A few days ago I commented on an article by Professor Elinor Sloan entitled “Why peacekeeping needs bigger guns in 2016.” Prof Sloan began her article by quoting from the UN’s under-secretary-general for peacekeeping who, on being asked by some US senators what the UN needed for its missions replied: “attack helicopters.” The article provoked several pages of discussion on Army.ca, following the initial report, from various people including helicopter pilots, Afghan war veterans, including special operations people, and many others ~ some informed, some just bystanders ~ and it turned into a discussion of attack helicopters vs tanks vs CF-18s (some people are still upset that there were no Canadian CF-18s deployed to Afghanistan in support of the Canadians army’s troops there) and so on. But no one dealt, directly, with the real, core issue which is that our Potemkin Village of an Army has, since the 1970s, been hollowed out and now no one really knows how to find the money and even the leadership needed to put it back together again. It is a HUGE matter of policy and funding and political will and military management and defence procurement management, and, and, and …
I have explained that when the last Cold War started ~ and when there as a very, very real chance that it would escalate into a very HOT nuclear holocaust ~ there were real strong political leaders in Canada who saw what needed to be done, developed a plan, secured the resources and then whipped the admirals, generals and officials into line and made them get on with the business of redesigning and rebuilding the Canadian Armed Forces to meet a new, unprecedented challenge. I’m not suggesting that the new Cold War, which I believe is beginning and will grow in intensity, is anywhere near as dangerous as the first one … which is a good thing beause I don’t think that President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan are, any of them fit to shine the shoes of Harry Truman, Louis St Laurent and Brooke Claxton.
But, the challenge for Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Sajjan is the same as the one that faced St Laurent and Claxton: how to rebuild a military force that has been allowed to “rust out.” The problem has one order of complexity that did not face St Laurent and Claxton: we Canadians, in 2016, do not perceive any need to rebuild the military. Too few Canadians have any sense of what a real Navy, Army and Air Force even look like ~ in 1948 over 1 million of Canada’s 13 million people had, just a few years earlier served in the military and they were acutely conscious of the costs of being unprepared. The threats to Canada are less clear (and I will admit less deadly) than in 1949 when the Soviet Union exploded its atomic bomb. But the fact that we don’t fear Russia, in 2016, as we did the USSR, in 1948, does not man that the threats to peace are any less real.
The questions that should have been asked in the army.ca discussion were not “should we have attack helicopters instead of tanks?” but, rather, “why don’t we have attack helicopters and tanks?” The answer is the same as the one I gave when I asked why we don’t have any full strength, combat ready infantry battalions. The problem is that we have politicized the military in a way that makes it almost impossible for admirals and generals and officials to give the most senior officials and ministers good, solid, strategic advice. Campaign promises about “no F-35s” and “returning to peacekeeping” become policy principles that cannot be challenged, even in private … if there even is any “private” in Ottawa anymore.
The simple fact is that the world is far, far more dangerous than Team Trudeau imagined during the 2015 campaign, and it is getting more dangerous by the moment. Canadians are not being informed because we are all focused, with horrid fascination, with the moral and intellectual train wreck that is the US election campaign. Nothing will happen until after January 2017 when a new president is inaugurated and then … well, perhaps then “god help us all.”
What do we need to do?
- First, we, all of us, people in government, people in the military and we, ordinary Canadians, need to understand what the situations in East Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and North Africa and Easter Europe (both the Baltic and the Balkan regions) really mean. They are, in most of those cases, Russian opportunistic adventurism, which gets worse as President Putin understands that the US led West is rudderless right now, and poses a real, measurable threat to global peace and security … to Canada’s peace and security. Of course, I am assuming that what I have posted from “open” but informed sources in my several “Everyman’s Strategic Survey” posts is accurate and current. But we must also understand that our aim is not to “bring Russia to its knees. Our aim, as it was from 1946, is to contain Putin and Russia. We do not want to provoke a war, we want to deter Russia from starting one.
- Second, senior officials and admirals and generals have to “speak truth to power,” but they have to do it quietly, out of earshot of the media, and they have to do it forthrightly and honestly … silence in the name of being politically “neutral” simply will not do.
- Third, Justin Trudeau, Stéphane Dion, Harjit Sajjan and others have to make the case to parliament and to the country that we are facing a new, dangerous situation and the government’s (and the country’s) priorities must change and resources must be found to rebuild our military strength and then apply it, in a principled way, to promote and protect out own vital interests in the world .
- Fourth, parliament has to vote for
HUGEvery substantial increases in defence spending, year after year after year.
- Fifth, senior officials and ministers need to redesign the whole defence procurement system so that it works in a timely, cost effective manner for the defence of Canada, but, perhaps, not so much for a dozen other ancillary “priorities” like regional industrial expansion or job creation.
- Sixth, the minister and senior officials need to redesign the military to meet the 21st century challenges and allocate financial and human resources to it.
- Seventh, and finally, admirals and generals need to recruit and train new people, install new, lean, efficient organizations and integrate new ships, weapon systems, aircraft and support systems into a joint combat effective, combat ready whole ~ a total force that is fit to fight anywhere at any time.
That’s a tall order, I know, but it is the least that needs to be done.