By Colonel (ret'd) Pat Stogran
I read with interest a November 13 opinion piece entitled “Is peacekeeping worth the sacrifice?” contributed to the Globe and Mail by retired Lieutenant-General D. Michael Day, former commander of Canada’s Special Operations Forces. In it he draws attention to the so-called Weinberger Doctrine, six points that United States Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger articulated in a speech in 1984.
Our Nation spends an inordinate amount of money in the military to train senior management; an amount that I would contest is too much given the lap-dog role senior serving officers seem to play to their political masters.
While the Weinberger Doctrine is certainly relevant to the Government of Canada in the context of the judicious employment of our limited military assets, it lends nothing to the deliberation of how Canada might be able to reinvigorate its celebrated tradition of what has become known as “peacekeeping.” Canadians deserve better advice from senior managers in the Canadian Armed Forces, those serving and retired.
Canada’s commitment to the concept of peacekeeping was certainly worth the sacrifice in the day. I personally served in Bosnia at the peak of the war and vacationed there subsequently and can attest to the amazing turnaround that region has experienced. The hatred and anxieties still exist amongst the general population, but they are subdued for the most part, seemingly subordinated to a genuine commitment to peace and desire to re-establish normalcy in their lives. Sadly, the government officials whom I had also come to know during the conflict and have remained embedded in the administration and bureaucracy in Sarajevo, are still rabble-rousing and fear-mongering.
I never had the opportunity or pleasure of serving in Cyprus or visiting the island as a tourist — which I did in Afghanistan as well as in Bosnia — but I know enough about the situation today in that crisis area to say categorically that the outcome was worth the cost, even though it became an albatross-like drain of capability around the neck of the Canadian Forces for decades.
In his Manoeuver Warfare Handbook, William S. Lind, one of the founders of the bodies of knowledge known as fourth-generation warfare and manoeuver warfare (these were the topics in earlier columns), asserts that to be effective in contemporary operations military forces should not only be training their officer cadres in what to think, they must be educating them in how to think. Such a rallying cry resonated in the post-Somalia race to smooth the troubled waters of that debacle, which led to the implementation of an educated officer corps in the Canadian Armed Forces.
While a compelling argument can be made for the utility of an educated officer corps, I believe that the groupthink and flawed strategy that was demonstrated by the coalition operations in the Middle East, particularly the American approach to military intervention and emphasis on kinetic operations that our forces have embraced, challenges the legitimacy of the claimed efficacy of education on the modern battlefield.
Also, one would expect that the successful implementation of such an education initiative would have resulted in senior officers in the Canadian Armed Forces being able to offer deeper, more constructive suggestions as to how our government might be able to accomplish the intent implicit in their desire to return Canada to its Sunny Way of peacekeeping but with a concept of operations that is more apropos given the modern security environment.
So-called peacekeeping first entered the lexicon of military intervention thanks to the involvement of the United Nations in the Suez Crisis in 1956. An idea that is often attributed to Canadian diplomat and later flag-founding Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, some historians suggest that the concept was actually the brainchild of Lieutenant-General Eedson Louis Millard “Tommy” Burns, CC, DSO, OBE, MC, C.D.
As the story goes, Burns, a celebrated Canadian hero of wartime command in the Second World War, approached Pearson with an idea of how Canada might be able to spearhead an initiative that might maintain a delicate general armistice in the Middle East until a permanent solution to the crisis could be achieved. He reasoned, apparently, that during his service in WWII he came to know many of the key commanders on all sides of the conflict personally, and was confident that Canada had the respect and credibility amongst the antagonists to act as a neutral third party. His personal involvement as chief of staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in Palestine (1954–56) was key to the success of the armistice, albeit limited because the crisis continues to this day and there have been several outbreaks of fighting in the region in the intervening years.
Witness the alternative today, the wanton destruction of infrastructure and human misery that is manifest in the wake of Western intervention in te Middle East.
