Minister won't say whether Canada wants to join the AUKUS defence pact

Defence Minister Anita Anand speaks to the media during the Ukraine Security Consultative Group meeting at Ramstein air base on April 26, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images - image credit)
Defence Minister Anita Anand speaks to the media during the Ukraine Security Consultative Group meeting at Ramstein air base on April 26, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images - image credit)

Canada would like closer cooperation with its closest allies in the areas of artificial intelligence, quantum computing and advanced technology, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Monday.

But she refused to say whether her government has formally asked its allies for permission to join the AUKUS defence and security pact in a non-nuclear capacity.

The deal — involving the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia — was announced in September 2021, much to the surprise of many western allies.

A major component of the pact involves the acquisition by Australia of American and British nuclear submarine technology. Less well-known are the aspects of the agreement that deal with technology transfers and the sharing of sensitive intelligence.

The Liberal government previously dismissed AUKUS as an attempt by Washington to sell nuclear submarines to its allies. But many in Canada's defence and security establishment — both inside and outside of government — have expressed concern about Ottawa's absence from the pact, especially when it comes to technology and intelligence-sharing.

The Globe and Mail reported on Monday that Canada is interested in becoming part of the non-nuclear portion of AUKUS — essentially the technology transfer aspect, minus the nuclear submarines. New Zealand reportedly has expressed the same interest.

"Canada is highly interested in furthering cooperation on AI, quantum computing and other advanced technologies ... with our closest allies," Anand told reporters following the arrival of Poland's deputy prime minister at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. "We are always looking for ways to facilitate and collaborate with our closest allies on these and other measures."

She pointed to the existing intelligence-sharing arrangement among the "Five Eyes" group of western nations — the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand — and insisted cooperation among them remains solid.

Anand was asked by reporters three times whether Canada had asked allies for permission to join AUKUS. She avoided answering the question.

WATCH: Defence Minister Anita Anand on Canada and AUKUS

Several defence sources tell CBC News there has been no formal request to join the arrangement, non-nuclear or otherwise, but there have been recent discussions about efforts to cooperate further on technology which might "intersect" with AUKUS.

Earlier this year, Canada's vice chief of the defence staff opened a "capability dialogue" with her British counterpart.

CBC News is not naming the confidential sources of information because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

Since the AUKUS deal was announced, allies have held several meetings during which the Canadian representatives were "quite vocal" about their absence from the table, the sources said.

The message from allies in return, said sources, was that Canada needed to be prepared to "step up and deliver capabilities," preferably hard military equipment, in order to be part of the security and defence pact.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan described Canada's absence from the pact as a major failure on the part of the Liberal government.

"Canada should be a part of it, whether or not Canada can be a part of it based upon the current government, their lack of investment in our armed forces as well as their inability to make decisions," Bezan said Monday.

Allies alarmed by state of Canada's military: report

Citing leaked intelligence reports authored by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Washington Post reported a few weeks ago that allies are becoming increasingly worried about the state of Canada's military capabilities and readiness.

Some allies, one of the sources said, have largely given up and now look to Canada to provide what is known as "white collar defence capabilities" — a reference to cyber warfare and intelligence.

But Canada's edge in that field could be eroded by some of the cooperation already taking place under the auspices of AUKUS.

Australia now has a direct pipeline to some of the most advanced AI research being conducted by the U.S. and Britain, along with military hardware.

Through the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, Washington has indicated that by 2025, "the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community must be AI-ready."

Recently, the U.S. Air Force created its own venture capital division, AFVentures. One of the companies it has funded is the Australia-based Curious Things, which is being contracted to revamp the USAF recruiting system.

Harald Tittel/The Associated Press
Harald Tittel/The Associated Press

In addition, the AUKUS deal opened the door for Australia to acquire long-range AGM-158B joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, which can be loaded on either F-18s or F-35s.

The autonomous, long-range missile, with a range of up to 900 kilometres, is a step up from the current missiles Australia is using.

Canada is also planning to buy the F-35 stealth fighter and recently signaled a $6.3 billion purchase of air-to-air missiles. To attack ground targets, the Canadian air force uses the GBU-53/B StormBreaker smart bomb, which requires the warplane to get in close to the target.

From a military perspective, the sources said, Canada has been concerned about maintaining interoperability with its allies.