01 March 2004

Canada's military

Working with Dutch-Canadians has made me aware of the contribution Canadian troops made to the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation at the end of the Second World War. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely this country could mount even a fraction of this effort in a similar conflict. I have just finished reading J. L. Granatstein's Who Killed the Canadian Military? (HarperCollins, 2004), a damning indictment of successive governments extending from John Diefenbaker to Jean Chrétien. Each of these contributed in its own way to the decimation of Canada's military capability. Assuming the accuracy of Granatstein's account, it would seem that our politicians are guilty of almost criminal negligence in overcommitting our troops to trouble spots around the globe in the interest of making Canada appear to be a good international citizen while continually cutting back funding to the military. This amounts to sending our young men and women into exceedingly dangerous situations ill-equipped to carry out their duties or even to protect their own lives. Because Canada has one of the lowest military expenditures as proportion of GDP of any NATO member (Luxembourg excepted), Ottawa is no longer taken seriously within the NATO alliance. What is the answer? Granatstein argues, among other things:

We need a Prime Minister and government that will commit themselves to moving Canada from its annual 1.1 percent of GDP today towards defence spending of 2 to 2.5 percent of GDP, roughly the average expenditure of NATO nations (p. 230).


We also need a government that does not overcommit its military, that is careful to weigh the benefits of participation against both Canada's interests and the military's capabilities. A government with good sense, in other words (p. 216).

As for the military itself, we need a force that is capable of fighting in a variety of situations, not just peacekeeping. Its troops must therefore be trained in such a way as to maximize their flexibility and multipurpose character. Granatstein admits that Canada is a small country with limited capabilities. But at the very least we must have sufficient power to co-operate with our allies in common enterprises.

I myself am not an expert in military matters, and for the most part I must admit to not having taken an active interest in the field. After all, as Bernard Crick puts it, war represents to no small extent a failure of normal politics. Political scientists naturally tend to gravitate towards those institutions, e.g., parliaments and electoral systems, that peacefully conciliate diversity and would keep people talking out their differences. Yet the state's very ability to carry out this sort of conciliatory activity depends on its monopoly over instruments of coercive power, including police and military power. As Dooyeweerd would put it, one must attend to the founding function of a communal entity before one can make sense of its leading function. Stripped of jargon, this means that sword power is a necessary precondition for doing public justice.

Granatstein does not strike me as a flaming militarist. He is not arguing for a bloated military establishment. Far from it. Yet we do need to have at least a credible, if small, military capacity. Otherwise we risk becoming little more than a protectorate of the United States, content to live under the American defensive umbrella and having little or no voice in the decisions made in Washington on our behalf.

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