Date: Thursday, October 10 2002
Topic: International News
By DOUGLAS FISHER -- Sun Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA -- Jack Granatstein is a retired history professor who continues to write notable books on military subjects. He is also an affable, urbane champion of Canada's military and a familiar sight in Ottawa's corridors of power.
He has advised many governments, and he is not prone to outbursts or hyperbole.
Yet last month he chose to make incendiary remarks about the government's defence policy, touching off the most heated debate in years on the state and fate of our armed forces.
Granatstein warned our military is at the breaking point, as was seen in the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan. "We had to beg a ride to get our people there; we didn't have the right uniforms. We had to borrow vehicles when we got there. We couldn't reinforce 800 men."
It will get worse, he said:
"If there isn't real money in the coming budget (and there won't be); the baling twine and wire holding the military together is going to snap; the people that really make things run, who can get good jobs on the outside, will go in a flood."
The Conference of Defence Associations has just previewed its latest report, "A Nation at Risk," noting that Canada is unable to effectively patrol its airspace or coastal waters, or deploy troops overseas in time of crisis.
Deciding it could no longer remain silent, the U.S. government, in the form of its ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, politely observed that Canada was not pulling its weight, and risked being left out of senior allied councils. (He tactfully avoided noting that this has already happened.)
His comments, perhaps as a reiteration of what many Canadians have already said, did not provoke the backlash they would have in years past, though Paul Martin, a noted military strategist, couldn't resist the stock Canadian atavism: "As far as I'm concerned, this is a Canadian issue."
Official government comment wasn't helpful either. Defence Minister John McCallum, instead of keeping his head down, chose to muse on how Canada could provide a "sizable" contribution towards an attack on Iraq.
Lewis MacKenzie, former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, responded: "That would be a brigade group, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5,000 folks. We can't do that. How can anybody talk with a straight face about a large 'sizable' contribution ... This organization is going bankrupt and it's going to self-destruct in five years."
The critics' solution? Spend money. Lots of it! The Canadian Alliance would increase spending by $9.5 billion to $13 billion over the next 10 years. The Commons defence committee seeks an increase to 1.5 to 1.6% of GDP per year; Granatstein an extra $1.5 billion annually, at a minimum. Trudeau acolyte Tom Axworthy astounded a recent conference with a call for $20 billion a year spending, or roughly the NATO average.
Canada now spends $11.5 billion or about 1.2% of its GDP annually on defence. Within NATO only Iceland and Luxembourg spend less, and they do not have militaries.
Since 1993, Canada has cut 25% in real terms and we were not a powerhouse then. The results: two-thirds of our fighters are mothballed and we are short of pilots. New frigates costing a quarter billion apiece are tied up. No crews! Then there are those 40-year-old helicopters.
On average, NATO allies spend 2.2% of GDP on defence, and this average is pulled down by poorer members like Greece, Turkey, and Spain. On a per capita basis, the Brits spend twice what we do, the U.S. triple.
The proposed increases bring to mind Granatstein's comment on how Canadians suffer from Peter Pan syndrome: "We live in Never Never Land and we never grow up. We seem to think it's a benign world."
Most disturbing of all, the critics also deny reality. Most of their proposals would only shore things up a bit. Only Axworthy, who has been living in the U.S., sees the scale of the problem. It would take $20 billion a year over a decade to bring Canada's military performance into line with that of wealthier NATO members - the treasury could not afford it.
British historian Michael Howard noted in The Franco-Prussian War that "the military system of a nation is not an independent section of the social system, but an aspect of it in its totality."
This is certainly true of Canada's military. For years we have been pinching our defence budget to make ends meet, and to avoid facing the reality that we are not productive enough to pay for the scale of government to which we have become addicted.
The result is stark, and before us - a defence hole too deep to ever fill. Last week's Throne Speech had just one, lame, double-speak sentence on defence.