So, Australia has published a White Paper on Defence. It is available for download on the Australian Government/Department of Defence web page. “Australia will embark on a decade-long surge in weaponry and military forces to defend its land, sea, skies and space from Asia’s rapidly growing military forces,” says ABC News, [and] … “the 2016 Defence White Paper maps a course towards a total of $195 billion in defence capability or equipment by 2020-21, together with a larger military force of 62,400 personnel, the largest in a quarter of a century.“
Key points (from ABC News)
- Australia ratchets up military spending in response to rising tensions in Asia
- Spending up by nearly $30 billion
- Climate change and terrorism also listed as threats
- Defence spending will rise even if GDP falls
ABC News makes two further point that bear consideration by Canadians:
- “The Government is aiming to build spending up to 2 per cent of GDP by 2020/21 — earlier than previously promised;” and
- “Defence officials have told the ABC the White Paper reflects Australia’s “growing discomfort” with China’s military activity.“
Now, I expect one part of the the Canadian commentariat to use Australia as a lever to suggest that:
- Canada needs a defence white paper, too ~ I agree, but, first, Canada (the Canadian people, the commentariat, itself, and the Canadian government) needs to do some serious thinking about what our strategic interests are and then how we need to defend them; and
- Canada needs to spend 2% of GDP on defence, just like Australia has pledged to do and just like we told NATO we agreed to do … once again I agree, but, back in early 2008 I hit on 2% after I made a list of what I though was missing from The Canada First Defence Strategy and then tried to attach some reasonable costs to them and came up with an educated guesstimate that said that, circa 2030, we would need to be spending almost $50 Billion per year on defence, not the $30 Billion the Conservative government projected in The Canada First Defence Strategy, and when I guessed that our GDP, by then, might be about $2.3 Trillion (this was before the 2008 crash, by the way) I came up with a figure of 2.2% of GDP which I told my friends on Army.ca was, absent any real, existential, threat, hopeless.
Any percent of GDP is a measure of a government’s commitment to a certain programme. Australia’s geo-strategic situation is very different from Canada’s. The Australians, quite reasonably, do not believe that America can come running to their aid as part of their own, home defence. America’s heart may be in the right place but its army isn’t. Australians understand that they need to pay for a “better” home insurance policy than Canadians, who live right next door to the fire hall, do.
We might also want to take a serious look at these data: according to the OECD Canada’s General government debt (national, provincial/state and local) was approaching 110% of GDP in 2014 while Australia’s was only nearing 65% …
… the IMF shows similar ratios in a graphic form. In other words, Australia doesn’t have as many 800 pound fiscal gorillas in its rooms as we do. That is, in my opinion, because in the 1970s and early 1980s, Australia made much better social policy decisions than did Canada … and we are still trying to dig our way out of the mountain of debt that Pierre Trudeau left to us.
We must conclude that Australia has different problems, it lives in a “rougher” neighbourhood, if you like; and different capabilities, is is in a “better” fiscal position than Canada, so it can act more responsibly.
I think the Australian White Paper is a good, reasoned and reasonable response to the geo-strategic situation that faces a leader in the South Pacific. I think that a Canadian white paper might have a different, even broader, Strategic Outlook (pps 39 to 64 in the Australian document) reflecting our, different geo-strategic reality, and we might well, I’m sure we would, conclude that we need even larger (Chapter 4 of the Australian paper) and more expensive (Chapter 6) forces than Australia envisages for itself.
But how do we get from here …
… to here …
… to the reasoned, responsible defence policy Canada needs?
First: I do not believe the Liberals want to go there. If anything, I think they would like to to reissue Pierre Trudeau’s monumentally irresponsible, neo-isolationist 1970 white paper, “A Foreign Policy for Canadians” that, effectively, took us away from both reason and responsibility.
Second, therefore: it is up to the Conservatives to start a “conversation” with Canadians through the media, where there are a few informed voices, in academe and the think tanks, and even in the blogosphere, where there is a small handful of informed, responsible analysts, and in parliament, too. Rona Ambrose, as the Leader of the Opposition, has a “bully pulpit” from which to start the conversation and then she has people, critics in parliament, party staff, and friends who can move the ideas along. The conversation needs to be about the real, global strategic situation and about the threats that Canada does have to face. They may not resonate with Canadians, yet, (and we do not want to be accused of fear mongering) but we want to be prepared so that when, not if, they do arise we can deal with them before they become too serious. In parliament the Conservatives should fight to preserve what the Canadian Forces have even as they argue, more broadly, inside and outside of parliament, for a reasoned, realistic and responsible defence review.
Third: Conservative leadership candidates need to commit to giving Canada back a grand strategy based on fiscal prudence (so that we can afford to defend ourselves), a responsible foreign policy that commits Canada to being a leader amongst the democratic middle powers, and a defence policy that seeks to give us a Triple A+ military to use in pursuit of our vital interests.
Meanwhile let’s all look at the Australian White Paper as the sort of thing that we want from the Government of Canada.