We must reinforce our military

Canadians support their armed forces with everything but money. There's a reckoning ahead.


Thursday, January 6, 2000

Canadians have always been prepared to fight to protect what we value. We fought in the First World War, in the Second World War, and in Korea; we've shown ourselves willing and able to help others make the transition from conflict to peace. Canada has been a world leader in peacekeeping from the Suez and the Congo to Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.

As we look to the future, we must remember these contributions and traditions. They bear real and significant costs. While Canadians give overwhelming approval to our armed forces (see box) they must be aware that there are hard choices ahead. Some may ask, why invest? What is our stake in this?

Our stake in the world is both moral and economic. As a nation relying so heavily on international trade and so connected to the global economy, we are affected by what goes on in the wider world, from market shocks in Mexico to Asian financial meltdown, genocide in Rwanda and earthquakes in Turkey. We must be able to defend and promote human rights, democracy and tolerance, and we require a stable and rules-based system for trade. Isolation is not feasible. We do not live in a fireproof house far from flammable materials.

Yes, the end of the Cold War reduced the threat of global conflict. But in many regions, conflict between peoples within a country has become more prevalent, bringing with it humanitarian catastrophes, "ethnic cleansing" and the systematic abuse of human rights.

So we are faced with new demands for assistance overseas. And as the recent Speech from the Throne confirmed, we will continue to respond. The Department of National Defence has just developed Strategy 2020, a long-term planning document that looks at the capabilities we will need to position the Canadian Forces for the challenges ahead. It poses the hard choices.

And it reaffirms our need for a strong Canadian Forces. This national institution is vital to our security and sovereignty, and crucial to our efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance abroad. It is vital to our peace-support operations by the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and our allies. It is vital to the safety of Canadians, including volunteer organizations and aid groups, when they operate in dangerous conditions.

As the number of localized, violent disputes has increased, Canada has been among the most active nations in making a difference. From 1948 to 1989, the Canadian Forces were involved in 25 peacekeeping operations; since 1989, the Canadian Forces have been involved almost triple that -- more than 65 peace-support operations.

All three branches of our armed forces have contributed their share. Our army units have kept the peace and protected civilians in dozens of countries. Our navy has supported United Nations-sanctioned activities in the Gulf War and in the enforcement of embargoes on Yugoslavia. Our air force made a significant combat contribution in the NATO-led air campaign over Kosovo and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Such a high operational tempo means that more troops serve abroad more frequently. But for every soldier deployed overseas we require at least three back in Canada to sustain the operation. And peace-building is not only dangerous, it also requires time. Societies ripped apart by conflict do not heal themselves overnight.

Nor is it just the number of operations -- their nature is also changing. Situations such as Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor or the Central African Republic require delicate handling, far removed from the traditional military rules of engagement. Such operations are also far removed geographically -- which means greater logistical support to sustain them. The federal government supports these special operations with additional funding over and above the department's general budget. But more than money is needed in the complex conditions of places such as Kosovo, where our forces often find themselves at the centre of a vast network of players -- local authorities, police, aid groups, volunteer organizations -- all trying to maintain law and order, preserve the peace and provide emergency relief. And often they operate in areas where many combatants are still intent on war.

These are the demands we are making of our forces abroad. Meanwhile, here at home, we ask them to patrol our airspace and 240,000 kilometres of coastline; help secure our borders against illegal activities; help protect Canada's fisheries from illegal and highly damaging exploitation; undertake thousands of search-and-rescue missions; and provide assistance during emergencies and natural disasters. Who can forget the contribution of the Canadian Forces during the Red River and Saguenay floods and the ice storm of the century? Operation Recuperation, the 1998 ice storm effort, cost $105-million.

As demands rise, the Canadian Forces are stretched. In recent years, we've asked them to do more with much less. Since 1994, the defence budget has been cut by about $2-billion, the regular forces by 20 per cent and the civilian workforce by almost 40 per cent.

This was part of the collective sacrifice that all Canadians and government departments had to make. There could be no conscientious objectors in the war against the deficit. Everyone had to contribute, and everyone did. The challenge we face today is not just about resources. It's about leadership training, military education and strategic-level thinking. It's also about adapting to a changing world driven by strict economies and budgetary constraints. Canadians want to get the most out of the defence investments they make. But we must ensure that such investments enable the armed forces to be ready and equipped for the tasks ahead -- and in an ever more complex world.

We are making progress. Major acquisitions in recent years include new subma- rines, new frigates, coastal-patrol vessels and light armoured vehicles as well as search-and-rescue helicopters that will soon come into service. This state-of-the-art equipment will serve us well. A number of other areas, however, remain to be modernized.

The real issue is what to invest in for the future. In planning for the Canadian Forces, we have made several key assumptions.

One is that Canada will continue to need combat-capable forces. It is an essential fact of the modern world that we must be ready to match our fine words with firm action. In Kosovo, for example, our speeches condemned Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, but it was our military force that helped to stop him.

We must continue to work seamlessly with our allies. As the nature of modern warfare and crisis-response becomes increasingly high-tech, we must ensure that our forces are compatible with those of our allies with whom we have collective defence arrangements such as NATO and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).

Our forces should be globally and rapidly deployable. As we saw in Kosovo, and after the earthquake in Turkey, time is of the essence when people are in trouble. We must improve our ability to get the Canadian Forces where they are needed and to get them there fast.

At the same time, we must ensure that the men and women who wear our uniform and carry our cause have a reasonable quality of life. We must give them a decent standard of living should be given. We must continue to re-invest in the men and women who are the lifeblood of the Canadian Forces. We cannot ask them to go into dangerous situations if we are not prepared to back them.

The bottom line is that the Canadian Forces do not have to participate in every international operation, nor do they have to try to be all things to all people. We therefore do not need to invest everywhere and in everything.

But let's be clear. We cannot avoid making hard choices and tough trade-offs. And whatever choices we make now will have an impact on operational readiness, on our equipment (do we buy, upgrade or simply reduce it?), on the kind of training we conduct and on the number of personnel in our armed forces.

I believe that Canadians want our country to remain an agent for good in a world of change. I believe they want us to advance human security and build the foundations for stability and peace. And I believe they want us to ensure that our forces are able to get the job done with the right tools and the right capabilities.

The Canadian Forces have always played an important role in Canada's national life and will be continue to do so in the years to come. Canadians must be ready to make a commitment to them.


(From an October, 1999, Pollara survey of 1,537 adult Canadians)

A strong military is important to Canada's international standing.

1999 Agree, 88 per cent
1998 Agree, 84 per cent

What is your overall impression of the people who serve in the Canadian Forces?

1999 Positive, 88 per cent
1998 Positive, 88 per cent

Do you support Canada spending money to invest in military equipment?

1999 Yes, 70 per cent
1998 Yes, 84 per cent

Art Eggleton is Canada's Minister of National Defence.

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