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Prognostication: 2009

Prognostication: 2009

‘Tis the season for prognostication, and the Ruxted Group, after a long vacation, cannot resist.

Herewith, in alphabetical order, are a few disconnected thoughts on 2009, and beyond:
Afghanistan – will not go away. The 2011 ‘deadline’ for redeployment – which does not, necessarily, mean withdrawal – approaches quickly. So does a formal request from soon to be President Barack Obama’s new government. It will be impossible for the Government of Canada to not do something in that unfortunate country – if only because we must maintain friendly relations with the US and quid pro quo is still a normal process in international politics. Canadian politicians and opinion makers/leaders need to start discussing how and where, in Afghanistan, we are going to play a highly visible and valued role.

2011 is an arbitrary date and conditions – military and political, inside Afghanistan and in Ottawa - will change and the ‘decision’ may need to change with them.

By 2011 Canada ought to be able to offer about a brigade’s worth of (minimally) effective Afghan National Army units as proof that we have done a full and fair share in Kandahar. But even if we can shift our forces away from Kandahar, or perhaps just away from a combat mission in Kandahar, casualties will still be suffered.

If Canada leaves Afghanistan the Canadian Forces will, without question, end up in another combat mission somewhere else and they will kill and die there, too. See K, below.

Bullets and Beans – the military is a large and extraordinarily complex thing. Very often the public – including a too often disinterested commentariat – fails to understand that there is much, much more to the military than just the combat soldiers in the Forward Operating Bases, or just the men and women in Afghanistan, or at sea, or flying aircraft. The military also has a large infrastructure of its own – one that has, much like too many of Canada’s bridges and overpasses, been ignored and even abused over the past few “decades of darkness.” When, rather than if, the calls come for military belt tightening, DND must be ready to economize but that does not mean that the fuel tanks and spare parts bins can be emptied. Such ‘economies’ are usually false. 

Canadian Politics –  the world's situation has grown increasingly bleak in the 21st century. Terrorism has been joined by growing poverty, disease and despair – which breed more of the same. The problems of poverty, disease and despair are exacerbated by a global credit crisis and a consequential desire, in the developed world, to shut out the cries for help from what is called the “Bottom Billion”. We, in Canada, need a firm, stable government to meet the crises that are emerging, now.

Canadians are divided in their politics but, surely, not in their desire to do what is both right for the world and best for us. The Ruxted Group doubts that there is too much difference, on those fundamental issues, between most Conservatives and most Liberals. If the two parties cannot overcome their differences in approach and work together for the common good then we urge Canadians to elect one or the other to a majority.

Defence Policy – while we are happier now, after the publication of the Canada First Defence Strategy, than we were just a year ago, the five challenges we set out for the government (be brave, be honest with Canadians, offer a grand strategy, table a sound defence policy and commit enough money) remain, largely, unmet.

Economic Issues – while Ruxted welcomes the increase in spending set forth in the “Canada First Defence Strategy” it must be understood that it represents a long, slow decrease in defence capabilities unless the Government of Canada adjusts the way it funds major military operations. The money promised in “Canada First” is probably (barely) adequate if DND does not have to pay for major operations, like Afghanistan, out of its regular budget allocations. The money promised in “Canada First” is, probably, adequate to raise, equip, train and maintain an appropriate (for a G8 nation) military force but it is clearly too little to send any substantial parts of that force into sustained operations.

Federal Follies -  it is time for Canadian politicians to actually consider military requirements, rather just than local and regional political pork-barrelling, when defence projects are approved. Equally, it is time for the defence staffs (civilian and military) to consider the utility of spending 10% or even 20% of capital to get a wee tiny bit of Canadianization. Sometimes the old adage that “the best is the enemy of the good enough” is too true.

Guns and Butter – it is no secret that the Canadian economy, along with those of all the other rich, developed countries, is in recession. When times are tough Canadians, traditionally, want to tighten their belts and the government’s, too. Defence spending is, also traditionally, an early and popular target for cuts and amongst the last ‘spending envelopes’ to be refilled when times are good. Military planners and military members understand the need for prudence but brave men and women are fighting and dying as Canadians celebrate the holidays and a hopefully better New Year.

Helicopters – we are making progress (BZ to Prime Minister Harper’s government, with special thanks to former MND Gordon O’Connor who, faced with a hostile press and a divided military, pressed hard for strategic airlift and new helicopters) but there is still much to do. We need to recognize that aviation is a teeth arm along with the infantry, armour, artillery and engineers and fully ‘integrate’ both helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles into the ground combat system. As we have said before the Government of Canada needs to find and spend billions and billions of ‘new’ dollars to provide the Canadian Forces with enough aviation resources – for land and sea operations.

