Sharing the Burden

Professor Andrew Bacevich, writing in Foreign Affairs, in an essay entitled “Ending Endless War: A Pragmatic Military Strategy explains that, today, “U.S. forces [are] more or less permanently engaged in ongoing hostilities. In one theater after another, fighting erupts, ebbs, flows, and eventually meanders toward some ambiguous conclusion, only to erupt anew or be eclipsed by a new round of fighting elsewhere. Nothing really ends. Meanwhile, as if on autopilot, the Pentagon accrues new obligations and expands its global footprint, oblivious to the possibility that in some parts of the world, U.S. forces may no longer be needed, whereas in others, their presence may be detrimental. During the Cold War, peace never seemed any­thing but a distant prospect. Even so, presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan cited peace as the ulti­mate objective of U.S. policy. Today, the term “peace” itself has all but vanished from political discourse. War has become a normal condition.

Dr Bacevich says that “The next U.S. president will inherit a host of pressing national security challenges, from Russian provocations, Chinese muscle-flexing, and North Korean bad behavior to the disorder afflicting much of the Islamic world. Americans aircraft-carrier-35will expect Washington to respond to each of these problems, along with others as yet unforeseen. To a consider­able extent, the effectiveness of that response will turn on whether the people making decisions are able to distinguish what the U.S. military can do, what it cannot do, what it need not do, and what it should not do … As a prerequisite for restoring pru­dence and good sense to U.S. policy, the next administration should promulgate a new national security doctrine … [and] … “The central theme of that doctrine should be pragmatism, with a sober appreciation for recent miscalculations providing the basis for future policy. Before rushing ahead, take stock. After all, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, U.S. troops have made considerable sacrifices. The Pentagon has expended stupendous sums. Yet when it comes to promised results—disorder curbed, democracy promoted, human rights advanced, terrorism suppressed—the United States has precious little to show.

This is related to a point I addressed a few months ago: “the capacity of the USA to continue to bear a disproportionately large share of the burden of defending the West against pressures from Russia, radical Islamists and China.

Then he gets to a key point for Canada: “the United States needs a doctrine that combines both functions. At a minimum, a new national security doctrine should codify and expand on President Barack Obama’s admirable, if cryptic, dictum “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Beyond that, it should establish criteria governing the use of force and clarify the respective responsibilities of the United States and U.S. allies.” (My emphasis added.)

As long as the United States confined itself to small-scale contingencies, such as invading Grenada or bombing Kosovo, or to campaigns of limited duration, such as the Gulf War of 1990–91,” Professor Bacevic says, “the post Vietnam military practices “worked well enough. In an era of long wars, however, its short­comings have become glaringly apparent. When the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq produced twin quagmires, the United States found itself requiring more soldiers than war planners had anticipated. Avenues that in the past had enabled the country to field large armies—in the nineteenth century, summoning masses of volunteers to the colors, and in the twentieth, relying on the draft—no longer existed. Although today more than enough young men and women are available for service, few choose to sign up. Washington’s appetite for war exceeds the willingness of military-age Americans to fight (and perhaps die) for their country.” He adds that “To make up the difference, the state has resorted to expedients. It subjects the less than half a percent of Americans who do serve to repeated combat tours. It offers blandishments to foreign governments in return for token troop contributions.

He suggests that: “The final piece of a new U.S. military doctrine should be to put an end to free-riding. American responsibility for defending others should extend only to friends and allies unable to defend themselves. The core issue here is not one of affordability, although one may wonder why U.S. taxpayers and soldiers should shoulder burdens that others are capable of shouldering. Rather, it is one of ultimate strategic purpose … [and] … Exercising global leadership is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Its purpose is not to accumulate clients and dependencies or to justify the existence of a massive national security apparatus. It is (or should be) to nurture a community of like-minded nations willing and able to stand on their own. Sooner or later, every parent learns that there comes a time to let go. That lesson is no less applicable to statecraft.” Professor Bacevich suggests that Europe, for example, must get ready, soon, to defend itself “Allowing ample time for European publics to adjust to their new responsibilities, for European parliaments to allocate the necessary NATO-Logoresources, and for European armies to reorganize, 2025 sounds about right. That year will mark the 80th anniversary of the victory in World War II—an eminently suitable occasion for Washington to declare “mission accomplished.” But to get things rolling,” he says, “the next administration’s message to Europe should be clear from day one: ready your defenses; we’re going home.” He also suggests bringing down the curtain on the US Southern Command’s mission to “joint and combined full-spectrum military operations” across the length and breadth of South America).

Dr Bacevich does not, in his essay, specifically mention continental defence, but we should assume that he also expects (and future US administrations will expect) Canada to do its full and fair share. We are not, and we should not want to be seen as one of the “friends and allies unable to defend themselves.” It is true that we cannot, in practical terms, “defend” all of our territory and the contiguous waters and the airspace over both against all comers … but that is precisely why we, and Britain and Germany, and, and, and … enter into alliances: to share the burden. But sharing the burden is not the same as shirking the burden. But successive, especially Liberal, governments actually chose, as former Liberal minister of everything John Manly said, to “sit at the [alliance] table and every time the waiter comes with the bill excuse ourselves and go to the washroom.

What is Canada’s “full and fair share” of e.g. NORAD?

One key ingredient, which is hard to quantify is to just participate and, by so doing, allow the US military relatively free electronic and physical access to our territories, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both.

Another ingredient is to share, equitably, the cost of building and maintaining e.g. radar chains and terminals for space and underwater surveillance system on our territories.


The third element, which can be quantified is to assign suitable military forces: ships, army formations and units, and air force squadrons to continental defence ~ some assigned to NORAD, others just “earmarked” for the “Defence of Canada.” How many sqOP NANOOKuadrons of first-line, modern jet fighter/interceptors are required? Is two enough to satisfy the USA when it is facing deep cuts to its defence budget?

And what about our “political” commitment to continental defence. I alluded to this the other day when I commented on the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to visit the Arctic while in office. Granted, prime ministerial visits to the North have multiple “targets,” including the USA, but they also serve to re-affirm that the government is committed to the defence of Canada which is inextricably linked to the defence of the continent.

I suspect that:

  • wtyrLqLCanadians are ambivalent towards continental defence. Many, many Canadians are prone to a quite nasty sort if knee-jerk anti-Americanism which extends to biting the hand that feeds them, cutting off their nose to spite their face and shooting themselves in the foot or whatever other analogy you might like; and
  • The next US president, whoever (s)he might be, facing an ongoing revenue/spending crisis, is going to look hard at military burden-sharing and NORAD and Canada will be in his/her sights.

These two factors make it hard for the government, but hard choices are why they were elected.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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