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4270 Sean H. Henry: The Canadian Defence Conundrum

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.

16 Comments

  • Gordon Hamilton

    December 10, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Great article Sean. I am not hopeful for any change, regardless of whether the government is Liberal or Conservative. We are effectively a vassal state of the US, relying on them to protect us, with all the loss of sovereignty that implies.

  • Paul Crober

    December 10, 2018 at 11:45 am

    As usual Sean nails it.
    This short essay neatly describes the panoply of mostly negative decisions on defence from 1970 onwards that has so circumscribed our defence potential. He hits on all the “reasons why” as well. It is an accurate and immensely disturbing piece.

  • Doug Matthews

    December 10, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    This is a very well written and thought-provoking article. I certainly agree with everything Sean and previous commenters have said. However, it seems that the Canadian public will have a tough time siding with military expansion when there is so much pressure to maintain a high standard of health care and profitable pension funds. Of course this is all complicated by the need to generate national revenue, made much more difficult when two of our main exports (oil, cars) are declining with no other sources of equal revenue are in sight. And the Trudeau legacy just keeps on taking.

  • Doug Matthews

    December 10, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    This is a very well written and thought-provoking article. I certainly agree with everything Sean and previous commenters have said. However, it seems that the Canadian public will have a tough time siding with military expansion when there is so much pressure to maintain a high standard of health care and profitable pension funds. Of course this is all complicated by the need to generate national revenue, made much more difficult when two of our main exports (oil, cars) are declining when no other sources of equal revenue are in sight. And the Trudeau legacy just keeps on taking.

  • Ian Yeates

    December 10, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    No argument with the argument. Adding to the woe is the fact that numbers matter. For a military (all branches) to be any good at all you need numbers. While a catastrophe on the scale of the last century’s world wars seems unlikely, among the probable costs is a repeat of the of the bloodbath that the numerically derisory armed forces that were thrown into the conflict in 1914 and 1939 endured. This criticism is not by any stretch confined to Canada as the British Army, for but one example, was completely ill-equipped in terms of skilled personnel for the war it was to fight. You need to invest in those resources in times of peace in order to help avoid needless losses. I see not the slightest interest in the Canadian body politic to learn from the past and apply those lessons to the present, particularly if there is a financial sacrifice to discuss. I won’t even embark on the sorry saga of capital procurement. How to engage the decision makers in a serious discussion and analysis is seemingly beyond solution. You’ll note the current, overriding, focus is humiliating VAdm Norman, not getting the stalled shipbuilding strategy going.
    I’ll stop. I’ve gone on too long already. Good article.

  • Max Entropy

    December 10, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    Hmm…
    .
    I am in complete opposition to Sean’s views for the following reasons:
    .
    1: Canada should have no role in a NATO presence in the Black Sea, nor in the Baltic Sea; nor in the Persian Gulf… as these locations fall outside the pervue of the North Atlantic program. Since when did NATO or the Canadian Forces seek funding permission from Canadian tax payers and citizens to participate in adventurous American and European foreign campaigns???
    .
    2: Putting troops on Russia’s borders is a silly endeavour. Future wars will be controlled/instigated by submarines sitting off our coasts and hypersonic space based systems… and then robots and AIs… hey, we are half way there now with the drone programs.
    .
    3: Canada does not have the tech to compete effectively with the Russians, the Chinese and the Americans. No money, no tech. Think about ‘USS Donald Cook’. Think ‘Sukou’.
    .
    I expect that Canadian tax payers would be cool with funding ‘defensive postures’ from within Canadian borders.
    .
    Everyone knows that the ‘wars’ are resource based wars:
    – Middle East… energy corridors to Europe to displace Russian pipelines
    – Iran, Pakistan, the Stans and India… to block China’s Silk Road 2/ One Belt-One Road
    – Northern Europe… to block Russian pipelines
    – South China Seas… to block China’s trade and energy imports
    .
    .
    Bercuson will need to up his game. It is no longer viable to advocate for simplistic solutions and expect that Canadians will be too un- informed to debate these topics publicly.
    .
    Canada should do the following:
    A: Become a neutral player in global trade.
    B: Put more money into the far north infrastructure.
    C: Put more money into global mesh networked economies… which can pull on innovation from Canadian universities.
    D: Reduce our provincial and national debts.
    E: Put funding into areas that will be affected by Global Cooling. Think ‘Maunder Minimum’
    F: Open regulatory process to the new Internet of Value – crypto tokens. This tech will replace the existing USD system… for everything from stocks, to currency, to voting. Canadians should be enabling universities to turn out students that can compete globally, as opposed to following limited US models of commerce.

