A ‘hope for the best’ defense posture and settling for being a ‘convening power’ is incompatible with the world as it exists today.
I have often written about the need for Canada to strengthen our national defense.
Long before Russia attacked Ukraine, I was warning about the fact that our country lacks the ability to adequately defend our own territory, let alone make large-scale contributions to our allies.
Often, when I would write about the need for a stronger national defense some people would say things like “why does Canada need a military,” or “who are we going to be fighting.”
That kind of thinking is a product of what can only be called an aberration in history, with our country and many of our allies having lived through a rare era of relative peace.
The combination of our alliance with the world’s foremost military power, and the fact that China had long been below their historical power level and Russia was weakened following the fall of the Soviet Union meant that security threats came from small countries and terrorist organizations.
For quite some time, wars that the Western world got involved in have been ‘wars of choice,’ wars in which at any moment Western nations could simply withdraw and bring troops back home without any threat of a loss of territory or imminent attack.
The idea that western nations would be threatened, that territorial battles would matter, and that large-scale wars could occur receded, and many assumed that things would just stay the same.
Yet, even as that kind of wishful thinking became pervasive in much of the Western world, countries like the United States, the UK, France, Poland, and most other NATO nations still spent far more than we did on their militaries when measured by percentage of GDP.
For years – even as we sent troops on missions to Afghanistan and peacekeeping operations in Mali – our military was being hollowed out.
While it is quite true – as our allies will attest – that Canadian soldiers are considered highly trained, highly courageous, and highly effective, the unfortunate reality is that without advanced weapons, and without being recruited in large enough numbers, there is a limit on what we can accomplish.
And now, with the world being shocked into awareness by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Canadians are increasingly appalled and disturbed to see how brutally underfunded our military has become.
We ran out of weapons?
According to the Canadian government, Canada has provided more than $30 million in ‘non-lethal’ military equipment to Ukraine since 2015.
In late February of 2022, the Canadian government began sending lethal military aid to Ukraine.
This included the following:
4,500 M72 rocket launchers.
$1 million to help Ukraine purchase high-res satellite imagery.
$25 million in body armour, helmets, gas masks, and night vision equipment.
100 Carl-Gustaf M2 anti-tank weapons, and 2,000 rounds of ammunition for those weapons.
1,600 fragmentation vests.
400,000 meal packs.
Now, making those contributions was the right thing to do, and it is certainly better than nothing.
Here’s where it gets disturbing.
It would appear that making those contributions has left our country nearly bereft:
“Defence Minister Anita Anand says Canada has exhausted its military inventory in terms of the lethal aid it can pull from it to supply Ukraine: “We need to make sure we do retain capacity here for the Canadian Armed Forces should the need arise.””
Defence Minister Anita Anand says Canada has exhausted its military inventory in terms of the lethal aid it can pull from it to supply Ukraine: "We need to make sure we do retain capacity here for the Canadian Armed Forces should the need arise." pic.twitter.com/9xdwgHM11S
— Power & Politics (@PnPCBC) March 16, 2022
This must be put into perspective.
Our GDP is about 1.6 trillion USD.
For comparison, Russia’s GDP is about 1.5 trillion USD.
Despite falling per capita GDP levels, we are still one of the largest economies on earth.
We have a strong military alliance with the United States, and with most nations in Europe, giving us access to research & development and procurement from the world’s pre-eminent arms manufacturers.
And, due to our favourable position in the world, we don’t have to devote many resources to static military operations (we don’t have to put tens of thousands of troops and weapons on a hostile border).
The point I’m making here is that it is appalling for our country to risk running out of key weapons after making what is a relatively small contribution to Ukraine when compared with our allies.
There is no excuse for our country to be so bereft of key military equipment.
Blame for this goes back quite a while, and includes both Liberal and Conservative governments.
So far, Anita Anand seems to be doing a decent job as defense minister, and is said to be drafting plans to build up the military – whether they are accepted by the Trudeau cabinet as a whole is another matter.
That said, recent comments by Melanie Joly indicate that some in the Trudeau government still have a misguided and naïve mindset regarding Canada’s role in the world:
Quite the foreign policy.
"We're good at convincing other countries to do more."
– Mélanie Joly
— HoCStaffer (@HoCStaffer) March 16, 2022
Underfunding our military and then ‘convincing others to do more’ certainly sounds a lot like being a freeloader, and that’s exactly what Canada has been when it comes to the collective defense of free nations that we are supposed to be contributing to.
In addition, Joly’s remarks are also historically inaccurate, given that we have often built up large military forces – WW1, WW2, Korean War, and were heavily involved in Afghanistan.
Indeed, for most of our history Canada was a nation that regularly engaged in large-scale wars alongside our allies, in contrast to the peacekeeping myth that is so often pushed today.
Canada indeed should be a military power – not at the scale of the United States of course – but certainly closer to the power of the UK and France.
As noted above, the Canadian government has been providing what little we have to assist Ukraine.
Yet, that only recently became the case.
In fact, Chrystia Freeland and the Trudeau government had previously been rejecting military assistance for Ukraine, as noted by John Ivison in the National Post:
Ivison points out that in 2017, some of the House of Commons defence committee went to Ukraine, and heard requests from the Ukrainians for more military support from Canada:
“After the illegal invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Russia armed, supplied and reinforced separatist groups in the Donesk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine.
By the time of the committee’s visit, 10,000 people had already died in an ongoing war of aggression against a democratic country.”
Though Canada had provided humanitarian and non-lethal help, …“the Ukrainians were imploring Canada to donate or sell them arms, as the Russians continued to pour tanks and high-tech weaponry into Donbas.”
Ukraine wanted anti-tank missile launchers, air defenses, and more.
They also wanted Ukraine to be added to the list of countries that could purchase weapons from Canadians arms manufacturers.
The committee agreed with many of those requests, recommending “Ottawa provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to protect its sovereignty from Russian aggression; that it reinstate the practice of providing Ukraine with RADARSAT satellite images, the supply of which had been stopped in May 2016, and that the government add Ukraine to the approved AFCC list.”
But, rather than listen to the recommendations of the defense committee, the Liberal government rejected the first two requests, and – while allowing Ukraine to purchase weapons – said they couldn’t guarantee that exports of prohibited weapons would be allowed:
“The ultimate decision rested with the minister of Global Affairs, who at the time was Chrystia Freeland.
Prior to receiving approved status, permits for Ukraine had been denied on the grounds that the weapons were destined for a “regional conflict.”
But the granting of approved status did not change much. A trickle of permits worth just over $8 million for guns, ammunition and protective equipment were approved between 2017 and the end of 2020, according to the Export of Military Goods report that is tabled in Parliament every year.”
Adds Ivison, “It is astonishing that Freeland was the minister responsible for blocking the flow of defensive weapons to Ukraine, given her roots and knowledge of Vladimir Putin.
It reflects a mindset in this government that sees Canada as a moral superpower that can protect its gilded existence through the intensity of its reasoned arguments.”
Many in the government are seeking to re-write history and act as if Canada has been a huge supporter of Ukraine, but that support has been lacking in the area where it matters most – the delivery of lethal equipment.
What we see here is that Canada’s lack of military strength, and our inability to help like-minded nations such as Ukraine stems not from any kind of economic or technological deficiency, but from an attitude that is based on a version of the world that no-longer exists, and likely never existed.
The threat of war and violence is always present, and we have simply been lucky to avoid it in our part of the world for so long. History shows that luck never lasts forever.
Canada must understand the moment we are in, and recognize the imperative of undertaking a large-scale rearmament immediately.
Photo – Twitter