September 17, 2015

Canadian defense is not grounded in reality (Part One)

Tim BallRebel Columnist

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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commented 2015-09-19 22:04:55 -0400
OK You’ve given us some basic background. I can’t wait for what I hope are some reasonable solutions in Pt 2. Not that it will change anything political at this point in time.
commented 2015-09-19 19:54:16 -0400
Okay, embitttered blogger, give us some answers to your complaints. What would you do differently? You say you were in the military during the Cold War. Fair enough. But that was also Liberal government territory, for a large part. (And yes, politics plays a HUGE role, here.) The DND is overstaffed, and Canada’s military has too many officers. Surely, you recognize this. You say Canada’s military is understaffed for its size — we only have 35 million people (maybe), which is the population of California, and 1/10 (roughly) of the US. Where would we get the extra “volunteers”?

You neglect to mention that Canada’s military has ALWAYS been understaffed, and nearly ALWAYS been under equipped. And yet you neglect to remember Vimy, Italy, Afghanistan, and others where we “get the job done”. Canadian soldiers are lousy peacekeepers — we make excellent peace*makers*. Our military is respected worldwide. You mention that you performed service during the Cold War. Then you are familiar that the Soviets were concerned about our soldiers — not their number, but their effectiveness. The Soviets knew that we don’t even go by our own “playbook” — we are unpredictable, we get the job done, how ever.

Your complaint is not with the military, but with the bureaucrats, and with that you and I agree. - Regarding a lack of political direction, what would you have us do? The Liberals dithered and generally disdained the military. The current Conservatives have not. But the DND still can’t make up its mind, and the DND is what directs the military. - Regarding preparedness, no military, other than the instigator, is prepared for war. It is nearly always sprung on them. (History shows this; why haven’t you recognized it?) What would you have us prepare for? - “There is a possible explanation for this failure. In reality, Canada only exists because the US allows it.” Thank you for your defeatest attitude. The only time the US ever tried to take over Canada (US Civil war attack on Ottawa), we kicked their asses. Our troops regularly best theirs in international wargames. Their elites equate to our regular troops. Canadians are an individualist people; we wouldn’t roll over for the Americans. The “failure” for Canada not asserting its military-industrial complex has been one of political will. The last PM we had who even had the cojones to build something by Canadians for Canadians was Diefenbaker - and then he scuttled the project. Harper tried to introduce the F-35 for our Air Force — and was promptly lambasted regarding “costs” (that were completely out of line and irrelevant) by the Opposition. Ever since, we’ve had a bunch of Lefty political cowards who don’t want Canada asserting itself so as to provoke other countries. (Sound familiar as regards ISIS?)

You’ve made many complaints about Canada’s military, and derided the Conservatives’ efforts to bolster it. You haven’t even touched on the leadership (or lack thereof) of the DND.

Now, man up.

Give us your alternative recommendations.
commented 2015-09-19 12:55:24 -0400
Thank you for your clear thoughts, on Canada’s ill-prepared defense system, based on your education and experience. We need to put more money into this, due to the way the winds are blowing. We need the strategic plan, and then need to implement it, and have the trained personnel in place. Soon the enemy will be better armed than we are, and will begin following up on, their calls to attack Canada. I think that is the plan, for those who wish us harm, internally and internationally.
commented 2015-09-18 14:19:22 -0400
You know Tim, I very much have enjoyed your thoughts, been giving me another angle or perspective…tks …look forward to part 2