Keeping with this week’s largely military themes, a few days ago I happened upon an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, by Canadian historian Jack Granatstein which was headlined: “If we can’t defend ourselves, are we truly sovereign?“
It is tempting to end this post, quickly, by says something like: “No, of course not … that must be intuitively obvious to any third grader.“
OK, I will resist temptation and go on 9and on) for a bit … Dr Granatstein begins by saying “Canada has national interests and they are very simple to state. We must advance the economic well-being of Canadians, help the advance of freedom and democracy everywhere, share in the defence of North America, and protect the territory, people and sovereignty of the country. We do the first two interests reasonably well. We fail miserably in achieving the last two … [but] … Yes, Canada does help in defending North America, but it does not carry its fair share of that burden. Yes, the government claims to protect Canada and Canadians, but it does not do this job in a credible fashion. Our governments talk about security, righteously claim to be sovereign, and say they perform the requisite tasks. They don’t. And,” he adds, and I agree fully, “it is not only Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals that fail. Every government since 1957 has scrimped on defence and relied on the Americans to protect Canada. This is the antithesis of protecting Canadian sovereignty.” While I think Prime Minister Harper recognized this is 2006, when he announced vast plans ~ all were scaled back ~ for the Arctic and promised to rebuild the Canadian Forces, but his enthusiasm waned, partly, I believe, because the military staff at National Defence Headquarters put their parochial, service and even lower level interests ahead of the prime minister’s direction. But, Dr Granatstein is correct, the last prime minister to actually wanted to make Canada a full partner in the defence of the West, who wanted, in fact, to make Canada a leader amongst the middle powers, was Louis St Laurent.
What are these threats?
“For the first time since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago,” Dr Granatstein says, “there are real threats that face us. The current government’s complete inaction in dealing with these dangers is almost incomprehensible … [and] … what are these threats? North Korea has developed nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles that can strike North America with devastating effect. The regime in Pyongyang is protecting its dynasty by threatening the United States – and us. At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is making hostile gestures around the borders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s members and using very effective disinformation tactics against democracies everywhere. The People’s Republic of China is expanding its grasp on the Chinese diaspora, including those residing in Canada, taking control of international waters far off its shores and spying everywhere … [plus] … Both Russia and China are significant nuclear powers with the capacity to strike North America with nuclear weapons. The President of the United States, unfortunately, is a dangerous buffoon who may drag the world into war.” He concludes, and I agree again that: “These are not the best of times.“
Liberal defence policy on the never-never
“So what,” he asks “is the Canadian government doing in these years of crisis? Not much. Canada has minuscule armed forces, regular and reserve. The men and women in uniform are capable and well trained, but there are too few of them and they lack the modern weapons and equipment to be able to fight and survive on the modern battlefield … [but, he adds] … Ottawa will say, there is a new defence policy. Yes, there is, but it is completely inadequate. The government plans to increase the regular force by 3,500 men and women over the next decade. It plans to increase the reserves by 1,500 over 10 years. The Liberals pledge to include $48.9-billion in new spending over the next 20 years, knowing full well that no such plan can bind future governments. The only hard-spending numbers in the government plan are those for the next two years, when there is for all practical purposes no projected increase in spending on the Canadian Armed Forces. This is defence policy on the never-never.“
What does this all mean?
Taking a look at the three fighting services, Jack Granatstein asks: “So what does this all mean?” He answers his own question:
- “The government claims it will give the Royal Canadian Navy the ships it needs. But the ship-building procurement plan is a fiasco, producing very little at huge cost. The navy is getting a retrofitted civilian cargo ship as an auxiliary replenishment vessel, but the real AORs, as they are called, are years and billions away. The replacements for Canada’s frigates have yet to be contracted and also are decades away. The Arctic patrol vessels are under way, but they are small, slow, lightly armed – and unable to go into the Arctic in winter! Canada’s navy has been reduced to an ineffective constabulary;”
- “The Royal Canadian Air Force is in even worse shape. Its 30-plus-year-old CF-18 fighters are obsolescent in an era where stealth fighters are becoming widely used. The Liberals foolishly made an uninformed election promise not to buy F-35 fifth-generation fighters and stupidly seem to be following through on this pledge. Even worse, they are buying used Australian F-18s that will require costly upgrades to keep flying. Any decision on a new fighter has been put off – until after the next election. That means that new aircraft will not come into service until the mid-2020s at the earliest. The United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Israel, Australia and others have all purchased F-35s. Why is Ottawa unable to do so? This dithering is simply unacceptable;” and
- The Canadian Army is tiny, its three brigades undermanned and ill-equipped. Only one brigade is deployable abroad, and the Army reserve can handle only one emergency at a time. On the drawing boards for more than a decade, new trucks are only now coming into service; the Army’s armoured vehicles are being slowly upgraded, its tanks are obsolescent and the defence systems to protect troops in action are almost completely absent.“
It is a pretty sad litany. I’m not suggesting, not for a µsecond, that Prime Minister Trudeau inherited some sort of well armed rose garden from the Conservatives ~ by 2015 the Canadian Armed Forces were already hurting from Prime Minister Harper’s laser-like focus on balancing the budget without raising taxes. But the Trudeau Liberals have made things measurably worse.
