"To be truly sovereign..."
Must. Not. Get. Hopes. Up.
Canada’s military has been significantly underfunded over the past 12 years, leading to a decline in our sovereign capacity to respond to emergencies whether at home or abroad. A Conservative government will increase defence spending significantly over the current baseline, with spending reaching $1.8 billion over currently projected levels by 2010-11.
“Our Forces stand on guard for us, both at home and around the world. So we must stand up for them,” said Mr. Harper. “The men and women who put on the uniform of Canada must have the tools they need to protect themselves and do their job.”
The Conservative “Canada First” defence plan is designed to improve the effectiveness and rapid deployability of Canadian Forces, using CFB Trenton as a hub for aerial deployment. Measures will include:
- Acquisition of a fleet of at least three strategic lift aircraft to be based at CFB Trenton;
- Continued replacement of Canada’s tactical airlift fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft and fixed wing search-and-rescue aircraft;
- Creation of a new airborne battalion (650 regular force personnel), to be stationed at CFB Trenton and to be available for rapid deployment;
- Doubling the size and capacity of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to enable enhanced international disaster relief capability.
Don has already asked what I think of a new Airborne Regiment. I think we were going to get the equivalent anyhow in the form of the "Standing Contingency Task Force" - a rapid deployment capability outlined in this year's Defence Policy Statement. Reforming the Airborne would focus that effort and create some much needed esprit de corps, but it's not really news beyond that (although I must agree with Stephen Harper when he says "The government of the day disbanded the Airborne Regiment to avoid getting to the bottom of a particular incident").
No, for me the real news is - say it with me - Strategic Airlift. Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? As I might have mentioned before, once or twice, renting Antonovs doesn't cut it. And believe it or not, even three C-17's would allow us to 1) do a better job of moving people and equipment around Canada in the event of a natural or man-made disaster and 2) become much more able to both deploy unilaterally where required (DART missions, Darfur if we wanted to and nobody else did, etc.) and chip in in multilateral efforts (good rough-field and STOL capable strat-lift is a much sought-after asset and would give us a much stronger voice in international operations).
Canadians are justifiably proud of DART's work, and doubling the size of the team can't hurt. With strat-lift, and hopefully a heavy-lift helo capability, it also more than doubles its effectiveness too.
Now don't get me wrong: this makes no mention of naval assets, and we still need a replacement for our ageing replenishment ships (hybrid carriers are what's needed), a better plan for our beleaguered submariners, and at some point a replacement for our Tribal-class destroyers; it makes no mention of an air-defence strategy going forward (as it stands, our CF-18's can't protect our airspace properly, nor can they deploy outside our borders); it makes no mention of the personnel crunch our overworked army is facing, for which there are no easy answers.
More importantly, it's not a strategic document. It lays out no vision of how the Canadian military should be used to further both foreign and domestic policy. Harper's announcement is a scattershot of useful and needed purchases, but there's no thread that ties them all together. To be fair, though:
Harper said more Conservative announcements regarding the military -- including increases to military personnel and other equipment -- will be revealed in the coming days.
Even if he didn't say another damned thing, though, at this point I'll take what I can get. As it stands, it's a far sight better than what the Liberals are offering, and I doubt the NDP or the Greens will propose anything to trump this.
So how will this play with the electorate? I'm not sure. Recent polls have said that the Canadian populace wants more money spent on our military - more out of embarrassment than anything, I think. Are they willing to put their money and vote where their mouth is?
The one thing I'm sure of is that the press will be like a fat kid on a smartie with the prospect of painting Stephen Harper as a scary, right-wing, militaristic Bushitler neo-con. In fact, they've already started.
The CBC raises the spectre of Somalia, and casts the resurrection of the Airborne as a flesh-eating zombie digging its way out of the grave:
Asked about his plan to create a new airborne battalion of 650 troops stationed in Trenton, Harper said he doesn't believe there's a stigma attached to the idea of airborne troops.
