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HomeCanada’s Role on the Global StageEnhancing Canada’s Role in the World with Defence Diplomacy: The Case for Training Foreign Military Officers for International Coalition Headquarters

Enhancing Canada’s Role in the World with Defence Diplomacy: The Case for Training Foreign Military Officers for International Coalition Headquarters

Image credit: Senior Airman Cody Martin

By Ross Fetterly

The challenging nature of integrating officers from different countries in coalition and international support missions highlights the need for Ottawa to allocate additional resources to the Canadian military to develop increased capacity for providing training to partner nations that do not currently offer such training themselves. International and coalition support operations operate optimally with trained and experienced military officers and some civilian experts. The present and evolving international security environment requires military officers globally to be better educated and more capable of operating in multi-national peace support and coalition operations. 

This highlights the need for the Canadian government to consider various options to assist resource-constrained governments that want to provide staff officers to coalition military headquarters, but which require additional training for effective integration of the assigned officers. When deployed, officers learn from each other, notwithstanding their country of origin. Given the relatively limited time in which military personnel are generally deployed in international and coalition operations, having a common understanding and knowledge of how international military headquarters operate prior to deployment is essential for all personnel. 

 While the Department of National Defence (DND) provides three different UN-related training courses (for foreign logistics officers, staff officers, or military experts on UN Missions), NATO-led international missions, such as Afghanistan, are different as they require mission specific training for non-NATO staff officers to work in various headquarters. The recent Federal budget prioritized emergency foreign aid over long-term assistance. Establishing a designated DND program to streamline the integration of foreign military officers by training them to operate in international support operations headquarters is a sensible investment that could be done at a modest cost whilst promoting best practices in defence.

Countries such as Canada, the United States, and many European nations provide specific national pre-deployment training for leaders and staff officers deploying to international and coalition support operations. This is not always the case (or an option) for other countries, due to capacity or funding limitations. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are well positioned to provide this capacity internationally. The complexity of the international strategic environment increased significantly following the end of the Cold War, and the global geopolitical fault lines continue shifting today. As a middle power and an increasingly diverse country that benefits from a connected world based on the rule of law, Canada is well positioned to lead globally in providing this training. 

The ongoing Canadian military mission in Ukraine, in support of existing training development and capacity-building efforts, is an example of an effective Canadian support mission designed specifically to support the needs of the host nation. This approach can also be applied to coalition or international support operations by building capacity in allied countries through mission-driven, pre-deployment training that would enhance staff integration.  

Training Organization & Implementation 

In recent years, Canada has run various courses on defence resource management in Ukraine, Kenya, Georgia, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Montenegro through the Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP) at the office of DND’s Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy). Training foreign officers to operate in international coalition and support operations is likely better suited to be managed by the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC). As the Canadian military currently has approximately 2000 personnel deployed overseas on more than 20 different operations, the CJOC could recruit retired senior officers with experience in working in coalition headquarters on term contracts to plan course delivery schedules and conduct training in overseas locations. Such a measure would make an important contribution to international capacity in this area and promote defence diplomacy while having minimal impact on the serving officers.  

Creating a small directorate within the CJOC that is responsible for the development, planning, and delivery of military training course material that is staffed with Canadian military Training Development Officers (TDOs) and contracted retired military officers with record of service in international or coalition headquarters would ensure that the initiative to train partner nations will have minimal impact on current departmental capacity. The TDOs would oversee the quality control of training, including shaping the development, management, and provision of the training courses, and the educational resources used in training. The training package could include an e-learning package that would be sent to the host nation in advance to allow the students to do prior reading and preparation in order to reduce the timeframe for on-site course delivery. 

With their wide range of backgrounds, this diverse group of experienced retired military officers could plan course delivery schedules under an established framework and conduct training in overseas locations. Military attachés at the Canadian embassies in the countries that would benefit from such training would coordinate with the host nations’ armed forces headquarters to schedule training, as required, for officers deploying to coalition operation headquarters. Course development and training modules would include exercises and simulation to support the training of military officers and support staff to operate in international and coalition support operations headquarters and would be tailored to the specific circumstances of the relevant theatre of operations. The nature of evolving international security challenges and the skillsets needed in international and coalition support missions highlights the need to sustain sources of stable long-term Federal funding to contribute to capacity-building in these missions through Canadian training programs designed for the changing nature of trans-national conflicts.


Canada is a middle power with a history of providing development, military training, and other assistance to countries of strategic interest. It would be a favoured choice for many nations, seeking support to expand their knowledge and capacity through learning leading military headquarters staff officer practices and then to apply those practices in an international military headquarters engaged in coalition or support operations. 

The development of training programs through a collaboration of the DND and the CAF and their subsequent delivery to support capacity-building in countries that are willing partners but lack the capacity to develop that expertise in the number of military personnel required is a niche skillset that Canada can provide globally. Through such international capacity-building efforts to support partner nations in Africa, Asia, and both Central and South America to better integrate their forces with multi-national military headquarters, Canada could advance its national and strategic interests while elevating its global standing as a leader in defence diplomacy. More importantly, it illustrates the type of comparative advantage Ottawa possesses and the leadership role Canada can play globally to support international peace and security.

Ross Fetterly is a defence practitioner and academic with over 34 years’ experience in the Canadian military and has a PhD from the Royal Military College of Canada. He served for a year in the United Nations Disengagement and Observer Force as the Deputy Commander of the Canadian Contingent and was responsible for the UN Logistics Battalion in 2000-01, and later served in the leadership team of the NATO Kandahar Airfield Base Commander, as the Director of Finance, Procurement and Contracting in 2008. After retiring in 2017, as the Royal Canadian Air Force Comptroller and Business Planner, he has taught internationally at staff colleges and defence universities in Eastern Europe, Central and South America, Africa and Asia. An Adjunct Professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, he has been teaching graduate students for the past decade.


Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor