Skip to content

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Gets It Wrong

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Gets It Wrong

A newly released report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives requires an informed rebuttal.

Ruxted commends thye author, Prof. Michael Wallace, for presenting his views but we assert they are ill informed and will serve only to confuse Canadians.
Prof Wallace begins by presenting an erroneous assumption (that the Leopard tanks were deployed because the other Canadian vehicles are too vulnerable) as a fact. The Leo is over there for its ability to put accurate and effective fire onto targets that were, previously, impenetrable to even the LAV III’s cannon. The only additional protection the leopard tank provides is to its own crews but it provides superior striking power in battle. Since Prof. Wallace missed this not so subtle distinction at the start it is not surprising that the rest of his essay misses the mark.

What Prof. Wallace fails to address is the fact that tanks are simply pieces of military hardware designed to do a particular set of jobs on the battlefield. The desire of commanders to add tanks to the toolkit is really the same desire (in a different context) of a contractor to have a range of tools to build houses. Tanks cannot win battles by themselves, but then again, neither can any piece of military hardware you care to name; only soldiers with the proper training and experience can make intelligent use of the equipment their governments provide.

Anyone who reads and believes Prof. Wallace’s dissertation on tank tactics - which even includes a reference to a Hollywood movie! – will be less well informed than he was before. Prof. Wallace appears to believe that the Canadian Army learned nothing at all during the 65+ years it has pondered and practised tank tactics. He is wrong.

With regard to airpower Prof. Wallace offers but fails to support a strawman: airstrikes = more Afghan civilian casualties = less support for ISAF. As a general rule ISAF does not use airstrikes when civilian casualties are the likely outcome but, in Afghanistan, as in all new, 4th generation conflicts, it is hard for anyone – including the infantry soldier who is “up close and personal” - to identify friend and foe. Ruxted believes that Canadian (and NATO) commanders are, constantly and consistently striving to get the job done with minimum damage – especially to innocent civilians. Ruxted also believes that Canadians, here at home, must learn to accept that some civilian casualties are inevitable – not matter how undesirable. It was ever thus.

The tank in Afghanistan is the main focus of Prof. Wallace’s paper. He is rather like the preacher in an old story about the farmer who could not go to church one Sunday. He asked his wife: “What did the preacher talk about?” “Sin,” she replied. “What did he say?” “He’s against it.” Prof. Wallace is, equally, against tanks but he appears opposed for two reasons: they are vulnerable and they create the wrong image. “How,” Prof. Wallace wonders, “are regional development teams likely to be perceived if they are preceded by a 55-tonne mechanical monster that could pulverize their village with a single shot?” He is, bluntly, wrong in his assessment.

Clearly Prof. Wallace knows nothing at all about the PRTs and their operations. If he did he would know that the PRT is, normally, quite remote from the tanks – doing its work after the tanks and LAV IIIs have done theirs.

The pressing need in this particular war is to deal with insurgents who will take violent action against people and property that are in conflict with the narrow interpretation of Islam and society that they espouse. The individual soldier on the ground can interact with the local population, identify the insurgents and protect the local people, but he can not do everything. Insurgents can hide in houses, cave complexes and other places which are impervious to the weapons inherent to an infantryman. With a tank, the soldiers can direct accurate fire against strong points. With artillery and aircraft, the soldiers have the ability to bring heavy firepower rapidly against strong points and caves complexes which tanks cannot reach. All modern weapons, no matter how sophisticated, rely on the sharp eye and quick thinking of soldiers to identify the enemy so this firepower can be quickly and effectively applied.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ article is flawed not only by such a superficial analysis of the use of tanks, but also in neglecting the many and varied tools Canadians are bringing into the fight in Afghanistan. In addition to the traditional tools of war, soldiers are also using tools such as clinics, local employment projects and road building. To concentrate only on the use of tanks is similar to suggesting Mike Holmes skill at home repair is due to his trademark coveralls.

So long as commentators limit themselves to facile examination of weapons such as tanks in isolation, the true nature of the war in Afghanistan will remain unknown to Canadians. Without knowledge, the Canadian public cannot make intelligent decisions about the war in Afghanistan. Our victory will be the result of the skilful and patient use of many tools and techniques, not simply the addition of a singular item in our inventory.

Ruxted understands that many Canadians are disquieted by the nature of the combat in Afghanistan. They have difficulty reconciling our stated goal of helping the Afghan people with images of Afghan civilians killed by Canadian soldiers – in tanks or not. Prof. Wallace has added some heat but little light to the subject. He does not understand tanks or tank tactics, not even why we sent tanks to Afghanistan in the first place. He is dismayed at what he, erroneously, believes are the tank’s insurmountable vulnerabilities – so dismayed that he ignores the tank’s capabilities. Prof. Wallace does not understand the differences between the combat forces and the aid/reconstruction forces. His lack of understanding renders his analysis useless, at best. The fact that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has an energetic public relations staff and has already ensured that Prof. Wallace’s misguided missiles received national media attention means that his analysis goes beyond being useless and ends up doing real damage to any hopes of a thoughtful, considered debate about why we are fighting in and reconstructing Afghanistan and how we are doing both.


No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Tony on :

Good one - hoping some future analytical effort will be put into this recent piece:


Keep up the great work!

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.

Form options