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Prognostications: 2009

Prognostications: 2009 – M to Z

Military Service – in Canada the public’s perception military service has, broadly, alternated between a few brief periods of near adulation and the more common long periods of public indifference verging on disdain. Neither is particularly useful.

The rare periods of public adoration were, essentially, bouts of self congratulation and they gave birth to or reinforced a myth that, in some inexplicable manner, the defence of Canada was best left in the hand of ordinary or average Canadians who would, when a crisis occurred, rally to the colours and save the day.

The long periods of public disinterest created or reinforced a different myth: someone else, the UK, first, lately the USA, must do the world’s policing and Canada can, indeed should, sit on the sidelines and hope that the ‘big boys’ wouldn’t do too much damage to Canada’s trading interests or expect us to take on too much.

There was one brief period (roughly 1948 to 1968) when the Government of Canada and the people of Canada actually put the military and military service into its proper perspective – as a “tool” that governments use to accomplish broader strategic aims. A succession of Liberal and Conservative governments had national goals expressed in (shared) basic policy principles that enjoyed the broad support of Canadians. Canadians, politicians and average Canadians alike, understood that in sending their small, professional military force into direct combat in Korea, into a “trip wire” role, face to face with a huge, aggressive, threatening enemy in North West Europe or on ‘peacekeeping’ duties in other regions that aimed to prevent more imminent threats they were pursuing bigger, broader, even bolder aims than those of ‘just’ military action and the military, itself, understood that it was a policy tool.

We need to return to the basics. We need to find, once again, the ”Role of Pride and Influence in the World” that we abandoned circa 1970 and, consistently, failed to assert throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s and the first decade of the 21st century. When we recover that ‘role’ then Canadians will be able to understand why they want and need an appropriately (for one of the world’s “top ten” nations) strong, flexible, professional military and why they, Canadian citizens, should take pride in its accomplishments and should want to support their military – not with yellow ribbons or red shirts but with their tax dollars and with votes for political parties that make good use of their military “tools.”

Navy Ships – our fleet needs a makeover. The three remaining destroyers need to be replaced by four area air defence and command/control ships – perhaps as the ‘lead’ of a new fleet on common surface ships. The twelve frigates need to be given a major, half-life refit, soon.  The promised half dozen or so Arctic/Off shore Patrol Vessels need to be funded, designed, built and put into service. New fleet replenishment ships need to be built or purchased. Plans need to be started to replace the four Upholder class submarines with a half dozen under-ice capable submarines. Plans need to be advanced to replace the coastal defence vessels with some combination of mine counter measures vessels and coastal patrol craft.

While all that is ongoing DND needs to hire a few thousand new sailors to make all those ships ready.

Operations – these are the raison d’être of the Canadian Forces. Not all operations are combat operations, and government needs to ensure that the Canadian Forces remain ready and able to conduct the whole range of operations from Search and Rescue and disaster relief to mass combat on a high intensity battlefield.

Press - the Canadian Government must become more conscious of its dealings with the Press and become a more active participant in putting out the word as to what Canadians and the Canadian Forces are doing to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan.  More coverage and exposure as to what Canadian Forces and Canadian Police Agencies are doing in training and mentoring the Afghan Army and Police Forces is required.  More coverage of what the OMLT and Provincial Reconstruction Teams are doing in helping to rebuild the infrastructure of Afghan communities.  More coverage of what NGO's are doing is required.   Canadians on many levels are working to rebuild Afghanistan.  By far, the majority of their stories are not being told.

Québec – Québec’s  soldiers are just as brave, loyal and ready to serve as any others. It is time the media stopped trying to create controversy where none exists. Many, likely most other Québecers, on the other hand, continue to be “out of step” with their fellow citizens – as they are on a range of issues. This is part of the complex fabric of Canada. It makes life difficult for politicians.

Recruiting and Retention - the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group must reform itself and its message. The CF needs thousands, indeed tens of thousands of new sailors, soldiers and air force members. The ‘front line’ are the men and women in the recruiting system. They need to have the skills, tools and money make the recruiting process work effectively and efficiently and, above all, speedily – consistent with getting the right people in and keeping the wrong ones out.

Members of the CF should be encouraged to continue their careers in order to maintain continuity in all trades.  There should be several plans that could encourage this.  One incentive would be a 'signing bonus' for members to reenlist in their trade on the end of their initial engagement and basic engagement periods of employment.   Another plan would encourage CF personnel on release, to do a 'reverse component transfer' to the reserves, in order to fill much needed positions in reserves with 'experienced' personnel, and bring up the calibre of the reserve forces.  This may alleviate some of the problems faced by reserve units, when they get personnel trained to a certain standard and then loose them to the regular force through component transfers.  Another incentive would be to hire retired, injured or medically released CF personnel into the training system as contractors to provide experienced instructors to free up currently serving members to fill manning shortfalls in other establishments.

