Romeo, Romeo Wherefore Wert Thou?

By David T. Jones on January 17, 2014

Washington, DC - On 22 December, Romeo Dallaire, Liberal Senator and former senior Army officer, published a column lamenting what he viewed as “stealth” cuts in current Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel, equipment, and readiness.  Senator Dallaire is best known for his catastrophic role in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda in 1993-94, culminating with a “never-again” style genocide with the death 800,000 Hutu and Tutsi civilians, along with 10 Belgian peacekeepers.  The Belgian Senate branded Dallaire “careless and unprofessional ”--presumably for perceived inaction resulting in the death of the Belgian soldiers. 

During Dallaire’s career in the CAF (1963-2000), Canadian military capabilities steadily spiraled downward, but--to the best of my knowledge--Dallaire, who concluded service as a Lieutenant General--never spoke publicly about this decline.  Subsequently, the Commander of Canadian Forces, General Rick Hillier described the period under Liberal leadership (1993-2004) as a “decade of darkness” epitomized by draconian cuts in CAF funding.

Indeed, the initial CAF commitments in Afghanistan as part of the UN-authorized NATO forces were embarrassing.  Media was replete with stories of soldiers in the wrong color camouflage uniform, without aircraft that could operate at Afghan altitudes, and deployed in ancient jeep-like vehicles highly vulnerable to mines. 

It has only been under Tory leadership, starting in 2006 that Canadian forces have seriously rebuilt overall military capability.   And, to be realistic, this effort, particularly for the Army, was driven by the need for combat competence in Afghanistan.  

The imminent conclusion of boots-on-the-ground military service in Afghanistan combined with the exigencies of budget deficits prompted by the Great Recession has prompted rethinking of CAF military budgets.  This can hardly be a surprise; the United States military is enduring the same contraction.  Indeed, U.S. projected force reductions are larger than the entire CAF personnel strength.

Members of the CAF have long anticipated that the end of combat commitments in Afghanistan would mean reduced/restructured force levels.  As is the case for all plans, the “Canada First” defense and security strategy was a hypothesis rather than a precise design blueprint.  And recalling the vague conditionality of the Liberal, Chretien, Paul Martin era defense plans, Senator Dallaire (who says nothing about their shortcomings) has little precedent to belabor the current Tory government for lack of explicit restructuring.

For Canada there is a Navy faced with life-expectancy “rust out” issues for many of its ships as well as submarines that spend more time in dry lock, refitting, and repair than being operationally active.  Was the proposal for Arctic icebreakers and Arctic operational naval craft realistic?  There is an Air Force with helicopters older than their crew members and ostensibly front line combat fighter-bombers facing near term obsolesce.  And did the Army really need tanks or heavily armored personnel carriers for projected future missions?

But Dallaire carefully avoids such questions (or even comment on the recently announced cancellation of the close combat armored vehicle).  Likewise, he evades comment on the F-35 air craft imbroglio.        

Instead, he whines about a lack of “transparency” (perhaps forgetting the opaque nature of the Liberal governments and/or their draconian reductions led by a prime minister who didn’t know how to wear a helmet).  Or he suggests indifference to veterans needs (always a popular cause when “worst case” incidents get media attention).  

But where is Dallaire’s alternative to “Canada First”?  What role does he want for the CAF?  What security alliances (if any) does he support?  What defense relationship with the USA?  Does he hypothesize Canada leaving NATO?  Does he see Canada confining itself to “peacekeeping”?  Accepting potential combat roles only with UN endorsement and under UN aegis?  What does he envision spending on the CAF?  Less/more than present figures?  What personnel strength is sufficient?  What equipment should be purchased to advance an alternative to “Canada First”?  

But no; he prefers to carp rather than create.  What he clearly wants is to entice the Tories into a defense security debate without presenting any alternatives.  No fools they, the Tories are making incremental adjustments in defense expenditure designed to assure they balance the budget by the next election while maneuvering to retain as much of the structure of the Canada First program as possible.

One might argue that the first “welfare” of a welfare state is the security of its population.  The Liberals owe the Canadian electorate a sophisticated “transparent” program for defense/security spending.  Otherwise, Dallaire’s whinging is just that--unconstructive criticism.


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