The war drums are beating again with this government, and the CF18 is being touted as our contribution to war fighting. The main lesson we learn from our military wars since 2001 is that we never learn.  After 911 we set in motion a train of events that destabilized Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya (governments we did not like) and caused 100s of thousands of dead, untold suffering, and the massive destruction of infrastructure.  We created the conditions for a militant Taliban and ISIS to emerge.

We sent Canadian soldiers to fight in Afghanistan at the urging of Gen Hillier who almost overnight transformed our foreign policy from peacemaking to war fighting.

The result was Canadians killed and civilians killed by Canadians. We have Canadian veterans who continue to die from suicide and wounds from the afghan wars.  In Libya the harm we did was not who we are as peacemakers. Our foreign policy is adversarial in the Ukraine crisis against Russia, Iran, and unapologetic regarding Israel.  Now we want, or are being pressured into, a role of killing in Iraq. Why do we not learn?

In Iraq, the element of surprise is now lost. Only difficult, dispersed elements of ISIS imbedded in civilian populations remain.  Large massed formations will no longer exist as targets.  Insurgents have learned how to fight superpowers effectively.  1000 lb laser or GPS guided bombs are not weapons to be used in residential or urban areas.  We have been again trapped in a military role of “search and destroy” of combatants; and refuse to accept that the task is now largely constabulary, the difficult and dangerous “apprehend and prosecute” of criminals with international and national  police agencies, and sanctions, denying safe havens, resources and logistics, with the military only in reserve.  No 2000 lb bombs were used in the IRA campaign.

With CF18s, this may mean Canada’s role will be relegated to such as air to ground support to coalition forces, or attacking secondary fixed targets such as refineries, infrastructure and causing civilian causalities.  It may be a crime for ISIS to hide in civilian populations, but a far worse crime to kill civilians to get at these military targets.  We will plead unintended consequences, but unintended or not, they are totally foreseeable with the weapons we have.  This is not acceptable.

The CF18:

  • The CF 18 is certainly nearing end of its life (ie, structural fatigue, and parts sustainability are the big issues). We will virtually rob the fleet back home of parts and ground a large, if not the remainder, of the fleet.
  • An Air to ground role is basically being a bomb truck with standoff (up to 20 Kms) or high altitude delivery. Air to ground is less wear and tear than air combat manoeuvring.  Standoff weapons delivery protects pilots and not civilians.
  • We have only basic guided weapons basically 500, 1000, and 2000 lb bombs with laser, INS or GPS guidance, and without absolute precision.
  • We will kill civilians and ruin their infrastructure, whether intended or not
  • It is very expensive to run such a small deployment for the minimal combat power contribution possible.
  • If we need to extend the CF18 life, perhaps we need to  limit the aircraft  to a domestic sovereignty surveillance/intercept role in Canada (due to replacement procurement delay)

The next question is how do we contribute to international peace and stability in such as the Mideast, given that peace and security of the world is the peace and security of Canada. Two choices:

  1. Peace operations. Peace building and humanitarian aid, refugee assistance, diplomacy and dialogue, SAFE HAVENS, constabulary support. Adopt a peace model for conflict; such as one of being presence, impartial, asserting certain values (human rights and non violence), and involving mediation and negotiation (upon readiness and willingness)  Creating safe spaces for dialogue.  Working with UN.
  2. War-fighting is to be a true last resort (presently the only resort). We need a peace making capacity to engage the crisis, before military intervention is involved.    Even then I do not believe we need to contribute fighters, and can contribute other dual use assets such as ships, transport airplanes or peacekeeping troops.  We do not need to contribute everything.

The last question is political. We are under big pressure from military, industrial and political sectors and allies to ”go along”. A new peace oriented  foreign policy  will take some resolve and courage to create.  We have two noble peace prizes to reclaim.  We can begin with a department of peace and with serious and robust peace operations as a precursor to war fighting. Now war will be a true last resort.

Paul Maillet

Colonel Retired

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