by Austin Bay
January 25, 2006
Take two apparently contradictory terms, and link them in asingle phrase. The result is an oxymoron, a figure of speech yoking aperceived contradiction in terms. "Military intelligence" almost alwaysrates a chuckle, as does "jumbo shrimp." A skilled poet can use an oxymoronto stir emotions beyond laughter. Shakespeare riddled the tragedy of "Romeoand Juliet" with incongruous verbal jolts like "cold fire" and "happydagger."
The term "Canadian military" should never be an oxymoron, butafter a decade of reduction and decline, what was once one of the world'smost able and elite combat organizations is now a hollow force.
The slide in defense funding that began in the mid-1990s is onecause. The current Canadian defense budget buys about 25 percent less bangand less peacekeeping than it did 10 years ago.
With the end of the Cold War, some reduction in force structurewas understandable.
The defense cuts, however, weren't simply based on a strategicassessment of finances and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. Post-ColdWar, North American geography played a role. Here's that presumption: TheUnited States would always be there to defend Canada, so why bothermaintaining military forces?
That wasn't always Canada's defense philosophy. At one time,when it came to defending liberty and democracy, Canada punched way aboveits weight class, and the Free World was thankful.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, while the United States hid behind thefalse wall of "neutrality," Canada confronted with armed force the culturaland political threat of fascist tyrants. At the end of World War II, Canadahad the world's third-largest navy. In 2006, despite having the globe'ssecond-largest nation in terms of landmass, Canada deploys only three dozenor so warships and naval support vessels. Over a million Canadians servedduring World War II, out of a population of 12 million. Today, theexpeditionary military that Nazi Germany feared must juggle troops andequipment to sustain two battalion-sized task forces in an overseasdeployment.
The Nazis did indeed fear and respect Canada. From Sicily toNormandy and on into Germany, veteran Canadian divisions often formed the"hard core" of an allied thrust. That wasn't a conspiracy by London to "letthe colonials be cannon fodder" -- it was recognition of Canadian militarycapabilities and fighting spirit.
Canada's military continues to attract outstanding men andwomen.
I have yet to meet or serve with a Canadian soldier who failedto impress me with his professionalism and discipline. In my experience --in terms of individual, quality personnel -- only Australian troops matchCanadians on a one-for-one basis.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of serving with Australiantroops in Iraq. The Aussies are crack. In the mid-1970s, I had the privilegeof working with the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in then-WestGermany. In my opinion, the Canadian brigade was the best brigade in NATO,which probably meant at that moment in time it was the best brigademan-for-man in the world.
Today, Canada has too few of these fine troops, and the superiortroops Canada does field are not supplied with the modern, first-rateweapons and equipment they deserve -- at least, not in sufficient numbers.
The lack of military punch weakens Canada as a global politicalplayer, because Canada cannot act with a full spectrum of foreign policyoptions.
In many ways, the Canadian rhetorical and political game of "WeAren't America" is a reasonable, if semi-hypocritical posture. The game hasactually benefited the great cause of freedom. In Cold War situations whereAmerican troops or observers might have escalated tensions, Canadians couldprovide security, stability and democratic presence. Canada could be theUnited States without Washington's alleged baggage. Those of us whounderstood the stakes were thankful.
However, as the Canadian military declined, the Canadian "WeAren't America" game -- particularly under Paul Martin's Liberals --degenerated into rank, adolescent anti-Americanism. Is there a connectionbetween increasingly strident, appeasement-laden rhetoric and the loss ofmilitary capability? I think the answer is "yes."
Canada's Conservatives have managed a narrow victory and nowconfront the challenges of a coalition government. Let's hope the firstconsensus Canadians reach is to restore and revive the Canadian military.