The Case for Arming Uniformed Military Personnel Inside North America

Posted By March 12, 2015 No Comments

The ‘Global War on Terror’ is a relatively new concept in warfare. Western nations are sluggish in their ability to adapt strategies and tactics to combat the threat, where terrorists who attack western nations have a greater flexibility to adjust their methods. These evolving methods, strategies, tactics, and definitions will require western nations to revise their policies and procedures if they are to adequately combat changing threats. Recent events at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas and at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada highlight the changes in the conceptualization of battlefields and combatants; defense changes are made based on enemy perspective. These changes have resulted in deaths of service men and women and the continued terrorization of civilian populations. As never before, U.S. and Canadian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are identified terrorist targets while serving inside North America. As evidenced by the attacks that have occurred, and the current threats being made, the United States and Canada need to adjust their policies to arm in-uniform military personnel.

Terrorism and the Traditional Battlefield

The term battlefield congers very specific images in the minds of most westerners: it might be a historic landmark in New York or Pennsylvania that was once the site of a famous American Revolutionary or Civil War battle. Some people think of historic sea battles where sieges were set on harbor cities, such as Quebec or Montreal, and others picture cities of Europe in rubble during World War II. Each major conflict has iconic battlefields associated with it. The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary defines battlefield as, “The piece of ground on which a battle is or was fought.” or “A place or situation of strife or conflict.”[1] This definition implies a single location where two sides equally engaged in battle.

The ‘Global War on Terrorism’ has attack sites, such as the World Trade Center or the Pentagon; however, these locations do not fit the conventional definition of battlefield. To further complicate matters, trying to identify future attack sites or battlegrounds is impossible. The U.S. Department of State reports that, “terrorist attacks occurred in 93 different countries in 2013.”[2] In the last 20 years there have been terrorist attacks on land, sea, and air, truly making this a global war. This is a war without boundaries or borders.

Combatants: Targeting US and Canadian Military Personnel in North America

Just as the definition of battlefield has changed, the traditional concept of combatant no longer applies. Terrorist organizations do not subscribe to conventional rules of war and have given very broad definitions of who they deem combatants. U.S. Army Major Michael W. Brough, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point explains how the enemy defines combatants:

“For Al-Qaeda, perhaps, all Americans were the enemy, or perhaps all Americans, uniformed or civilian, who abetted the U.S. military presence in the Middle East (this would justify the attack on the Pentagon, minus the unconnected victims on the plane), or perhaps the Americans who assist the American financial machine and indirectly enable the U.S. presence in the Middle East, as well as Allow the exploitation of other national economies (this would justify the attack on the World Trade Center) [sic].”[3]

Hamas and Hezbollah consider all Israelis as legitimate military targets. According to these groups, Israel’s military service obligation makes all citizens future, current, or former military members. The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as having the following characteristics:

“Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”[4]

One could interpret the inclusion of “civilian population” in this definition as an exclusion of an attack on military population.

The fact is, terrorist attacks on U.S. and Canadian in-uniform and military personnel have occurred in North America. In 2009 U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 12 and wounded 31 unarmed U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood near Killen, Texas.[5] Almost 5 years later, on 22 October, 2014 Cp. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed on guard at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa while ceremonially guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The gunman then went on to attack people inside the Canadian Parliament.[6] The U.S. government labeled the Fort Hood shooting as an act of workplace violence even though the shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, stated it was terrorism.[7] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper quickly and publically declared the war memorial and Parliament attack as act of terrorism.[8] The designation of workplace violence or terrorism is a distinction without difference to the unarmed victims, military members, and citizens-at-large.

The threat to unarmed and in-uniform military personnel is continuing, and future attacks are probable. On 23 September, 2014 the U.S. Army Integration Center (ARTIC) issued a Special Assessment: ISIL[9] Threats Against the Homeland. In the bulletin the ARTIC warns of, “potential threats posed by ISIL, its supporters, those swayed by radical Islam and lone offenders.”[10] The ARTIC quotes a Fox News report that, “Based on a law enforcement bulletin citing a jihadist tweet ISIL has called on lone offenders in the US to use the ‘yellow pages,’ social media sites like Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter to find the addresses of service members, ‘show up [at their homes] and slaughter them.’”[11]

