September 28, 2011

That Jack English article on the Cdn. army reserve

Worth a read if you've got an interest, specifically in Canadian army reserve issues. The gist:

With most Canadians having never served in the military, Militia troop time, if more actively encouraged, would go a long way toward redressing a pronounced lack of public knowledge about Canada’s armed forces. To cut the Militia, which at present is shockingly no larger than NDHQ, would therefore be a tragic mistake.

English argues that national militaries need to be prepared for all kinds of possible service, both foreign and domestic, and so reinvestment in a larger number of reservists rather than the smaller number of regular force personnel you could get with the same pay and benefits expenditure makes sense. Here's the simple reason this never works out, and it has to deal with two figures that English both quotes and accepts. The standard rule of thumb is you need 5 Class A (part-time) reservists to sustain one deployable soldier (p. 21). But for the same cost it takes to fund one regular soldier, $133,000 a year, you can only fund 4 reservists (p. 28). Now you could quibble all day about both numbers, find economies, etc., but if you accept them as stated by English himself, regular soldiers are actual better value for the money under current circumstances.

English also points out, correctly, that DND civilian employees in NDHQ cost about as much as regular soldiers. But as he quite accurately states, the majority of reservists "join up not to push paper in offices, but to practice the profession of arms." So there's no direct substitution effect to be had here. He says the area for savings is reducing the size of headquarters. Which is all perfectly true, but that's almost a separate argument from what is the best way for the Forces to reinvest those savings from restructuring (into more regulars or reservists, or planes or tanks, for that matter) assuming they could ever be found.

You need to combine that fact with Slaughter, below, saying the kinds of foreign interventions we need to do are not the kind that need large armies, along with the limited role reservists actually needed to play in recent domestic operations (specifically Olympics and G8/G20 security) and you're left with serious questions about the concept of operations at this point that you can't just handwave over by saying, "we may need to mobilize the country again, some day." Well, yes, we may, but not any time inside the current funding forecasts of the federal government, it's fairly certain. Historically, western countries have used reservists when their governments saw the coming need for rapid mobilization of large numbers of troops as a realistic contingency to plan for. There's no reason to believe Canadian military expenditures on reservists wouldn't increase rapidly if it was thought there would be a realistic use-case for that capability in the decades to come. In the meantime, you still have to explain why reservists are more valuable today than their funding weight in regular soldiers would be, and English simply hasn't done that here. Not saying he's wrong, just that he hasn't made his case on the printed page.

Posted by BruceR at 02:49 PM

Briefing our way to victory

There's a lot of depression going around this week. See also Anne-Marie Slaughter, commenting on a piece by Rory Stewart:

The interventions that I count as successes – albeit highly qualified ones – are East Timor, Kosovo, and now Libya. All were launched in the face of crimes against humanity on a scale sufficient to shock the global conscience. All were relatively short. And all were marked by a relatively light military footprint on the part of the interveners – only air power in the cases of Kosovo and Libya, limited Australian troops on the ground in the case of East Timor – aimed primarily at stopping the superior force and creating a safe space for a process of national self-determination to take place (albeit under close international supervision). Foreign combat forces deployed over years rather than months tend to generate their own antibodies... protecting a population from a murderous government is not the same thing as occupying a territory militarily and building a new government to protect them, even if the line is likely to prove hard to draw. The best policy and politics in the world cannot overcome impossible practice.

Yes, yes, yes. Returning to what I know, it's increasingly evident that it is not just that the McChrystal plan for Afghan security force creation isn't working, but that the plan for that as it was stated in 2009 wasn't even followed in any real sense: in practice it has become mostly just more of the same failed efforts I and others had been documenting at the time. It was all just nice words on paper, which I think is really both Stewart and Slaughter's point here: that the invariable western approach to nation-building has been to come up with the solution that is seductively simple, elegant, and wrong, and then when it's proven to not be working even against one's own stated performance measures, a) deny that; and b) re-brand it and brief it again. There has never been (and likely can never be) a "nature cannot be fooled" moment when it comes to Afghan-related PowerPoints.

UPDATE: Just a thought: if the Afghan intervention had somehow frozen in time at the point of or shortly thereafter the first Karzai election in late 2004, when there was still no Afghan insurgency to speak of and hadn't been for nearly three years, would it still be in Slaughter's "losses" column? Because I would argue up to that point we were doing Stewart's light footprint thing, and it was going acceptably well. As I've argued here, among other places, that really was the inflection point for both our strategy and its success, for reasons I've never seen satisfactorily explained.

Posted by BruceR at 09:26 AM