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Adjusting To A New Model Of Continuous Warfare

Adjusting to a new model of continuous warfare

The Ruxted Group recommends that readers consider a recent article by Prof. Douglas Bland (Queen’s University) entitled “Adjusting to the new regular warfare.”

Put simply: Prof. Bland tells us that this (Afghanistan and what will follow it) is the new international military reality and we – Canadian military and political leaders, especially - had best come to grips with it or it will deal us military and political defeats – abroad and at home.

Ruxted agrees wholeheartedly, with emphasis on this being a "problem facing Canadian leaders" -- not just political, or in the media and academe. We suggest that there are some military leaders who remain uncomfortable straying too far from their conventional war-fighting templates.
Ruxted has, time and again, warned Canadians that we are in a long, long war – “a new era of continuous warfare” as Prof. Bland calls it. It appears, from their recent remarks indicating that Canada might be fighting well after the date scheduled for the CF to cease combat in Afghanistan - early 2009, that Prime Minister Harper and Defence Minister O’Connor has come around to this view. We also agree with Prof. Bland that there is no “exit strategy” from “continuous warfare,” not, in any event, until the enemies (and there are more than one) concede defeat. This is the work of a generation, at least, and Canadians, including the commentariat, need to wrap their minds around that fact.

But, there is a problem: Canada is not at war. The Canadian Forces are, to be sure, involved in combat operations. Canadian soldiers are killing and dying. This is, most emphatically, not ‘traditional,’ post-Korea, Pearsonian peacekeeping – but it’s not war, either, not for Canadians. Perhaps Prof. Bland’s term, “continuous warfare” is a better choice.

The nature of this new, continuous warfare is, quite understandably, frightening to all thinking people – including to seasoned military personnel who, in addition to being unsure about how to win, fear that it may threaten their services and their traditional view of the nature of operations. Some military people are having trouble with “continuous warfare” because they feel that this (Afghanistan, for example) is simply a rather ‘high energy’ extension of (recently) traditional police actions or peacekeeping missions. This view appeals to those who think we have settled back into another bipolar world – this time pitting ‘Christendom’ against ‘Islam’ or, as Ruxted has suggested, civilization against barbarism.

Others, like Prof. Bland, do not shy away from the concept. They affirm that we are fighting but in an unfamiliar model – analogous, perhaps, to the Thirty Years War (fought nearly 400 years ago) which fundamentally reshaped Europe and provided a new model for international relations which persists, globally, to this day. This new era may have equally profound effects – especially if one hopes that Islam will revisit some of its fundamental tenets when the war is finally over.

As a concrete Canadian example of what is meant by "continuous warfare" we need look no farther than our national police force: the RCMP. In 1873 they were formed as a military body armed with weapons comparable to the weapons currently employed by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan: pistols, rifles and 9 pounder cannons. Later, when technology and budget allowed and circumstances demanded, they added the Gatling machine gun to their arsenal. Their functions were: to establish the Government's right to the countryside by their presence; to keep neighbouring states from finding an excuse to intervene because of internal disorder; to maintain order, if not peace, amongst feuding tribes; to keep the drug lords and other opportunists of the day (the whiskey traders) under control and as honest as possible; to set the stage for investment in infrastructure and the establishment of institutions that would permit a law abiding culture to prevail – in other words “keeping the peace.” In 1875 they went out in 2 large, formed bodies. By 1885 they were operating in dispersed patrols and had to call on military support to restore order in the Northwest. In 2007 the RCMP are still operating across the prairies, still keeping order amongst settlers and natives, and still chasing drug lords, and there are more Mounties on the prairies now than Victoria had soldiers in North America in 1873. Some conflicts never end. Tools and tactics change but the “warfare” is continuous. One does not expect to find Canadians still in Afghanistan in, say, 2137, or even in 2037 but we do expect to find the Government of Afghanistan still “keeping the peace” in Kandahar a century from now.

There is another, rather more worrisome group within the military: those who fear that their ‘empires’ might be swept aside as the CF gears up to fight in this new, global, continuous warfare model. Ruxted shares the worry about throwing out the baby with the bathwater – fighting a new counter-insurgency in Central Asia does not mean that we should, for example, forget about or abandon offensive counter air operations or anti-submarine operations. But it may be that some, even many, of these ‘traditional’ (and comfortable, well understood) military tasks will receive and will deserve to receive much less attention – perhaps for a generation. They should not be cast aside in a rush of enthusiasm for new style army operations, but they may merit less attention and resources for quite some time.

There is considerable adjusting to be done – by politicians, by the media and, above all, by military leaders to the new realities of continuous warfare. The old, familiar, comfortable models, entrenched during the cold war, may have to change. Change needs to be considered – not just a knee jerk reaction to this, that or the other crisis. Some ‘basics’ need to be respected: Canada needs to prepare (plan, equip, train, etc) for war, not just for this war. The Ruxted Group agrees with Prof. Bland that the new model is for continuous war – fought globally against, mainly, non-state actors – and that continuous likely means for a generation or more.

We invite leaders in politics, the bureaucracy, the media and the military to consider Prof. Bland’s question: ”For Canada then, how do we reconcile this collision of ideas and circumstances with the demands of our national interests? What foreign and defence policies and military doctrines, organizations and structures do we need to construct? More critical perhaps, what conflicts should we join, on whose side, for how long, and how do we know any answers to these questions before the fact?”


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