There are over 1.4 million men and women on active duty and another 1.1 million serving in the National Guard and Reserve forces serving in the United States.[12] In Canada, the National Defence and the Canadian Forces number 43,365 full time and 27,135 part time uniformed personnel.[13] Only a fraction of these combined military forces serve in what is traditionally considered an active war zone (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan) where they would be armed and capable of defending themselves. Furthermore, no individual spends their entire in-uniform existence in a designated war zone; indeed, there are over 3.2 million unarmed and in-uniform military personnel that could be targeted by terrorists. In their report entitled Terrorism 2002-2005, the FBI lists an operational trend evident in the militant Islamic jihad movements as, “a preference for high-casualty, high-profile attacks directed against lower-risk, unofficial, so-called ‘soft’ targets, as traditional military and diplomatic targets become increasingly hardened.”[14] The attacks that have occurred and those threatened on unarmed and in-uniform military personnel have provided the enemy with military-targets that, because they are unarmed, still meet the definition of soft targets.

Arming all In-uniform Military Personnel

There are multiple benefits to arming all on-duty in-uniform personnel: self-defense, the defense of those in the immediate area, and to prevent future of attacks. Both the Fort Hood and the Canadian National War Memorial Attacks were conducted by jihadist operating without specific direction from the command and control element of a recognized terrorist organization. These ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks are difficult for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to detect, disrupt, or prevent. The attackers were operating on ideology and cannot have been recognized by uniform, race, gender or other physical profile criteria. In both cases there was no warning prior to the attack; the shooting was the first indication that an attack was occurring. The victims of these attacks (and the targets of the ISIL threats) were military personnel who were trained to respond and defend with deadly force. The victims in both attacks were unarmed and defenseless at the time of the attacks. Most military personnel are unarmed unless serving in an active war zone or undergoing certain types of training. If properly armed at all times, while in uniform, military personnel would have the tool necessary to use their training to protect their lives and the lives around them.

In the previously mentioned ARTIC bulletin the actions recommended to military personnel are to: “think before you post (on social media),” but, “While most of these measures are primarily geared toward home burglaries, when implemented these same measures can help prevent an individual from conducting an attack while you or your family members are home,” and to, “be aware of your surroundings and report all suspicious activity…”[15] Additionally troubling in the bulletin is the fact the ARTIC quotes Fox News as citing a law enforcement bulleting. A direct threat against military personnel could be a highly time-sensitive mater given the military’s current policy of defense consists of being alert.

The enemy can attack and threaten our military personnel precisely because these men and women are highly visible and unarmed. Arming all in-uniform military personnel would not only increase each member’s ability for self-protection, it would provide a large force-multiplier in prevention and response to a terrorist attack. Additionally, it is not only in-uniform military who are at risk, these attacks and threats radiate outward to civilian military employees, military family members and civilians—all of whom would be better defended by a trained and armed military member on the scene. Both the Fort Hood and Canadian War Memorial shooters were stopped only once armed and trained people responded and reacted.

In the United States there is evidence to support the assertion that when more civilians are armed and prepared to defend themselves violent crime rates decline. Nationally, the number of National Firearms Act (NFA) firearms processed by the ATF has steadily risen each year from 2005 to 2012 according to the statistics US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) website.[16] At the same time, firearms purchases increased and violent crime rates continued to decline. The FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report reveal overall declines in both the number of violent crimes and the number of property crimes reported for the first six months of 2014 when compared with figures for the first six months of 2013. The report is based on information from 11,009 law enforcement agencies that submitted three to six months of comparable data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program for the first six months of 2013 and 2014.[17] While a direct parallel outcome is not guaranteed, it would be logical to assume that arming over 3 million trained military personnel would first improve their own safety, second the safety of those around them and third deter potential attacks in a civilian populated area.


Canada and the United States can no longer apply antiquated concepts of warfare to the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ The enemy has already unilaterally changed the rules of engagement and attacked. Terrorists have proved that they can and will strike at uniformed military in North America with little to no actionable warning. While trained to identify and respond to danger, unarmed military personnel become soft targets for jihadists operating directly or indirectly of terrorist organizations’ command. In addition, the attacks of military personnel in North America are viewed as victories by the jihadist while also serving to demoralize U.S. and Canadian citizens who view our military as our protectors and defenders of our rights. It is illogical, unwise and unconscionable to continue to leave our service men and women defenseless in a war without boundaries or borders.