We, Conservatives, have talked a lot about defence, but, except for a brief period when Gordon O’Connor was the minister, successive Conservative governments didn’t really do very much … we let the senior bureaucrats in Finance, PCO, Treasury and Defence pretty much play their own “official Ottawa” power games with national strategy, defence policy and the defence budget, and we let celebrity generals do their own, localized but damaging, empire building, too. Oh, and, while that was going on, the military fought a war and helped Canadians, at home, during a couple of major disasters ~ complete with photo ops, of course ~ but we, the Conservative Party and our Conservative government, were pretty disinterested in defence … that’s not surprising because Canadians, by and large, are disinterested; they may “support the troops” with red t-shirts and yellow ribbons, but that support, while a mile wide, is only ¼ of an inch deep. What our Conservative government didn’t even try to do was to enunciate a grand, strategic policy or look at the hard, practical issues of how to make an enormously expensive and cumbersome defence procurement programme work for Canadians … not for plutocrats in Quebec, foreign corporations, senior bureaucrats and retired generals.
It seems to me that now, while we are in opposition, and while the Trudeau regime is trying to take national security and defence off the table and keep it away from the public’s mind, is the right to time to discuss defence policy.
First, it seems to me, we need to affirm an activist, constructive foreign policy ~ something of which someone like, say, the late Prime Minister Louis St Laurent, would approve.
Next we need to understand why we need to maintain a good foreign service, intelligence services and an excellent military.
Earlier this year I suggested that before we, Canadians, can give anything like informed agreement to what defence and defence related capabilities we need, we have to be informed, honestly and openly, about how our government (or our opposition political parties ~ the government in waiting) “see” the global strategic situation. We need, in other words, a strategic survey.
I challenge the Conservative Party to produce an unclassified strategic survey, based on published, open source material, that will inform Canadians about the global strategic situation and the threats posed to Canada.
Late last year I suggested that we, Canadian Conservatives need to persuade our party and our government that there are a handful (11 in my opinion) essential, core capabilities that our defence system must have:
- A structure to collect and collate information, from all sources and from all over the world and provide useful strategic intelligence to the cabinet and operational intelligence to departments and agencies;
- A super-structure to make strategic plans and to control and manage our military forces;
- Surveillance and warning systems to cover our land mass and, especially, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both;
- Military forces to intercept, identify and, appropriately, deal with intruders;
- Military forces to contribute to the continental defence, especially to the protection of the US strategic deterrent;
- Military forces to patrol our territory, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both;
- Military forces to give “aid to civil power” when provincial attorneys general cannot manage with police resources;
- Military forces to provide “civil assistance” when disaster occur and the civil authorities in provinces and cities cannot cope;
- Military forces to conduct expeditionary, combat operations around the world ~
- Unilaterally for relatively small scale low and even mid-intensity operations,
- As part of “coalitions of the willing” for some low and mid intensity operations, and
- With our traditional allies for the full range of operations, including prolonged general war;
- Supporting operational and logistical services ~ telecommunications, engineering, intelligence, medical and dental, supply and transport, materiel maintenance, administration and policing ~ to support all other military forces; and
- An efficient and effective defence procurement system.
I challenge any thinking Conservative, especially any Conservative political leader to tell me which of those Canada does not need or which can be cut back from current levels.
You will not be surprised to learn that my view of the constantly evolving strategic situation has not changed:
I still see one major threat to world peace: Russian opportunistic adventurism. Putin knows that his ramshackle, ill disciplined, poorly led military is no match for NATO … but he can be and must be, I think, very tempted to take temporary advantage of NATO’s lack of readiness to try to make a quick gain in Europe, especially to seize a “connection” between Kaliningrad and Russia dominated Belarus. We, Canadians, fought hard to bring peace to Europe, then we fought, physically, and paid a high price in treasure to contain the spread of Marxist-Lenninist communism in Europe and Asia. Now is not a good time to give Putin, by inaction, what Stalin and Khrushchev couldn’t take by force or bluster.
The situation in Europe is exacerbated by Russia’s own fiscal problems, caused by declining oil revenues, and instability in Europe caused by the refugee crisis, the rise of European radical Islamism and the Brexit. All these tempt Putin, ever the opportunist, to take a hasty action that he, and all the Russians, will deeply regret.
