Thursday, December 29, 2005

Defense - what role?

It is with some hesitation that I applaud Stephen Harper's campaign proposals to increase defense spending and beef up Canada's military presence, particularly in the Arctic. I am loath to applaud this man for much of anything, but at the very least, there should be some debate on what role and capabilities Canadians should expect from their military. I'm not entirely sure an election campaign is the best venue to bring forth this debate, as things promised in elections rarely materialize in the manner in which they are promised. The Canadian American Strategic Review (CASR) website, hosted by Simon Fraser University in Burnaby has an excellent critique of Mr. Harper's proposal - so I will not bother going into a point by point analysis of this proposal. See for details. I do think however it is worth while to look at the priorities and roles for our military. The most basic role of the military is to provide the defense of the nation from all reasonable threats. Canada does not have the resources or desire to "go it alone" on national defense; Canada participats in alliances such as NATO and NORAD whereby the mutual defense of Canada and our allies is shared between allies. Canadian Forces must fully participate in the mutual defense of our NATO and NORAD partners. This requires that Canada pull its weight and fully meet its agreed upon role in mutual defense of our alliance. The threats facing NATO and NORAD have changed since the 1980's, so a review and rationalization of approaches, threats, roles etc. is sensible. For example, it probably doesn't make sense that Canada's Navy maintain such a focus on defending against Soviet submarines and an air defense system focused on long range strategic bombers is likewise senseless. Restructuring and allocation of forces however must be done in cooperation with out allies. Canada also has an interest in securing and patrolling our borders, enforcing our economic exclusion zones, protecting our offshore resources, enforcing immigration and customs laws at sea, performing search and rescue operations, maintaining navigational aids, etc. Canada is a sea going nation. We have (I think) the longest maritime border on the planet. We have made sovereignty claims over the Northwest Passage and the Arctic archipeligo which, if we want to be recognized, must be defended. Of our main military roles, this is the only one that is not conducted through an alliance or coalition - only Canada has an interest in securing our borders and defending our sovereignty over our territory. In fact, it is our allies, Denmark and the United States that are currently challenging these claims. Canada has also has a role to play in international peace keeping, peace making and humanitarian relief. We do not however have the resources to engage in peacekeeping or humanitarian relief on our own - it must be done through international cooperation and within the guidelines of international law. Obviously the UN and NATO are the most important alliances for this role, but the UN is not always able act, and NATO is focused on the North Atlantic and Europe. Canada is also an Pacific rim nation, however defensive alliances for peacekeeping operations in the Pacific rim are much less developed than in the North Atlantic. Canada should look to other progressive Pacific Rim nations such as Australia, New Zealandl, the Unites States, South Korea and Japan and coordinate our peace keeping and relief efforts with theirs. Lastly, the Canadian Forces have a role domestically in disaster relief and in the case of a national emergency, maintenance of civil order. However emergency powers specifically enabled by legislation are required for this role to be activated - and this should be done rarely. The RCMP and provincial and civic police forces are generally able to handle this role except in rare and exceptional circumstance. It is dangerous to a democracy to structure the military to act domestically. So if these are the roles of the armed forces - then next step is how should our armed forces be structured, equiped and commanded?

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