When we think about defence let’s not, please, fall into the hardware trap. It does, indeed, matter if we equip the RCN with modern warships rather than sailing ships …
… but our government, Conservative or Liberal, has experts, real, certified, qualified experts ~ scientists, engineers, military “operators,” accountants and technicians of a hundred sorts to to help it pick between, say, the F-35 and the Rafale.
Equally, let us not fall into the trap ~ into which every government since Mackenzie King’s has fallen ~ of advocating for the use of the defence budget as a jobs programme.
Building and maintaining a defence industrial base is a legitimate “output” of defence spending. In other words we may, arguably should, spend more to build, say, modern warships in Canadian yards because we want to sustain, for generations, the technical and financial capability to build modern warships whenever we need them. But that decision, to build warships in Canadian yards and to sustain, over a long term, the capacity to build such ships, is one that falls out of a higher order decision ~ “we need a modern, combat capable Navy that we can deploy and use in our own self interest, and it needs ships.” Since we may want to deploy and use our ships unilaterally we do not want to be dependent, for those ships, on other countries.
There are, I think it’s fair to say, limits on how extensive a Canadian defence industrial base can be. Can we, for example, design and build a fifth generation fighter-bomber like the F-35? The answer is: “Yes! … but” The but is that it would be incredibly expensive, so expensive that we could never sell it to anyone else, and so expensive that equipping the RCAF with it would mean disbanding the RCN and the Canadian Army … it’s Diefenbaker and the AVRO Arrow all over again. (The Chief went to his grave wearing a bum wrap for the only possible political/strategic decision.)
It is possible, even, in some circumstances, desirable to spend a lot on building and sustaining a defence industrial base. It is a complex strategic calculation, one that is, I hasten to add, beyond me. It is equally possible and some would say desirable to spend almost nothing on a defence industrial base to buy almost everything ~ ships and aircraft, rifles and boots, radios and rations from other countries that are already paying for their own defence industrial bases. The US and UK are the most obvious sources but we could add, just for example, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea or Spain for ships, France and Sweden for aircraft, Austria and Singapore for armoured vehicles and so on, almost ad infinitum, a lot of countries produce military hardware, prices are competitive, we need not spend as much as we do to “build it in Canada” but it would be politically hard to tell the shipyards in Halifax, Quebec City and Vancouver that we are going to buy ships from Germany or South Korea.
So two traps which we lay people need to avoid: hardware ~ trying to tell the experts (as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already done) what aircraft to buy, or in his case, not to buy; and advocating for the use of the defence budget as a jobs! Jobs!! JOBS!!! tool.
So, what’s left? What can we, Canadians in general, tell our government about defence?
First, we, better than the generals and even better than the “independent” academic experts and senior civil servants, the mandarins, can tell our political leaders what capabilities we want ~ I provided a list, not definitive, in The Defence of the Realm, a couple of weeks ago, you can adapt it and send it to your MP and, especially to your Conservative candidate.
Second, we, and we are the only ones who can do this, can ~ in my opinion must ~ tell our political leaders that we want to spend more on our national defence. Of course we don’t want to be taxed any more so we need to tell our MPs and candidates that we want the government to cut back or scrap useless and inefficient programmes ~ many of them in the social envelope which, sadly, too many regard as a “sacred trust” ~ and redirect the money to defence.
Concomitantly we must tell the government and our Conservative candidates that we want a hyper-efficient, cost effective Department of National Defence … for a start it needs a new paint job: a lot less brass and gold (far fewer admirals and generals in fancy HQs,) and a lot more green ~ olive drab ~ (tanks and guns and soldiers in the ranks) and grey (ships (and crews) and aircraft).
Let’s us, lay people who are interested in the defence of our country, focus on qualitative issues: Triple A+ armed forces, Appropriate (to a G7 country), Adaptable (flexible and balanced),
Available (trained and ready) and Affordable; properly organized and well led; composed of enough Tough, Superbly Disciplined and Well Trained people. We can, then, tell our leaders that we’re willing to pay and that we want those good people to be adequately equipped.