Thinking about defence, again …

I have been going on and on, ever since i started this blog, about defence spending and the growing danger posed by Russia. It is time to revisit the subject because two things caught my eye:

  • First, in the United Kingdom, iNews reports that “On Monday, the head of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter, made an unprecedented speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London … [in which] … He expressed concern that the world we live in has become significantly more dangerous, cited the risk of nuclear war with North Korea, and echoed the USA’s concern that Iran is a major sponsor of global terrorism. But his most explicit warning was reserved to describe the danger posed by Russia … [and, what makes this newsworthy is that] … Never before has a sitting Army chief made such a statement, and it is unthinkable that he would have done so without the endorsement of the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson;” and
  • Second, in Davos, a panel at the World Economic Forum explored the dangers of cyberwar which they described a s a new sort of war without (yet) rules.

The UK situation is summed up in the iNews article as: “If we don’t re-invest in defence, we will need to hope that some unforeseen event doesn’t precipitate a major international conflict …[because] … If it does, we would find ourselves in the same situation as we were just before the Second World War – unprepared. In 1938, as war became inevitable … [then] … Britain was forced to hike defence spending from less than 3 per cent to 9 per cent. Between 1940 and 1945, we spent more than 40 per cent GDP on defence.” Hope, one of my Army chums keeps reminding me, is never a valid course of action … never, I suppose, for anyone except short-sighted, politicians who are buying votes with the voters’ own money.

Finally, the author, Nicholas Drummond, who is a defence industry strategy consultant and, therefore has a vested interest in stopping further budget cuts, says that “Where we were in 1938 is the last place the Armed Forces need to be in 2018.

That is, perhaps, especially true in 2018 when we might be facing a new type of war that we understand even less than we understood blitzkrieg and the U-boat menace in 1938. Cyberwar, for lack of a better term, is a bit of a flavour of the month thing but it is also a very real threat. As former US Defense Secretary Ashton Cater pointed out in Davos, “there are criminals, there are vandals, there are explorers – there are a whole class of people who are not states who are carrying out attacks, as well as states. His view is that an attack is an attack, “there’s no such thing as a ‘cyber attack‘ and we must protect ourselves.” I agree, an attack is an attack, period … it doesn’t matter if it is a bomb delivered to one of our cities by a rogue state or a virus planted in one of our vital computer systems by a “non-state actor” (as we often describe terrorist groups).

Professor Jean Wang pointed out, in Davos, that we are, often, our own worst enemies that software which ends up being used for critical government applications is often developed in a ‘wild west” sort of way and that we continue to use commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) software for critical applications  long after it has been proven to be vulnerable to hacking by amateurs. This is an important warning: governments love trusty, reliable old software, like Windows XP,  because it works so well … but major universities in China are teaching students how to exploit US systems running COTS software. We have, in the Communications Security Establishment, one of the world’s better cyber organizations; it is, I guess,* able to conduct cyber-defence and cyberwar offensive operations with the best of ’em. It is one of the handful of “core capabilities” that I have been harping on for the past few years; in fact it tops my list in the linked post.

I don’t know what all the answers are … certainly not about cyberwar. But I am sure that the Trudeau/Liberal sunny ways agenda is unlikely to be of any use and may put us back on a disastrous 1938 footing also. We paid a hellish price, in blood and treasure, in 1939-45 for an “strategy” (if that’s what it could be called) based on hope … I pray that someone in Team Trudeau remembers that lesson.

At least one of the “answers” is to take national defence seriously … that lesson applies to Conservatives and Liberals and the NDP, too. No one has to like defence spending, but it is rather like paying, through local property taxes, for a fire department … no one likes the bill but almost everyone understands that they need to pay it, for their own good, for their children’s good and for the good of their community because a fire in a neighbours house can jump from roof to roof and burn your house down, too. It’s the same way internationally, strategically: if we do not contain Russia then Putin’s opportunistic adventurism may cause a war that will spread to encompass us … ready or not.

The Laurentian Elites are the ones who want a grand strategy based on hope … they are silly, selfish people and thinking Canadians need to repudiate the whole Laurentian Consensus, wrenching though that might be. We, Canadians, heard the Baldwin-Churchill debates in the late 1930s, but we, the Laurentian Elites anyway, didn’t want to listen. And who could blame them? The Great Depression, coupled with a cruel drought on the prairies, was about as much as we could handle. The idea of another, even “greater” war so soon after “the war that will all war” was just too much for Mackenzie King and the elites in Montreal and Toronto. We must not make same mistake again … although Prime Minister Trudeau and Team Trudeau seem hell bent on leading us down that garden path, and a lot of us, too many of us, seem only too eager to follow.

The situation is worse, in some respects, than in 1938 because the threats are less clear and, likely, more complex, and there is a strategic vacuum in Washington, where the West looks for leadership.


* No one know a lot about CSE and that that’s how it should be.


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