Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre warned members of Parliament on Thursday that the rules-based international order is “faltering” and must be “defended” — but said Canada’s capacity to do so is also under strain.
The Canadian Armed Forces have been struggling to bolster their ranks as they grapple with an unprecedented personnel crisis, forcing Eyre to order an immediate halt to all non-essential activities to focus on military recruitment and retention.
“The military that we have today is not the military that we need for the threats that are appearing in the future,” Eyre told MPs during Thursday’s public safety committee meeting.
“Our readiness is going down within the Canadian Armed Forces.”
The Armed Forces are supposed to be adding about 5,000 troops to the regular and reserve forces to meet a growing list of demands, but are instead short more than 10,000 trained members – meaning about one in 10 positions are currently vacant, according to The Canadian Press.
This shortage, Eyre said, has him “very, very worried.”
The shortage comes at a time when global stability itself is at risk, according to Eyre.
“The rules-based international order, which has underpinned world stability and indeed our national prosperity for generations, is faltering. It needs to be defended,” he said.
“The gravity of these times should be apparent to all.”
Eyre appeared before the national security committee to provide both an update and respond to MP questions about Canada’s security posture in relation to Russia. In his opening remarks, he warned that Russia and China both have ambitions that go far beyond the survival of their respective regimes. They want to expand, he said.
“They consider themselves to be at war with the West,” Eyre said.
The main threat to both Russia and China doesn’t come from “external adversaries,” he added, but from “their own populations.”
“So they strive to destroy the social cohesion of liberal democracies and the credibility of our own institutions to ensure our model of government is seen as a failure,” Eyre explained.
This battle takes the form of an “information war,” one that he said can be observed in real time with respect to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The Ukrainians are winning the battle between truth and lies in the West, but the Russian narrative dominates in many other parts of the world,” Eyre said.
“Will we have an international order based on rules, or one based on might? This confrontation, this contest of which order will prevail will define, certainly the rest of our time in uniform, and indeed the rest of our lives.”
Russian cyber threats are also becoming increasingly “sophisticated,” according to Caroline Xavier, who is the chief of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).
CSE has observed “numerous Russian-backed disinformation campaigns online,” she told MPs during Thursday’s public safety committee meeting.
These campaigns are “designed to discredit and spread disinformation about NATO allies, as well as false narratives about Canada’s involvement in the Russian Ukraine conflict.”
“I can assure you that we are working tirelessly to raise Canada’s cybersecurity bar and protect all Canadians from these emerging threats,” Xavier told MPs.
CSE has put out “several bulletins” since mid-January that reflect Russia’s increased willingness to use the tools in its cyber-toolkit. In these bulletins, it describes the Russian threats and the kinds of vulnerabilities the country typically tries to exploit — as well as “advice and guidance” on how to mitigate these threats.
“We do see that Russia is one of those actors that has the sophisticated ability to be able to use their cyber programs,” Xavier said.
“So as a result, we are quite concerned.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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