Let Others Do It

Canadian defense policy

Ambulances and fire engines spend most of their time waiting for a call. When it comes, we expect something to happen, not to be told sorry, but the staff and equipment are not available. With an understaffed and under-equipped military, successive Canadian governments have left defense policy in a state of unreadiness. If events at home or abroad call for action, Canada’s ability to respond falls short of what might be expected of one of the world’s wealthier nations.

Another way to look at it is that Canada has contracted out to others, and especially to the US, the capability to respond if the country is threatened and defense forces needed. Don’t be surprised if a future American administration asks us to pay an annual fee for the services provided. After all, some have proposed getting Mexicans to pay for building a wall on the US-Mexican border.

(This has always seemed a bit odd, because if a drone can deliver parcels for Amazon, surely one could deposit a person over the wall, and people could be hired to give advice on building tunnels.)

Canadian defense personnel are well trained and perform admirably when required to do so, but there are not enough of them, meaning that funds are not available to recruit, train, equip and retain them. The statistics are well known relative to those of other countries.

The number of army, navy and airforce personnel, level of defense expenditures, and number of ships and planes are low in absolute and relative terms in comparison with others. And it is not the amount of equipment owned, but what actually works that matters. Repeatedly documented is the age of Canada’s fighter planes and helicopters, and the decrepit state of its small navy. When it needs naval support, it has to rent or borrow from others. The Russians must feel threatened that a single Canadian ship was patrolling the Black Sea before having to withdraw for maintenance.

Luckily there are a few determined academics and journalists who document these issues. Politicians of all stripes see few votes in allocating money to defense, preferring to spend it on foreign aid and offering Canadians further entitlements at home.

Hugh Segal highlights these and other issues in Two Freedoms, Canada’s Global Future (Dundurn , 2016), where he writes p.166, “At present, our forces have a patrol deficit, a logistics deficit, an intelligence deficit, a training deficit, and the federal budget has an operational deficit.”  Academics like Jack Granatstein and Fen Hampson amongst others make a similar case: Hampson writes “We remain comfortable within the American cocoon.” And journalists including David Pugliese and Matthew Fisher actually visit troops on the ground, and provide the public with the current state of military play. There is one further dimension I would add.

Canadian forces are sent into combat zones to provide advice and training to foreign fighters, with the impression given to the Canadian public that they will not personally engage in fighting, and if fired on will not respond. The latter is not part of the Canadian mantra of peace-keeping. But it defies common sense to expect Canadian advisors, who come under attack, not to respond to protect their lives, nor should they be expected not to respond.

A related reality for Canadians to understand is that by directing allied fighters where and whom to shoot and bomb, after you have helped refuel their planes, and by making military sales to allied forces which actually fly attack missions, you are engaged in direct combat roles. While Canada wants to appear to be partially pregnant, it has to realize that the condition does not exist either in peace or war. You go in or stay out.

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