With a new Prime Minister comes new direction and Justin Trudeau is promising just that. Trudeau is intending to diverge from Stephen Harper’s foreign policy agenda and regain some of that renowned Canadian lustre with its international audience and allies.
One area where Trudeau is changing Canada’s foreign policy direction is the promise to withdraw Canada’s six fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While many Canadians may be satisfied that the government has decided to pull Canadian forces from the campaign, a pressing concern is determining whether withdrawal signals a sense of victory to ISIS.
Answered bluntly; yes, quite possibly. In the minds of ISIS fighters and supporters, Canada may be seen as the loser in the equation. ISIS could claim their steadfast holding of Syria and parts of Iraq have proven to be successful and Canada’s withdrawal from the bombing campaign is a clear indication that ISIS is making gains. However, Canada is seen as a small fish in the bombing campaign. The country’s contribution in terms of scale when compared to the U.S. and Jordan is arguably not significant or crucial. In fact, Canada’s participation appears to be more of a symbolic gesture than anything – and this gesture is not doing Canada any good.
Ultimately, not only is Canada placing resources where they are not necessarily making the greatest impact, the country is opening itself up to threats against its national security. Through participating in the bombing campaign, Canada increasingly becomes a more prominent target for terrorist activities to be carried out on its own soil. Canada’s involvement effectively provides motivation and a sense of justification to ISIS supporters to target the country as a form of revenge. Withdrawing decreases ISIS’ immediate interest in Canada, which arguably creates a lower threat environment domestically.
Canada’s withdrawal should not be seen to signal defeat to ISIS, but a calculated move to better utilize resources and preserve Canada’s national security. In reality, ISIS is far from gaining strides in its favour from the West or anyone else for that matter. As reported by the U.S. State Department, 60 nations ranging from Australia to Qatar have in some way or another participated in the bombing campaign against ISIS. While the level of involvement varies between each nation, the fact cannot be denied that a consensus exists among each that ISIS represents a threat to global security.
So what should Canada do?
Canada should not abandon the mission against ISIS wholly, but remain in the picture as a supporting actor. This necessitates coordinating with a regional ally.
In a sea of instability and conflict, Jordan stands out as a stable and promising partner. This is not even to mention that fact that King Abdullah II has supported the international coalition against ISIS and the country itself has become a participant in the airstrikes. Jordan’s pledge to the bombing campaign has soared since ISIS released a video of burning Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh alive in February. The King has outwardly assumed a moral responsibility in the coalition against ISIS, one that encompasses the need to protect the Muslims being targeted just outside its borders in Syria and Iraq and a responsibility to stop ISIS from reaching its own borders. King Abdullah II’s referral to the war against ISIS as being just as much Jordan’s war as that of any other country in the coalition clearly illustrates the level of commitment and involvement the Kingdom has dedicated. Considering the proximity of ISIS to its own borders, Jordan’s dedication should not be surprising. Although currently a stable country, Jordan has not been immune from terrorism within its own borders. Thus, Jordan’s desire to defeat ISIS should not be overlooked nor underestimated.
A country with an already skilled military that is heavily backed by the U.S., Jordan’s most pertinent need is not military related. Canada could offer Jordan material support for its campaign against ISIS, such as equipment or weapons, but this would not necessarily be the most useful resource to Jordan since the U.S. is already supplying the Kingdom. Jordan’s real problem is its economy. With few natural resources and perpetual instability in the region, Jordan’s economy has been on a steady downward trend, forcing it to be heavily reliant on foreign assistance. Jordan is suffering from high poverty rates, unemployment, inflation and the weight of having to provide for 630,000 Syrian refuges in the country.
What will make an impact in Jordan and will ease the country’s ability to carry out military capabilities, is financial support directed at improving the economy. If the economy is able to prosper, so will government capacities like the military.
During King Abdullah II’s visit to Ottawa in April, a $125 million spending package was handed over to the Kingdom. While a diplomatic gesture, the amount is simply not enough to cover everything it intends to achieve in Jordan including, the provision of assistance to refugees, fighting ISIS and economic and social development. For all the Kingdom needs to accomplish, $125 million represents only drops in a bucket of water. For instance, running Jordan’s largest refugee camp, Za’tari, has an operating cost of $500,000 per day. Consequently, Canada should focus its efforts on providing a larger spending package to Jordan. Through the provision of economic development assistance to Jordan, not only would Canada be effectively supporting the fight against ISIS, but Canada would also be building a closer alliance with one of the few countries in the Middle East that can claim to have peace within its borders.
Olivia Genders is currently an MA student at NPSIA specializing in Intelligence and National Security.