By: Scott Taylor
Last month, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that the Liberal government would be seeking public consultation from experts and laypersons in advance of Canada drafting its first real white paper on defence since 1994.
It is not expected before the end of this year.
Of course, those first out of the gate attempting to bend the government’s ear will be the defence lobbyists and military boosters who are major stakeholders by virtue of their professional livelihood. The old chestnut they will no doubt roll out is that Canada’s defence spending should be a percentage of our gross domestic product.
At roughly $22 billion, the Canadian defence budget represents just over 1 per cent of our current GDP. Armed with pie charts and graphs, the war mongers argue that as a member of NATO we should live up to the alliance’s stated objective of defence spending equalling two per cent of GDP. This would mean the Liberal government would have to find an additional $20 billion per year to spend on military hardware and salaries.
As much as I am a proponent for Canada maintaining a modern, efficient military, with service members being well remunerated and cared for, as a taxpaying Canadian citizen I cannot support doubling our defence budget to meet an arbitrary NATO-prescribed percentage of our GDP.
Instead of determining how much we should spend or which equipment we should buy, the current round of consultations should examine the big picture of what we want our military to do.
Geographically, we are blessed in that we share a single land border — the longest undefended boundary in the world — with the world’s largest superpower to our south. With vast oceans and the frozen Arctic buffering our other three borders, we have no foreseeable threat of foreign invasion on our soil from those quarters.
Since America spends more on defence than the rest of the world combined, there is no longer even a Canadian contingency plan for attempting to fight them off. Back in the 1920s, Canada actually had a daring strategy should a war with the U.S. erupt. The plan was to mobilize quickly and invade Vermont, which we would then use as a bargaining chip until Britain and France could come to our aid. We even sent spies into Vermont to scout the best possible invasion routes. But I digress.
Canada is a former colony, and while a member of the British Commonwealth, we do not have an imperial legacy on foreign continents. Since the Cold War concluded and we closed our bases in Germany, Canada does not station soldiers permanently on foreign soil.
We still have the moral obligation to the collective defence of Western Europe as a member of NATO. However, despite the media doing their level best to paint Russian President Vladimir Putin as the next Hitler, Russia is not about to annex anything more than the Crimea.
This means that Canada as a nation has the luxury to pick and choose which conflicts it wants to contribute military resources to.
If one is to learn from past mistakes, then we should be getting quite clever. We had a 12-year commitment in Afghanistan, fighting a war we never should have fought, propping up a corrupt and hated regime. Reluctantly, senior officials now admit that the intervention was a failure.
In 2011, Canada led the NATO charge in Libya to depose president Moammar Gadhafi. We liberated the Libyans from a tyrant, but delivered them into a state of armed anarchy in Gadhafi’s wake. That country is now a failed state in the midst of a second civil war, with Daesh evildoers thriving in the power vacuum that we created. Very reluctantly, senior officials now admit that Libya was a massive mistake.
While Canada has ended the combat air campaign against Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria, we continue to provide training and support to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. Given that the Kurdish peshmerga (which we are training) are fighting to establish an independent Kurdistan, which runs counter to Canada’s stated foreign policy of supporting a re-united Iraq, this mission is fatally flawed in its conception.
Now there is whispering in Ottawa that the Liberal government wants to take a lead role in a United Nations peacekeeping mission — possibly in Africa — with the thinly veiled intention of boosting our chances of obtaining a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Given that we literally have the luxury to choose our battles, why do we keep rushing from failure to failure?