Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Canada: time to grow up and start looking out for ourselves

The Russian invasion of its former satellite, Georgia, on Aug. 8, 2008, demonstrated that the days of military aggression in Europe are not gone. Georgia, of course, is not a NATO member—although the Bush administration had wanted it to become  one. So it stood alone and saw the wide range of weapons and equipment that, for years, the United States had so lavishly supplied fall into the hands of the Russian army after less than five days of combat operations.

When the Russians came at Georgia, the United States did not stand at Georgia’s side—and no one except the Georgians expected them to do so.

Russia has historically been rather nasty to its neighbours and erstwhile friends, just ask the people of Georgia, Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Hungry. And the United States has demonstrated that it will not necessarily come to the aid of an ally who becomes a target of the nuclear-armed Russians.

There are lessons here to be learned by Canadian policy makers and military planners: (a) wars that could involve Canada against formidable military opponents are not inconceivable; and (b) Canada should not assume that the United States will automatically come to its aid in any such conflict.

Russia is a nuclear power, second only to the United States. And the United States will never risk a nuclear war to defend another country; a conventional one, yes, but not a nuclear war—that’s their line in the sand.

The only thing that really impresses Russian leaders is power, military, air and naval power. And Canada, without the United States, has too little of that. As to NATO, we should not look there for help—just consider the lack of tangible support from that quarter we have received in Afghanistan.

If we Canadians have any expectation of defending our Arctic region and its potential abundance of natural resources, we had better look to our own military, air force and navy to do so. We are, however, a nation of over 33 million people and our military is stretched to its limit to keep a paltry 2,800 fighters in the field in Afghanistan.

For too long Canada has been a large country but a small power. This, of course, has not always been so.

Over the course of the Second World War, 1.1 million Canadians served in our army, navy and air force: the army enlisted 730,000, the air force 260,000 and the navy 115,000. Our navy with over 400 ships became the third largest in the world. Later, we sent more than 26,000 Canadians to serve in the Korean War.

I keep hearing and reading that Canada “punches above its weight.” That’s all very well and good, but militarily we are light-weights. So let’s up our military weight so we can punch hard enough to properly defend ourselves when necessary.

Liberal governments and some past Progressive Conservative governments systematically starved our military of sufficient funds to properly discharge our international obligations and commitments. Recently, a Fox News program accurately observed that over the past several decades Canada has relied on our proximity to the United States to save on our military expenditures. We continue to rely on the assumption that our southern neighbour will always come to our defence if we were attacked.

Canada ranks 6th in defence expenditures among the 26 members of the NATO alliance. However, our ranking drops to 20th, when military outlays are calculated as a percentage of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This is shamefully inadequate for a country whose Arctic sovereignty will almost certainly be tested by the Russians in the next 25 to 50 years. We spend about 16 billion USD annually on our military, less than half that of Russia’s 39.6 billion USD—we had better start to catch up.

Spending on our military has dropped from almost six per cent of the GDP in 1956 to 1.1 per cent in 2005. By contrast, Turkey spends 5.3 per cent, Greece spends 4.3 per cent, the U.S. 4 per cent, Russia 3.9 per cent, France and Brazil 2.6 per cent, Australia and the U.K. 2.4 per cent and the Netherlands 1.6 per cent. According to the C.I.A. Web site, Canada is ranked 132 of 173 countries in the world in this regard—pathetic really when we consider ourselves worthy of being a member of the G8 group of nations.

Canada’s GDP is of similar size to Russia’s—they have a much larger population, but we are a much richer nation on a per capita basis. We can compete with Russia on the world stage if we so choose. We are not a nuclear-armed power, but we don’t have to be able to defeat them in an all out war. They just have to know that they would receive one heck of a bloody nose if they got too aggressive with us. To most nations in the world, and especially to ones like Russia, military power is what really counts when all is said and done.

The time is here when we must become a large country in every sense of the term—not a super-power in the mold of the United States, to be sure, but a world power approaching the class of the United Kingdom and France.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell


  1. It's funny that you mention Turkey and Greece as 1 and 2 in military/GDP expenditures. Those to neighboring countries are still technically at war with each other.

    I agree that our defense spending should be increased.

  2. Ask Finland how a well funded, well trained small force can deliver a devastating body blow to a bigger aggressor.

    The winter war sure gave Stalin one heck of a bloody nose.