Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Tom Lawson spoke at the World Affairs Council last week.
Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Tom Lawson spoke at the World Affairs Council last week.
Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Tom Lawson spoke at the World Affairs Council last week.
Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Tom Lawson spoke at the World Affairs Council last week.

The United States should maintain leadership in world affairs, according to Canada’s top military officer.

Gen. Tom Lawson, Canada’s chief of defence staff, feels the world needs a strong voice throughout the globe.

“There’s very little, moral, ethical and legal highbrow that I’ve seen over decades, so I think you need to take those reins and continue to ride the stagecoach for decades to come,” Gen. Lawson said here last week to a room of military, retired military and civilians at the World Affairs Council luncheon.

“I am an unabashed supporter of American leadership around the world,” said Lawson, who served as deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in 2011.

The relationship

The two nations share a 5,525-mile undefended border as well as values  and billions of dollars in trade.

“We are the closest of friends,” Lawson said. “Look at our undefended border. It really is a remarkable thing, in a world where demarcations of sovereignty really can cause lasting enmity and even open conflict. Here, we’re truly fortunate.”

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In 1940, the Ogdensburg Agreement united the two countries militarily as Nazi Germany occupied most of Europe  and attacked Britain. Canada and the U.S. strengthened the military alliance in 1958 with the creation of NORAD, the binational military installation for North America, Lawson said.

That year, “existential threats could have come at us over the North Pole,” Lawson said. “You may argue those existential threats are starting to emerge again. I’m not sure where that debate will go, but it’s very interesting here in 2014.”

He said he did not know any other two organizations that work as well together as the Canadian and American military.

The alliance is international in scope, including the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as cooperation during recent wars.

“In fact, for almost two years, between 2008 and 2010, approximately 2,000 U.S. forces were under Canadian command,” Lawson said. “Our nation, like yours, will only allow those nations who are very most trusted to take command of the lives and the duties of our men and women in uniform. We do not take that lightly.”

‘Home soil’ attacks

In the “interconnected” world, threats from distant regions can impact people thousands of miles away, he added, and “rarely have such threats manifested themselves in violent actions on our home soil. But we are not immune.”

The recent killing of two Canadian soldiers by persons linked to terrorist groups is “an assault on our democratic values,” Lawson said.

“Let me stress that Canadians are not and never will be intimidated by these actions. The strength of our democratic institutions and the people that support them really does come out in tough times. We get tougher.”

Lawson said the Canadian military will increase its vigilance, but the two countries must continue their alliance.

“This is a fight we’re in together,” Lawson said.

The U.S. and Canada are linked economically as well. Each country is the other’s largest trade partner, he said. In 2012, America imported $324 billion in goods and services from Canada and exported $292 billion, he said.

Forged more than 50 years ago, defense trade has also been strong, he said, citing his enjoyment of flying the F-18 Hornet.

“Up in Canada, it’s called the CF-18, ‘C’ for Canadian,” he said of that and other sophisticated military equipment. “The integration of the [defense] industry has led to ‘domestic’ status of many suppliers in Canada to the United States, and they love that designation.

“But most importantly, we enjoy a seamless joint North American defense industrial base that’s unprecedented the world over. We’re stronger when we work together.

“There’s a rogue missile threat out there that wasn’t there before. Certainly, North Korea does represent a real and practical threat to those which their missiles can reach,” Lawson said.

America has a well-developed missile defense program with which the Canadian government would “benefit by coming on board.” The NORAD alliance is “a very mature relationship now, and one which continues to transform in relation to the threat,” he said.

Generations ago, 30,000 people worked at NORAD, compared to 5,000 now, Lawson said.

“Why is that? Because of the decreasing existential threat, and we still have to be very, very careful of that. In coming years, if that threat goes back up, that number would go up.”

About Russia-Ukraine

In office since 2006, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ranks among the most senior world leaders along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has served from 2000-2008 and again since 2012.

Earlier this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, “I think [Harper] took personal offense on top of national and international offense in the rule of law. He spoke with a very strong level of rhetoric,” Lawson said. “Very quickly, the military backed up his rhetoric” with ships and fighters directed to the area.

“When you’ve got 28 nations in NATO, and when anyone gets attacked, the rest of us will be in there to protect them. The latent power of NATO, 27 more partners is massive. I think the Russians see that they are not going to beat NATO.”

There are no conflicts over the Arctic, but there are “friction points,” he said. “There is no military competition in the Arctic. We’d like to keep it that way.”

Though Canada is seeing more friction from Russia, Lawson said.

“What does this say when you put it in the crucible, along with what’s happening in Ukraine … And expeditionary flights down to Cuba and Venezuela and around the Point of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean … and Syria. What are the Russians saying to us?”

As the globe warms up, natural resources that had been beneath ice will be “uncovered and sought out,” Lawson said. “All eight members of the Arctic Council [Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United States] will want to harness those, and then you may see some military action up there.

“Russia’s way ahead of us in that regard,” he said. “We’re kind of catching up …”

Canada would prefer to reach a peaceful solution [in the Arctic] because, Lawson said, “you don’t want the military deciding those things.”