Preparing for “Canada’s next battle”

The Globe and Mail’s feature on the role and make-up of Canada’s post-Afghanistan military[i] is premised largely on the claim that Canada’s Afghan-tested army is what the world now needs more of. The following, submitted to the Globe as a letter to the editor, offers a brief counterpoint.

It is true that “security needs have evolved” (“Canada’s next battle,” Oct 22). In fact, the way most vulnerable people around the world now experience insecurity is through chronically unmet basic needs, political exclusion, denied rights, social and political disintegration, and the criminal and political violence that invariably attend such conditions of insecurity.

The primary way to address these insecurities is through social, political, and economic measures that in the long-term produce conditions of durable stability.

That peace support and protection operations frequently require a competent military component is true – but planning appropriate military preparedness needs to be conditioned by two critical realities. First, military operations in Vietnam, Afghanistan,[ii] Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name but a few, tell us there are clear and predictable limits to the utility of military force in the pursuit of peace in failed state contexts. Second, maintaining high cost military establishments at the expense of effective social and economic measures essential to mitigating human insecurity undermines the pursuit of international peace and security.

Canada is in a good position to get that balance right. Since we don’t face imminent or foreseeable military challenges to our sovereignty, territorial integrity, or internal order, we can responsibly maintain more modest levels of military preparedness than some. That in turn means our international peace and security tool kit does not need to be dominated by military capacity. We have options.

For example, Norway focuses a major portion of its international peace and security capacity on diplomacy and development assistance.  Its ratio of development spending to military spending is about 1:2. In Canada that same ratio is 1:4. Getting closer to the 1:2 ratio would allow us to make a more salient and effective contribution to international peace and security.

eregehr@uwaterloo.ca

Notes

[i] Campbell Clark, “Canada’s next battle,” The Globe and Mail, 23 October 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/military/canadas-next-battle/article1768573/

 [ii] The limits to the utility of force are convincingly illustrated in the opening five paragraphs of the Globe and Mail Story:

“The wire that surrounds the sprawling, city-sized base at Kandahar Airfield is being pushed back to make room for more rows of armoured vehicles, barracks and arsenals. The surge of thousands of additional U.S. troops is complete and a new campaign for war-scarred Kandahar is on.

“The main Canadian battle group of about 1,000 troops, which once fought across Kandahar province, is now concentrated in one tough rural district, Panjwaii, fighting alongside more U.S. and Afghan soldiers in a push to clear out a few hundred hard-core insurgents in a hide-and-seek war. But locals who braced for coalition offensives earlier this month have seen Canadians clear insurgents out of Panjwaii villages such as Zangabad and Talokan several times in recent years, only to see the Taliban return after their exit.

“’Many Taliban and many ordinary people were killed, many gardens and orchards destroyed, and many soldiers killed,’ Door Mohammad, a 49-year-old taxi driver from Talokan said three weeks ago, before the latest offensive. ‘At the end, the post was empty, and the Canadians gone, we don’t know where. And now Talokan area is an important place for the Taliban … there is sort of Taliban-like government like the last time.’

“Few would bet there will be a ticker-tape parade through the streets of Kandahar city when Canadian combat troops leave next July. A last rotation of Canadian Forces troops will dismantle equipment and ship it home. By then, senior Canadian officers in Kandahar hope the surge will have dramatically changed the momentum, but U.S., coalition and Afghan National Army troops will fight on.

“Afghanistan has been a tough war – the 152 fallen Canadian soldiers, billions spent, years of seemingly fruitless attempts to displace the Taliban, and the gnawing sense Afghans’ lives have not improved.”

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