    Informed readers may find the following blog thought provoking:
    https://thesaker.is

    Additionally… google ‘William Engdhal’ to better understand China’s One Belt – One Road trade initiative. This land based trade route initiative threatens the UK and US naval /sea based economies.

    It is always about the money; about the trade; about economies. Militaries are just the mechanics of these white collar industries.
    .
    Think.

  • Emil Bizon

    December 10, 2018 at 10:51 pm

    This article is a hopeless diatribe, glaringly directed at the Liberal government and, obliquely, at French Canadians. The first sentence and paragraph imply a smug superiority emanating from a background imbued with the idea Americans possess all truths; British attempts to regain former glories by having a death grip on US coat-tails seem, as well, to be a motivation.
    The Cold War was a fabrication based on intelligence created by Reinhard Gehlen, the Nazi head of intelligence on the Soviet front, and by an American military-industrial establishment unwilling to give up its pampered status. A new Cold War is now being generated when the main threat to world peace since WWII has been and is our nearest neighbor. Three million dead Vietnamese, a million dead Cambodians, a half million dead Iraqis, tens of thousands dead in Afghanistan attest to this.
    Attesting to this also are dozens of murdered leaders around the world: Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala in 1954, Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran, Salvador Allende in Chile, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1961, Khadaffi in Libya only a few years ago, Sokarno in Indonesia, Goulart in Brazil and the kidnapping of Hugo Chavez by Venezuelan troops, bribed by the US, and his subsequent rescue by the loyal army. One should also not forget the democratic methods used to acquire the Panama Canal Zone from Columbia in 1898, the attack on Cuba following the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana, claimed to be a Spanish attack and which was, in reality, a coal dust explosion, and the subsequent war and brutal occupation of the Philippines. The displacement of the population of the Chagos Archipelago was part of the same imperative- the US declares a defense need against a threat only they identify and the world must make way.
    Henry deplores our absence from Bush’s war to remove WMD’s from Iraq. Jean Chretien calls that his proudest moment and most Canadians would agree.
    He, Henry, also deplores the fact our health care is depriving the military of its play-things. Maybe that notion should be presented to the Canadian population in a referendum.
    We should, especially as graduates of RMC, be acutely conscious of Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about the military-industrial complex to which, in the US, most analysts are adding universities.
    Someone should identify the potential enemy we are facing, other than our neighbor, and the Canadian population would then know why their hard-earned money is being taken from them to buy hardware which ends up on the scrap heap without ever being used as intended. To say we must spend two percent of our GDP on the Armed Forces is silly beyond all logic.

  • 4135 George W. Hosang

    December 11, 2018 at 1:04 am

    As an RCAF CF-100 pilot after graduating from RMC in 1958 and UofT in 1959, I was very disappointed, while I was in 3rd/fourth year, PM Diefenbaker cancelled the CF-105 Arrow program and destroyed everything related to it, shattering my hopes of flying the best aircraft in the world for decades to come. I left the RCAF as soon as my compulsory service was complete and after several years left for the US. I hazard the opinion that the “liberalization” of Canada, at least for me , began in those days. If, as others have stated here, that process at least received a boost for the decades following 1970, it probably got another boost later from the US when military funding suffered significant cuts and struggles when lesser procurements and base closures were a la mode. These attitudes have only seemed to change in the US with Trump beating the drum with military spending beginning to be substantially increased over the past year or so. Whether that will survive with the trillions he has added to the national debt remains to be seen, especially if he manages to arm-twist Congress for at least $25 billion for his WALL on top of that. There is, however, a vocal opposition now to US armed forces engagements in foreign situations and that could spread to the detriment of increased military funding, perhaps even reinforcing that existing Canadian political sentiment.

