Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
Ours Is To Reason Why

Repairing the Chaos of Canada's Military Policies
Beryl P. Wajsman 23 August 2004  

“Was there a man dismay’d?

Not tho’ the soldier knew

Some one had blunder’d:

Their’s not to make reply,

Their’s not to reason why,

Their’s but to do and die”

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Government pronouncements over the past several days indicating that in order to meet the election promise of a new 5,000 strong brigade, Canada’s Forces would have to mothball their remaining operational warships as well as ground one-quarter of their attack aircraft should give all concerned, reasoned, citizens cause for alarm. Alarm not only for another election promise couched in smoke and mirrors and the continued inability of government bean-counters to properly prioritize our budgetary requirements, but alarm for the dangerously naïve view of what constitutes a modern military and the ongoing failure to shoulder the obligations necessary in order to protect Canada’s citizens and Canadian interests, at home and abroad, at a time of world war against terror.


Have we sunk so low that we are simply to offer the best of our youth as cannon fodder? When Defence Minister Graham speaks of the priority being “boots on the ground” and in the same breath warns that we cannot buy enough transport aircraft, what can he possibly be thinking? How are we to transport our troops without planes? How do we protect them, as well as our coast-to-coast borders, without attack fighters? How do we continue to meet our international obligations, and be taken seriously in the international arena, without warships at a time when the Canadian Navy has so successfully achieved our stated goal of inter-operationality having led a coalition battle group in the Persian Gulf which included an American Carrier fleet?


Graham and others have talked about making peacekeeping the Canadian Forces’ priority. As much as that is a myopic view of a very dangerous world, even in order to achieve such a stated goal much more is required. Peacekeeping today is almost as dangerous as aggressive warfare.


Since 9/11, the nature of threats has substantially changed. Canada faces a generationally disruptive shift in traditional assumptions and requires a reconstituted method and message in policy-making. If we are to continue to fulfill our responsibilities, even to NATO and the UN as much as to our own citizens, we need to maintain our capacity to mount expeditionary forces outside of Canada. We are now engaged in an undeclared but deadly war and Canada, by Al-Qaeda’s own pronouncements, is as much a target for terrorists as every other liberal democracy.


Canada’s Forces require urgent upgrading not only of men, but also of materiel and money. Without this recognition any national military policy is destined for impotence. Without the acknowledgment that the expansion of military and intelligence assets, at home and abroad, is the necessary precursor to realistic and effective foreign and security strategies, Canada will continue to operate in a vacuum never understanding why our best efforts fails.


If we truly want to assure Canadian sovereignty we must eliminate budgetary shortfalls so that we can develop a greater independent Canadian capacity. Canada today needs to spend with vital interests in mind. Unless we want to start fighting on our soil, we have to maintain the means to remain an active partner in taking the fight to the enemy.


Ultimately we must reach defence spending levels equivalent to 1.6-1.8% of GDP putting us on a par with the more serious members of NATO. It is time for bold purpose manifested by concrete measures. And we have the money to do it. Canada only lacks courage in the culture of our political elite that consistently fails to talk straight to the people of this country.


In a Federal budget grossly inflated by tens of billions in corporate welfare and twice the defence budget in politically correct pork barrel programs, it is not difficult to find the necessary funds. It only requires the political will to prune these two areas of spending that are fast approaching one-third of our Federal expenditures of some $180 billion.


Real funding changes would reverse the window-dressing policies that have attempted to make the additional monies to be spent this year on defence and national security look like something other than what they truly are – simply the yearly instalment of previously announced five-year budgets. The reason we take one step back for every seeming step forward is that there has been no real commitment to increase our defence expenditures from the current levels.


Pre-9/11 doctrine assumed that security was not purely a military issue. To a certain extent that may have been true. But even those who adhere to that doctrine today understand that increased funding is critical because the cold reality remains that the Canadian Forces are the only national institution with the organization, infrastructure, equipment, experience and manpower to respond to a national emergency.  Now that almost every country named by Osama bin-Laden as an infidel state has been attacked, it is time to assure that when our time comes our response will not be mute.


