Conrad Black Re Canadian Miltary

November 27, 2010 in Blogs

Conrad Black  November 27, 2010 – 9:39 am

Cpl Shawn M. Kent / Canadian Forces
Canadian and U.S. warships escort an American amphibious assault carrier in the Arabian Sea.
“For Chrétien, no amount spent on defence was ever small enough

Recent weeks have featured extensive debate about Canada’s future role in Afghanistan. Both major parties now apparently agree that our combat operations will cease in 2011, but that we will maintain a large force in the country for purposes of training the Afghan army.
Whatever one thinks of this plan, now is a good time to revisit the question of Canada’s defence policy, and finally to provide the Canadian Forces with the resources necessary to operate effectively in Afghanistan and other theatres.


A century ago, Sir Wilfrid Laurier assured the British military commander in Canada, Lord Dundonald, that Canadian militia were useful for the suppression of internal disturbances, but that the country’s defence rested with the United States. Those words would remain true for many years. Throughout Canada’s immense and courageous efforts in both World Wars, its foreign policy was aligned with Britain’s, but its self-defence policy was dependent on the United States.

The Royal Canadian Navy is about to observe its centenary, and it has had a noble history, especially in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1941-1943, against the attempted strangulation of the British Isles by German submarines and surface raiders. But the navy’s founding resulted from another aspect of Canada’s national personality. Sir Robert Borden’s Conservatives favoured a contribution to the Royal Navy. Henri Bourassa’s Quebec Nationalists, who tore off enough of Laurier’s support from Quebec to give the Conservatives victory in the 1911 election, opposed any navy — since it likely would involve Canada in Europe’s — and specifically the British Empire’s — wars. Laurier determined that Canada had to be prepared to make a contribution, as the naval construction competition between Germany and Great Britain was intense. Yet he recognized the impracticality in Quebec of simply buying or building ships for the Royal Navy. The Royal Canadian Navy was born.

Canada emerged from the Second World War in a more seemingly autonomous position. Yet beneath the surface, the old dependence on the United States remained.

Mackenzie King fell in constructively with the great international institutions designed by the United States: the United Nations, the World Bank, the Marshall Plan, and NATO. He and his successors, and up to a point his emulators, Louis St. Laurent, John Diefenbaker, and Lester Pearson, deployed a brigade and a fighter wing to West Germany, pulled their weight in Korea, and became what Mr. Diefenbaker called a “middle power.” St. Laurent approved American radar and air force cover for our northern skies, a useful exchange of our territory for continued American protection. Diefenbaker balked at nuclear warheads for American missiles in Canada, and cancelled the Avro Arrow, an ambitious and controversial Canadian fighter plane and interceptor. While the Empire faded, and reliance on America’s Monroe Doctrine gave way to a more formal adherence to alliances and international organizations dominated by the United States, the defence of Canada continued to be in the hands of the Americans.

Pierre Trudeau produced a paper advising that Canada’s defence effort would be determined by Canadian requirements. And since Canada required no defence except that already provided by our alliance with the United States, it stood that money should instead be spent on domestic social and political goals. Given that the greatest threat to Canada came from the Quebec separatists, and most of the money that might have gone to national defense went to projects designed to incite enthusiasm for the bountiful merits of Confederation in Quebec, this was a legitimate strategic conception, but it emasculated the armed forces. UN peace-keeping became a low-budget substitute for a defence policy based on any distinct Canadian interests.

Brian Mulroney was more serious about defence, and he was in close agreement with the Reagan and senior Bush administrations in Alliance matters. He proposed the construction/acquisition of nuclear submarines to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, which was not, in fact, challenged only by the USSR, but also by our great protector, America (which in fact objected to the submarine plan more vocally than the Russians did).

In the 1990s, Jean Chrétien carried Trudeau’s policies a step further and shrank the defense budget again, claiming that the agitation for defence spending “came from the American government … as well as from the arms manufacturers and military lobbyists, for whom no amount of money is ever enough.” For Chrétien, no amount spent on defence was ever small enough.

Paul Martin proposed a bold reassertion of an autonomous and properly funded Canadian military policy, but did not have the time to carry it out. Stephen Harper budgeted for a significant rebuilding of Canadian forces and a lengthy and ambitious (and admirably executed) commitment in Afghanistan (initially supported by Martin). But now, there are signs of commitment fatigue, in Afghanistan and in procurement generally. And the Ignatieff Liberals are completely incomprehensible on defence matters, though they have supported continuation of the Afghan mission.

The problem with the Afghan operation is that the Americans led NATO into the country and then left us all floundering there with insufficient forces and an unclear mission, while they directed their main effort to Iraq for seven years. They are back now, but have left it uncertain how serious they are about obliging the Kabul regime to be more efficient and less corrupt, and whether we are trying to produce Afghan sovereignty or parcel the country out among factions assisted by neighbouring countries carving it into spheres of influence for themselves; and whether we are really trying to defeat the Taliban terrorists or make an accommodation with the less mediaeval and barbarous elements of them.

Harper and Ignatieff are correct to stick with it as long as there appears to be a general ambition and plausible likelihood of achieving something useful. United States Army general David Petraeus is a proven commander, and there is good progress on the ground. But all the participating countries should require that the United States give them a comfort level that we have a believable road map to an attainable objective that justifies the effort.

The appropriate defence policy for Canada now would be to increase the forces by at least 75,000 (the Canadian Forces’ current strength is 67,000, plus 26,000 reservists) — a doubling of its size. Such a plan sounds radical, but in fact it would merely bring our per-capita spending up to the level of more militarily capable NATO countries.

This increase in personnel could be deducted, directly or indirectly, from the ranks of the unemployed. Sensible use of these forces would confer greater stature on Canada than our recent failure to win a Security Council seat suggests we now enjoy. The most effective economic stimulus is advanced military-based research, and this should be pursued, especially in aerospace and shipbuilding.

Stephen Harper is defence-friendly, and Peter Mackay is an excellent defence minister. They could sell such a program on economic grounds, as well as it being an indication of Canada assuming its rightful place in the world. I understand budgetary restraint, but constructive nationalism and economic largesse are not hard political, or in this case, policy, sells.

National Post

Read more: