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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Subtraction by addition

A bit late but I had a piece in Friday's Kitchener-Wateroo Record concerning Paul Martin's proposed "peacekeeping brigade." Jane's Defence Weekly recently said that establishing the 5 000 member brigade would likely gut the Canadian Armed Forces. Here's the essay.

Subtraction by addition; Peacekeeping brigade will decimate forces

By Steven Martinovich

Long-time watchers of the Canadian Armed Forces were pleasantly surprised last year when Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that the federal government would add 5 000 new soldiers to the ranks. After years of atrophying numbers the news was welcome and many hoped it signaled the end of an era where our military died the death of a thousand cuts.

Unfortunately it appears that the federal government is practicing subtraction by addition. According to a report by Jane's Defence Weekly last week, the addition of Martin's "peacekeeping brigade" may end up costing the military significant assets. Although the federal government is expanding the number of soldiers, it will not be providing any extra money to pay for them.

And it's quite a bit of money. Jane's estimates that the new brigade will need $1.5 billion in equipment, $750 million in infrastructure funding and $400 million annually to maintain. That's a significant sum of money for a brigade whose mission will do little to enhance Canada's war fighting capacity.

To cover the costs of these new soldiers, senior Canadian officers have reportedly come up with a plan that effectively guts much of our operational capability. Although the Chief of Defence staff denied on August 23 that any cuts would be made, the plan reportedly includes mothballing the entire fleet of Iroquois-class destroyers, some frigates and grounding of to up 20 CF-18 fighters – a quarter of our fighter aircraft – the same ones we're spending $2.3 billion to modernize. No one should be surprised if it also means base closures and a delay to previously announced planned purchases of badly needed transport craft or supply ships.

Regardless of how our military will pay for the new brigade – they're already grappling with an annual $1 billion deficit for current operations – they don't have much time to figure out how to do so. Martin will be unveiling his new brigade to the United Nations later this year.

For those of us who actively watch the state of our military, it almost seems pointless to remind people how dire their predicament is, especially given how many times we've done it. Thanks to decades of cuts and apathy the military is barely able to undertake even modest peacekeeping missions. Much hand-wringing occurs in the United States because the massive commitment of American soldiers overseas and the resulting strain on their military but here in Canada our forces are strained with only 1 915 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan (1 002), Bosnia-Herzegovina (651), the Golan Heights (193) and other postings.

A recent Queen's University report stated that it would take decades to rebuild the military to meet our growing international commitments. Capital spending would have to rise by $15 billion over the next five years before the plight of the armed forces wasn't considered critical. That doesn't mean healthy or even passable, merely no longer critical.

Canadians tend to shy away from black and white declarations but Prime Minister Martin's plan demands nothing but stark commentary. If we proceed with this new peacekeeping brigade, we are essentially shattering the military, quite possibly beyond repair. By eliminating extensive operational capacity, including the ability to command naval task forces, air to ground attack and logistical capabilities in favour of what is likely to be a relatively lightly armed peacekeeping unit, Canada will all but permanently cede its capability of engaging in large scale operations.

A military increasingly limited to the oxymoron-laden "non-combat" peacekeeping mission will not be able to advance our foreign policy goals or influence nations not impressed by our "moral superpower" approach. Our allies will have little need to consult us on important issues because we won't have the capacity to serve beside them when needed. We will not be able project force when legitimately needed and it's doubtful that we could even protect ourselves.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

Posted by Steve Martinovich on August 29, 2004 in Military | Permalink


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This articule indicates the appalling mismanagement of the military. Particularly, the government seems to have little interest in maintaining an effective force.

I ask the question: should Canada abandon maintaining a military entirely?

It is a radical notion. On one hand, it would limit foreign policy to the frustration of our allies. But on the other hand, it would save money, lives and time.

I think it is better to save the money and accept the new reality than maintain a show-piece military with unclear missions, capabilities, and pathetic leadership. Besides, it would also spare a repeat of the 1970 "FLQ Crisis" in Alberta when we secede.

Posted by: Free Alberta | 2004-08-30 1:33:53 AM

Not to worry, Canada's armed forces wouldn't stand a chance against a bunch of riled up Albertans anyway.

Posted by: alan | 2004-08-30 10:03:41 AM

> I ask the question: should Canada abandon maintaining a military entirely?