  • Max Entropy

    December 11, 2018 at 2:31 am

    Hi Hosang,
    .
    I have a relative (now deceased) that as a test pilot flew the Avro Arrow. I am not a military guy, but I have heard that the US pressured Defienbaker to drop the Arrow… hnce chopping it up and casting it to the winds/lakes.
    .
    From a technology perspective, for Canadian R&D, this was a terrible decision. Equally as terrible as the Harper decision to cast Nortel down the drain. Nortel/Bell-Northern Research lead at several times key components of Internet TCP/IP and HTTP R&D. My research and development point would be that these projects – form the basis, form the foundations of future spin-off products and serve to develop Canadian people, in Canada. As Defienbaker and Harper were both Conservative I wonder if there is a parallel? That said, I do not see the Liberals behaving differently. Maybe it is a Canadian small mentality issue.
    .
    I would be interested in your opinion on US pressure to drop superior technology.

  • Clive Addy, 6873

    December 12, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks Sean and fellow contributors,
    After 43 years wearing the uniform serving our wonderful country, I am still shocked that an objective, properly forward looking and well supported and equipped defence policy and force can still not be provided. Our own security (internal and external) comes first, then follows honouring FAIR SHARE cotribution to allied and international organizations against modern external aggression and threats to our trade and well being. HELP . Get off the Sunny ways!! Produce and pay for what you need. Reduce process increase common sense.

  • J. R. Digger MacDougall

    December 12, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    God read. Enjoyed supportive contributions and counter arguments as well. However, in the final analysis, when the balloon goes up Canada will not be ready. Nor are we ready now to field a group for humanitarian aid, peacekeeping or assistance to civil authorities. If Canada expects citizens to be available when needed the seeds must be planted now.

  • Mike Kennedy #12570

    December 12, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    This is an interesting and well written article that obviously struck a chord with readers of e-Veritas. I certainly agree with much of what the author has to say, and in particular, the premise that Canada must pull its weight and be prepared to field armed forces of “reasonable sufficiency”.
    That being said, I also wonder whether there may be another contributing factor to the dilemmas that have long plagued our armed forces, and that would be somewhat suspect leadership from the senior ranks of the Forces themselves. Let’s not forget that when the Canadian Forces were unified 50 years ago, the notion of unification was bitterly opposed by all three services, and many senior officers of the day who objected either retired or in some cases were forced out. As I understand it, in a great many cases they were replaced by a new generation of officers, many of who lacked wartime experience, and who were “careerists” eager to support their own personal advancement by appeasing their political masters. In an environment where the government was hell-bent on promoting the notion that unification was actually working, the results of this are hardly surprising.
    The main trouble with this article is that it is preaching mainly to the converted. Having lived on “civvy street” for over 40 years since I left RMC in 1977, I can assure readers of this publication that the average Canadian does not know, or care, about the state of our defences. Changing this mindset is going to be exceedingly difficult, especially in the kind of society we live in today. There are no easy answers, but nonetheless I commend Sean Henry for his efforts.

  • Sid

    December 13, 2018 at 12:28 am

    I feel strongly that there is no classic military threat to the sovereignty of Canada. The threat we face is an economic threat.

    In this case we have a story of boys having great fun playing with very expensive toys! Sabre rattling has been a tactic used by all militaries to frighten the public and justify the military’s existence. The producers of weapons and weapon systems love it hence we have the military/industrial complex that President Eisenhower talked so prophetically about.

    If we are as civilized as we [the West] think we are, surely we can find solutions to these kind of differences that does not involve bombing the crap out of our perceived “enemies” until we get our way! The author is careful not to say where potential military threats will arise. Because no country is capable of such insanity!

    Mr. Emil Bizon has it right when he says, “Henry deplores our absence from Bush’s war to remove WMD’s from Iraq. Jean Chretien calls that his proudest moment and most Canadians would agree.
    He, Henry, also deplores the fact our health care is depriving the military of its play-things. Maybe that notion should be presented to the Canadian population in a referendum.
    We should, especially as graduates of RMC, be acutely conscious of Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about the military-industrial complex to which, in the US, most analysts are adding universities.
    Someone should identify the potential enemy we are facing, other than our neighbor, and the Canadian population would then know why their hard-earned money is being taken from them to buy hardware which ends up on the scrap heap without ever being used as intended. To say we must spend two percent of our GDP on the Armed Forces is silly beyond all logic.”