In an article in the Globe and Mail, Campbell Clark says that “Justin Trudeau is remaking Canada’s military in a Liberal image. But it remains an unfocused picture.” He goes on to explain why “war fighting” is too commonplace and why “peacekeeping” is much more difficult to do than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imagines. Sadly he also cites some “suggestions” from Prof Walter Dorn who, in my opinion, has pretty much everything about Canada’s national defences back asswards. I’m saddened because I thought Mr Clark was smart enough not to believe what Prof Dorn et al put out, and I’m even sadder because I expect that the prime minister’s team will seize upon those flawed ideas.
But it’s hard not to have a lot of sympathy for Prime Minister Trudeau and, indeed, for political leaders and officials throughout the Western world, because they must think that their world has been turned upside down. Instead of seeing a normal distribution of threats and responses (and costs) the admirals and generals (and armchair strategists, too) are showing them this:
That’s a bit of a Hobson’s choice for a prime minister who wants to see a lot more of this, on the left …
… and a lot less of this, on the right.
Are the admirals and generals (and the armchair strategists) wrong?
First, there really are aggressive near peer enemies out there. Those really are Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine and Russia really did, in an act of bald faced aggression, seize the Crimea. The Russians really are militarizing the Arctic in ways that should be of significant concern to all Canadians, and Russian bombers continue to probe our airspace, looking for any signs that we are less than 100% alert and that the American strategic nuclear deterrent forces might be vulnerable. Russia is an aggressor nation, that is demonstrably true, and we would be quite mad to think otherwise.
Second: those new Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea are not tourist resorts. They are “facts on the ground” and their purpose is to give China control of a key maritime theatre. Now, I am about 99% certain that, unless almost everything I’ve read is wrong, China aims to achieve its strategic goals, which include getting America off the Asian mainland and displacing America as the dominant power in all of Asia, without going to war. Almost all the experts (save a handful of Americans who “need” China to be an enemy in order to justify funds for new super-carriers and new bombers) seem to agree that the Chinese do not want a fight but they are determined to have their way in their own backyard. This is a serious strategic matter, especially for the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore and the like, abut also for America, Australia and even Canada.
Oh, and don’t forget North Korea which could provoke a major regional war.
Deductions from the first two threats:
Canada needs new ships to give the Royal Canadian Navy the resources it needs to project Canadian power (my second “baseline”) wherever (global reach) and whenever (high readiness) our vital interests might be threatened. Given Russian activities in the Arctic it is not too soon to consider replacing or Victoria class submarines with a larger fleet of non-nuclear boats that can go very quietly, stealthily, albeit slowly, under the Arctic icepack and stay there, guarding the entrances and exits to our share of that ocean, for many, many days, even weeks at a stretch.
Canada also needs new fighter aircraft. Our CF-18s, which are doing yeoman service, right now, in combat in the Middle East, need replacing. Our NORAD role is a strategic, diplomatic and political must; it is not negotiable. If we cannot patrol our own airspace then the US, pleading force majeure because of the vulnerability of the US land and air strategic nuclear deterrent forces, will patrol it for us, and our precious sovereignty can be damned. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign platform was pretty explicit in saying that the F-35 bid would not go forward … but we do need something, soon.
Additionally, some commentators suggest that, given the North Korean menace, Canada should, seriously, reconsider participating, with the USA, in theatre/continental missile defence. I’m inclined to agree, in fact it ought to be high on our priority list unless, somehow, China decides to replace the North Korean government with something much more responsible.
Finally, the government needs to consider equipping and training a Defence of Canada Force. The government might, for political reasons (because it doesn’t make good military sense) want to consider making the Defence of Canada Force something akin to the 18th and 19th century fencibles ~ units and formations raised for home defence only. The political reason is to assure potential intruders that Canada will always have a ready force to protect the integrity of all the land we call our own.
