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Canada's national embarrassment

By Jackson Murphy
web posted October 1, 2001

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien tours the site of the World Trade Center on September 29
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien tours the site of the World Trade Center on September 29

As if the Canadian Prime Minister's delay in visiting 'ground zero' in New York in favor of a political fundraiser wasn't enough, his government has failed to address the matters of the past few weeks in any serious way.

In that speech Chrétien claimed that Canada would offer, "support and comfort", suggesting that that was, "the Canadian way." The National Post's Christie Blatchford responded by writing that, "in a single generation, Canada has gone from the nation which produced brash and fierce Canucks who were the affectionate despair of wartime England to one whose people are akin to social workers."

Much of Chrétien's weak stance is tied to the fear that his legacy is crashing down around him. He invested so much of his political capital upon fiscal restraint, balancing the budget and doing foreign policy on the cheap that he is completely incapable of changing his plans now. The entire administration, save minister of Foreign Affairs John Manley, is the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.

How else could you explain how the government has lost at least 27,000 people facing outstanding deportation orders from the last five years for refugee claims that were rejected. This is not to suggest that all of these are a danger, or terrorists at all. But it is appalling to think that if the government cannot handle even this task what else is it hiding?

Both the Prime Minister and Art Eggleton, the minister of Defense have steadfastly defended that Canada is ready to serve The United States has yet to ask for our military for assistance and there is good reason why.

The new United Nations 2001 Register of Conventional Weapons report details a shocking contrasting picture to the Alfred E. Newman, "what me worry" attitude of this government.

Canada has long neglected national defense and security. It spends a reported $265 per capita on defense compared to a $589 average by NATO countries and $504 by the G7 nations. The 2000-2001 budget was $11.2 billion marginally up from the previous year's $10.3 billion-but much of that increase was not directed towards military capabilities. That represents half the average of other NATO nations and only Luxembourg (Population 400,000) spends less than Canada.

More damaging than budget cuts is how Canada has tailor made foreign policy on the broader framework of 'peacekeeping'. The military has not been seen as either a defensive or offensive force for nearly a decade.

Canada's soldiers are remarkably well trained...and remarkably under-equipped
Canada's soldiers are remarkably well trained...and remarkably under-equipped

The report and another by the Conference of Defense Associations (CDA), a pro-military organization whose mandate is to inform the Canadian public about security issues, point to the lack of manpower. In 1989 the Canadian armed forces were 87,000 strong. Now there are manpower shortages as the force shrinks to 50,684 by March of 2002.

Unfortunately Canada's numerous peacekeeping missions and budget cuts have left the military unable to do even the most simple of tasks. It is unable to mount a brigade force (4,000 to 6,000 personnel). Even if they could meet that goal there have been no brigade level exercises since 1995.

In this war on terrorism the most likely scenario would include sending the Joint Task Force (JTF). This is a Special Forces unit-but it is small and would have to be at least doubled. At best Canada could send somewhere between 100 and 1,200 troops-although how long that would take is unclear.

One major flaw in Canada's military is the lack of transport aircraft and helicopters. The last time Canada tried to use the ancient Hercules planes they broke down on the way to a mission in East Timor. Any major mobilization will be constrained by the lack of transportation aircraft.

Any troops we do send are going to represent a, "very high proportion of our existing military because we have for too long done our national defense on the cheap," wrote Michael Goodspeed, retired officer of the Canadian Armed Forces.

There are also the conflicting reports of Canada's Air force. The UN report shows that Canada has roughly 143 combat aircraft. Goodspeed suggested that there were 85 CF-18's and that we could contribute 2 squads of 15-20 but would need major augmentation in both weapons and support systems.

But retired colonel Michel Drapeau has suggested that there are only 122 combat aircraft-but only 60 aircrews to fly them. There was discussion that many of these planes with no crews to fly them would be mothballed. The majority of the planes, the CF-18, are considered by military experts to be from a "bygone generation."

The other aspect of this 'new' war is going to be intelligence and it should come as no surprise that Canada's intelligence capabilities has been hit with budget cuts and national security has been compromised in the name of saving a few bucks.

The Communication Security Establishment (CSE) is charged with the responsibility of listening to communications throughout the world yet is not supported by any human intelligence. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is charged with the domestic intelligence efforts. CSIS is a, "maligned, ignored, tiny, and toothless investigative agency," wrote Goodspeed.

The two agencies cost taxpayers a total of $200 million each year-a figure that approaches the per capita expenses of their FBI/NSA counterparts south of the border. But a closer inspection reveals how utterly unprepared the agencies were for the attack on September 11th. One example shows that at the CSIS Islamic office in Toronto where 12 intelligence officers work it is widely speculated that not one of them can speak or read any Arabic.

The US has been unwilling to ask for our help in intelligence matters mostly because we have little to offer them in terms of hard information. Likewise the US is not interested in sharing any of their intelligence, as we cannot reciprocate.

The only solutions to these problems are to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into both programs and to authorize the CSE to put human intelligence officers overseas.

Given the mounting evidence Canada has left its population completely unprotected for any attack-either symmetrical or asymmetrical. We spent months and years trying to ban land mines throughout the world but have yet to take seriously the new threats that the nation now faces.

The 1994 White Paper on Defence has been the guiding force behind all decisions in the past eight years. "The primary obligation of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces is to protect the country and its citizens from challenges to their security. In the final analysis, a nation not worth defending is a nation not worth preserving."

The document goes on to call for a "multi-purpose, combat-capable armed forces" and for Canada to "participate effectively in multilateral peace and stability operations", defend North America, and respond to, "aggression elsewhere."

By most of these counts Canada has failed. The CDA report concludes, "Canada can now contribute only token forces to NATO, United Nations, and coalition operations." The report suggests that the forces be returned to 60,000-75,000 in strength and that an immediate $1 billion per year is needed in addition to a stimulus of $5-6 billion to provide new equipment.

To solve these problems will take many different solutions. It is going to take greater military spending, better equipment, more troops, greater accountability of politicians and intelligence services, harmonization of policy with the US, and a greater focus on intelligence. It is also going to take the political leaders to give up their insignificant 'legacy' projects and start reassuring the citizens with action.

Like the United States, Canada needs to create a new cabinet level position charged with safeguarding 'homeland defense'. This office must coordinate the largely autonomous and fragmented bodies of CSIS, the CSE, the Department of National Defense, the police and RCMP, Immigration, and customs. This office could also coordinate efforts with the new position in the US to aid in the overall security of North America. In is not too soon to promote a North American "perimeter defense" that will guarantee trade continues while securing the vast reaches of the continent.

Are we serious about ensuring the protection of this nation? Currently the answer is no. We are unable to give any help to the war on terrorism and that is a shameful embarrassment especially to a nation, which has shed blood at Vimy Ridge, at Normandy, and served to protect and promote freedom throughout the past century.

Jackson Murphy is a young independent commentator from Vancouver, Canada writing on domestic and international political issues. He is a frequent contributor to Enter Stage Right and writes weekly at suite101.com. You can reach him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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