Hats off to my old friend Andy Leslie for admitting to the CBC that the situation in the Canadian Armed Forces is “dire.” Neighbours and friend have asked my what we can send to help our friends in Ukraine (and rest assured, they are our friends and deserve our help). My answer in the last week has usually ben: best wishes and blankets. I now see that the Minister of Defence has announced that we will send 3,400 troops (army, navy and air force). Really? Where will they come from? I have not been intimately involved with troop levels for over a decade but we struggled to send a single battle group to Afghanistan and our numbers have eroded since then.
Where will these troops come from? Sorry, but this is political eyewash.
2 thoughts on “Sending Help to Ukraine”
Apologies for the verbose response to follow, but I have been thinking a lot about this lately.
Ukraine is at war. Even accounting for the reality of propaganda, the Ukrainian armed forces and the people themselves are heroically resisting. It’s inspiring stuff. What can Canada do? First and foremost, we can stop telling ourselves the comforting lies of the last 30 or so years.
The US government uses a convenient acronym to describe a whole-of-government approach to exerting power; DIME. Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic. If DIME describes a holistic government approach, it’s time to admit that Canada has at best a nickel.
Diplomatically, we’ve drifted into comfortable irrelevance.We’ve repeatedly lost elections for the rotating seat on the UN Security Council. NATO does not seem to be consulting Ottawa before making statements, and our General in Europe (yes, we do have one at NATO HQ) hasn’t been making any headlines. President Biden barely talks to us, except if he needs to make it clear that we’re badly mishandling internal security issues. At this point, having the support of the Canadian Prime Minister is empty symbolism. Mr Trudeau speaks well to his base of voters, but is largely seen in Europe as nice and utterly inconsequential. Regaining diplomatic credibility will require stuffing ourselves to bursting with crow and humble pie. We should be sending diplomats to NATO and G7 meetings not with a Canadian agenda, but with the humility to ask our more effective allies what we can contribute.
In the informational sphere, Canada is actually not too badly off. We have significant contacts worldwide, robust telecommunications infrastructure, and significant internet expertise. Canada has a broad base of well educated and multilingual citizens. As a nation of immigrants, we also have strong ties to many countries overseas. To give credit where it is due, Minister Chrystia Freeland and her strong Ukrainian heritage is an excellent example of this. It gives us leverage and influence to be able to speak intelligently about the geopolitics of a region backed by experience. In this respect, we are fortunate. We need to take this good fortune, and refine it until it becomes an essential part of Canadian power.
Militarily, decades of neglect and scattershot procurement have left the Canadian Armed Forces totally unable to contribute meaningfully to NATO’s rapid reaction forces. To sum it up: not enough people, with old or insufficient equipment (this could be a column all its own). We can and should continue sending advisors and training missions, but we need to stop pretending that we deserve a spot at NATO’s big kids’ table. If we want to earn that right, we’re going to need to do what Germany has: throw a shockingly large amount of money at the Department of National Defense immediately, and then keep spending uncomfortable amounts basically forever.
Speaking of Germany, we have an opportunity to harness Canada’s economic potential in a way that not only harms our enemies but also helps us rebuild our own capacities. Europe is dependent on Russian oil and gas, but Germany has just up-ended the proverbial apple cart. Nordstream 2 isn’t happening, but Europe still needs energy. Oil is already hideously expensive in Europe, and they really can’t tolerate it getting much higher. The promises of green energy just aren’t coming true. And yet, there’s a historical ally with colossal petroleum reserves and a friendly and responsible (comparatively, anyway) government. Europe has a large petroleum-shaped hole, and Canada is a giant oil drum-shaped peg. This shouldn’t be difficult.
In the end, the challenge will be in accepting that reality does not conform to the view we have of ourselves. The Canadian military was a critical member of NATO, but not anymore. The Canadian Prime Minister used to be a globally important figure, but not anymore. We used to have the luxury of not exploiting our natural resources in order to preserve the environment, but not anymore. In a world largely at peace, Canada had the luxury to be self-indulgent, complacent and well meaning but ineffective.
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Many thanks for your insights. The War in Ukraine has reminded us all of something many Canadians seem to have forgotten: politics is real. It matters whom you elect.