty-six percent. Since then, the share of NATO’s security burden shouldered by European
countries has fallen to just twenty-one percent.
While the Libya mission demonstrated that
European states are currently still able to play a central role in complex military operations, its
ability to maintain this capacity in the years ahead is questionable. Given the rising debt levels in
Europe, the trend towards continually reducing defence expenditure, as well as the increasing
John Ibbitson and Daniel Leblanc, “Canada turns commitment into clout in Libya,” Globe and Mail, 21
October 2011, accessed 3 April 2012,
Doug Bandow, “NATO and Libya, its time to retire a fading alliance,” Forbes (2 January 2012),
accessed 18 April 2012,
NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen, “NATO after Libya, the Atlantic Alliance in Austere
Times,” Reprinted by permission of Foreign Affairs (July/August 2011), 29 June 2011, accessed 18 April
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levels of defence spending by other emerging powers, even NATO Secretary General Fogh
Rasmussen questions whether NATO will be able to maintain its operational edge in five or ten
Canada must consider how this potential future might impact its strategic focus on
multilateral expeditionary action alongside powerful allies.
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Strategic Lessons Learned: Operation MOBILE
Canada’s participation in the international intervention in Libya is now complete, but it is
unlikely to take long before Canada is asked once again by NATO, the UN, or a ‘coalition of the
willing’ to commit its armed forces to similar action overseas. Before that time, it is imperative
that Canada evaluates its experience in Libya from a strategic perspective, with respect both to
the planned role in the intervention and to its execution, to determine where such commitments fit
within overall Canadian defence strategy and how Canada should approach similar situations in
the future.
The following, in no particular order of importance, represent the strategic lessons Canada should
learn from its intervention in Libya, and which should be taken into consideration before the next
time the nation considers a major military commitment.
Lesson #1: Canada must articulate national interests as motivating factors in mission
In future interventions, the Canadian government must be honest regarding the various strategic
interests it holds in specific operations. Politicians and the public alike are more likely to lose
support for a mission if they believe that the government is acting with ulterior motives, or
without fully disclosing their rationale to the public. Protection of human life is always a laudable
justification for action, but a country will not act solely for the purpose of acting. In the Libyan
case, Canada’s humanitarian interventionist tendencies or moral character were upheld, business
interests were protected, a need for military investment was reinforced, and status among allies
was maintained. With all these varied interests in Libya, Canada had every reason to participate
and take a leadership role.
Lesson #2: Canada must make proportional commitments to international operations.
If Canada is to take a leadership role in future interventions, it must provide proportionate means
to that position of authority to truly benefit from the international prestige of such a role. In the
event that the military capacity to carry a larger share of the burden is simply lacking, increased
participation and commitment of resources in other avenues is crucial. Examples include financial
and development aid, training of local police and military forces to assist countries in becoming
stable and secure as rapidly as possible, and advising on post-conflict reintegration.
While Canada was able to make a meaningful contribution in Libya, this was in part due to the
serendipity of having no other major international obligations consuming resources at the time.
Canada had begun to withdraw its combat forces in Afghanistan and its CF-18s were preparing
for an exercise in Iceland when the Libya mission was undertaken, so were easily diverted to
North Africa. 109 Canada must recognize that to maintain this kind of success and asset capability
in the future, it must plan for it, rather than relying on fortuity.
“Iceland air support sent to Libya, Canada rearranges cover,” IceNews (4 April 2011), accessed 12 June
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Lesson #3: Canada must develop contingency plans for shifting mission priorities.
When the CF are deployed to accomplish a task, their goals and mandate should be clearly
elucidated in the public sphere and particularly within government and the military. No matter
how well these goals are set, and the appropriate means are specified, the reality of any operation
will lead to revisions with respect not only to what is possible but also to what is desirable. A
component of flexibility should be established prior to the mission, and reevaluated during the
mission, to ensure both that the CF aren’t rendered less useful by too stringent a tasking, and that
the parameters of CF participation do not sway unacceptably outside the boundaries of the initial
Lesson #4: Canada must consider preventative elements of the R2P while also ensuring that
its intervention results in a net benefit to the affected region.
A true commitment to the R2P requires a substantial investment and willingness to use other tools
of statecraft involving not only public negotiations and diplomacy, but also mediation, the
negotiation of zones of agreement with all parties involved, and second tier or covert diplomacy.
