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Continental Defence, Sea and Air Domains, Features That Need Prioritizing in Canada’s Next Defence Policy

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All expert quotes were taken from the webinar titled ‘Navigating New Challenges: A Roundtable on Canada’s Defence Policy Update‘, which was held by the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy on April 13, 2023.

Back in 2017, the Liberal Government of Canada released its defence policy — Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE). In the policy, the Government announced plans to modernize the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to be strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world. Committed to boosting Canada’s defence spending to $553 billion over 20 years, SSE sought to expand CAF, reaffirm Canada’s steadfast commitment to its enduring alliances and partnerships, and supply new investments to ensure that its troops are equipped with the modern tools necessary for operational success.

However, since 2017, the stability of the world’s liberal rules-based order has been significantly weakened, marked by a resurgence of hard power politics, intensified peer competition, and the seizure of territory as prevalent features in contemporary security architectures. Without question, the international order has witnessed bigger and broader conflicts that signal a more hostile geopolitical environment, ranging from the ongoing Russo-Ukraine war — having its origins in the 2014 seizure of Crimea by Russian forces — the Armenia–Azerbaijan war in 2020, North Korea’s rampant nuclear proliferation to Beijing’s growing hostility towards Taiwan and its increase militarization of the South China Sea.

In response to these conflicts and challenges, Canada’s allies have implemented new defence postures and invested in more prevalent capabilities to defend and deter threats to their national interests and collective security. Whether it be America’s push for maritime ententes with like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific — particularly through the QUAD and AUKUS — Sweden and Finland yearning for NATO membership — with Helsinki being admitted early in 2023 — to long-standing allies, some of whom like South Korea, Australia, Japan, and Germany having post-war principles of non-aggression, peacekeeping and peace-building — making unilateral changes to their national defence strategies to invest in more hard power capabilities.

Ottawa, for its efforts, has responded to these challenges by announcing investments in its defence capabilities, ranging from the decision to purchase 88 F-35 fighter jets, a $7.3 billion upgrade to its fighter jet bases and infrastructure, a $38.6 billion investment over the next 20 years to modernize NORAD, a $1.4 billion investment to modernize the Dwyer Hill Special Forces base and commitments to reinforce a Canadian-led battle group in Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

Although these investments are attempting to pivot Canada’s defence posture, the recently leaked Pentagon documents exposed Prime Minister Trudeau’s perception of Canada “never meet[ing] NATO’s 2 percent defence spending target.” With frustration and concerns from allies emerging from these remarks and with Ottawa’s inability to militarily respond to suspected surveillance balloons over Canadian territory, requiring assistance from US fighter jets to take countermeasures, Ottawa’s defence posture illustrates a country that is unprepared, indecisive, and beset with problems that restrict CAF from having the capabilities to advance and attain the country’s national defence interests as well as fulfill its commitments to allies.

Ottawa’s defence posture illustrates a country that is unprepared, indecisive, and beset with problems that restrict CAF from having the capabilities to advance and attain the country’s national defence interests as well as fulfill its commitments to allies.

To rectify the lagging commitment-capability gap, as first described by the late Rod Byers, in Canada’s defence posture, there must be strategic vision and dedicated resources that empower CAF to be combat-ready and resilient to all threats — conventional, nuclear, gray-zone, or a combination of all three — as well as reaffirm its defence posture to become more of a peer partner and legitimate stakeholder. For Ottawa to advance this new strategic posture in a manner that uses resources effectively to acquire assets, equipment, and instruments, the upcoming defence policy update needs to focus on a continental defence outlook which prioritizes certain domains of warfare and conflict — land, air, sea, space, and cyber — in modernizing the CAF branches.

By achieving better force projection in sea and air domains, Ottawa can better master concepts of operations that will vigorously outline CAF’s capabilities to be combat-ready and resilient to all levels of geosecurity threats. In doing so, Ottawa will be more comfortable and capable of advancing and attaining its primary national defence interests and fulfilling its commitments to allies and partners around the world.

