Eye On Defence: Time For A New Vision

September 1, 2001 by Legion Magazine

by David J. Bercuson

The Hercules aircraft has continued to be a Canadian Forces workhorse since they first started being acquired in the 1960s.

As of this writing the Department of National Defence’s White Paper of 1994 remains the theoretical foundation of Canadian defence policy and the government has made no move to either review it or replace it with a new white paper. That is unfortunate to say the least because even though the 1994 White Paper was a perfectly adequate guide for the time as to what Canadian defence policy ought to be, it was written in a strategic vacuum and it is now outdated in significant ways.

There was some expectation after the last federal election that National Defence Minister Art Eggleton and Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley might prevail upon cabinet to launch a new review of Canadian security policy, but the sleepwalking continues. In Britain, Australia and the United States such full-fledged studies have recently been completed, or are being carried out, but not here. This is surely another sign of just how seriously the current government takes its international defence commitments and its unwillingness to address Canadian national security interests as well as those of our allies.

The key flaw in the 1994 White Paper is that it was written without a prior overall review of Canada’s foreign policy objectives. Even though the Cold War was over by 1994, Cold War thinking still abounded among policy-makers. For almost a half century after WW II the globe was a bi-polar world in which two confronting coalitions seemed to maintain enduring and unchanging objectives. In those years Canadian foreign policy was primarily a reflection of foreign policies of the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. There seemed little need for in-depth foreign policy reviews.

The only serious review of that type, done in the early years of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government, merely added a phony gloss of concern about north-south and Third World issues to the hard reality that our foreign policy during the Cold War could never be much more than a pale reflection of Uncle Sam’s. When the then-new Chrétien government decided after the 1993 election to take an in-depth look at Canadian defence policy, there still seemed little need to place that review within the larger context of an overall foreign policy review.

As everyone knows, the world is a far more complex place today than it was during the Cold War and the foreign policy norms that served us well from 1945 to 1990 are no longer adequate to guide Canadian thinking on very much of anything. No connected nation in the world today can make fine distinctions between foreign and defence policy, between foreign and environment policy, between foreign and immigration and refugee policy. In most policy matters it is hard to know where the jurisdiction of one ministry ends and the jurisdiction of another begins. Thus, a new white paper on defence alone will be irrelevant the day it is published; what is needed to deal with the world as it is today is a new Canadian white paper on security and defence.

There is probably no better example of how out-of-date the 1994 White Paper is than its declaration of undying support for the United Nations and its pledge to continue vigorous participation in UN peace-support operations around the globe. That declaration was made before the full horror of Bosnia was played out, before Rwanda, before East Timor, before Sierra Leone and before the resultant deep skepticism of UN operations set in among Canada’s soldiers. In light of Canada’s decision to ignore the UN and bomb Serbia in league with our NATO allies–which was the correct decision in my view–it is no longer credible for us to stand by what we declared to be true regarding Canada and the UN in 1994.

Nor is it enough for Canada today to declare, as it rightly did in 1994, that NATO is one of the cornerstones of our defence policy. Canada along with the U.S. and Britain, pioneered NATO. We supported it with a real, though diminishing, forward military commitment from 1952 to 1992. But the NATO we helped establish was a defensive alliance, not the NATO we are members of today. By virtue of having won the Cold War, NATO is now the only real source of military stability in Europe, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. It has become an international police force.

Canadians need to ask themselves what role Canada should play in this new NATO. And they need to ask themselves what they ought to do if the cracks which have recently emerged in the alliance grow wider. What, for example, will Canada’s policy be if Europe succeeds in creating its own rapid reaction force?

From the prospective of laying out goals for force size and structure, the 1994 White Paper was most deficient in that its recommendations were completely divorced from the budget-making policy process. It was courageous for the government to declare that the military it was about to reduce in size due to budget constraints, would nevertheless remain fully combat capable, and able to fight against the best alongside the best. But it was an empty declaration because the government did not, at the same time, commit itself financially to specific goals, such as setting aside 23 per cent of the Defence Services Program annually for capital upgrades. As of this moment the Canadian Forces are facing extinction by 2011 at the earliest as capital ships, fighters, transports, reconnaissance aircraft, and other major pieces of kit are forced out of service due to obsolescence.

There is one other reason why a major security review must take place in the near future. Although the June 1999 DND study Shaping The Future Of Canadian Defence: A Strategy for 2020 was presumably not intended to substitute for a white paper, it did declare itself to be a “strategic framework for Defence planning and decision-making.” Thus it will become a white paper by proxy in the absence of any cabinet-level action to the contrary. Not only is Strategy 2020 completely inadequate as an overall security policy review, but it sets out the military’s priorities and not those of the civil authority which should be setting the strategic policy goals for the military.

There are only two palpable reasons why the government should not launch a full-fledged, public, security policy review in 2002–it may inconvenience bureaucrats and it will be costly. Surely the government’s obligation to its own citizens, let alone to the nation’s security and to our allies, far outweighs those transient concerns.

Veterans Home Benefits From Book Profits

Ottawa author John Gardam has presented the Perley and Rideau Health Centre in Ottawa with $1,000 in May, as the first payment of profits from a book chronicling tales of veterans and peacekeepers, and the monuments of Canada’s capital.

Canadians In War And Peacekeeping was published late last year with all profits going to the long-term-care centre of which Gardam is a member of the Veterans Committee. Gardam, who lives in Nepean, Ont., was a colonel in the Canadian Forces and has been involved in the creation of the Peacekeeping Monument unveiled in Ottawa in 1992. As well, he was instrumental in the ceremonies in Europe and the Far East in 1994­95 to mark the Canada Remembers program for both Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Forces.

Many of the stories were told to Gardam by some of the 250 veterans who reside in the long-term-care facility. Others were picked up on various pilgrimages and trips overseas, including a chapter on Pat Bogert, the general who led Canadian troops in both Italy in WW II and Korea. Also included are chapters on Victoria Cross recipient Smokey Smith. Navy, army, air force and merchant navy veterans are all represented. The peacekeeping section includes reminiscences from the Congo, Palestine and Cyprus.

Gardam, a member of Petawawa, Ont., Branch, includes his own experiences as a peacekeeper in Egypt in the early 1960s. More information can be obtained from General Store Publishing House, Box 28, 1694, Burnstown Road, Burnstown, ON K0J 1G0 or by going to the Web site www.gsph.com.

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