defence platforms > Green Party

Defence Policy As If Peace Matters

By Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party,  with veterans in Victoria, B.C. (Billy Willbond)

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party,  with veterans in Victoria, B.C. (Billy Willbond)

Under the Conservatives, Canada’s defence posture is inconsistent with our traditional role. Defence expenditures in particular seem to be guided by little long-term national interest, principle or purpose. Astonishingly, overall Canada’s defence expenditures are headed to an unprecedentedly low 0.89 per cent of the GDP.

We must do a better job of defence procurement. Even the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), $33 billion in shipbuilding contracts to Nova Scotia and British Columbia in 2012, seems to be unravelling. The Navy no longer has a ship that can refuel our frigates at sea. Search-and-rescue missions on the West Coast rely on planes built in the 1960s.

Parliament must have much more substantial oversight of national defence expenditures. In the F-35 fiasco, we never had a debate about how ownership of the controversy-plagued fighter planes could possibly promote national or international security.

We must define our national interest. We have very real responsibilities to maintain our extensive coastlines with much better communications, monitoring and we must equip an agile military to assist in global hot spots. Such a debate would likely lead to support for alternatives to the F-35s, such as upgrading our aging CF-18s, investing in unmanned drones for sovereignty patrols, and preparing for a greater military role responding to real security threats like climate change and environmental disasters — as our armed forces have been in the recent response to the Saskatchewan wild fires.

The purchase of fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) aircraft has been stalled for years. We need to move to request proposals to supply these aircraft and prioritize those tenders made by Canadian manufacturers.

Canada’s preparedness along our extensive coasts — especially in the Arctic — is lagging. We are currently building the Nanisivik Naval Facility, and after a huge delay, three of our four submarines are finally seaworthy, but they are still not fully capable of under-ice operations. We also urgently need to improve our remote surveillance capacity.

Our Arctic search-and-rescue operations are particularly poor. Our long-range helicopters are based in B.C., N.S. and Labrador. Canada does not yet have a single port along the Northwest Passage where a vessel in distress could seek refuge, despite obvious possibilities on Baffin Island, or near the communities of Tuktoyaktuk and Iqaluit. By contrast, Russia has 16 deep-water ports along its Arctic coastline.

Even basic navigational charts are a problem, with only one-tenth of Canada’s Arctic waters charted to modern standards. Finally, Canada’s Coast Guard icebreakers are aging, yet colossally ineffective procurement processes have resulted in the Royal Canadian Navy effectively having no new ice-breaking ships, only ones that are “ice-strengthened.”

Our defence policy must reflect that Canada is fundamentally a peaceful country. We should engage in peacekeeping. Of the almost 130,000 blue berets in 16 global peacekeeping operations around the world with the United Nations, a mere 111 are Canadians!

The Conservative government has placed Canada on a dangerous trajectory in ill-advised wars with poor strategic planning, coupled with mismanagement of the Canadian Armed Forces’ assets. We are completely marginalized in the Middle East by taking a one-sided view. While the Green Party supports the state of Israel and its fundamental right to exist, it is unhelpful to align Canada’s policies with those of the Israeli right wing.

The Green Party believes our military commitment must be selective. We cannot maintain armed forces that are capable of deploying anywhere, any time. The Green Party opposes the current Canadian mission in Iraq, and now Syria. We cannot afford to ignore ISIS but neither should we fall into the trap of doing exactly what ISIS wants us to do. ISIS’s extreme and distorted religious view seeks an Armageddon by drawing us into conflicts — that’s why they put their sadistic and monstrous crimes on YouTube. But we need to be smarter and more strategic.

Through its failure to understand the worldview of ISIS, the Conservative government has engaged Canada in military operations of uncertain scope and purpose. We should have learned the dangers of ill-conceived military action from the destruction of Libya. While Canada recognized the rebel forces as the legitimate government of Libya, we ignored the reality that al-Qaeda forces were among those rebels. With Libya now a failed state, Gaddafi’s warehouses of weapons are in the hands of ISIS.

Once again, the Conservatives have no clear direction for the Iraq mission; one which has grown from a six-month non-combat role to an 18-month mission, with airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the Conservatives refuse to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which would reduce the flow of conventional arms fuelling these senseless tragic conflicts. Nor is the current government doing enough to crack down on the money flowing to ISIS and other terrorist groups, or collaborating with our allies to relieve the immense humanitarian suffering caused by military action.

Canada is well-suited to contribute to practical, innovative means of civil-military co-operation and to provide essential support to deliver humanitarian and development assistance in complex conflict zones. We should also support the United Nations’ “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine. In the ill-advised Libyan intervention, Canada initially used R2P to justify its involvement, only to shift to the goal of regime change — with, as noted, disastrous results. Despite that setback, R2P is gaining support as the legal and ethical framework within which to protect vulnerable populations at risk from civil wars, insurgency, state repression, and state collapse.

The world needs more Canada — but not of the haphazard and reckless policies pursued by Stephen Harper and his administration. It is time for a change.