Canada’s Geography Is Key

Although this may sound like a considerable undertaking, Canada’s geography offers valuable insights into how Ottawa can prioritize certain capabilities over others. As retired Lieutenant-General and former Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command, Steve Bowes, pointed out, “We [Canadians] are enriched by our geography as a nation but also challenged by it.” Having the second largest country in the world by total area (9,984,670 km2), the largest coastline — measuring 243,042 km — and an abundance of natural resources, critical minerals, and agriculture, as well as having far-reaching Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), the CAF has major hurdles to overcome in defending, detecting and deterring threats to Canadians.

Our geography also extends Canada’s defensive priorities into three geosecurity peripheries that are central to Ottawa’s national interests and global stability — the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific. With the Transatlantic and Indo-Pacific regions being separated by two expansive oceans, unique regional security dynamics, and the Arctic having more navigable waters during the year, each periphery presents significant domains of warfare challenges in the surface, sub-surface and aerospace landscapes.

To address this issue, Ottawa must approach defence planning with a continental perspective. This approach involves recognizing the Arctic as an integral part of North America and emphasizing the importance of continental defence. Such a focus will enable Ottawa to make more informed decisions concerning the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), ensuring the right balance and quality of land, sea, air, space, and cyber capabilities. However, investments in these domains cannot be distributed equally. Given the current circumstances, Ottawa needs to allocate more resources to the sea and air domains.

Ottawa must approach defence planning with a continental perspective. This approach involves recognizing the Arctic as an integral part of North America and emphasizing the importance of continental defence. Such a focus will enable Ottawa to make more informed decisions concerning the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

This outlook stems from the unique geography of the continent and the related challenges in detecting, defending against, and deterring threats that are likely to emanate from the sea or air domains. These threats, potentially posed by an extra-regional adversary with sub-surface and surface capabilities, require particular attention. Capabilities arriving from a continental outlook can also be used interchangeably with our extra-regional commitments in the Indo-Pacific and within NATO without weakening Canada’s continental defence.

With the continent bordering the Pacific and Atlantic regions, encompassing vast aerospace and maritime areas, a CAF adequately equipped and trained in sea and air domains will be exceedingly situated to carry out maritime and air armed operations, high-altitude and northern missions, surface and sub-surface patrols of near-shore and off-shore waters as well as air policing, air-to-air refuelling, transportation and surveillance operations with like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific and across the Euro-Atlantic that share common objectives for maritime and aerospace defence.

Increasing Surface Capabilities

When it comes to the sea domain, SSE signalled an interest in developing a Blue Water Navy through a balanced mix of platforms like submarines, surface combatants, support ships, and patrol vessels. Aside from the progress made in acquiring the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) and the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), all part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, SSE does not identify the additional platforms it seeks to acquire for small patrol vessels, submarines, and combat-support ships.

To capitalize on its objective of having a Blue Water Navy and attain a high level of combat readiness and resiliency in the sea domain, Ottawa must endeavour to be bolder in its strategic vision for sea domain awareness and capabilities.

A first step would be to increase the number of expected CSC vessels. It should be recognized that when Canada acquires the current planned 15 CSC vessels, Ottawa will decommission the outdated Halifax-class fleet entirely. With this plan in mind, the CSC — equipped with modernized anti-air and anti-surface capabilities as well as platforms for the RCAF and Army to use for multi-domain warfare — will become the bulwark for Canada’s sea domain. As such, an increase in the quantity of CSC will allow the RCN to more comprehensively strategize and logistically plan its naval deployments by having approximately enough ships to deploy to the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific theatres.

The increase in the overall number of CSC will also bestow the RCN with adequate numbers of frigates on the seas, seeing as some vessels will require scheduled repairs and maintenance due to consistent deployments. Realistically not all CSC will be operational for maritime duty at one time, thereby limiting the overall combat-readiness of the fleet. As such, if Ottawa keeps itself limited to acquiring only 15 CSC, then it must come to realize that the RCN will only have around half of the 15 CSC in operation simultaneously, thereby rapidly decreasing Canada’s ability to commit its navy to defend the continent and fulfill Canada’s obligations in the Atlantic or the Indo Pacific.

