Advice from an informed source

450x305_q95In a piece in the Huffington Post, recently retired Lieutenant General Mike Day, who was, it was rumoured, short-listed to be the Chief of the Defence Staff, offers some good advice to the Trudeau government.

The article says that “The former commander of the country’s special forces says no matter how many “sunny ways” there are in Canada, the reality of the world outside is that people continue to kill people and that is something the nation needs to understand.

The blunt talk by retired lieutenant-general Mike Day comes as the Trudeau government mulls options for its much-anticipated defence policy review, which will set the future course for the military.

Day referred to “sunny ways,” the unofficial catchphrase of the Liberal campaign, at the end of cautionary speech to a Mackenzie Institute conference on future conflicts.”

Further, the article quotes LGen (ret’d) Day as saying that future “clashes will be messy, ill-defined and driven by climate change and world demographic shifts. They will not be clear, or easy, and will likely require “decades of engagement.” They will, in other words, not be anything at all like what many Liberals (and voters) imagine UN peacekeeping might have been like in the 1960s.

First, in Africa, especially, it is often hard to tell the “peacekeepers” apart from the various fighting factions …

… all are inept, corrupt, brutal and unaccountable. The only difference is that you and I, through our tax dollars/UN contributions, are paying the UN soldiers to rape and plunder. This is what I meant when I said that effective peacekeeping in Africa would require a long, hard and expensive programme … one in which Canada is ill-prepared to participate because we have too few soldiers and they are not well enough organized and equipped.

imagesSecond, Canadians are, I believe, tired of “decades of engagement” if those engagements also involve too many casualties … and I think we saw that one a month is, now, too many for some (most?) Canadians.

That is an area where LGen (ret’d) Day and I part company. He seems to suggest that Canada should do less,not more, in a wide range of areas. The article say that “He questioned if the Canadian military must be all things to all people in terms of the kind of operations it’s able to conduct, which have traditionally run the gamut from disaster assistance to waging war.” The problem is this: neither Mike Day nor Justin Trudeau has a crystal ball .. Normanand neither, very obviously, do their friends in Washington, Paris and Geneva. Vice Admiral Mark Norman, soon to be the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, is closer to the (right) mark when he cautions that we cannot “see” out to 2025, much less 2050. When I suggested, last year, that Canada needs AAA+ armed forces my second A was for Adaptable and i said that “the global strategic situation is both ever changing and quite unpredictable. The only “constant” is difference: difference from what was planned, difference from what was imagined, and difference from that for which one is prepared.” Those, including General Day andThe Honourable Stéphane Dion, who want us to focus our very limited resources at one area at the expense of the others are suggesting that they can see into the strategic future … I disagree.

It may well be politically and financially necessary to focus on home defence for now (light forces and corvettes, for example) because the current, Liberal, government does not want to spend anything near what is necessary on the military but that does not mean that we will not need big, powerful, expensive expeditionary forces, in fact history suggests that the time and place we will want and need big, expensive combat forces is just when and where we would not like to have to use them.

Where I do agree with retired Lieutenant General Day is that “the country’s “intelligence architecture” — satellites, drones and other means — is as important and will also require attention.” Equally, where I disagree, with Admiral Norman is when he is quoted as saying, in the National Post‘s article about the same address, that “it is absolutely essential to get the policy review as close to perfect as possible.” The only thing that history tells us about Canadian defence policy reviews, going all the way back to Sir Frederick Middleton in the 1880s, is that we always get them wrong … this one, I am prepared to guarantee, will be no better. It will, like most such reviews, be “situated” by political direction and will, generally, ignore inconvenient advice from real experts because it is unlikely to support the “sunny ways” narrative. Vice Admiral Norman will have to do as his political masters tell him even as, “under the radar” so to speak, he guides defence plans, including, in so far as the defence staff can, he tries to keep policies and procurement flexible ~ Adaptable ~ because, as General Day said, “no matter how many sunny ways we have, my experience in deploying around the world is people will want to continue to kill other people and we need to be ready for that.” That’s good advice.

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