Baffin Island is 507,451 km2 in area, which makes it larger than Spain and the 52nd largest country of 251 countries in the world. There is no way we can defend that, let alone the 3,855,100 km2 of Canada.
The sheer size of the country is one thing, but the climate conditions make it even more difficult.
I spent almost nine years in the Canadian Air Force: four years as aircrew flying anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic during the Cold War, and five years flying Search and Rescue in western, northern, and Arctic Canada. I joined on a short service commission and turned down a permanent commission after losing my flying category because of hearing loss.
However, the primary reason for getting out was the complete lack of any political direction, ignorance of Canada’s needs and capabilities and the geopolitical changes in the world. It has always been that way, with governments constantly unprepared when events such as WWII, the Korean conflict, as well as the Vietnam and Cold Wars occurred. It is just as bad today, aggravated by the fact that occupying a military in peacetime was always a challenge.
After getting my Ph.D in climatology, I focused on the impact of climate change on history and the human condition. This led to teaching and researching in two other areas, water resources, and geopolitics. The latter is defined as “the study of the effects of geography on international politics and international relations.” It is an essential discipline for understanding military needs, strategy, and effectiveness.
Academically, history and geography are separate disciplines, and that works, but for full understanding it is necessary to consider geography the stage and history the play. This is true of politics and geography. If you don’t understand the geography, then political strategies and policies are ineffective.
The only role for the Federal government is the defense of the country, but it is effectively abandoned as all parties when elected, expand political and economic power.
They also have no idea of what a Canadian Defense should look like in today’s world. The result is a military that is adrift between vestiges of World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War.
I know how bad it is because I recently contributed a chapter on climate change for a strategy manual for the Staff College. An academic editor, who knew nothing about the science, rejected it because it didn’t fit the politics of Ottawa. The fact it fits the Canadian geographic realities was irrelevant.
Someone said that the US/Canada boundary is the longest undefended boundary in the world because the US doesn’t need to, and Canada isn’t able to. In his book On Being Canadian Vincent Massey put it another way:
“It has long been undefended, but realists have observed that the disparity of population has made armaments for one country futile and for the other superfluous.”
Massey’s point about population disparity is legitimate. In 2015 the US population was an estimated 321,813,000 and Canada's 35,749,600.
After World War II, most countries ignored the geographic realities of their size, resource base, agricultural potential and location in the world. They tried to set up economies and military to emulate the United States. The problem is that only worked for the US.
Countries like Canada trying to emulate the US military was like me deciding I wanted to be George Clooney. Success in any enterprise is achieved by starting with a realistic assessment of the resources. Federal politicians who only know their region never consider the realities of Canada’s geography.
There is a possible explanation for this failure. In reality, Canada only exists because the US allows it. Continentalism underlies US philosophy from Thomas Jefferson, who considered it manifest destiny, to today. As Jonathan Winters said at the Montreal Comedy Festival, I just hope we can take you peacefully one day.
During the Cold War, there was no illusion that if the Soviets came over the Pole that the US would wait until they got to the 49th parallel before they responded. I recall one North American Air Defense (NORAD) exercise with Royal Air force (RAF) bombers simulating a Soviet attack when the American Commander ordered Canada’s planes to stay on the ground because, “They just clutter up the radar.” They don’t take us over because they don’t need to. It reflects Conrad Black’s comment when asked why he wasn’t in politics, “I don’t need to be.”
Apparently there are 68,000 active troops and 26,000 reservists. The total number of people in the armed forces is inadequate to maintain even one branch of the Army, Navy and Air Force functions. Harper’s proposals won’t make any difference.
Yet Ottawa pretends that it is not trimming but expanding the Forces. It is still officially following Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy, which calls for an increase in troops to more than 100,000 and a two per cent increase in spending every year, in order to have a military that can tackle both domestic threats and foreign adventures.
To put those numbers in perspective consider there are approximately 40,000 officers and thousands of affiliated civilian employees in the New York City police force.
One could joke they are better armed.
There are some very sensible options if you understand the geography and geopolitical situation of the nation, and the Canadian defensive needs. As it is, the military role is to have enough people to trot out on Memorial Day or for reducing the unemployment roles. The military are good people struggling without leadership or meaningful direction.
This situation is not new in Canadian political history, which, at best, is ignorance of the realities covered by at best benign neglect. We don’t need and can’t support a traditional US style military. We need a military that works for Canada and its uniqueness, but more of that in Part Two.
(Photo credit: Korona Lacasse, Flickr)
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