Last week I offered some thoughts here about the burdensome costs that first world countries must contemplate to put soldiers in the field.

On the CBC website today, Brian Stewart offers some thoughtful comments on relationship between the cost of a standing military and the need to have a rationale for that cause.  Stewart notes some startling numbers as to what it will take to bring the Canadian Armed Forces to reequip the Canadian Armed Forces with ships, aircraft and ground equipment such as tricks.

“We’re going to need to add on much more — between $33 billion and $42 billion across the coming decade — just to adequately modernize and maintain our military, warns Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette. 

 And even that wouldn’t satisfy our allies. Leaders of the NATO alliance, especially the U.S. and U.K., nag that we should be spending twice what we’re now doing, up from one per cent of GDP to the two per cent that NATO members have set as the common goal.

 The last time Canada hit that two per cent mark was (surprise) under Pierre Trudeau over 40 years ago, and we’re not about to get even remotely close in the foreseeable future.

So we remain slumped near the bottom of NATO, 22 out of 28 in the percentage of GDP that we spend on a common defence.”

The essential problem is that since the Cold War, no party has been able to articulate a coherent rationale for why Canada needs a military or what sort of military it should be. Even during the height of the Cold War, there were disagreements within the military and civilian leadership as to whether Canada needed more than a trip-wire force in Europe when World War Three was likely to end in nuclear suicide.  Peter Kasurak’s book A National Force: The Evolution of Canada`s Army, 1950-2000 (UBC 2013) tells this story in detail, noting that Canadian Army planners were allowed to fantasize about building a standing army of corps strength, along the lines of the army of 1940-1945, while their political masters had no intention of ever authorizing such expenditures when the uses of such an army were unclear and difficult to justify.

History shows that we build up our military only once the shooting starts, which is why Canadians went to Afghanistan riding in obsolete Iltis jeeps and ended up in Chinook helicopters. That was ad hoc, not planned, spending. The reality is that other than Search and Rescue capabilities, and some vague conception of peacekeeping, the Canadian public can not agree on what sort of military it wants.  If you read the comments on the CBC website in response to the Stewart article, you will see that readers are all over the map, from build the army to cut the army to bring the troops home.   Taxpayers almost certainly won’t pay for a large standing military until we get into a major war, in which case, taxpayers won’t have a choice. 

Tonight I’m listening to the federal leaders’ debate on foreign policy, and I have yet to hear anything thoughtful on what Canada’s foreign policy should be and how that might drive our military commitments.



0 Responses

  1. Time is key. Roosevelt said "talk softly but carry a big stick". The aggressor already has a force and a potential army is no army at all. The trick is to have 'enough' to keep you in the field until you can build up your national response. In the days of the cold war this was obvious enough. BAOR in the UK's ORBAT was to hold on 24-48hrs until reinforcement/stalemate negotiation or ENDEX. The nature of the current threats are variables on the virtually unknown therefore you need enough of 'what' to keep you in the field until reinforcement? And so the time gap widens between identifying the threat and reponding. Whatever the decision on the 'what' the 'who pays' is a non question. Everyone has to pay or else everyone will pay.