LGen Lou Cuppens – Chairman of FMUSIC
August 1, 2002
A few “insiders” will know that the in-experienced-in-National Security MND, with the guidance of some NDHQ “spin doctors” has commenced sounding out those academics who have views on National Security be they pro-defence or of opposing view. If I have my news correctly, there were two meetings yesterday where MND and those attending shared their views. Why is there not a public debate on National Security? Why is there not a review of foreign and National Security Policy? I wonder why no military or ex-military members were invited? Let me try to provide some possible reasons to these questions.
To have a public debate on National Security would bring forward more bad news for a “stumbling” government, besieged by internal rivalries and scandals. What would public reaction be to a full exposure on the state of the Canadian Forces and what little has been accomplished in the Chretien era of leadership? Imagine if Canadians knew that the recommendations of SCONDVA, the recommendations of the Senate Committee on National Security, the recommendations of the Auditor General, the warnings and advise given often by our closest allies and the criticisms rendered by defence minded organizations across Canada are being ”examined” by Defence officials. Imagine if Canadians knew that of the Billions, spent by the Minister responsible for National Security, little of it was invested in National Defence needs! What National Security Policy framework guided the cabinet in such vast expenditures? How will such expenditures be audited? If only Canadians knew of truth about the cancellation of the EH101 contract and its consequences–where is the replacement for the Shipbourne helicopters–is the Cormorant not a variant of EH101? Among the many questions that the public might also raise include what is the status projects like the replacement replenishment/deployment ships, strategic airlift (or must we always “hitch-hike” to war), revitalization of the Land Forces reserve component (known also as the militia), Canadian Forces health care; to name but a few. Would the answers to these questions win votes and popularity?
I think not. In fact, with such a poor track record in National Security issues, I would expect that the present government will continue to accord National Security issues a low priority, with National Defence at the very bottom of the list. The real heroes in this situation are the people who comprise the Canadian Forces. Despite the lack of government support and demonstrated resolve to tackle the “tough” issues, the personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces perform magnificently. Unfortunately there are too few of them, retention rates are falling and the modest campaign to attract recruits is not achieving its goals. Imagine the international embarrassment of having to cease army support to the campaign against terrorism because Canada’s military resources cannot sustain two battalions of combat forces in operations–this from a G-8 nation, a nation that is viewed by NATO as……..(?).
There are and have been international criticisms over Canada’s National Defence efforts, yet the government seems incapable of developing a National Security Policy for today’s and tomorrow’s circumstances that all Canadians can embrace. The USA, UK, Australia and many other nations have revised their National Security policies and have committed the resources to realize their policies. Surely Canada could follow their determined examples.
It is expected that the now serving military members continue to provide the Ministers with military advice; however, once policy is decided and ordered implemented, those serving must obey or resign. It is not appropriate for them to “speak out” in criticism of those who govern or to openly disobey–this is not consistent with Canada’s proud military institution. So called defence critics/experts/pundits continue to unfairly malign the “senior brass” or “high command” and the government and informed media remain mute. This silence can be misinterpreted as an acceptance of valid criticism. This writer considers that the criticisms are not valid. Recall this is the same government that allowed agonizing public criticism, trial-by-media, and a poorly handled public inquiry over the murder of a Somali youth by a very few CF members.
In a policy hiatus, and given the accepted behaviour of those serving, why haven’t a few retired military officers been invited to consult with the Ministers responsible for national security? Most have invested more than 35 years studying national security and the military art. Most are well versed in international and national affairs and all are dedicated Canadians. Surely they have something to offer those who have little or no experience in National Security. Surely the art of warfare is not the sole domain of the politicians and academics! Organizations including the Conference of Defence Associations, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Federation of Military and United Services Institutes, among many, have a wealth of experience to offer.
There are some who would immerse themselves into campaigns to improve/enhance the Quality of Life of our military members. Recall it took the recommendations of SCONDVA to convince this government, that a legion of issues needed to be redressed. Despite the advice of military leaders over the years, a SONDVA review of the issues became convincing and in some cases (soldiers and sailors at food banks) some issues were more compelling than others. These Quality of Life issues were not invented by the military, they are a result of years of fiscal neglect by a series of governments. Now the race is on to “right the wrongs”. Recall the issue of what agency would provide a wheel chair for an injured CF member, now one hears cries over national responsibilities in compensating those severely injured or maimed. Note the high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder within the CF and the impact on military families. Yes there is much to do in redressing quality of life issues, but these are not the only Defence issues.
Equipment to do the job, in fact the very best equipment to do the job is much needed. In a war or in circumstances that would call upon Canada’s military to intervene and defend Canada’s interests, our forces cannot lose. They must win. Imagine having to work with “second best”, the product of the lowest bidder, the “best compromise”, the “made in Canada” solution in equipment. Surely Canadians would want their men and women–our force of last resort–to have the best of equipment, including clothing. Some government officials and bureaucrats react negatively to requests for military equipment by calling those needs “toys for the boys”. A rhyme it is; but it does not serve national interests well. Must Canada’s military continue to be subjected to the embarrassment of broken and outdated equipment–recall the issues of vehicle rims, parts for armoured vehicles, clothing, the Sea King helicopters? Must Canada’s military continue to “hitch-hike to war”–recall the use of US Air Force re-fuellers and heavy lift aircraft to deploy our air component to the war in Kosovo, the SS Katie incident, the deployment and redeployment of our forces to East Timor and Afghanistan? Surely these urgent needs are not “toys for the boys” but rather the tools necessary to complete the tasks inherent in Canada’s National Security Policy. Some of the equipment is highly specialized (war fighting, civil insurrection (Oka), security Olympics, G-8 summit) and some is less sophisticated (ice storm, flood response, forest fires, VIP transport), yet National Defence forces have need of a wide range of equipment to succeed in the tasks given them. There is nothing wrong with asking the military to prioritize its needs, but the needs must be addressed in a timely fashion.
There are political pundits who would argue that solving personnel issues are more politically palatable for government spending than equipment issues. If such is the case, then I would contend that the government has not a clear grasp of the full scope of National Security and its various facets. This writer would strongly recommend that national security needs not be categorized as people or equipment issues, but rather as national security issues.
Will Canadians benefit from a National Security review and will Canadians be given the opportunity to express their views? These are two questions that are at the root of Canada’s future sovereignty. Yes there are other challenges that Canada must address including health care, social security, taxation, infrastructure etc; however, to ignore defence as an issue is not responsible governance. Surely during this parliamentary recess period Canadians can make their views known to their elected officials and ministers. I have done some of that in this article, but there is much more to be done. Our Forces are strained and continue to deliver what is asked of them without their government’s tangible support. Talk is just that–talk! It is time for the government to “walk the talk”, the consequences of years of budget reductions and benign neglect need to be redressed now! I urge all Canadians to show their MPs how to “walk the talk”.