By Scott Taylor
As we wind down 2018 and prepare to kick off the New Year, it is a good time to pause and take stock. This would be particularly true in the case of the Canadian Armed Forces. We have a sizable number of troops deployed on overseas missions, gobbling up a huge chunk of the defence budget and, sad to say, achieving comparatively little in return.
In fact, the one thing the military has failed to produce is a featured presence in the mainstream media. Long gone are the heady days of Canada’s 12-year military intervention in Afghanistan, when the coverage was so constant that in 2006 the Canadian Soldier was named “Newsmaker of the Year”.
We presently have over 1,500 service members deployed on seven major overseas missions, and yet in recent polls the vast majority of Canadians admitted to having little to nil knowledge of the Canadian Armed Forces’ activities.
From a soldier’s perspective, what is even worse is the fact that those missions to which we are committed either have no clear objective, no chance of success or are unnecessary in the first place.
For instance, we have 540 soldiers deployed in Latvia until at least the year 2023 as part of a larger NATO force aimed to deter a Russian invasion of the Baltic states. Having those Canadian soldiers endure six-month absences from their homes and families is completely unnecessary because Latvia, like Lithuania and Estonia, are all members of NATO.
That means that under the alliance’s charter all members, including Canada, are committed to the collective defence in the case of a third-party attack. In other words, if Russian President Vladimir Putin is crazy enough to invade the Baltic states and spark a nuclear armageddon it won’t matter where our 540 soldiers are stationed.
This deployment is costing Canadian taxpayers $400 million annually to keep those troops needlessly deployed in northern Europe. That $400 million could be better spent improving the infrastructure on bases we have in Canada for the benefit of our soldiers and their families.
We have also just extended the training mission in Ukraine where we have about 200 military instructors. Ukraine is not a member of NATO and is enmeshed in a simmering civil war. The western-backed regime in Kiev is battling pro-Russian separatists (mostly, in fact, ethnic Russians) in the eastern provinces. The West chastises — and rightly so — Putin’s support of the separatist rebels with weapons and instructors, while at the same time Canada prides itself in supporting our close ‘ally’ Ukraine with weapons and instructors. Total hypocrisy.
In a similar demonstration of martial deterrence, Canada has five CF-18 fighter aircraft operating out of an air base in Romania. On the one hand we have the Trudeau Liberal government telling Canadians that we have a capability gap in our fighter jet inventory, with too few aircraft to fulfil our commitment to NATO and NORAD. Then we have a recent auditor general report saying we have too few pilots and too few maintainers to keep even the fighter jets we have in operational service. Now we are to believe that we can spare five of those precious jets and aircrew to fly sorties over Romania?
Once again folks, no matter how much the tub-thumpers and warmongers want a new Cold War, if a conflict with Russia does erupt it will not be a flurry of aerial dogfights and glorious infantry charges. It will be a series of mushroom clouds.
We’re also committed to two separate missions in Iraq. One is a NATO initiative to train a new Iraqi army, while the second is a special forces mission, which remains somewhat in limbo. That is because of the Kurdish militia, which our special forces trainers were originally supporting. Once the alliance had successfully defeated their common enemy Daesh (aka ISIS, IS or ISIL), the Canadian-trained Kurds began fighting Iraqi government forces. These would be the same Iraqi government troops that our second mission is training and supporting. Whoops!
Canada has no stake on the Iraq equation now that Daesh is defeated. And if the U.S. could not create an effective Iraqi military in 15 years of occupation, I don’t believe a Canadian-led NATO team will be able to achieve success in one year.
As part of the Liberal party 2015 campaign promise to return to peacekeeping, this past July we began a one-year, $100 million deployment to the UN mission in Mali. The stated objective of that mission is for the 14,000 blue helmets to “help set conditions for durable peace, development and prosperity in Mali.” I’m no psychic but I will state with full certainty that by the time we bring home our 250 troops and helicopters next July, that objective will still be far from fulfilled.
Canadian soldiers are still the best in the world and they are our best ambassadors. However, because our combat resources are so limited in scope, they need to be sent on missions with achievable objectives, as opposed to the current series of fool’s errands.