Third: The asymmetrical warfare or unconventional warfare or guerrilla warfare or insurgency or whatever we want to call it is also a real, albeit sometimes remote threat. It is not, unlike say Russia or China or North Korea, easy to describe and it is even less easy to counter. We have been facing the two threats, a near peer and an unconventional enemy, simultaneously, for centuries, even millennia but it never gets easier.
These guys are no easier to beat, now …
… than these guys were 1,500 years ago.
What we’ve learned, definitively, over a couple or three of millennia of fighting barbarians is:
- Sometimes we win, usually we don’t;
- Sometimes they can be bought off with money or other concessions, more often than not they take the money and then come back for more;
- Sometimes they just fade away into nothing, often they are permanent fixtures; and
- Sometimes they settle down and become us.
- Additionally: no two insurgencies are alike: what worked against the Britons would not work against the Huns. What worked against the first nations in South America would not work in India, and what worked in India didn’t work in Africa, and, and, and … until what worked in Malaysia didn’t work in Iraq.
There is a spectrum for unconventional military operations …
… it includes everything from disaster relief to all out, full scale combat using artillery, tanks and jet fighter-bombers. It is, rather, a bit like a Dr Seuss rhyme: big tasks and small tasks, light blue type missions and some blood red ones, too. The key is unpredictability, both about what the next mission will be like and how the current one may evolve, suddenly, unexpectedly, from something like truce supervision to full scale combat.
Something for Prof Dorn and his fellow travellers to remember, which I have said several times in different flora: tough, superbly disciplined, well trained for war, and adequately equipped combat troops can keep any sort of peace anywhere, no matter how quickly it goes bad; troops who are trained and equipped specially to keep the peace are called a police force, and they will not survive combat.
Prime Minister Trudeau wants to be this:
But the world has changed and so has the very nature of peacekeeping. As Campbell Clark says in the Globe and Mail:
“That’s because peacekeepers now face dangerous spoilers in dangerous environments, like the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Dorn sees potential for a UN mission in chaotic Libya. To Canadians, that might seem more like Afghanistan than Cyprus. It’s still hard to see that reality fitting Mr. Trudeau’s image of the military.“
Deductions from the third spectrum of threats:
The UN baby-blue beret no longer offers some degree of protection ~ it never did provide all that much, even against quite responsible “clients.” Now a helmet is de rigueur and, as the admirals and generals suggest, the ball cap and balaclava of the special operations commando might be even more appropriate. It may not even be that the “robust peacekeeping” or “peacemaking”of the 1990s will do anymore. Something different, something that demands a more “hard edge” but, simultaneously, more “holistic” approach, seems to be emerging, especially in Africa (a potentially valuable theatre we are at risk of conceding to the Chinese because we are “tied down” in the Islamic Crescent.
Canada should have forces that can respond, globally, when international peace is threatened and when Canada’s vital interests can be best protected by “peacekeeping,” with a full spectrum of forces ranging from well equipped disaster relief teams though conventional naval, military and air combat forces through to (expensive) special forces that are the equal to the very best in the world.
Canada should be prepared to use the full spectrum of military force when it is in our national interest to do so.
That’s quite a laundry list of “fallout” from a small range of threats. I hope someone will consider the implications of “remaking Canada’s military in a Liberal image,” whatever that might mean, in practical terms.
I have not discussed expeditionary forces because my sense is that this Liberal government doesn’t want to hear about them, but 21st century peacekeeping, especially in Africa, will require something a lot closer to what we deployed to Afghanistan than to those that Prime Minister Trudeau’s father deployed in the 1970s (UNEF II and UNDOF, for example) which were classic, lightly armed, blue-beret truce supervision missions.
There will, of course, be roles for the trainers and police officers and so on that Prof Dorn and Prime Minister Trudeau appear to favour but, as I am sure the Chief of the Defence Staff will mention, the technicians and engineers and medical people that the UN will want are in short supply in the CF, too and they are hard to recruit, difficult to train and harder to retain in the service where (relatively) low salaries and frequent overseas deployments act as disincentives.
All in all, it is going to be harder than it looks, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s views seem to me to be, indeed, unfocused.