December 31, 2002



Tom R. in Flitters draws our attention to a new paper on Canadian defence policy problems, by University of Windsor professor Andrew ("No, I don't control the universe") Richter. He's right... it is very good, and almost entirely inarguable in its conclusions.

The thesis in a nutshell: Canadian defence spending will never increase now. The army is incapable of anything more than peacekeeping and the air force is entirely useless. The navy is still internationally respectable, largely through luck. The future lies in shutting down the non-effective services to keep the navy in the realm of respectability in the long-term, as it's the only service that gets us any respect abroad now, or is likely to in future.

Two problems: Richter dramatically understates the serious impact the lack of maritime helicopters has on the effectiveness of Canadian surface ships. A modern frigate can't fight on its own without helicopters... Canadian surface combatants are incapable of most combat activities outside of an American or allied air umbrella, and are likely to remain so indefinitely. The navy's in the hurt locker along with everyone else, it seems, although the road to get them out (buy helicopters!) is fairly clear, simple, and relatively inexpensive.

Second, he makes no mention of Canada's very low military participation rates compared to other Western countries. It is the lack of any tradition of military service in our general population opinion leaders, more than anything else, that produced the budgetary devastation of the Chretien 90s in the first place. To repurpose the forces (say, around an all-Navy approach as he suggests) without offering interested Canadians some means of contributing and participating in larger numbers than now will only guarantee a recurrence the next time hard budget choices need be made, years or decades down the road. Some allowance must be made for extending military understanding to a broader franchise... a task for which the naval reserve, with its equipment and geographical limitations, is simply not as well suited as the army reserve.

The answer most sensible people seem headed toward is a forces comprising a fighting, American-friendly navy, an army focussed on low- and medium- level operations such as peacekeeping, relief, and "Connecting with Canadians" through its reserves, and an air force centred on logistical and support tasks and domestic airway patrol. That's what Canadians can have for what they spend. The leadership by and large agrees, and is taking the forces there as fast as they can without alarming anyone overmuch. The trouble now is securing the transitional funding (for things like helicopters for the navy, or a reserve restructure, or new medium lift for the air force) to get us from here to there. And that's certainly not going to come in '03.

Posted by BruceR at 12:49 AM