Armchair general's answers

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A thought experiment this morning.

For starters, I’ll acknowledge upfront some of these ideas are a little half-baked. That doesn’t mean they’re bad – I wouldn’t mention them if they were – but I haven’t given them sufficient thought to fully endorse them as a strongly held opinion.

I was reading this op-ed about the future (or not) of NATO - http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/03/04/j-l-granatstein-the-end-of-nato/ - and it got me thinking about Canadian defense spending.

The ship contract for example. Ignore for a moment the benefits it may bring to this region, as well as the questions being raised about whether the spending will even happen at all. Here’s the question: Before we laud the benefits of spending $25 billion here or elsewhere, shouldn’t we first determine if the money should be spent at all and, if it should, is it being spent on the right things?

The lion’s share of the budget is devoted to building small destroyers, I believe. These will allow Canada to defend our own waters and project force internationally, participating in maneuvers and embargoes with our allies and engaging in war fighting should we need to.

Question: Do we need that capability?

I’m not convinced we do. Need be, a drawn-out global conflict can be met with ramped up domestic production. Canada went from a tiny navy to one of the world’s largest in a matter of a few years during WW2. Meanwhile, a single modern conflict like Afghanistan drags on for a decade now.

Should a global conflict escalate very quickly, the scenarios where destroyers make a difference would be very specific. A single nuclear weapon, for example, would swallow a complete naval group in a split second. Twenty-five billion is a pretty expensive insurance policy – money spent on the assumption all the stars will align and a destroyer will be exactly the right thing we need to save Canada.

How about our jet fighters? Another program slated to cost tens of billions. Another program that’s mostly about being a good ally and projecting force beyond our borders. The number of fighters we can afford is far too small to actually “protect” Canada’s shores. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have weaponized aircraft, but a show of force doesn’t require the latest and greatest. A Chinese or Russian plane in our airspace can be confronted by the most basically outfitted CF-18. Likewise, our largest cities can be protected from hijacked aircraft with the same. State of the art planes are useful for entering protected foreign airspace – buying them is predicated on believing that’s a role our aircraft should take on.

We seem to have learned nothing from the last decade, or even the last few decades, about unconventional warfare. Low-cost, low-tech weapons in the hands of dedicated soldiers fighting on land they know with a populace that supports them can make victory impossible for a foreign invader.

Consider Canada. Our home is largely a vast wilderness. The idea this nation could be invaded and held indefinitely by anyone is close to preposterous. How much effort and treasure did it take for the most powerful military nation on Earth, the US, to conquer and control Iraq – a country with our population, granted, but barely bigger than Newfoundland and Labrador, an exposed desert, and far from America’s vulnerable homeland?

Our country is covered with mountains and forests, not featureless desert. Vast oceans protect us from overseas enemies and the most powerful military threat on the planet is our closest ally. China can get whatever it wants from Canada far more cheaply by buying it than attempting to take it by force and the same is true of any other country, including America.

Should the unthinkable happen, should a foreign nation invade Canada, how could we best repel that invasion? Surely a dozen destroyers aren’t the way, nor are a handful of aircraft. No, our cities would probably be occupied, but the defenders of Canada could vanish into the wilderness and start a campaign of terror against the occupiers that would make the efforts of Afghan jihadis look playful by comparison. We have modern technology, an educated population, international ties giving us language capabilities, and diverse ethnicities and overseas funding sources the isolated terrorist groups of the world can’t come close to having. How many Chinese Canadians could infiltrate China? How many Canadians live in the U.S.? How hard would it be to drum up international financial support and delivery of covert arms shipments to repel a Russian occupation?

These scenarios are almost laughable, really. Fighting the U.S.? Repelling a Russian invasion? But that’s the whole point: we’re being told to spend vast sums of money for situations that either don’t have to concern us or will never happen.

Threats do exist. Cyber threats. The threat of terrorists among us. The threat of civil collapse in disasters. And, yes, there are some foreign military threats, and yes, it would be foolish to leave our own nation defenseless in the (highly unlikely) event we are ever invaded.

We don’t need destroyers, we need low-tech coast guard cruisers with big machine guns and small howitzers. We don’t need F-35s, we need new, barebones CF-18s. We don’t need armour and big army bases, we need a large guerilla militia with veteran, professional leadership who’ve taken an oath to fight (only) where they’ll be most effective – in their Canadian backyard. We need to get way more serious about espionage, cyber security and communications interception to prevent destruction of infrastructure and our economy and detect terror plots before they happen. And finally, we should retain and amply fund JTF2, along with providing transportation to deliver commandoes anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. (We don’t want to fight wars abroad, but we may want to kill or save someone sometimes.)

Big weapons purchased with big bucks aren’t about protecting Canada. They’re about protecting “Canadian interests” abroad, which is an entirely different thing: often intangible and too easily manipulated by politicians. A fraction of the money it takes to build these fancy toys would do a far better job of protecting us where it matters – behind our borders.

Now, who do I need to call to get this rolling? Peter MacKay lives in this province, doesn’t he…?

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