Defence, again ~ Senate reports, 2% and capabilities

Tony Battista, the CEO of the Conference of Defence Associations, a pro-defence lobby group and Charles Davies, who is a fellow with the CDA Institute, have written an article in the Toronto Sun that deals with two Senate reports about which I have commented:

Messers Battista and Davies say that “The two reports need to be read together. The April one sets out five fundamental reforms necessary to correct chronic mismanagement by successive governments:

  • The first is the politically unpopular proposal to progressively increase defence spending to the agreed NATO target of 2% of GDP. All NATO allies, including Canada, have agreed to this 2% target, but few are meeting it. Today, if spending 2% of GDP can be afforded by Australia, the UK, France and others, then it can be afforded by Canada. It is simply a matter of political will.
  • The second reform is to make DND fully responsible for defence procurement. This would eliminate the current problem that “everyone is responsible so no one is responsible” for delays, cost overruns, and other failures. The Senate proposal for a single point of accountability has merit and should be implemented, while defence spending is increased to meet the capability gaps.
  • The third proposal is to put more focus on cyber security and the protection of critical infrastructure. These areas are recognized in the report as having a wider continental and, in the case of cyber, a global dimension.
  • The Senate’s fourth proposal is to require the government to review defence policy cyclically, with a clear set of rules under which it will do so and be held accountable. It is time Canada got on board.
  • The fifth reform builds on the fourth by calling on the government to work with the House of Commons and Senate to build an enduring consensus on defence policy. This will create more stability and reduce waste in defence spending. Politically-driven direction changes every time a new government comes to power produce unnecessary waste of precious defence funds.

I dealt with the first and fifth points back in January of 2016 when I asked: “How much is enough?” In my opinion 2% is about right, as Erin O’Toole has suggested, but it will not be an easy “sell” in Canada. A lot of politicians, from both sides of the aisle, have to explain why 2% is about right to a lot of Canadians. As one of my interlocutors has noted I, a partisan Conservative, acknowledge that neither party has, since Louis St Laurent was prime minister, tried very hard to fund national defence to necessary levels. Beginning in the Diefenbaker era the costs of defence soared as the needs ~ the perceived threat ~ seemed to diminish. Canadians wanted “the fruits of their labours” to be returned to them in the form of a social safety net rather than in tanks and guns, there is, indeed, a need for both sides of the aisle to accept responsibility for the current sorry state of affairs and to make common sense proposals to put things right. It’s a bi-partisan challenge.

I have explained why I disagree with their second point. I agree, broadly and generally with the third and fourth points.

The key, however, it has always seemed to me is not the budget … rather it is the capabilities that we need. Way back when this blog was young and short I talked about an AAA+ military and I listed 11 capabilities that I thought ~ and still think ~ are essential for an efficient, effective Canadian military. I think it will take a budget of about 2% of GDP to “buy” those AAA+ military forces (and supporting elements). But asking Canadian to spend, say, $50 Billion in 2025 or 2030 is counterproductive unless and until Canadians say they want to have those capabilities.

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