With the CSC being the most likely choice for forward presence deployments in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, Ottawa should also include a plan to replace the Kingston-class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel to bolster its continental deterrence. Similar to the Halifax class, the Kingston-class vessels are outdated for modernized warfare, given their general purpose for patrols and minesweeping capabilities and their inadequate speed and range. In 2019, the government decided that no replacement process would occur for the Kingston class, instead suggesting that AOPS vessels would assume the role and responsibility of the latter.

However, given the need to patrol the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific near-shores as well as respond to EEZ intrusions, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing (IUUs) and unconventional surveillance tactics — like the use of sea buoys — by Russia and China, the CAF will need small to medium-sized ships capable of patrolling large swaths of Canada’s coastline as well as possessing modernized maritime capabilities to address pressing security threats. To achieve this capability, Ottawa should equip the CAF with corvettes. Having a step history of corvettes in the RCN and their use among European allies, Ottawa would benefit from these updated vessels as their smaller frame and fast propulsion systems, coupled with their ability to be equipped with the latest in weapon and defence technologies — ranging from anti-ship missiles, multi-role cannons, heavy machine guns, and surface-to-air missiles — make corvettes the ideal asset for Canada to take on more responsibilities in its sea domain.

CAF will need small to medium-sized ships capable of patrolling large swaths of Canada’s coastline as well as possessing modernized maritime capabilities to address pressing security threats.

In keeping with the current trend of Western democracies co-sharing and co-developing military assets, Ottawa should consider the Norwegian Skjold and Swedish Visby classes of corvettes. Both corvette classes have showcased fast maneuvering abilities and combat-ready maritime capabilities. In particular, the Skjold-class places immense attention on speed and range, capable of reaching speeds between 55-60 knots (kn) and a range of 800 nautical miles. Meanwhile, the Visby class prioritizes speed and stealth, capable of reaching speeds between 15kn for long durations and 35kn for short distances while minimizing its detection range through non-jamming and jamming technologies. For Canada, both corvette classes would provide the RCN with the capabilities to rapidly respond to conventional and unconventional security and defence threats from adversaries likely seeking to capitalize on Canada’s vast geography and coastlines and its inadequate military capabilities.

Opportunities for Expanding Subsurface Capabilities

Ottawa will also need to provide CAF with the subsurface capabilities required to defend the continent while being combat-ready for threats extending into Canada’s geosecurity peripheries. The debate over replacing the Victorian-class submarines is hotly contested among politicians, CAF, and policy experts. However, due to the threats posed by Russian and Chinese nuclear submarines, capable of remaining submerged for virtually unlimited periods to their ability to accommodate special forces and launch subsurface ballistic and hypersonic nuclear missiles, Ottawa must begin a replacement strategy if it is serious about continental defence and deterring Russia and China.

For Canada, there are two ways to approach replacement. First, Ottawa needs to determine the type of function an RCN submarine will have for Canada’s defence posture. Although, this may prove difficult given the price of the next generation of submarines. A reliable purchase for Ottawa would be to acquire diesel-electric fast attack submarines. However, these types of diesel-electric submarines are insufficient for patrolling waters covered by dense ice, specifically in the deep Arctic, due to their lighter mass and buoyancy, resulting in an inability to penetrate thick Arctic ice when the submarine needs to surface for recharging batteries. Despite these design setbacks, fast attack submarines are more than capable of meeting Canada’s continental defensive needs to patrol, survey, track and intercept enemy submarines along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as in portions of the Arctic, like Pikialasorsuaq, that have year-round thin ice.

