In the past decade cybersecurity issues have progressed from being a niche technical area of public policy to a mainstream matter in public policy discourse. Concurrently, the specter of cyberwarfare has grown from being a speculative issue in the field of strategic studies, to common tool in international relations. States now pursue their national interests digitally through sophisticated hacking and cyberwarfare programs. Geopolitics has moved into cyberspace.
Canada has been a laggard in reacting to this new reality in strategic affairs. Both its domestic security and defence policies have been reactive to issues such as cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and securing Canada's digital economy. Canadian policy in these areas has been developed in an incrementalist manner, and is naïve in the way it frames threats to Canadian security in cyberspace. Furthermore, it has been mute on the development Canadian cyberwarfare capabilities.
In June 2017 the Trudeau government published an updated defence policy white paper— named Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada's Defence Policy—that will set the direction of the Canadian Armed Forces over the coming years. One of the most notable developments in this new defence policy is a new mandate for Canada's military to develop an offensive cyberwarfare capability. While the white paper provides few details on the specifics of such a capability, it does represent a leap in Canadian security thinking.
This paper will investigate whether such an offensive cyberwarfare capability, as called for in the 2017 defence white paper, will enhance Canada's national security. It does so by examining seven theories of why states develop cyberwarfare capabilities, and then tests these cyberwarfare rationales against Canada's unique strategic position in world affairs. The paper finds that an offensive cyberwarfare capability would enhance Canadian security by augmenting Canada's conventional military capabilities and signaling to Canada's allies that Canada is a sophisticated and dependable security partner. The paper concludes that the 2017 defence policy is a step in the right direction when it comes to defence and security policy.