Infantry – Field Marshal Lord Wavell, one of the 20th centuries most thoughtful soldiers, said, in 1945, in a letter to the editor, “… all battles and all wars are won in the end by the infantryman … the infantryman always bears the brunt. His casualties are heavier, he suffers greater extremes of discomfort and fatigue than the other{s} … the art of the infantryman is less stereotyped and far harder to acquire in modern war than that of any other arm … the infantryman has to use initiative and intelligence in almost every step he moves, every action he takes on the battle-field … we ought therefore to put our men of best intelligence and endurance into the Infantry … yet the Infantry in peace or war receives the lowest rates of pay, the drabbest uniforms, sometimes even the least promising of recruits; most important of all, it ranks lowest in the public estimation and prestige. This is all wrong and should be set right by methods more important than a capital I … in all the long history of war on land the front-line fighting man, whose role is to close with the enemy and force him to flee, surrender, or be killed—the only method by which battles are ever won—has two categories only—those who fight mounted—once the Knights-at-arms, then the Cavalry, now the Armoured Corps—and those who fight on their feet—the inevitable, enduring, despised, long-suffering Infantry (with a very capital I)”. Everyone in government and in DND, too, must remember that the ‘point’ consists of sailors on ships, soldiers in their forward operating bases and aircrew in aircraft.

The rest, including the Chief of the Defence Staff and all the admirals and generals and bureaucrats and, yes, politicians, too, are ”in support” in one way or the other. And so are all the rest of us. When asked, we all pay lip service to this basic fact. Too often, however, our actions speak louder than words. When it is inconvenient to make the extra effort so that somebody at the sharp end gets new boots or a hot meal or spare parts today instead of tomorrow, the "we can't be expected to do everything" attitude applies.

Junk Science Policy – it is time to discard some ‘junk policies,’ especially those related to the slow, cumbersome, bureaucratic nightmare called defence procurement. The Government of Canada needs to be a smart, efficient, effective consumer. We need to buy the right kit in sufficient quantities when it is needed by the sailor in ships, soldiers in the field, aircrew in the air and supporting people in their dockyards, workshops and hangers and we need to buy it without unnecessary frills and at the lowest possible cost consistent with timely delivery, proper quality control and life cycle maintenance.

The Ruxted Group is convinced, based upon the experiences of other countries, that there are better policy models than ones used in Canada and the USA. Let’s get rid of the gas money guzzling behemoth of a defence procurement system – which involves too many government departments, each with competing goals and priorities, and build a sleek, nimble, cost effective one in its place – reporting to one, 100% responsible, minister, within the Department of National Defence.

Above all, DND must manage a continuing dichotomy: It must be prepared to pay a little more for a greater breadth or depth of capability (flexibility), yet it must remain vigilant against paying a premium for only marginal capability gains.

Defence procurement is a mess because the Government of Canada allowed the process (the bureaucracy) to become more important than the product (timely delivery of the right product). The mess can be fixed so that the CF gets the right equipment, on time and at a fair and reasonable price.

Kilometres Miles to go before I sleep – we have “promises to keep” (based on decades of words without deeds in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s) to Afghanistan and the world. Canada led the charge for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) Doctrine in the UN. More and more and more peoples, concentrated in the “Bottom Billion” need, indeed are begging for our protection – will we exercise our self proclaimed ‘responsibility’ to offer effective help or will we just convene yet another meeting of overfed politicians, bureaucrats, ‘activists’ and celebrities in another five star resort? Effective, responsible help is going to require a robust military (combat) capability – force which can be projected and maintained far, far from Canada in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth.

Limited Resources to Meet Limitless Requirements – the calls for help, and the promises we need to keep appear limitless, and in practical terms that is the case.

“Canada,” many of us will cry – repeating Pierre Trudeau’s lie in the 1970 White paper A Foreign Policy for Canadians – “is a small, poor country with too many problems of its own. We have huge problems of our own and we cannot be expected to bail out everyone else.” The Ruxted Group repeats: that’s a lie. It was poppycock in 1970 and it is still poppycock now. Canada is, by any fair and sensible measure, one of the ‘top’ (richest) dozen or so nations in the world. Our GDP (nearly $1.5 Trillion) is nearly double than of the bottom 100 countries recognized by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We are beyond just rich. We are stable, democratic, sophisticated, law abiding and so on – all the things the ‘Bottom Billion” want to become. If we cannot help then we cannot, possibly, call on others to do the heavy lifting. If we cannot help it will be because –and only because – we chose not to help, because we chose to close our eyes and our minds and our hearts to the plight of others, because we are a small, greedy people. Yes, there is an economic crisis; yes, we have serious domestic social problems; yes, we are far from being the richest or most powerful country in the world and yes, we can help.

M to Z will follow soon in a few days.


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