With the RCN stipulating the need for 12 new submarines, Ottawa should pursue smaller classes of submarines like the Scorpène-class which is ideally suited for open ocean and littoral operations as well as being multipurpose — fulfilling anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, special operations, and intelligence gathering missions. Moreover, this type of submarine has shown that it can be delivered and commissioned by local partners — Brazil successfully acquired a transfer of technology with the French state-owned shipbuilding firm Naval Group. As Ottawa is investing billions of dollars into Canada’s shipbuilding industry, the Scorpène-class submarines would resonate more among the public as it could be promoted as a Canadian-based project contributing to the CAF’s sea domain.

With the RCN stipulating the need for 12 new submarines, Ottawa should pursue smaller classes of submarines like the Scorpène-class which is ideally suited for open ocean and littoral operations as well as being multipurpose

In its pursuits to defend, deter, and detect deep in the Arctic, Ottawa should pursue a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Navy to co-man American nuclear hunter-killer submarines. Following the insights by retired RCN Rear-Admiral Ian Mack, indicating that “Canada’s domains not having to do everything all at once,” Canada would be best suited to consolidate their subsurface capabilities and experience with American hunter-killer submarines to patrol deep into the Arctic where Russian submarines routinely operate.

Although this approach can limit Canadian objectives to reinforce their territorial claims in the Arctic, it provides a better cost-to-reward ratio for securing Canada’s High North by adopting a “deterrence by denial” posture, implying that Canada will jointly act alongside the US to make any military overturn of the Arctic’s status quo or continental attack infeasible to succeed. With Canada not able to project sub-surface capabilities in the deep Arctic, the balance of force can sway from one pole of power to the other by having a belligerent belief that Canada is unwilling to carry out countermeasures. By using its military experiences, logistics and capabilities to co-man hunter-killer submarines, Canada can showcase its interoperability with America’s sea domain to directly deter threats to its continental and national interests.

More Squadrons and More Fighters

Regarding Canada’s air domain, SSE has laid out an ambitious plan to acquire assets that will elevate CAF’s combat readiness and deterrence. Ranging from the F-35 fighter jets, recapitalizing the next generation of strategic air-to-air tanker transports, and investing in medium altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and military surveillance aircraft, the RCAF is set to become a peer defence partner for multipurpose missions from patrols, surveillance, and deterrence.

However, a noticeable gap in the CAF’s air capabilities demonstrates Ottawa’s lack of strategic vision for defence as an instrument to advance Canada’s national interests. Senior CGAI and MLI Research Fellow Renée Filiatrault pointed out that as “we are buying 88 F-35 fighters, including our NATO and NORAD treaty obligations, the Americans are buying, for the same obligations, 2,457 fighters.” The difference in fighter jet availability between Ottawa and Washington showcases a lack of strategic visions for the role of air power in Canada’s defence policy.

Similar to the CSC, Ottawa will need to increase its expected target of 88 F-35s to a level that can realistically provide around-the-clock defence for the continent, as per Canada’s NORAD commitments, as well as extend the RCAF’s reach to NATO’s eastern flank and the Indo-Pacific. Last year Germany, France, and the UK conducted air missions in the Indo-Pacific to demonstrate their ability to project air power to “protect their territory [in the region] or to protect an ally’s territory” while showcasing their ability to remain capable of defending the European continent.  Seeing as Canada’s European allies are investing in air domains as necessary features of their defence posture, Ottawa needs to realize that it is lagging behind its allies in this area and that a commitment-capability gap in air power can impede the CAF’s ability to defend the continent while also making Canada a liability in collective security agreements.

Seeing as Canada’s European allies are investing in air domains as necessary features of their defence posture, Ottawa needs to realize that it is lagging behind its allies in this area and that a commitment-capability gap in air power can impede the CAF’s ability to defend the continent while also making Canada a liability in collective security agreements.