Any leader of any country that wants to do real peacekeeping needs to start in Eastern Europe when Putin’s Russia is a real threat to world peace.
I also see one significant threat to stability: China’s bullying in the Asia Pacific region. We have had stability in the Asia Pacific region since about 1953 thanks, in the main, to US peacekeeping efforts which, in a few cases, think Vietnam, backfired, but which were, broadly and generally, productive. Now, China wants ~ feels it needs and deserves ~ to upset the applecart and displace the USA as the regional hegemon. My guess is that it will, eventually, and without resorting to force but it will not be a simple, easy, cooperative process. China is not afraid to play “bumper cars” at sea and in the air, and it is willing to lose a small warship here and an aircraft there, but it is not willing, in my estimation, to get into a knock-down, drag out war with America or even with the Philippines.
This is another opportunity to do some real peacekeeping, to help the Chinese and the Americans to retain their “cool” while they sort out the limits of each other’s power and influence in the region … which is, after all, in China’s backyard.
The Middle East remains a mess. In fairness, it’s been a mass for nearly 1,400 years, through more than a half dozen caliphates ~ some noble and powerful, most inept and corrupt. The whole region and almost every country in it presents a danger to regional peace and the danger includes nuclear weapons. The situation, as I have explained before, is an awful tangle of ancient and recent religious and national hatreds and unhelpful foreign interference …
… but it is, largely, confined to that one region and there is a regional power, Israel, that can sort out the entire place if pressed hard enough. I am on record as suggesting that the entire Islamic Crescent needs a religious reformation (and maybe counter-reformation, too) and then, for most of it, an enlightenment. I am very conscious of the fact the the European reformation and enlightenment took 400 years and the bloody, atrocious thirty-years war to accomplish.
The one exceptional threat is posed by Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS. This monstrosity is a threat to regional peace and it will itself and it will provoke others to attack us on our home ground. Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS is not a serious threat in any proper military sense but it will, without doubt, attack us, here in Canada, and it will attack our friends and neighbours, as it has already done. But the threat it poses can and should be met by our intelligence, police and internal security services and by a concentrated, slick, propaganda campaign that aims to convince people in Canada that “our way” is superior to what’s being spouted in the “old country.”
And that leaves Africa. It is an enormous and enormously complex place with a vast and potentially very rich resource base and a seemingly infinitely difficult set of socio-political problem that often manifest themselves in savage civil and regional wars. Africa is, generally, badly governed … it is well past the time when colonialism can be blamed for that, the current maladministration, corruption and mindless violence is all home grown.
There is much to be done in Africa, including a lot of peacekeeping, but, to date, UN, baby-blue beret style peacekeeping has proven useless ~ in part because the African Union insists on running the show and in part because when the UN does get involved it usually resorts to hiring third world “rent-a-thug” type armies to do the work. For now, sadly, the Trudeau regime is focused on UN peacekeeping in Africa; but that is a silly policy being pursued for wholly bad reasons. There is some useful peacekeeping being done in Africa … mostly by the French Foreign Legion and, less often (but equally well) by British paras. There is a useful UN role in Africa but the heavy (military) lifting needs to be taken on by China and India and they don’t need Canadian help.
Africa needs help … but the savage lawlessness in Africa, while a human tragedy, is not a threat to Canada or to our vital interests.
So, that’s my, personal, response to the first of my two challenges: the strategic survey.
Based on that I ask myself if my 11 capabilities are still valid and if we can do less than now. My short answer to the first question is “yes, the 11 capabilities represent the minimum that we need for our national defence;” and to the second it is “no, we cannot do any less on any of them and some, especially expeditionary forces, supporting (logistical) services and defence procurement, need major expansions and/or overhauls. But, before anything can be effectively expanded and reformed the existing military C² superstructure needs a major overhaul including substantial reductions in both the numbers of ranks of senior officers. Fewer, better focused senior officers will be able to more quickly and effectively manage defence structure and force structure reform and procurement system reform if (this government) or when (a future (Conservative) government) gives them the resources.
Please note that I have not mentioned the budget or NATO’s 2% of GDP solution. That’s a whole other issue. Before we can decide how much to spend we need to know what we need and why we need it.