What followed were several feverish decades of successively ground-breaking peacekeeping operations. Many of them ended up being dismal and sometimes tragic failures followed by a flurry of academic and philosophical gum-sucking and naval-gazing to describe exactly what this rapidly changing phenomenon known as peacekeeping was. Military professionals and pundits were confounded by the concept, the Secretary General to the United Nations at the time — Swedish diplomat, economist, and author Dag Hammarskjöld — declaring famously that “Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers, but only soldiers can do it.” One of Canada’s most famous peacekeepers, Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, was dismissive of the peacekeeping role despite his career having been adorned with deployments on many such United Nations deployments, both as a member of armed contingents and as a military observer, describing it as a tedious yet necessary distraction from the military’s roll of training for and fighting wars.
In the face of this condescension and despite it, conflict morphed in lockstep with the evolutions of the industrial and digital ages. The collapse of the Cold War did not signal the end of conflict as many people prognosticated, rather, the eruption of animosity and violence that hitherto had been contained by the influence and coercion of the two superpowers of the United States of America and United Soviet Socialist Republic.
What the pundits and professionals failed to comprehend was that the rules of the game were changing. Whole-scale, unbridled, industrial-style warfare continued to have a place in contemporary conflict, but only in self-defence, and no longer were humanitarian concerns relegated to after the successful completion of military operations. Rules of engagement were introduced and strictly monitored at the highest levels to preserve the apparent neutrality of the intervening forces. The establishment of stability and the rule of law displaced the wholesale destruction of belligerent forces as the desired end-state, and the warring intent of defeating an adversary gave way to building the capacity of the host nation governments — in other words the warring parties — to re-establish normalcy.
Peacekeeping itself was a moving feast, ranging from unarmed observer missions to lightly armed monitoring forces and ultimately the combat forces that intervened in the Balkans. The entirely passive nature of early missions under Chapter Six of the UN Charter gave way to more coercive operations authorized under Chapter Seven, which included the establishment of safe areas and the robust use of force to protect non-combatants. This fuelled the rhetorical war that resulted in all sorts of peacekeeping terms being bandied about such as peacemaking, peace building, peace enforcement, peace support, and stability operations. These were all packaged nicely under the term Operations Other Than War, because the professional militaries were still ignoring reality and fixated on preparing for the Son of World War Two.
It is not to suggest that militaries were incorrect in their assertion that they had to be capable of escalating at a moment’s notice to large-scale high-intensity combat operations, but the business of conflict was clearly becoming much more sophisticated, multidisciplinary, and scrutinized affairs than ever before.
Senior management in the Canadian Armed Forces steadfastly refused to submit to an apparent attempt to dismantle the military, asserting that they would not allow the Forces to be turned into a “constabulary.” That steadfastness reassured the rank and file, but it ignored the fact that the notion of the “Three Block War” had emerged — conflict intervention operations that saw troops conducting humanitarian, stability and security, and high-intensity combat simultaneously in close proximity. Military operations were being called upon to be increasingly discriminatory and minimize collateral damage, and direct action accomplished this in ways that are more akin to raids by law enforcement agencies than attacks by conventional forces. Highly trained and agile special forces troops would become increasingly the “force of choice” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the precision, speed, and relative anonymity their employment enjoyed compared to their conventional counterparts.
In his op-ed Day has acknowledged the Trudeau government’s desire to return Canada to the Sunny Ways of peacekeeping and the prerogative that civil authority enjoys in employing the Canadian Armed Forces. However he, like his colleagues who are still in uniform, offers nothing to the debate that reflects his education and experience in the Canadian context the way that Burns did. Weinberger’s doctrine certainly throws down a gauntlet in urging elected officials to be pragmatic and responsible in assigning missions to military components, but in a way that absolves senior management in the military of the responsibility to actually contribute critical and creative thought to propose a visionary way to continue Canada’s commitment to peace and stability given the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous security environment we are facing today.
Next month, I intend to develop that theme a little more. As usual, I look forward to comments and constructive criticism from readers. Until next time …