Prime Minister Stephen Harper used the annual seminar of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute in Ottawa to announce a compromise with the Opposition Liberals to extend Canada’s mission to Afghanistan until 2011.
The proposed extension came as the government’s reaction to the report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan chaired by former foreign affairs minister John Manley. The Liberals had put forward a number of amendments to the government motion.
Harper’s surprise move was to withdraw the original motion and put forward a new motion which strongly reflected the intention of the Liberal amendments. “We have examined the details of their position very carefully. We are pleased that there is some fundamental common ground. We both agree that Canada should continue the military mission until 2011,” Harper told the Feb. 21 meeting in Ottawa.
The new motion passed in the House of Commons in a vote of 198 to 77 on March 13.
It was the first time in approximately 20 years that a prime minister had spoken to the CDAI, the academic arm of the Conference of Defence Associations, an umbrella group of military associations of which The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest member.
“For 76 years, the Conference of Defence Associations has been a passionate and eloquent advocate for the Canadian military. You understand the vital role it serves in defending our sovereignty, projecting our values and asserting our interests on the world stage,” Harper told the crowd of more than 300 delegates at the Chateau Laurier.
The prime minister went on to outline his vision of that role. He said Canada had been a force for positive change in the world, having been one of the founding members of the League of Nations and having taken the lead in the development of peacekeeping.
“The dominion of Canada was not born of conflict. We have never displayed a taste for imperialism. We have largely escaped foreign aggression and we are a nation of immigrants who came here seeking to leave behind us the violent histories of many of our ancestral lands,” he said.
“From all this history, stems our reluctance to take up arms. Our reluctance to take up arms is a virtue. Yet, at the same time, our country also has a long, honourable and distinguished military history.”
While speaking of Canada’s past of following periods of war with periods of neglect of Canada’s military, Harper added: “In their own thoughtful, civilized way, I believe our fellow citizens have demonstrated in recent years that they have wanted Ottawa to take a more serious approach to our sovereignty and our security.”
Harper used the occasion to announce that the government is taking a long-term approach to funding the military by increasing the automatic annual increase in defence spending from 1.5 per cent to two per cent beginning in 2011-12.
“This funding, together with new and upgraded equipment, will not only improve the general effectiveness and enhance the safety of our troops. In some cases, it responds directly to the needs we have faced since deploying to Kandahar.”
In closing, Harper added, “I believe Canada should be a leader in the world, not a follower. And in today’s dangerous world, Canada must have a credible military to be a credible leader.”
Other speakers during the day looked at Canada’s peace-building role in Afghanistan. Former clerk of the Privy Council Mel Cappe was moderator for a discussion on Afghanistan: The Whole of Government Approach. Speakers were Afghanistan Task Force Deputy Minister David Mulroney, Canadian International Development Agency Vice-president Stephen Wallace and Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, the commander of Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command.
Cappe said the work that is doing in Afghanistan today is “Canada’s largest foreign aid commitment ever.”
Mulroney explained that the prime minister had appointed a new cabinet committee chaired by International Trade Minister David Emerson to co-ordinate government initiatives in Afghanistan. Responding to recommendations in the Manley panel’s report, oversight of Canada’s efforts there have been moved from Foreign Affairs and International Trade to the Privy Council Office. “Everyone needs to be working to the same agenda on policy, people, programs and planning,” he said. “As real as the progress is, the panel felt we have to do better.”
Mulroney said that the number of Canadian civilians working in Afghanistan is up 50 per cent. This includes workers from CIDA, Foreign Affairs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Corrections Canada.
Gauthier said “All our efforts in Afghanistan are about helping Afghans and giving them a better future.”
He said that since the summer of 2007, there had been substantially less fighting. “We can see a weakening in (the Taliban’s) leadership. We are seeing greater success in working with the Afghan military for the past six months or year.”
Wallace said one certain sign of progress is that there are 50 more schools in Afghanistan than when Canada first started sending aid to the wartorn country which has six million children in school.
Perhaps the most interesting perspective in the seminar came from John Scott Cowan, the principal of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., who compared the fight against terrorism with the long war against piracy from 1790 to 1850.
“Piracy and terrorism have certain common features. Piracy was directed at civilians or non-combatants with the intent to do harm. For a long time, it was sanctioned by certain governments and was used as a form of irregular warfare,” he said.
Cowan said pirates operated much like today’s terrorists in that they used low-end technology often improvising on weapons stolen from their enemies. “Within three generations, piracy went from being a semi-accepted form of irregular warfare and an activity likely always to exist at the edges of society to being gone,” he noted.
He said four factors finally made piracy entirely unacceptable and provoked a final campaign against it. They were:
• Privateers were no longer being given letters of authority by developed states;
• Piracy interfered with international trade which had become vastly more important to the economic health of developed nations;
• More people from a wider range of classes were travelling by sea, so the perception of risk was wider spread.
• Piracy was intimately connected to the slave trade which in itself was being outlawed at the time.
Similarly, Cowan argued that many elements, not just the military, have to come together to end terrorism, just as they did to end piracy two centuries earlier. “A war on terror is not a military exercise. It is a political, diplomatic, economic and social exercise,” concluded Cowan.
Drawing an analogy between the war against terrorism beginning with the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the war against piracy beginning in 1790, he predicted the war on terrorism would end about the year 2050.