Oh, and don’t forget Kim Jong-un …
And just to make matters worse, he notes that: “then, there is the missile threat to North America, where Canada is completely missing in action. The deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), an RCAF officer based in Colorado Springs, told a parliamentary committee in 2017 that there is no commitment from the United States to attempt to destroy a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile targeting Canada. The U.S. ballistic-missile defence system is far from infallible, but it does offer some protection. Apparently not to Canadians, however … [and] … Why?“, he asks, “Because,” he explains “Canada has flatly refused to participate in missile defence. Former U.S. president George W. Bush offered Ottawa easy and almost free participation in 2005, but then-prime minister Paul Martin, looking at the polling data from Quebec, refused. The Harper government similarly declined to consider the question seriously. So, too, apparently does the Trudeau government. It doesn’t matter that the North Koreans, a jittery regime, have acquired ICBMs; nor does it matter that China and Russia are pressing their military capabilities forward and upgrading their missiles. Despite the evidence, despite the new threats to Canadians, Ottawa continues its complete inaction, and there is so much Canadian distaste for the Trump administration that Mr. Trudeau is unlikely ever to act on missile defence.“
“Canada has its national interests, just as does every other country,” Dr Granatstein explains, “But Ottawa refuses to take the necessary steps to rebuild the Canadian Armed Forces so it can perform its duties in an effective way. It refuses to reform a procurement system that is broken. It refuses to take the necessary steps to protect Canadians from nuclear attack … [and, therefore] … If Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un go to war, the missiles might fly. Mr. Kim’s missiles will pass over Canada en route to the United States – if they are accurate. If they go off course, they might hit Vancouver or Edmonton. If they are intercepted by the Americans, the radioactive pieces can land on Canadian territory. At the very least, Canada needs to strike an agreement to get a voice in the operations room when the decisions are made in Colorado Springs,” he says … and I agree, completely.
Let’s not pretend
Jack Granatstein concludes, and I agree again, by saying: “Let us not pretend we are sovereign if we cannot defend ourselves. We have national interests, and the defence of Canada and Canadians is the most important interest of all.“
Just call it quits?
In another article, Scott Gilmore, writing in Maclean’s magazine only semi-seriously suggests that “it is long past time we simply disbanded the Canadian military altogether. That seems like a radical step, but it would require little actual movement—just the simple act of accepting this is where we already stand … [and, while] … This current government loves to breathlessly emote about our peacekeeping past, but is careful to avoid promising any actual troops. In November of last year, after side-stepping previous promises to make a significant UN deployment, the Prime Minister announced an initiative to increase the proportion of women deployed in peace operations–just not women from the Canadian military. Right now, we have sent 14 officers to the UN; that is less than Honduras, Bhutan, and Armenia. Former Liberal senator Romeo Dallaire explained that this was a new enlightened policy that went beyond the “traditional boots on the ground.” So, why do we even need actual boots anymore? … [but] … The Conservative track record on supporting the Canadian military is just as bad. The Navy rusted out on their watch. And in spite of (or perhaps because of) the Afghanistan deployment, defence procurement completely broke down. Nonetheless, former prime minister Stephen Harper was always happy to pose with members of the Canadian military. Because for parties of all stripes, that is the single most important role of the Armed Forces—optics. It allows politicians to look bold, and it allows the country to pretend that we are a useful ally … [but there’s another but] … in truth, it only irritates our allies in the UN, NATO and NORAD. Ottawa loves to show up at international conferences, talk up a storm about the importance of peace or a strong and united defence, then quietly slip out the backdoor when it comes to actually putting troops on the table … [and, he adds] … none of this was a secret. Defence journalists reported on all of this. And the Canadian public greeted every step of decline with a shrug. There were ample opportunities to pressure the government to turn things around, but we frankly just didn’t care … [therefore] … why don’t we just own it and admit the truth, as painful as it is: We do not have a functional military, and that’s the way we want it. Let’s implement this new “enlightened policy” by shutting down the Canadian Forces and declaring ourselves a post-military nation. We could join the ranks of Haiti, Andorra, and Vanuatu.“
A country that cannot defend itself is not worthy of the name … a country, like Canada, that can defend itself ~ we are one of the dozen or so richest countries in the world, after all ~ but will not, because the Laurentian Elites who make policy are a bunch of left-wing, semi-pacifist, anti-American nincompoops (especially those with PhDs from fancy, American Ivy League universities), is a bloody disgrace.