The Canadian military’s 15-year old “Counterinsurgency Doctrine,” which is up for review this year, includes long paragraphs about the need to be on the lookout for “strikes” and “absenteeism,” and to screen for “disloyal” workers among labour pools during insurgency operations. More broadly, it warns about armed uprisings drawing on support from “disaffected” and “unemployed” people across the world.

The Canadian Armed Forces’ 249-page doctrine was first drafted in 2008 with the expectation that “future operations” would likely involve wars against “insurgencies” at home and abroad. It warns about “passive” forms of protest and labour disobedience alongside “terrorism” as examples of insurgent strategies.

The document warns that popular grievances can be exploited by insurgent forces. Insurgencies, it explains, “thrive in states lacking efficient, stable or popular governments, conditions that are aggravated by economic weakness, corruption or foreign agitation.” In particular, it states that “unemployed or disaffected members of the populace” could be convinced into carrying out attacks in return for offers of “remuneration.”

Insurgent forces, according to the document, seek to use social grievances to “undermine the authority and legitimacy of the official government and supporting forces.” The document characterizes fights against insurgents as hinging on “a battle of wills.”

In addition to warning about the military aspects of insurgencies and terrorism, the document advises that oppositional tactics can include strikes, sit-ins and other non-military means. It brands such actions as potential vectors for would-be insurgents.

Regarding strikes and “absenteeism,” the document warns:

“Passive sabotage is generally aimed at causing disorder and disruption by deliberate error, contrived accident, absenteeism or strikes. The target can be industry, public services, supplies or troops, where action is usually planned on a wide scale through political front organizations.”

The document also mentions sit-in protests as another form of passive disruption, particularly within “liberal societies”:

“Examples of passive resistance include withdrawing labour from public services, obstructing the law or sit-ins in public places … insurgent leaders will encourage passive measures on behalf of the larger population in order to undermine the authority of the government and disrupt civil society through agitation. They may also seek to provoke violence during public demonstrations in hopes of causing an overreaction by the government forces and creating another claim to injustice and a sense of alienation and frustration amongst the populace.”

In countering such methods, the document advises that military forces should be on the lookout for “insurgent infiltration of Labour.” In addition to having “security forces living amongst the population” for the purpose of “enhanc[ing] the intelligence network,” the document recommends that potential hires for work on ports, roads, railways and other government choke-points should be vetted extensively in order to block “disloyal” elements.

The document states:

“lt must be assumed that hostile intelligence agents will infiltrate local labour. At the very least, their supporters will exist amongst ready labour pools. lt will be difficult for incoming units and security sections to distinguish between loyal and disloyal elements. To reduce the potential threat to base installations, ports, airports, roads and railways, reliance must be placed on good unit and installation security and an efficient local vetting system.”

In terms of its broader strategies for intelligence gathering, the document warns that interrogation can be a “sensitive” issue, but also potentially useful as “prisoners can be an important source of information.”

Adam D.K. King, a labour researcher and author of The Maple’s Class Struggle newsletter, said the doctrine’s comparable treatment of violence and civil disobedience is striking.

“Historically, labour movements around the world have been central actors in the democratization of societies,” King explained. “In fact, a strong, independent labour movement is a hallmark of a free society. That the Canadian military takes the view it does of labour action is deeply troubling."

Back in 2010, Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders branded the document “Canada's military manual and operational manifesto for the Afghanistan war.” But the document's list of potential enemies goes well beyond the Taliban and its affiliated groups.

Alongside “Religious insurgents,” the document warns military personnel that they will be called upon to wage campaigns against liberation struggles like those seen in the twentieth century. Specific case studies cited in the document include the French government’s “pacification” wars in Algeria and Vietnam, the United Kingdom’s brutal Mau Mau campaign in Kenya and the crushing of the 1918 German Revolution.

One form of insurgency that the document highlights in particular is “egalitarian” movements that seek to establish “centrally controlled structures and institutions by mobilizing the people (masses) to provide equality in the distribution of all state resources.”

Crushing Armed Insurgencies

Beyond paying lip service to helping local governments “address” popular grievances and the root causes of social unrest in the long term, the document advises using substantial force against armed oppositional elements.

In a section titled “Attacking The Insurgents’ Will,” recommended strategies aimed at pre-empting an “anticipated event” include “sniper detachments” as part of a “cunning use of surveillance.” Elsewhere, the document recommends precision strikes, and a “high volume of aircraft sorties” for “close fire support.”

Further on, the document advises that “the value [of] removing or killing an insurgent leader must be carefully considered” because doing so might embolden their supporters. Later, the doctrine recommends conducting attacks on the physical, ideological and “psychological” fronts:

“Most initial military tactical efforts will be focused on breaking the link between the insurgent and the people. This is not only a physical link, but the psychological link of moral support. The former will entail physical activities, whilst the latter will entail influence activities that undermine and attack the insurgent ideology, narrative and claims to authority and legitimacy.”

Similarly, the Canadian military’s broader ACT Doctrine advises:

“Security presence patrols may fix an insurgent to operating within a limited area while electronic warfare (EW) assets block insurgent radio messages yet allow alternative media messages to fix the spread of insurgent propaganda, thus fixing the insurgent’s ability to influence a population.”

In an emailed statement to The Maple, Major Derek Reid confirmed that the 2008 counterinsurgency doctrine is still current, and said the doctrine aims to guide Canada’s military leaders. “It is authoritative but requires judgment in application,” he explained.

However, Reid said the doctrine is up for “review priority at an Army Doctrine Development Board to be convened this year.”

The board’s site describes the doctrines it develops more concretely as “the intellectual foundation for land operations and force development.” As part of the development process, the board says it works with "both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand (ABCANZ) Armies Program.”

NATO’s 2020 document, “Future Trends In Insurgency And Counterinsurgency,” warns about the rise of “egalitarian” movements and “economic insurgencies,” suggesting that these will affect "Latin America, Africa, and South-East Asia in the medium and long term.”

According to NATO’s report: “Future economic crises or outbreaks of violence where there are stark disparities of wealth or access to resources are likely to develop into economic or commercial insurgencies.”

NATO’s report claims that “Hybridised Urban-Maoist Guerrilla Warfare” may also emerge, building a potential for “huge demonstrations” in urban centres:

“The modern megalopolis or conurbation might recreate the sort of space and camouflage required by a Maoist strategy. The ownership of cars and trucks (for the movement of fighters, munitions or bombs), radios and mobile phones, a cadre of educated technicians, the availability of petrol and chemicals, the potential for huge demonstrations, and the ready availability of a news-hungry media for propaganda messages or incidents suggest that independent urban guerrilla warfare is possible.”

Mitchell Thompson is a writer with PressProgress and occasional radio producer based in Toronto.

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