The architects of the R2P saw military force as the last resort and least desirable tool. Paying
close attention to early signs that unrest is about to escalate to a crisis, and using these tools can,
in the best circumstances, make formal military intervention unnecessary while providing a more
comprehensive picture of the parties involved and their agendas should intervention still be
Second, a true humanitarian intervention cannot simply create a momentary pause in human
rights violations, but must contribute to the circumstances that will lead to a stable government
that will protect its population. It is not the role of NATO, Canada, or other intervening parties to
determine the composition or character of successor governments. Equally, withdrawing from an
intervention while leaving behind chaos or a nascent government likely to repeat the crimes of the
previous rulers is not consistent with the spirit of humanitarianism. As it is likely to lead to the
need for a subsequent intervention, it is also impractical.
Lesson #5: Canada must maintain an expeditionary capability, beyond just “boots
on the ground.”
Canada is unlikely to face a physical threat to its territory in the foreseeable future. Thus,
expeditionary action to protect Canadian interests and to contribute to international security will
continue to be a necessary component of any Canadian defence strategy. Past deployments to the
Balkans and to various regions of Africa have proven that Canada is a valuable coalition member
from a ground operations perspective. The mission in Libya is a reminder that missions can, and
increasingly will, involve other methods of insertion or intervention besides “boots on the
ground.” Being air and sea capable will become increasingly important as missions with goals of
short-term intervention are planned, with the intention of lowering the risk of Canadian casualties.
These capabilities must also be fully interoperable with other NATO militaries.
Lesson #6: Canada must contribute to maintaining the viability of NATO.
There was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm among NATO members to participate in the Libya
intervention. The mission itself indicated that decreasing defence expenditure within European
nations might hinder their military prowess, and thus the military capacity of NATO, in the
future. Canada continues to share common goals, values, and interests with NATO member
states, something that cannot necessarily be said of many other emerging powers. For instance,
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none of Brazil, China, India, or Russia put their militaries or resources at the disposal of the
coalition that emerged to intervene in Libya. Thus, Canada must encourage the maintenance of
the NATO alliance by urging Europe to spend more on defence, and maintaining proportionate
spending itself. As hard power continues to prove relevant to restoring and maintaining peace,
NATO must spend the time and money necessary in order to maintain a wide spectrum of
military capabilities.
Equally true, however, is the fact that soft power will also continue to prove relevant. NATO is a
military alliance in both structure and purpose, without any non-military avenues of international
engagement, such as formal developmental or economic tools. Given the trend toward supporting
human security, and increasing economic interdependence, Canada should introduce and support
a plan for the expansion of NATO’s mandate beyond strictly military action, possibly by
involving NATO in stability and development dimensions after the active military phase of an
intervention. This could provide a tangible way to continue the viability of the alliance in the
changing international environment. In addition an expansion of this nature supports greater
Canadian involvement in NATO given our propensity and success with these types of actions.
Lesson #7: Canada must strive to maintain positive relations with the United States in
future international interventions.
From a Canadian perspective, one very successful aspect of the Libya intervention was the
development of positive communication and cooperation in terms of resource sharing with the
United States. Given the importance of American support to Canada’s overall defence strategy,
and to the growth of Canadian industry and trade, maintenance of this relationship structure for
use in future joint expeditionary action is in Canada’s best interests. This relationship could be
further cemented, and future joint interventions facilitated, by preparing more explicitly for
international coalition deployments, through exercises and simulations, as well as establishing
roles and commitments for countries involved. The formal infrastructure for successful
cooperation with the US, in the shape of NORAD and the PJDB, should remain a priority.
Lesson #8: Canada must develop a strategic voice.
Canada has made one major grand strategic decision since the end of the Second World War: to
align with the West within the international system. Since that time, it has chosen to follow the
strategic lead of others, contributing to international missions instigated by other states and
continually relinquishing strategic control of its military forces once volunteered for
expeditionary action. The mission in Libya was no exception. If Canada hopes to ever have a
strategic voice within international affairs it must pursue a leadership role within our alliances,
which should be explicitly discussed at the national level prior to presentation at the coalition
table. Canada’s strategic vision rests primarily upon membership in multilateral relationships with
other states. But in order to ensure not only our own security but also international stability and
collective security, Canada should develop a distinct national agenda to guide the development of
the Canadian Forces and to define parameters within which the CF will be deployed alongside our
DRDC CORA CR 2012-271
(Security classification of title, body of abstract and indexing annotation must be entered when the overall document is classified)
ORIGINATOR (The name and address of the organization preparing the document.
