Canadian military explored plan to fully integrate forces with U.S.

A Canadian military effort to formally create integrated forces with the United States for expeditionary operations included an even more ambitious option, considered when top generals from the two countries met to discuss a plan to fully integrate military forces.

Top generals met to discuss possibility of fully integrating Canadian and U.S. militaries

Canadian Forces depart for a special operation at Sanjaray in Kandahar province, Afghanistan in May 2009. CBC News has learned that top generals from Canada and the U.S. considered a plan to integrate forces. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

CBC News has learned that a Canadian military effort to formally create integrated forces with the United States for expeditionary operations included an even more ambitious option — a plan to fully integrate military forces, explored during a meeting with the top generals from the two countries.

The Canadian military efforts were ultimately shut down and refocused on improving interoperability between the forces.

Information provided by the Department of National Defence shows the Canada-U.S. Integrated Forces program was led at the highest levels, with then Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey (now retired), meeting on "several occasions" to hash out a plan that included an option for "fully integrated forces."

On Monday, CBC News reported that the Canadian military had been working on a plan to create a binational integrated military force with the U.S., under which air, sea, land and special operations forces would be jointly deployed under unified command outside Canada.

Now retired U.S. general Martin Dempsey, left, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired general Tom Lawson, former chief of the defence staff, had met on a number of occasions to discuss a program of integration. (Reuters)

That force was described by a military source as a deliberate arrangement, scaled according to the nature of the conflict it expected to face, with formally established rules for command and control and logistics.

Discussion of the plans for an integrated unit was contained in an October 2013 briefing note prepared by the military's Strategic Joint Staff and obtained through access to information.

Government not part of discussions

Daniel Proussalidis, a spokesman from the defence minister's office, said in an email to CBC News Monday the document was not presented to the defence minister and the government has not considered its contents.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney and Gen. Tom Lawson speak to the media in Ottawa in April. The Defence Department says the government was not part of high-level discussions to integrate Canadian and U.S. forces for missions abroad. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"The government has neither expressed interest in the concept of Canada-U.S. force integration nor directed exploration of it," Proussalidis told CBC News.

A Conservative spokesman also said the party had no desire to establish a "standing integrated force."

But the new information from the Defence Department shows the planning was deliberate and sustained, and it happened at the highest levels of both forces.

Those two comments raise the possibility the plan was being pursued without the specific direction or approval of the Conservative government.

The Defence Department says three different concepts were reviewed:

  • Enhancing military interoperability and co-operation.
  • Creating an integrated force of specially designated national units to deploy abroad.
  • "Fully integrated forces."

A fully integrated force could be politically dangerous in Canada, where there are perennial concerns about the quality of a bilateral relationship described by some as akin to sharing a bed with an elephant.

Concerns over Canadian control

There would also be deep concerns about maintaining national control over the Canadian Forces, particularly as it relates to questions about the use of force and varying interpretations of international law.

In the end, the Defence Department says, "Gen. Lawson indicated that Canada was not prepared to field fully integrated land forces at this time."

"The two armies do not intend to field formally integrated forces at this time," wrote DND spokesman Dominique Tessier in an email.

"Instead, they are developing the capability to operate together on any mission authorized by the government of Canada. Canada-U.S. co-operation is excellent; we are trying to make it better."

A member of Canadian Forces Special Operations JTF2 unit storms a ship during a training exercise off the shores of Churchill, Man., in August 2012. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada and the United States have long maintained fully integrated air forces in the form of the North American Aerospace Defence command, a binational unit that protects the air approaches to the continent.

Norad commanders are able to deploy and control forces of each other's militaries in pursuit of the goal of common defence.

Norad has also assumed increasing responsibility to provide warning and target information for naval forces that protect the maritime approaches to North America.

But those efforts are focused on defence; the integrated forces planning was for expeditionary forces to be deployed on operations overseas.

The Defence Department says the planning began as an attempt to maintain the level of interoperability with U.S. forces achieved during the long war in Afghanistan.


James Cudmore covered politics and military affairs for CBC News until Jan. 8, 2016.