In a letter to the Ottawa Citizen, (28 Nov 05) Steve Staples of the Polaris Institute asks: Should Canada's military spending be determined by the size of our economy, or by what is required to defend Canada? Then he goes on to compare Canadian defence spending to that of other NATO allies and to previous years. He addresses dollars not requirements.
The dollars, as percentages of GDP or as absolute values, are immaterial, just like all of Mr. Staples' argument. The two questions which need to be asked are:
1. What tasks do the government wish the armed forces to do, what requirements does the government impose upon the military?
2. How much money is needed for the people, equipment, training and ongoing operations and maintenance expenses to do them?
It doesn't matter if it is 0.25%, 2.5% or 25% of GDP, we, Canadians, either pay the bills or the government's foreign policy is rubbish. Equally, it matters not at all, not even one tiny iota, what Belgium or Germany spend on their defence; they are not Canada and their armed forces are not doing Canadians' bidding. It also doesn't matter what we spent in 1950 or 1975 or 2000 - people and things, food and fuel cost what they cost now. Mr. Staples is mixing apples and oranges - presumably he believes that Canadians should only pay $10,000 for a new luxury car, that's what one cost in the '60s.
If Mr. Staples and The Polaris Institute want to spend less then all they have to do is stop trying to blow smoke in Canadians' eyes and say: "we want fewer sailors, soldiers and aviators with less equipment doing less and less in the world. We want out of harm's way. We want little Canada to cower behind Uncle Sam's skirts."
That, it appears to us, is the entire crux of the Polaris Institute's argument: run and hide, and spend the money on something else.
The Ruxted Group begs to differ.
It is time for those who would govern Canada to speak out, clearly and honestly to tell Canadians that they expect to ask the Canadian Forces to do more of the same and the defence budget will, of necessity, grow and grow as the government of the day makes up for 15 years of budgets which aimed to please Mr. Staples and his fellow travellers. If politicians agree with Mr. Staples then they should say so: say that we are going to run and hide. We know that governments want to do more and more in the world, for the self aggrandizement of leaders if nothing else. The Ruxted Groups thinks that the prospect of withdrawing to North America, sheltered by the USA, is unacceptable to most Canadians. This is not the '60s. Canadians may not like George W. Bush but they are smart enough to know that Canada needs to pull its weight in the world, as one of the world's top ten, regardless of who leads America. They have applauded political leaders for sending the Canadian Forces into danger, so long as the ties to the Bush administration are not too tight. They will not tolerate running and hiding.
Admirals and generals, politicians and academics are, for the most part, saying the same thing: pulling our weight, doing our fair share to help in a dangerous world requires bigger, better and, consequently, more expensive armed forces. There is some debate about how much bigger and how much better and, consequently, how much more expensive. Only the Polaris Institute is out of step.