One of DND’s main aims must be to retain as many trained, experienced members as possible. While a number of factors contribute to people leaving the forces, Ruxted suggests that quality of life for both members and their families is high on the list. To mention just one of many demotivating factors, garrison life in Canada can be an emotional let down after the camaraderie and sense of purpose of an operational tour. Previous generations used to jokingly refer to getting back to real soldiering after the war is over. It, however, is a challenge to convince someone who was in real peril a few months ago that the monotony of garrison routine or the artificial pressure of a career course is reality, and not the other way around.

Sudan - Canada is involved in a range of activities in Sudan, including military activities as part of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan and the African Union Mission in Sudan.  Has enough changed since the expression of Ruxted's previous position: "To call for Canadian blood to be spilled in the sands of Darfur in an open ended mission for no result is perhaps the greatest folly our politicians, academics and journalists could commit"?  Not yet - in the words of Rick Hillier, "we are unprepared, under-resourced and lacking the public support necessary to successfully intervene in many of today's complex conflicts. Until these shortcomings are addressed, discussions on humanitarian intervention will remain purely academic."

Transformation – needs to continue. The next step is to downsize, rationalize and downsize again the current headquarters – which many observers consider too many in number and too large in size. The trick is to get it just right. There is an almost unbearable demand by government/politicians to micro-manage every little process. That’s understandable – politicians, and, especially, their unelected staffs, are highly risk averse and whenever something goes wrong happens the media are there like hungry jackals circling a wounded antelope. Who can blame them?

The next step in transformation should aim at lessening the ‘management overhead’ – at every level. Less management will generate higher morale., greater enthusiasm and increased attention to the assigned tasks. Less management will produce qualitatively better forces and save a bit of money, too.

Understanding - Although great advances have been made for serving members who report mental issues with PTSD more must be done to teach the 'system' that reporting such issues will not result in a full stop in relation to career development. We have all seen the physically wounded being nurtured back to a resumption of their careers, and this is how it should be, however the "suck it up, Buttercup" attitude in relation to mental conditions must be pushed off the map forever so that no one suffers in silence, and thereby potentially bringing harm to careers and to the loved ones who supported the member while they served.

We know much has been done, and that this issue has come a long way, but the Ruxted Group feels that we still have a long way to go.

Victory – in Afghanistan we will have the requisite “victory conditions” when, as we reported to the Manley Commission “the people of Afghanistan can make their own decisions in their own way, even when they decide on policies with which we disagree – always bearing in mind that Canada, and the world, cannot accept a country's decision to turn itself into a base for aggressive war … [and] when the Afghans can elect a government – even if it is a government which we do not much like … [and] when the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are able to contain insurgencies – home-grown and foreign.”

We have, already, met some of those victory conditions, others are on track, now. There is hope for a sensible ‘victory’ in Afghanistan if we stay the course a bit longer.

Wounded Warriors – all, regular and reservist , deserve equal care and benefits. It is bad policy and worse PR to discriminate – as current policy does – against some (reserve) members who are wounded while serving on less than a 180 day ‘contract.’ To paraphrase: if that’s the Treasury Board policy then the Treasury Board Secretariat is composed of asses.

X-ray Vision – it’s here, now along with a whole host of other technological marvels that can and should be made right here in Canada, for the Canadian Forces. This ‘stuff’ is not rocket science – it’s actually rather more complex than that – but it can and should be developed by Canadian defence scientists, in Canadians defence laboratories, using Canadian R&D money and then given to Canadian entrepreneurs to build and sell to Canada and our allies.

Yankee Bashing – needs to stop. The United States of America is a great country, imperfect, to be sure, but “better” than pretty much any of the other great powers that have strutted and fretted their hours upon the stage over the course of the past few thousand years.

For about a century the US has been a close friend, an ally in times of war and, latterly, our most important trading partner and, despite the irritants that must arise between trading partners, a good neighbour.

Canada has policy differences with the USA. Canadians often dislike the courses our American friends and neighbours decide, in their own democratic fashion, to pursue. Friends and neighbours can disagree but there is a constant nasty edge to the Canadian side of the discourse. It is an edge that speaks poorly about Canadians and our political maturity.

There is more to Canada than simple the fact that it is not the USA. Canadians would do better to learn more about why their country is “good” than to repeat (often untrue) canards about why the USA is “bad.”

It’s time to grow up, Canada!

Zimbabwe - may be a bellweather for the “Bottom Billion.” Recent unrest and associated spin-off problems in Zimbabwe, as well as more recent rumblings elsewhere, draws the eye to poor, beleagured Africa. Poverty, governance, AIDS, resource and ethic issues continue to fuel conflicts in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, even Ethiopia/Eritrea (where a ceasefire following a 30-year-long civil war, as well as now-out-the-door United Nations mission, hasn't eased all areas of contention between the two countries), to list only the more obvious choices.  Ruxted hopes Canada's decision makers (both political and bureaucratic) remember the caveats we've laid out when considering what will likely be increasing calls to do something (especially something military) about Africa.


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