I asked that question in another piece not so long ago. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned but I do not believe a state really exists unless it has a military. I'm not saying we have one now but at least a framework exists if someone one day decides to begin the long work of rebuilding the CAF.

Posted by: Steve Martinovich | 2004-08-30 12:54:14 PM

Yet another example of how, for all the complaining about Liberal dishonesty, we're usually better off when they DON'T keep their promises (national daycare, killing the GST, prohibiting two-tier health care, running a "reasonable" deficit, etc. etc. ad nauseam).

Let's hope this is one of those cases.

Posted by: Jerry Aldini | 2004-08-30 1:52:20 PM

Jack Granatstein had it right in his book "Who Killed the Canadian Military" when he said "we the Canadian people did." Until the Canadian voter understands why a professional military is important, DND will continue to feed on budgetary table-scraps.

I'm tempted to say the defence community, including you, Granatstein, Bland, Cooper, Marsh et al don't enhance your own credibility by predicting the complete collapse of the military. You give the impression it will be a definable moment, fourteen minutes and thirty-two seconds from now. And when the collapse doesn't meet deadline, the public assumes you were crying wolf.

The truth is our military won't visibly collapse. Army bases won't be sucked into a hole in the ground. Our planes will not all fall out of the air at once. And big gray ships will continue to populate the jetties of Halifax and Esquimalt. The forces simply won't be able to do what we need it to do when we need it done.

Posted by: Damian | 2004-08-30 3:43:20 PM

> I'm tempted to say the defence community, including you, Granatstein, Bland, Cooper, Marsh et al don't enhance your own credibility by predicting the complete collapse of the military. You give the impression it will be a definable moment, fourteen minutes and thirty-two seconds from now. And when the collapse doesn't meet deadline, the public assumes you were crying wolf. <

You're right, technically speaking, that there is no definable moment for the complete collapse of the Armed Forces but there is a point where what we ask of the military and what it is able to do don't match up. I would submit that we passed that point a long time ago. When we're having trouble meeting our peacekeeping obligations I'd say that more rigorous missions are beyond our reach. An armed forces that is not even able to mount a credible defence of its own territory is on the verge of collapse.

I would certainly consider that a collapse of the military. Airplanes may not be falling out of the sky -- fortunately one of the Hercules was able to land before that *that* happened -- but helicopters already are.

Posted by: Steve Martinovich | 2004-08-30 10:17:57 PM

Let's face facts: maintaining a military to defend Canada's territory is both impractical and pointless.

Canada only borders one country - the USA - from which all of Canada's prosperity flows. They could do it - like my dream of seeing the 3rd Infantry Division doing a "thunder run" through Toronto and Ottawa like they did Baghdad in 2003 - but they won't because it would achieve nothing. For some inexplicable reason, many Ontarians fear an invasion. It shows how paranoid they are, and how unworthy they are of Alberta's respect. Treat them with contempt wherever possible.

The recent Northern exercises have served only to prove that the military bureaucracy can create reasons to justify its budget. Face facts: NO ONE will try to take an Arctic island because it serves no purpose. The only countries in that area are Denmark and the US, both NATO allies and the friendliest countries one could ask for. Staging exercises in those areas is propaganda, pure and simple, for the domestic crowd and especially the government. These exercises are costly and needless, and should be immediately axed.

Yes, the US is the most powerful nation on Earth and possibly in the history of the world. But for Canada to think it can contemplate a military solution to its disputes with them is madness. I hope they do invade just to teach the rich people in Ontario a badly needed lesson: don't waste your time even trying.

If a military is to be maintained, it should be aimed at foreign expeditionary operations. It's been doing this for decades in peacekeeping to the point where they call it a "tradition". Overseas operations require huge resources, lots of money, and the patience of the troops - all of which is being strained by government inattention. This will continue unless the military itself stands up to the government and makes its professional opinions.

It is, however, very unlikely that the government will listen. They see the military in such contempt that it is merely there to protect Toronto from snow. Granatstein correctly pointed out that the voters are also responsible for this mess. They are, for this and many other things. The military will be just one of the casualties of their apathy - medicare will fall too. Some serious decisions have to be made, and Ontario will be to blame for not making them. Alberta must consider whether or not to continue in this farce of a Confederation.

Posted by: Free Alberta | 2004-08-31 12:11:12 AM

Hey Steve, I agree with you. I'm just trying to figure out why the general public still doesn't get it.

Posted by: Damian | 2004-08-31 8:04:56 AM

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