Organizations for whom the document was prepared, e.g. Centre sponsoring a
contractor's report, or tasking agency, are entered in section 8.)
Centre for Military and Strategic Studies
University of Calgary
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB
T2N 1N4
(Overall security classification of the document
including special warning terms if applicable.)
REVIEW: GCEC June 2010
TITLE (The complete document title as indicated on the title page. Its classification should be indicated by the appropriate abbreviation (S, C or U)
in parentheses after the title.)
Canada in Libya: Strategic Lessons Learned
AUTHORS (last name, followed by initials – ranks, titles, etc. not to be used)
Bryson, Rachel; Domansky, Katie; Jensen, Rebecca
(Month and year of publication of document.)
November 2012
(Total containing information,
(Total cited in document.)
including Annexes, Appendices,
DESCRIPTIVE NOTES (The category of the document, e.g. technical report, technical note or memorandum. If appropriate, enter the type of report,
e.g. interim, progress, summary, annual or final. Give the inclusive dates when a specific reporting period is covered.)
Report Produced Through the Partnership Agreement between DRDC CORA and CMSS.
SPONSORING ACTIVITY (The name of the department project office or laboratory sponsoring the research and development – include address.)
Partnership Agreement between DRDC-CORA and The Centre for Military and Strategic
StudiesDefence R&D Canada – CORA
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K2
9a. PROJECT OR GRANT NO. (If appropriate, the applicable research
and development project or grant number under which the document
was written. Please specify whether project or grant.)
9b. CONTRACT NO. (If appropriate, the applicable number under
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10a. ORIGINATOR'S DOCUMENT NUMBER (The official document
number by which the document is identified by the originating
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assigned this document either by the originator or by the sponsor.)
DRDC CORA CR 2012-271
11. DOCUMENT AVAILABILITY (Any limitations on further dissemination of the document, other than those imposed by security classification.)
12. DOCUMENT ANNOUNCEMENT (Any limitation to the bibliographic announcement of this document. This will normally correspond to the
Document Availability (11). However, where further distribution (beyond the audience specified in (11) is possible, a wider announcement
audience may be selected.))
13. ABSTRACT (A brief and factual summary of the document. It may also appear elsewhere in the body of the document itself. It is highly desirable
that the abstract of classified documents be unclassified. Each paragraph of the abstract shall begin with an indication of the security classification
of the information in the paragraph (unless the document itself is unclassified) represented as (S), (C), (R), or (U). It is not necessary to include
here abstracts in both official languages unless the text is bilingual.)
In March 2011 Canada formed Operation MOBILE in response to the humanitarian crisis in
Libya. This operation became part of the US led Operation ODYSSEY DAWN and later joined
the international coalition Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR in response to UN Security
Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Publicly framed as a humanitarian mission, and described
as the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect, the mission served as an opportunity for
Canada to demonstrate its value and relevance as an ally and coalition member. This paper
explores the strategic lessons of the Libya intervention for Canada.
This paper first provides an overview of Canadian foreign and defence policy in the postSecond World War era. Next, it discusses Canadian strategy and Canada’s specific strategic
interests in the Middle East. This provides the framework for the analysis of domestic and
international considerations which influenced Canada’s role in the intervention and the scope of
its commitment in Libya. The paper concludes with eight strategic lessons that Canada and the
CF should learn from Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR.
14. KEYWORDS, DESCRIPTORS or IDENTIFIERS (Technically meaningful terms or short phrases that characterize a document and could be
helpful in cataloguing the document. They should be selected so that no security classification is required. Identifiers, such as equipment model
designation, trade name, military project code name, geographic location may also be included. If possible keywords should be selected from a
published thesaurus, e.g. Thesaurus of Engineering and Scientific Terms (TEST) and that thesaurus identified. If it is not possible to select
indexing terms which are Unclassified, the classification of each should be indicated as with the title.)
Libya; United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970; United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1973; Moammar Gadhafi; CF-18; Benghazi; Arab Spring; Canadian National
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