May 16, 2005

Cdn. military news this week

The Canadians are quietly closing down their half-battalion commitment to UNDOF, on the Golan Heights. It's been our largest UN commitment by far for some time now... essentially this means that by the end of this summer Canada will have withdrawn all but token representation from all UN military operations, with the number of soldiers working with the international organization dropping to near-zero for the first time since 1956. (Our remaining major international commitment (ie Afghanistan) is under a NATO flag.) Regardless of whether you consider UN peacekeeping a good thing or not, it's a significant milestone. The Martin government talks a mean foreign policy game, but in practical military terms they have been the most isolationist national Canadian government since Diefenbaker's day.

Of course, that could still all change now that Darfur has become an issue that could sink them. The real difficulty here is there is no framework, other than support for the African Union's efforts, under which a Canadian force of any size could deploy.

The African Union troops that are doing little in any case hardly need a larger number of Canadian military support staff. (It's doubtful they'll get much use out of the 60 the Martin government is already proposing to send: what they really want right now is air transport, which we no longer have to lend.) The only way you could get more Canadian troops on the ground doing something useful to stop the fighting would be to get a real multilateral peace-enforcement organization in to support or supplant the AU, that would deploy a force that the Canadians could join their battalion to, against the Sudanese government's will. Those organizations boil down to three: the UN, NATO, and a U.S.-led coalition. The problems with the last of these should be obvious... NATO is tied up in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, and the UN has no real generally accepted mandate to intervene contrary to a host nation (Sudan)'s wishes. (It's worth noting there has never been a Canadian deployment of troops overseas in the absence of a coalition involving either the U.S., Britain, or the UN.)

We are up here against the limits of our national power, both hard and soft. As Jean Chretien found out in the Congo, what David Kilgour wants to achieve here, an actual Western military presence, is only achievable in the wake of a new and broad agreement among some kind of transnational alliance (presumably including at least one country with spare transport planes)... and those alliances really aren't interested in joining into this dance at present. Defeating the Martin government would seem to make exactly zero difference to that fact.

As for the Conservative opposition, they're off making more silly military promises of their own: promising to keep CFB Goose Bay in Labrador open by putting an army battalion there makes zero military sense and is basically a pork-barrel promise to the voters in the upcoming byelection there. So in a nutshell, you have an Independent MP who will sell his vote to whomever will send Canadian soldiers on a new and risky mission overseas, a Conservative government that mostly wants to use them to buy votes, and a Liberal government that is quietly bringing them all home and hoping nobody will notice.

Note to David Kilgour: When Romeo Dallaire, previously the other loud Canadian voice on the Darfur question, says there's not any more use for any more Canadian troops than we're already sending, maybe just maybe that means that there isn't.

Posted by BruceR at 01:57 PM