National Defence has difficulty even keeping up with its operating costs.  The three services have identified shortfalls for this year, in mandated operations alone, as follows: Army $355 million, Navy $143M, and Air Force $137M. The recent Budget added $300M to offset the costs of the Kabul and Haiti missions, and DND is exempted from returning to the Receiver-General the $200M “efficiency” cuts that former Minister McCallum could not find.  However it still works out to about a half-billion dollar shortfall.


What Canada needs, at a minimum, is not simply an additional brigade but an additional two full battle groups meeting multinational command standards. In order to meet our military and humanitarian obligations to our allies, as well as any new challenges that may arise at home, they must have rapid response capability and must be ready to be deployed simultaneously at any given time. One battle group will be constantly operational for service abroad while the other will stand at full readiness for domestic operations, sustainment or replacement as required.


Each battle group should have personnel levels of at least 4,000. This level would allow for effective operations, at short notice, to separate missions and allow for four rotation parameters that would assure that each group was capable of sustained operations for prolonged periods not just in/out sorties. These would involve, in addition to combat, “nation-building” missions such as Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti.


These new battle groups must have deployment ability through airdrop, air landing and sea. Additionally, this new capability must be coupled with a Canadian readiness to provide the framework to command a multinational brigade, a multinational naval task force and a multinational air wing. To achieve these goals Canada must deploy a new naval task force; a new 12 aircraft squadron; and immediately upgrade, whether through purchase or lease, our Forces’ strategic air and maritime lift capacity for service at home and abroad. 


Seamless transport capability and deployability are critical to assuring the effectiveness of the strengthened Forces whether in national or international operations.



Only through a resolve to effect such a bold re-ordering of our national priorities will we be able to achieve vital policy objectives in our domestic security agenda. We will have assured our capacity for year-round Arctic patrol and operations; independent air and sea surveillance of the three oceans and Great Lakes coastlines; appropriately armed and able naval assets capable of intervention and interdiction off all three coasts and the Great Lakes; and the establishment of joint air and sea operational centres on the three coasts and the Great Lakes to better react to the ever-growing flood of unified intelligence data.


In Michael Ignatieff’s words, the Canadian paradox has been "…that our independence is most at stake in our relations with our closet neighbour and best friend." The reality is that a stronger independent military capability will protect Canadian sovereignty by freeing Canada from dependence on others. A helping hand from a friend is one thing, dependency is another.


At the same time we must recognize reality and make it clear to the world that it will be a central tenet of policy that Canada intends to be intimately co-operative with our traditional allies who have made the strongest military commitments to the global war on terror, namely the United States and Great Britain, and that we will have a role in their corridors of power at least on a par with Australia’s.


Our military and intelligence capabilities are the overt manifestations of our political maturity. This maturity means that we must exhibit a readiness to assume our obligations in full. The sad reality is that our current policies have made us vulnerable to infiltration and attack by some of the most dangerous elements from autocratic adversaries and theocratic tyrannies.


Recently, the Auditor General and the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence issued reports joining the chorus of others detailing how we have failed to take even the most basic steps to secure the safety of Canadians. Received in the shadow of the latest Budget, those reports underscore how little was offered in it to address the problem.  It is not that the government is unaware of its obligations. 


The day after the budget, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Security Minister Anne McLellan spoke to the Canadian Club in Ottawa about how “…the core responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens – these are the foundations for every other right of citizenship, the essential conditions for every other freedom.”


The Martin administration has a singularly unique opportunity to effect a profound redemptive change in Canada's foreign, defence and security policies reflective of our nation's inherent values of integrity and decency. This government also has a chance to recapture our authentic and legitimate stature in the world.


The window of opportunity may not be open for long. Ours is the obligation to reason why. So that we never stand in stunned dismay and repeat Tennyson’s sad lament that “Not tho’ the soldier knew…some one had blunder’d.”