In this time of reflection,  following major Canadian   defense deployments and some soul searching in NATO, the emerging conversation is being  presented in terms of challenges in selling Canadians on increasing defense expenditures based on a threat assessment involving possible future enemies, basically China, non functioning governments, military conflict over global resource competiveness,  and maybe the north with Russia; all in an effort to maximize or increase possible defense budgets.    This is a fairly traditional military approach to defense justification;  the search for future enemies, however improbable, hypothetical or realistic, all in concert with needing  newer, more expensive military technology.   I believe this is no longer a viable or sustainable approach to defence planning, and no longer relevant, given the current nature of ethnic or insurgency conflict, the crippling cost of military hardware, the pervasiveness of media technology, growing economic constraints and  a  emerging awareness of other global priorities, such as poverty, energy and climate issues.  This is combined with insurgencies and militant radicals who now know how to defeat heavy conventional land armies and superpowers.  Canadians see all this, and regardless of the current governments view of Canadian military history, our diversity does not lend us to think of ourselves as having a deep  military tradition, or of wanting our contribution to international peace and stability to be  one of open warfare and killing.   We are a country of First Nations and immigrants, many of which came here because the militaries in their home countries were not trusted or worse.   We are a country blessed by geography in a military sense, and if anything, a tradition and culture of peace.

I believe that  to have a meaningful, credible and honest dialogue with Canadians on defence  means to set aside any “politics of fear or of enemies”.    Strategies of overselling, up-selling, or cross-selling are pretty transparent to most Canadians.

I believe it important to stop talking about threats and stop looking  for enemies.    Why do we need threats, especially China or Russia,  when growing economic dependencies make war a declining possibility; a possibility that is undesirable and ruinous for everyone, including any aggressor?  What you label  –  you create.  I believe that language is very important if you want to communicate with Canadians.    The word enemy means to an approach of  “search and destroy” in military terms and implies a real threatened of total physical destruction or conquest.  The word may engender a response from identified countries that is not conducive to good relationships.  The military or its advocates cannot, directly or indirectly, be complicit in creating enemies, that do not exist in the context of direct and explicit military threats.

Perhaps what we actually have are, not enemies, but serious problems or challenges to international peace and stability.  Then the legitimate question is –  what does this mean for the Canadian Military?  What is affordable ?  What are Canadians willing to spend on defence?  How can the military make the most effective and responsible use of what is allocated?

I suggest that the current Plan A being advocated assumes that “what is” does not equal ”what should be”  and seeks to strain capacity, tries to do everything, is never enough, and is not sustainable or credible to Canadians.

Perhaps a Plan B may involve a greater acceptance that “what is” equals “what should be” and the military accept what is given by Canadians and go from there.

In the background, perhaps we should acknowledge the Afghanistan and Libyan missions are over and some hard lessons need to be admitted here.  Iraq and Afghanistan, as was Vietnam, are failures by any measure.  We need to admit that losing trillion dollar wars in the Mideast cannot be sustained, and will be very very rare in the future.  In this regard, the west should consider a current overspend admission.  Even by the current numbers, just how many multiples of Russia-China defense expenditures do we need to feel secure, even as China plays “catch-up”?  We have massively more than enough by any military analysis.   We overspend them so much,  that it borders on irresponsible, and we then complain about their defence expenditures. This makes no sense to Canadians.  The current global arms build-up is beyond incredible.  We need a new world view  where war should not always  be the first reflexive response to problems.

This may lead to expressing  Plan B as a  Canadian defence strategy of “reduce and extend”, where we prioritize and turn expenditures into defence sustainability.

Perhaps also a Plan C in parallel is necessary.  Here we may  acknowledge that hard military intervention with heavy weapons and the taking of sides is no longer any viable solution to international conflict,  and there is a balance and sufficiency of military force structure that is enough. It may be time to reconsider supporting a relevant and  evolved “peace operations” doctrine, that aims to relieve suffering and reduce conflict, not participate in it.   I believe this  means something to Canadians,  no matter how hard the military, or the government try to deny it or assert otherwise.  I believe that the northern issue can be resolved through good faith and diplomacy.   I believe that trade and global economic integration will make any major conflict between superpowers obsolete.  Competitiveness does not , or should not, mean enemies.  My biggest suggestion would be – don’t make enemies if we do not have to.  Competitors or having differences do not define enemies.  I believe that enemies in a purely  military sense do not exist in the minds of  Canadians, and that any conversation along this line will get the Department of Defence absolutely nowhere with Canadians.

Good luck to us as we discuss what to do next, and I hope that the outcomes will  serve to bring the Canadian Forces and Canada into a new era of leadership in an evolved, meaningful and constructive response to international peace and stability.

  1. Paul Maillet says:

    In response to an email inquiry on “reduce and extend”. The “reduce and extend” option would be multi layered. It ties into the overspend admission (now that the Afghan is over and we still collectively spend many multiples of the Russia China outlay), the restructuring away from most hugely expensive, heavy, cold war type weapons, the rerolling the armed forces to basic needs and prioritizing international peace and security operations rather than operations related to war.. Like a “pay cut” one reduces expenditures and maybe lifestyle in order to get along sustainably with what is available. All a question of rebalancing lower budgets, with force structure, with a rationalizing of missions towards peace and basic sovereignty operations.

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