ARCHIVES: The Somalia Affair
The Airborne Regiment, which was based in Petawawa, was disbanded in 1995 following a 1993 deployment as peacekeepers to Somalia, during which Canadian soldiers beat a Somali teenager to death.
Subtext? Stephen Harper is recklessly hooking jumper cables up to Frankenstein, and we'll end up with more dead black teenagers before he's done. Don't you understand that parachute training and a maroon beret transform our noble peacekeepers into rabid racists with guns? C'mon Canada, throw a protest, a love-in, anything anti-military and we'll cover it!
CTV actually steps it up a notch from the state broadcaster by trying to tie Stephen Harper to the - GASP! - Bushitler Americans:
Asked by reporters if a Conservative government would send soldiers to the country, Harper replied: "Our government would not be sending troops to Iraq. We want to encourage American success there. We want to see democracy, but our role is in Afghanistan, it's not in Iraq."
The questions follow a commentary in the right-wing Washington Times newspaper which recently came to light, calling Harper the "poster boy" for U.S. President George Bush's ideal foreign leader.
"The article in the Washington Times was the reflected opinion of one individual," said Harper. "And we need to express our policy in that area."
Here's the article in question. And here's what you won't see reported widely in Canada, even when the reporter cites the original article - Stephen Harper's response:
On Iraq, while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
The letter spends even more time on softwood lumber, climate change, and same-sex marriage, and I'd encourage you to read the whole thing. Stephen Harper is not going to jump in bed with the Bush administration, contrary to what the scare-mongers on the left will have you believe.
The fact of the matter is that a stronger military allows us to be more independent of the United States, not less. We can take on humanitarian missions that the Americans wouldn't touch (Darfur, Darfur, Darfur anyone? What the hell does 'never again' actually mean if it doesn't mean this?). Right now our fine words ring hollow and hypocritical: we hector the rest of the world to do something when we're not willing to do a damned thing ourselves. A stronger armed forces also gives us a bigger say in how joint operations with our allies are run. It only makes sense: when you don't bring much to the table in a multilateral operation, you don't get much input in how that operation works. The more we bring, the stronger our influence in the decisions that affect us.
Heck, forget about international missions. If an earthquake hits Vancouver tomorrow - The Big One - our military can't properly respond. The Liberals - and yes, the Mulroney government before them although not nearly as much - have neglected our armed forces to such a degree that it will take years - maybe decades - of concerted, unwavering commitment to repair them. This isn't scaremongering, it's the truth.
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives understand this. The other parties simply don't. Today, I'm proud to be a Conservative.
Update: The Dog is relentlessly on point these days. He's sometimes very wrong, but he's on point - here, (less so) here, and here. I agree one hundred percent with this statement:
What's missing in the national discussion of defence is any serious discussion of why we have armed forces in the first place. The role of conventional armed forces in national defence is pretty limited these days, thanks to geography and friendly neighbours (who we couldn't fight even if we wanted to -- we'll always be friendly perforce). So we expect our forces to perform other roles, such as peacekeeping -- but without any serious discussion of what, precisely, those roles should be and what our forces should be prepared to do.
Will we act only with Security Council sanction, or with broad international agreement, or will we support a war launched by isolated allies? Is our army a war-fighting force, or a ceasefire monitoring organization, or something in between? Do we expect to be able to respond to another Rwanda with rifles and bayonets on the ground? If so, how quickly, and with how many troops? If the Security Council authorizes military intervention in Fantasia, what does Canada expect to contribute?
It's only after we've had this discussion that we can seriously address whether we need submarines, and unmanned aerial vehicles, and tanks, and helicopters, and fighter jets. These are the questions that need to be addressed in an election campaign. Not how many dollars we'll spend, but why we're spending them.
My only rejoinder would be that even if we embrace the status quo - and I'm not in favour of that at all - the military still needs more resources. That's why spending announcements, even spending announcements unaccompanied by a much-needed policy discussion, are most welcome.