Editor’s Note: Sean H. Henry is known for his strong opinions on defence matters. Please be aware that the following views do not necessarily represent those of e-Veritas or the RMC Club of Canada.
THE CANADIAN DEFENCE CONUNDRUM
Article by 4270 Sean H. Henry
Many knowledgeable Canadians would agree that the state of defence policy and the armed forces in this country have been unsatisfactory since 1970. The problem is that few Canadians are knowledgeable in these matters. However, recent articles published in the National Post and Legion magazine provide stark examples of how serious the situation continues to be.
The editorial in the Post of 24th November discusses the fiasco associated with the replacement of the air force’s fighter fleet and the crisis involving a shortage of pilots and maintainers to operate all airplanes, old or new. In the same category one can place the ongoing procurement problems linked to the much vaunted ship replacement program
The Legion article, by respected defence analyst David Bercuson, provides a guide to current Canadian Armed Forces overseas commitments. It portrays an exercise in tokenism (or an example in total of commitments “a mile wide and an inch deep”). The Trudeau government’s defence of this approach, arguing that an application of selected capabilities is more productive than raising defence expenditure to 2% of GDP, rings hollow. Moreover, it is likely troops would be returned to Canada if combat operations broke out.
To understand this situation it is necessary to study the factors driving it. These include: reluctance in Quebec to undertake overseas combat operations, as opposed to contributing forces solely to the defence of Quebec/Canada; pacifism initiated by the growth of liberal internationalism after WW 1, reinforced by the social upheavals of the ‘60s; blowback from the war in Vietnam; and an unsustainable Canadian health care system (there is no money left for defence or anything else).
Collectively these factors have produced a significant cohort of Canadians who believe that there is little reason to maintain armed forces at all! Surely a unique view in the world.
Most importantly, one must also understand the legacy of Pierre Trudeau related to matters of Canadian defence In April 1969 he arbitrarily declared he intended to pull troops out of Germany, quit NATO and join the neutral/non-aligned group of nations. Through a combination of arm twisting and sage advice by allies he relented – but only partially. Since then the Canadian defence malaise has been extant. Only the War in Afghanistan caused a hurried and partial recovery, but even contributions to it faltered in the end.
It seems that Justin Trudeau has inherited his father’s views of Canada’s military by seeking to groom it as a “light and agile” force, assigned primarily to home/North American defence, with only token forces sent overseas on training missions, humanitarian tasks and disaster relief.
One more important factor not listed above is the influence of top echelons of the federal bureaucracy in the creation and implementation of defence policy. In the early days, many were exposed to the pacifist approach of liberal internationalism (military force in international affairs should be illegal, and expenditures thereon are immoral). Others started their careers in the 1970s and became inured to the policy of keeping the defence budget low and the armed forces small and marginally equipped.
In response they generated a ‘policy model’ used to advise politicians. Components include: avoidance of overseas combat operations; focus on minimal contributions to the UN, humanitarian, and disaster assistance tasks; keep contributions within the limits of one army battle group (plus one more in Canada for rotation at six month intervals); air force “six packs;” one small independent navy task group; and to the extent possible keep Canadian contributions within the realms of training and logistic support.
The first example of this policy in application was the Canadian contribution to the first Gulf War in 1991. Senior bureaucrats had been instrumental in quashing the plan for Operation Broadsword, the deployment of a mechanized brigade group. The second Gulf War in 1993 saw the Canadian contribution sink to only a cash payment. This was the start of the so-called “Decade of Darkness” during which elements of the CAF sank close to the point of extinction.
Furthermore, it seems senior bureaucrats are determined to prevent the armed forces being treated as anything beyond civil servants in uniform (demilitarization of the military). The most serious effects of this policy have been evident in the areas of procurement and veterans’ benefits. In both cases the aim has been to reduce allocation of money to defence ends so as to have more for social programs. Their chief modus operandi is to endlessly delay or recast decisions.
If president Trump is not re-elected it is likely that the Liberals will quickly revise the Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy statement back to its “light and agile beginnings” — with forces assigned only to non-combat roles. The public needs to be educated as to why this is not in the best interests of Canada. Instead, the country needs to field armed forces of reasonable sufficiency and demonstrate its will to fight with allies to maintain peace and freedom. This will produce casualties but there are no perfect solutions in human affairs.
An essential element in this unfortunate discussion is that Canadians are unaware of (or refuse to accept) the facts involved. This condition is driven/reinforced by artificial interpretations of Canada and its impact on world events. Top of the list would be belief in the egregious myth of peacekeeping. However, defence is the leading priority for all societies wishing to maintain their national interests and a satisfactory way of life. That reality is accepted by most nations and there is non-partisan support for effective armed forces.
In the past, Canadians were motivated to go to war to defend the freedoms maintained by guarantors in more powerful societies – first the British and latterly the Americans. Today there is still a rough parallel to that situation (NATO & NORAD), but Canada’s contributions to defence coalitions are far below what is expected of a G7 nation. Moreover, huge and rapid advances in technology mean that modern armed forces cost much more and there is less time available to build them to defend against aggression and threats to national well-being.
Solutions to the problem need to be addressed under two headings: raising public knowledge; and, forcing political action to create solutions. Much good work is done by Bercuson and others, but they are not successful in gaining the level of attention needed in public affairs to force political action. Until the latter occurs there will be no improvements in Canadian defence.
Canadians need to be convinced that great societies of the past began to fall when they lost the political will to defend themselves. A prominent example would be the Romans who ceased sending their army into battles and instead trained the barbarians. We know how that ended and we should not overlook the fact that we and other nations in the West are heading down the same road. It remains a sad fact that freedom and national well being are still achieved by soldiers dying in battle. This may ultimately change but certainly not until well into a future that is not apparent at this time.
RMC graduates are well equipped to understand these matters and those who are retired from the armed forces or pursued careers in other fields should not hesitate to inform the public and convince the government to clean house and create reasonably effective armed forces for Canada.