The Mission/Capacity Mismatch Predicament
Nov 15, 2010

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Canada’s Naval, Air, Land and Special Forces have been involved in a wide range of different combat, humanitarian, relief, air-to-ground bombing, drug interdiction, anti-piracy and sovereignty patrols in recent years. The Canadian Forces (CF) have also given aid to the civil power in support of special security, such as events like the G8/G20 meetings, the Vancouver Olympics and in response to natural disasters at home and abroad.

Over the past decade, Canada’s standing in the world with respect to our army, navy and air force personnel has advanced immensely, and with good reason.

Despite being over extended, the Canadian Forces have performed superbly – holding the line in Kandahar, hitting the ground quickly in Haiti, interdicting drug-laden ships off the coast of Africa, and repelling pirates off the coast of Somalia while patrolling the Gulf of Arabia in anti-terrorist due diligence.

With a total complement of just under 70,000 members, there is a mismatch between the many required missions and actual capacity of our forces. In fact, when one assesses how frequently some soldiers returned for repeated deployments in Afghanistan and the many officers (at all ranks) that are double and triple-hatted in their roles in all of the services, it is apparent that an increase in total force to 100,000 regular with 50,000 reserves needs to be given active consideration.

Recent reports of the CF being too stretched to offer a few more soldiers to help in the pre-election period last spring in Afghanistan, or being unable to fully operate all naval assets because of staff shortages, underlines the need for a fresh discussion. It is not that recruiting has not gone well: targets have been well met in recent years. Rather, it is that the targets themselves are too modest for our country.

Some in Treasury Board, Finance and even the civilian side of Defence may be looking to cut reserve capacity and regular force depth. That would be a disastrous mistake – unconscionable in terms of our national interests.

Greater global complexity requires more, not less, military flexibility. The notion of one superpower, the United States, easily or competently managing a new world order on its own is long past. The notion of international robust engagement to sustain values and humanitarian norms (such as democracy in Afghanistan) that we, as Canadians, have judged to be vital is very much now with us. But so too are the non-state actors, like Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Janjaweed, to name but a few.

According to December 2009 figures, there are 67,756 active personnel in the Canadian military in a country of 33 million, or about 0.2% of our population. This would rank Canada as 58th in the world in per capita military presence. In comparison, there are 35,000 police officers in the city of New York, population 8 million or a percentage of 0.44%. Our 2010-2011 budget for defence is pegged at 21.8 billion dollars, putting Canada’s percentage of GDP relating to defence at 1.36%. This percentage of GDP number would rank Canada at 111th in world, behind the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark and Italy, just to name a few. Our Australian allies, who have 54,000 under arms in a population of 21 million, are at 0.26% or almost a third stronger.

Former rules of engagement, doctrines shaped by a measure of civility and decency, seem elusive in today’s dynamic situations. The advent of the suicide bomber, for whom their own death (and those of innocent or targeted civilian or military) is all part of the cause that makes any normative rules of engagement impossible.

The Canada First Defence Strategy, put in place by the current government in 2008, outlines six core missions for the Canadian Forces. The CF must be able to support all of the following operations and, if necessary, support them all simultaneously: conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD); support a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Winter Olympics; have the ability to respond to a major terrorist attack; support civilian authorities during a crisis in Canada such as a natural disaster; lead and/or conduct a major international operation for an extended period; and, deploy forces in response to crises elsewhere in the world for shorter periods, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. Such ambitions require manpower. Some 4,500 CF personnel were present at the Olympic Games in February 2010, while 2,000 members were still deployed in Haiti and a further 2,800 were stationed in Afghanistan. Furthermore, this was immediately preceding the G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto, which required incredible security manpower.

Canada’s foreign and defence policy must be a realistic mix of our own core interests and the values that underline them. Military capacity sustains diplomatic interests and the leverage a middle power needs on global issues that matter. Inadequate capacity dilutes national sovereignty and reach. Using constrained military capacity as an excuse for disengagement is simply abdicating our responsibility to have more robust military capacity befitting a nation of our population and size.

The Canadian Reserves – Army, Navy and Air Force – exist as units of “double ­citizenship” in a myriad of communities across this country. They date back historically to the beginning of Canada, the defence of Canada in 1812-14, and the very foundation of community life. Today they are there to train, support the Regular Force and provide aid as necessary to the Civil Power under the National Defence Act. They are made up of citizen soldiers who take time from their private, student and working lives to acquire the skills that make our defence and strategic capacity as a country more robust and competent.

As much as 20% of Canadian Forces in the field in Afghanistan have been Reservists from all three services. Reserve forces in theatre have not been spared the casualties other regular force members have tragically faced.

As I said earlier this year in a speech on Reserves at the annual Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) conference in Calgary, in February we saw

Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, then Commander of the Army, begin the Reserve reduction process as he tried to deal with fiscal pressures in the best of faith. While the annual Army budget is $1.6 billion, $80 million was moved out of this budget to “higher CF priorities” requiring “funding adjustments.” This of course, is code for reductions spread across the board. Some of these included: the reduction of planned activities and training for soldiers not immediately preparing for action; the delay of non-urgent maintenance and repair of infrastructure and equipment; the delay of procurement of non-essential items; the reduction in administrative travel, conferences, computers and cell phones; and the reduction of the number of full-time Reservists.

Some intense lobbying from many on both sides in both Parliamentary chambers, and rapid action by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, diluted some of this negative thrust. But it is utterly wrong to assume we do not face further and similar threats, however devoutly the Minister of Defence would wish it otherwise.

Historian Jack Granatstein pinpointed the problem in a thoughtful piece for the CDFAI in April 2009: “In 2010-2011 the regular force will increase by less than 800 to 67,742 and the reserves will stay the same. In 2011-2012, the projection is for a regular force of 68,000, no figure is provided for the primary reserve, and the Rangers are expected to reach 5,000. In other words, the growth in the military’s strength repeatedly promised by both the Liberals and the Conservatives is all but frozen.”

We cannot, of course, be insensitive to fiscal realities as we rebalance our budgets after the G8 agreed to stimulus spending to countervail the liquidity and credit crisis of 2008. Nor do I, as a citizen and Senator, underestimate how much the activities of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and two defence ministers (O’Connor and MacKay) relating to procurement and increasing numbers have meant to the viability and effectiveness of the CF.

But the task has just begun. As Paul Martin said when he visited National Defence Headquarters directly after being sworn in as Prime Minister, investment had fallen far behind because of his mid-1990s cuts and we had to reinvest anew; and he too tried during his brief tenure. But we are still behind where a nation of our size, with our economic and global geopolitical interests, should be.

Our capacity to project, protect, advance and engage as a modern and technologically advanced country is undermined and weakened without a strong Armed Forces and Armed Forces Reserve. We need a full debate in Parliament on Canada’s foreign and defence priorities including the case for a serious complement expansion. The government has so far chosen not to invite that kind of debate, and nor has the majority opposition chosen to demand it.

We do not have enough troops now to meet the Canada First Defence Strategy. We need to deal with it by having an open debate on the strength necessary. “What kind of Armed Forces, in support of what kind of foreign policy, in support of what kind of world?” is the question we need to ask. The time for a coherent plan with accompanying action has arrived. The time has come to ambitiously aim for a robust, 150,000-strong CF.

Navy Captain (Hon) Senator Hugh Segal chairs the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism, and is a Board member of the CDA. This commentary was previously published in the Conference of Defence Associations’ newsletter, OnTrack.
© FrontLine Defence 2010