Canada is Joining the Iraq Coalition–And that Matters. (Really!)

Canada is joining a growing group of nations that have committed military resources to the campaign, including France, Britain, Australia, Belgium, Denmark and the UAE. This is a big deal, and not just for Canadians.

As the coalition of countries supporting the US-led campaign grows – both in size and diversity, as Gulf nations and nations who were not part of the 2003 “coalition of the willing” are offering their support – so too does the legitimacy of the military efforts against IS extremists. In a conflict where the enemy has a powerful social media and PR strategy, the broader and more diverse the coalition, the harder it will be for ISIS to single out the US or “the West” as the enemy.

Canada is considering sending two CF-18 fighter jets to participate in the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, as well as an air-to-air refueller aircraft and CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance planes. Canada has already contributed a small number of highly trained special forces soldiers, who are currently deployed on a short term mission in Iraq. The Canadian government is debating these options today, with little parliamentary discussion debate, triggering concerns about political and public support for increasing Canada’s military participation in the campaign.

Canada – like France – was strongly opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and while Canada has not shirked away from military involvement in Afghanistan, Libya or even Kosovo, there are concerns that Stephen Harper’s decision would not reflect the will of the people. Harper said he believes “that the mission undertaken by our allies . . . is of necessary actions and of noble actions,” adding that “when we think something is necessary and noble, we do not sit back and say only other people should do it. The Canadian way is we do our part.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister John Baird, warned that “there are no quick fixes“, and that the public should be prepared for a long term involvement. This is not to say that Canada’s participation will involve troops in a combat role, but it is a realistic assessment of the possibility that Canadian military assets might be engaged for a significant period of time. As the Canadian government weighs its options, one thing is clear: Stephen Harper is not prepared to let Canada stand idly by while other allies are directly involved in the fight against IS, and the Canadian public should be prepared for a new Canadian military campaign in the Middle East.

One of the interesting questions raised by Canada’s growing involvement in the fight against ISIS is whether the military support for the US-led campaign constitute “going to war”, and whether parliamentary approval is required. In the UK, parliament voted in support of airstrikes in Iraq – but not Syria. In France, parliamentary approval was not specifically sought, and the government made the decision as part of our routine defense operations. Moving forward, and as the fight against IS extremists expands and deepens, interesting legal questions will arise: can a country be “at war” with a non-state actor? What degree of parliamentary approval is appropriate, and how will public opinion react?

Photo credit: Stephen Harper’s Flickr Stream.

Caption: PM Harper welcomes home members of the Canadian Armed Forces returning from Canada’s mission in Afghanistan