Problems resulting from Canada’s limited air domain have already emerged. For instance, Ottawa has no plans to redeploy its six CF-18s fighters to Eastern Europe for NATO’s air policing operations due to a lack of upgrades. Moreover, Canada did not send any fighter jets to the German-led Air Defender 23 exercise — the largest-ever showcase of NATO’s air power. With the RCAF having no air capabilities in Europe, Ottawa has no first-hand experience in patrolling and surveying NATO’s eastern flank during a period of armed conflict on Europe’s periphery. Lastly, given the current geostrategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, with China’s A2/AD in the South China Sea to the US, Japan, and South Korea conducting Ballistic Missile Defence drills, exercises that focus on mastering response procedures to a North Korean ICBM provocation, Canada has limited air domain experience in the region aside from minor missions in Operation NEON.

With the first F-35 fighters not being delivered until 2026, Ottawa must consider increasing its purchase of F-35s to over 100 fighters. To accomplish this objective, Ottawa should aim to achieve “deterrence by denial” in its air domain. A first step to gain traction would be to follow through with the 2017 recommendation made by the Senate of Canada to provide the RCAF with a 120-fighter jet fleet. Currently, the RCAF has around 75 CF-18s in its fleet, divided into 4 squadrons — typically involving 12-24 aircraft. In acquiring 120 F-35s, the RCAF could sustain 6 squadrons of 20 fighters each. From here, Ottawa could assign 4 squadrons for continental defence and deploy 1 squadron a piece to the Indo-Pacific and NATO for forward presence operations. These figures would also supersede the recommendations from a 2014 report by Defence Research and Development Canada that urged the RCAF to maintain 12 aircraft for training, 12 domestically and six abroad.

With 4 squadrons of 20 F-35s — totalling 80 fighters — dedicated for continental purposes, Ottawa would also exceed its NORAD obligations of having 36 aircraft available for domestic operations. By having an additional 44 F-35s, Ottawa could take on more responsibility for protecting vital continental locations, thereby collaborating with US air power to sustain conventional overmatch in its air domain to lower strategic risk of potential intrusions or attacks by an adversary on or over Canadian and American military bases, infrastructure, and populace. With 20 F-35s deployed to the Pacific, Ottawa can establish a profound presence by having multiple flights of F-35s — a subservient military unit of a squadron, typically composed of 4 to 6 aircraft — operating above the South and East China Seas, the Taiwan Strait and the Korean peninsula simultaneously or in concert. In addition, 20 F-35s dedicated to NATO could guarantee Canada’s long-term involvement in air operations as well as fill any gaps in NATO’s air domain along the Eastern and Northern Flanks. More importantly, these additional F-35s can also provide NATO’s Battle Group in Latvia — which Canada leads — an auxiliary of advanced fighter jets to reinforce the Alliance’s enhanced vigilance capabilities.


The discussions over fixing Canada’s commitment-capability gap in its defence posture have been around for 40-plus years. Traditionally, the CAF has strived to rectify this issue by having a multi-purpose, multi-capable, and multi-domain military to defend and advance Canada’s defence interests. Central to this aspiration was Canada’s underlying principle of the CAF being an expeditionary force within multilateral entities like NATO or the UN. Although there remains a need for CAF to sustain multi-capable capabilities and be proficient in multi-domains of warfare, the geopolitical environment is changing, bringing fundamental questions about Canada’s defence posture.

Canada’s allies have demonstrated their keenness to address this change by investing in more prevalent domains to defend and deter threats to their national interests and collective security. Canada, for its part, needs to do the same to protect and defend its national interests as well as fulfill its international obligations. To meet this challenge, Ottawa can not remain in the shadow of an assumed American security and defence umbrella or reminisce of a more peaceful period of geopolitics. The hard truth is that Ottawa needs adequate modern capabilities that will elevate Canada’s defensive standing among allies and adversaries to make clear that it will be resolute and steadfast in pursuit of its national defence interests and obligations. By prioritizing continental defence, sea, and air domains, Canada can begin the process of becoming a peer partner for its allies and a serious stakeholder in a more hostile geopolitical environment.

Written By:
Andrew Erskine
Andrew Erskine is a Young Fellow with the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, a research analyst with the NATO Association of Canada and a researcher with the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers.
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