Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thanks for the effort, but...

Babble on.

An editorial (outside the firewall here) from today's National Post calls for more Canadian defence spending and applauds the Conservatives for moving in that direction. It quite properly castigates the Liberals on the defence file as well. Hear, hear, says I.

Unfortunately, at this point my applause dies off.

The critical element in the Conservatives' military platform, released last Tuesday near CFB Trenton, Ont., is not the extra $5.3-billion in defence spending it pledges over the next five years -- it is the clear vision it contains for Canada's Armed Forces and their role in the world. The extra money is essential, but defining a realistic set of missions for our Forces is more important still.

I'd agree with the last sentence, as would knowledgeable observers of all political stripes. But to conflate the Conservative spending announcements with a "clear vision" for our military is ridiculous. These are spending announcements, pure and simple. They're welcome spending announcements, and hopefully they form part of an integrated Defence Plan by the CPC, but as they currently stand, they certainly don't define "a realistic set of missions for our Forces."

What is best about the Conservative plan, though, is its pledge to re-establish an airborne unit and to redesign our military for the current range of threats around the world. Our last major defence re-think was begun when the Soviet Union -- not terrorism -- was seen as the biggest danger to world security.

Their first point is debatable. Personally, I think adopting heavy airlift will improve Canadian military capabilities at least as much as reforming a consolidated Airborne unit, but at least one notable acquaintance of mine has pointedly disagreed with that assessment in e-mail correspondence.

The second point is patently untrue. The Post's editorial board is welcome to disagree with the conclusions it contains, but they cannot pretend the Defence Policy Statement released earlier this year does not exist. This document lays out a direction for our military in support of both Canadian sovereignty and international operations that is flawed but moderately ambitious. It specifically cites 'failed states' as a prime Canadian concern, not the Warsaw Pact. Of course, my greatest concern with the DPS doesn't appear in the policy at all: it's that the Liberals can't be trusted to do what they promise, and until then the policy is just words on paper. That The Post is apparently ignorant of its existence should be an embarrassment to them.

One of the first of these roles would be fulfilling our duty, along with our allies, in maintaining global security. But next should be beefing up our frontier defences to ensure no one -- not even those same allies -- can transverse our territory without our knowledge or permission.

Actually, those roles should be reversed: Canadian sovereignty and defence should be our primary priority, and support of international missions should come second to that. Indeed, the DPS lays this out quite clearly. This is not an either-or proposition - we can and should do both. But if push were to come to shove, I think most Canadians would prefer we be able to secure our own space rather than project power outside our borders.

We need a rapid response unit that has better training than our regular army units, but that is not a full special-ops regiment, such as Joint Task Force 2. It must be fully self-sufficient, so it can be "wheels up" in 48 to 72 hours. Together, the Conservatives' promises of new equipment and manpower would make such a unit viable.

Let's move beyond the unsupportable assertion that "new equipment and manpower" would make an Airborne unit viable since a) there was no new manpower in that announcement, b) the only new equipment announced was strat-lift, and c) while strat-lift is useful to such a unit, it isn't a prerequisite by any means.

While I see what they're trying to get at, and agree with the sentiment, I'm uncomfortable with the assertion that an Airborne Battalion would have "better" training than our current infantry units. As mentioned in a previous post, 3PPCLI is rated as Ranger-equivalent by the U.S. Army, and for a unit of that size, standards don't get much higher. Besides, an Airborne unit wouldn't spring up out of thin air, it would draw from jump-qualified personnel across the rest of the Canadian Army. The new Airborne would be deployable by 'chute, but the need for such a capability is a little sketchy. And even if you manage to establish the need, it is most definitely not at the top of our military's list of priorities. They might be able to deploy more quickly than other units, but that has nothing to do with being Airborne - it has to do with their proposed location (Trenton), and a readiness mandate. You could conceivably give any other infantry unit the same mandate, and as long as you situated them near an airbase they could fill the role. Jump-wings don't deploy you faster on their own.

I've read the Conservative announcement a number of times now, and nowhere does it stipulate that the jump unit would be "better" than the Princess Pats, the RCR, or the Van Doos.

All this goes to show that, unless they're willing to take some advice from people who know better, journalists should refrain from expounding upon topics outside their expertise. They do their cause no favours by putting up such easily-refuted bunk.

Babble off.


At 10:22 p.m., Blogger Kim McKenzie said...

Excellent post. Totally agree - Canada's priorities should obviously be to protect the homeland first and do the international thing after.

At 3:12 a.m., Blogger Pat Patterson said...

As an American obviously my desire would be to see that American interests are defended, yet paradoxically a weakened or disinterested Canada that cannot define and protect its own interests is not good for the US. Power, the US, China, Russia etc., will rush into those area that Canada cannot defend simply because these countries can project a military presence. An increased US presence in the Arctic, while being seen as strategically neccessary by the US, will only exacerbate tensions between our two countries. Even if the US disagreed with more muscular Canadian efforts to block an American presence in the Arctic, the very fact that Canada was seeing to its own borders and territories would lessen the pressure on the US to do something. Much as many of the problems the US has with Mexico are from a lack of secure borders such a state of affairs could easily occur if Canada does not defend its borders and or its territorial waters.


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