Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Canada's Military and its Future

Treehugger at Heart of the Mattter has started a discussion on Canada's military, its purpose and future. Being that I'm strictly a civilian with no military expertese, experience or qualifications aside from having read a few ancient military texts, my opinion is that of a layman and generally prognosticator. However, John the Mad, and Damian of Babbling Brooks have a more experienced perspective, and as an aside Laurie Hawn at Strong and Free is someone I'd like to see comment on that thread. For those of you who don't know Laurie Hawn is the candidate of record for Edmonton Centre and recently tilted against the windmill that is Anne McClellan, he's also a retired colonel from the air force.

However, let it not be said that little things like "humility" and "technical knowledge" are something that prevents me from expressing an opinion.

The state of the Canadian military is fundamentally unacceptable. That should be something which forms a broad consensus among Canadians regardless of political stripes. Thus it seems appropriate to seek remedy for the existing problems and lay out a vision for future expansion.

At the moment the most pressing concerns to the Canadian military have been an operating shortfall, which has significantly depleted a deficient budget for equipement purchases, the subsequent degradation of the equipement available to the military and a manpower shortage.

We've asked an aweful lot from our military in the last decade, and they've been forced to operate on a shoestring government. The number of peacekeeping missions where we've sent them into harms way, over working and under equiping them is substantial. In order to fund these overseas ventures they've forgone the replacement of equipement. My first suggestion would be to scrutinize the number of overseas commitments Canada has currently placed on its military and remove our troops from low priority areas. Thereafter, I would suggesting passing legislation entailing automatic monetary transfers to the department of defense for any moneys needed to keep its operational budget in line with operational expenses. Canabalizing the equipement budget is leading us towards a crisis situation.

Secondly, there needs to be an immediate and substantial infusion of money into the Canadian military for the purposes of replacing againing and already deficient equipement. The Sea King helicopter which has been in use for over 40 years is the most agregious example of the neglect the government has bestowed upon our forces. The navy lacks sufficient ships to properly patrol and police our waters and protect fishing stocks, while the airforce lacks sufficent transport capabilites to lift out troops to trouble spots. Insufficiently armoured vehicles have caused the death of some of our troops in Afghanistan. Our reserves don't even have enough bullets available to practice shooting.

I would suggest that there should be a multi-party commitment to investing 10 billion dollars into the Canadian military over the next five years. I'm uncertain if this would be sufficient given the rapid deplete of resources, however, it would be a strong step forward to reversing the dissapearance of a once proud entity.

Were I to hazard an opinion on spending priorities, I would emphasize airlift capacity immediately as lacking it we can't engage in peacekeeping expeditions or in offensive coalitions. I would also deem being able to aquire sufficient ships to contribute to naval exercises and maintain soverignty over territorial waters quite pressing. Stronger armoured vehicles, tanks and helicopters would also rank as things which would be of utility.

I mentioned there is a manpower shortage in the forces. And indeed by any accounts we have too few troops for the commitments we've undertaken. Ironically, we've also understaffed recruit training operations so there is a minimal inflow of new blood into the forces and apparantly many whom are interested in serving are turned away. Expanding and building new training centres to engage more people in the forces is desirable as quickly as possible. It would relieve the burden on those currently serving, as well as paving the way to being able to make more significant troop contributions at some point in the future.

I do not think it would be out of line to suggest doubling the current number of people serving in the forces. We can never compete with the size and might of the US military. However, we can maintain a good sized and respectable military comparable to England or Australia.

As for the purpose of the armed forces, I will state unequivocally the primary goal of the forces should be defense of the realm. Really, that's the first and most primary duty of any government let alone its military. However, I will acknowledge that I do not think we shall be fighting on the beaches of Halifax or Vancouver anytime soon. However, defense of the realm also includes maintaining Canadian sovereignty over our waters, our aerospeace and our territory. Its unacceptable to me that Denmark is claiming one of our islands and pressing a claim towards the Arctic. We should have sufficient patrols to discourage their presence, as a nation the size of New Brunswick with only a few million people should not be able to flout our jurisdiction. Simmilarly foreign fishing boats should not be exaccerbating crises that are occuring off the Grand Banks.

I also think that offensive capability is an absolute necessity. We can not speak credibly on the international stage if it is not. Our quarrel with Iran illustrated that to a T. We expressed out dissatisfaction that one of our citizens had been killed? But what happened as a resulte we withdrew our ambassador and said we were angry...

I know if I was an Iranian mullah I'd be not only scared but heartbroken about our dissatisfaction and having my behaviour declared unacceptable. I'm not stating that we should have been, or should have unilaterally invaded. However, I think the availability of the option to respond by launching a number of missiles at Iranian government buildings would have been benificial to our objections being taken seriously.

Keeping the peace and humanitarian efforts being undertaken by military forces are also desirable and benificial. I do not think they should be the primary purpose of the military. However, they may be its most frequent application. Maintaining out ability to do both of these things is closely tied up in manpower shortages and equipement shortages which affect the other two purposes of the military I outlined above. Hence I think that equipement shortages specifically for peacekeeping missions should be a tertiary concern they should be a concern. I think equiping one's self for the worst case scenario of an offensive action has to be the primary concern.


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