A bit more than a week ago I quoted my friend the Technoviking who advocated for sending a full-up, big Canadian battle-group* to Eastern Europe for a long term tour of duty.
Now, Lee Berthiaume, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, reports that “Ottawa has so far been giving “contradictory” signals … “One day we hear we might be pleased with what is coming,” one [Eastern European] envoy told the Citizen Thursday, “and the next things do not look good at all.” … and … The allies’ request has been conveyed through diplomatic channels as well as political meetings between Canadian ministers and their NATO counterparts in recent months. Polish President Andrzej Duda raised the issue personally with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a visit to Ottawa in May.“
As I have mentioned before, many officials in Ottawa are what i would call ‘natural conservatives‘ and as such they regard military spending as, generally, unproductive, even wasteful. But those same officials are also conscious of the fact that there is a Russian threat to the peace and stability of Europe and it is growing.
Sending even a medium sized battle group (1,000 soldiers plus a (very) few hundred support people) will be expensive and it will pit a significant (but not unbearable) strain on the army’s human and materiel resources. It will force the army to confront the state of its reserves and, perhaps, finally rationalizing them in terms of organization, staffing and equipment. This is a “big army” job … it needs tanks and guns and heavy infantry and air support, and, and, and … and everyone sincerely hopes that those forces will never have to be used, that they will,by their very presence, deter the Russians.
There is one vital question: how long?
My guess is that even if Britain stays in the EU, the Europeans are going to remain distracted by their own, internal, political problems … and I think there are many. I suspect that if we agreed to this we would find ourselves looking at a five year, even longer, commitment. This would raise the question: ‘short’ ~ say nine month ~ tours of duty, or long ~ two or three year ~ tours where soldiers are accompanied by families, with much heavier “admin tail” requirements? There are pros and cons ~ financial and operational ~ to both.
Canada currently has a (very, very) few hundred soldiers and some CF-18s in Eastern Europe; our allies want and arguably need more. This ~ expensive military commitments ~ is, I believe, exactly what ‘Team Trudeau‘ wants to avoid because they want to allow defence spending to stagnate, if not to be reduced, so that they can spend money on social programmes, green initiatives and
winning buying back a seat on the UN Security Souncil.
Once again, the cabinet finds itself between Scylla and Charybdis … this is, actually, getting a bit boring. Maybe it’s time to stop wanting to please everyone on every single issue (campaign mode) and start making decisions that promote and protect Canada’s vital interests (governing).
P.S. The Russians are a real threat to our peace and prosperity so the right answer is to send a big, well equipped, combat ready battle group* to Eastern Europe, planning on a five year commitment with nine-month long rotations, without any ‘family reunions’ or holidays in the middle.
* A self-contained army organization of something like 1,250+ soldiers with tanks, howitzers, helicopters, etc, but one which also requires an “admin tail” of another several hundred people.