Is Canada Doomed to Be a Military Puppet? (Canada: Unprepared and Armless)

Canadian Speeches, November-December 2001 | Go to article overview

Is Canada Doomed to Be a Military Puppet? (Canada: Unprepared and Armless)


Inadequate military capability is said to threaten Canada's international political influence and foreign affairs objectives, make Canadian peacekeeping or other military operations reliant on the support of other armed forces, and leave Canada vulnerable to the dictates of U.S. security concerns. Excerpt from evidence to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, Ottawa, November 10, 2001.

I think it's profoundly important, not only for security reasons, but also for self-interested diplomatic reasons, that Canada maintain a credible conventional military capability. This is essential, in my view, to secure the confidence and in some measure, the consideration of the United States in particular, but of other powers as well.

It's also essential for the preservation of such political influence as we may have acquired in the United Nations and elsewhere as a result of our contribution over many decades to international peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations, a contribution that is now far less unique to Canada, however, than it once was. Above all, I think it may be essential as a defence against American help, against the latent insistence of Americans that unless we make useful contributions ourselves, especially in the North American environment, they will make them for us, whether we like it or not.

I am not, as I think you know, a specialist in the technical or the guns-and-ammo aspects of defence policy. Keeping that in mind, let me nonetheless make the following points.

On the conventional military side, it seems to me the top priority by far should be the resuscitation of the army, or land force command. I say this even though I come from Halifax, a naval city, and even though I think the problem with the Sea King helicopters has reached the point of national scandal, and even though if I were a member of cabinet, I would be having sleepless nights in response to the thought that any one of them might soon go down with loss of life to its crew.

Clearly, as well, we're re in serious need, if we have any desire to operate independently and autonomously in the international environment at all, of a decision to begin the replacement of our small fleet of support ships. But in other respects and leaving problems of personnel recruitment aside, maritime command is in impressive shape, and its recent mobilization demonstrates, I think, a readiness to respond of which we have good reason to be proud.

Similarly, in the case of the air force, my sense is that our transport capacity is hopelessly inadequate and our air refuelling capability for the CF-18 is nonexistent. This again is a serious matter, unless we're prepared to forego any possibility of operating, even in the context of a coalition-based campaign, in a stand-alone capacity. With respect to the CF-18s, my understanding is that a considerable upgrading of high-tech communications and other gadgetry is also necessary if they are to be fully interoperable with allied aircraft under current combat conditions, but on this I would be the first to admit that I'm dependent on the judgment of those who are far more technically knowledgeable than I. In any case, the refit process seems already to have begun.

But my sense also is that it's the army that most needs our immediate attention and it is the army that is carrying the bulk of the burden that comes from the constant expectation of the political leadership, and indeed of the public at large, that Canada will be there to be counted every time we're called upon to fly our flag, whether the call comes from the United Nations, the United States, or NATO, and no matter where the flying of the flag is expected to occur. Experts in the subject indicate that there is simply no possibility that the troop contribution we are now contemplating sending to the theatre in Afghanistan can be sustained for longer than a maximum period of six months, and every other signal I get from the literature and other sources would seem to me to make this a reasonable prognostication. …

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