There is an excellent article by Professor Elinor Sloan, of Carleton University, in iPolitics, headlined “Why peacekeeping needs bigger guns in 2016.” Prof Sloan opens with an anecdote: “Asked in a Senate hearing last May what the UN needs for its peacekeeping missions, the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping answered with two words: “attack helicopters” … That response,” Elinor Sloan says, “is telling. If Canada deploys to a UN operation in Africa, something the Trudeau government seems intent upon, it will have to be prepared for war. And with large commitments already in Europe and Iraq, it will have to make some choices.“
But making choices, especially hard choices, we are learning, is one of the (many) things at which the Trudeau regime does not excel. The object was, and remains, to shift away from Prime Minister Harper’s principled and even active foreign policy that was not afraid to use force ~ even if Stephen Harper can be, very fairly, accused of starving the military, post 2011, while he pursued a balanced, election budget in 2015. The focus is on UN, baby-blue beret style peacekeeping, and, during the election campaign Prime Minister Trudeau explained how there was a perceived need for French speaking, female police officers … well, the PM has certainly kept to the first part of his promise for change: Canada appears to have no principles, at all, in its foreign policy and he has demonstrated that he wants to eschew the use of force by withdrawing our CF-18s from combat in Iraq/Syria and opting, instead, to focus on a training mission and by making only a token offer of forces to NATO’s Eastern flank which is, currently, under pressure from Putin’s Russia. Those were choices, but they were fairly easy ones.
Now, according to Prof Sloan, Canada faces some harder choices.
The first “choice” is to recognize that the “good old days” of the United Nations being a neutral peacekeeper are gone. The UN, now, takes sides in wars, including in civil wars: “Impartiality was abandoned in the Congo in 2013,” she writes, “when the UN deployed an intervention brigade to carry out targeted offensive operations against Congolese rebels. Peacekeepers have had to use force beyond self-defence in the Congo and to protect civilians in places like South Sudan. The UN makes a distinction between host nation consent and tactical consent, arguing strategic consent is what’s necessary. But the practical reality of UN forces facing rebels and terrorists reveals the distinction’s fallacy … [and] … peacekeepers become a party to the conflict themselves — with predictable results. In Africa, UN forces are being targeted and killed by gunfire, rocket fire, mortar shells, suicide car bombs, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).“
In this environment, assuming we are going to Africa, Prof Sloan suggests the government has three options:
- “One,” she says, “is training. Canada could help a state build competent military and police forces so that it can address its own internal security. Canada’s expertise here includes training the Afghan national army and Iraqi security forces. Security sector reform takes many years but it’s vital for stabilizing a country;”
- “Another option is enabling. Canada could provide high-end capabilities like signals, logistics, intelligence, engineering and air transport to assist UN combat arms units already in an African mission. But” she explains, “there are challenges. Our signals technology is digital, for example, while the UN mostly uses analog. The interoperability that Canada takes for granted in NATO does not exist in the UN. Canada would need to place officers in the UN force headquarters to ensure enablers are effectively used. And it also needs these enablers in Europe and Iraq, presenting the real possibility of an overstretched force;” and
- “Finally,” Elinor Sloan says, “Canada could conduct an operation, deploying Canadian combat arms along with enablers. The force would need Chinook helicopters for troop transport, an armed escort to protect the Chinooks, drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, reinforced armored vehicles, lethal firepower and protective body armor. A special concern is medical support and casualty evacuation since, unlike in other places, we cannot rely on the U.S. military.“
Then Professor Sloan lists two types of challenges:
- First, materiel limitations: “Canada,” she explains, “has light armored vehicles,upgraded to withstand IEDs. But its Chinooks are not at full operational capability, nor are its tactical armored patrol vehicles. Canada has only a limited number of low-flying drones, no armed helicopters like the Apaches used by many of our allies, and no medium altitude long-endurance drones. Again, what is necessary for a high-risk African mission is also in demand elsewhere;” and
- Second, “The concurrency challenge goes beyond specific capabilities to include strategic command and control and logistics. If Canada goes into Africa it will be supporting three large geographically dispersed operations at once, placing significant demands on operational staffs in Ottawa.“
She concludes with a challenge: “The Trudeau government,” Prof Sloan says, “will have to prioritize. It will have to decide where it thinks Canada can have the greatest effect. And if it decides on a major mission in Africa, it will have to be ready for war.” “Prioritize,” “decide,” and “be ready for war” … these are not words and phrases that come quickly to mind when we think about Justin Trudeau and Stéphane Dion, are they?
My guess is that the PMO, the pretentiously named Global Affairs Department and DND (including the MND and CDS, personally) are locked in intense, even bitter debates about just how little Canada can do, how few risks we can take, how cheap we can be and still appear to keep Team Trudeau’s promises to Canadian voters and the UN Secretary General.
I suspect that Minister Sajjan and General Vance know full well that this is dead and gone …
… replaced by something more like this …
… which is, I think, not what Team Trudeau is willing to do. Thus, I guess, Prof Sloan’s third option, a full scale combat operation, is probably already off the table for a good, solid mix of partisan political “needs” and hard, military limitations.
I also believe that her second option, sending “high-end capabilities like signals, logistics, intelligence, engineering and air transport,” would also stretch the CF beyond the breaking point … as I have said, we have something of a Potemkin Village” type army that is chronically short of those sorts of capabilities ~ people and hardware.
Which leaves option one: “trainers” and “enablers.” To the degree that the “enablers” are staff officers, especially senior one then Canada is blessed with a HUGE, fat, surplus of them … mostly serving in useless, bloated HQs. The trainers, on the other hand, are, of necessity, mostly senior non-commissioned members (sergeants and the like) who are both a) the “backbone” of the army and, therefore, needed in regiments and battalions at home, to train our own soldiers, and b) already committed to e.g. Iraq.
The better (there is no best) answer, in my opinion, is to cobble together a large task force for one, year long (end-to-end, from advance parties deploy until the logisticians bring the last bits of kit home) combat mission using our existing tanks, LAVs, Chinook and armed Griffon helicopters and so on. I don’t think we can sustain a force of that size for more than one deployment ~ to months preparation, eight months on the ground, two months to redeploy back to Canada. Whether that will earn Prime Minister Trudeau enough “brownie points” with the UN might be a big problem.