The following is a re-print of an article of mine, entitled Give us a vision of why we need a military, that was published on the Postmedia Network Inc. www.canada.com website as part of their on-line federal election project.
Canada sent forces to the Balkans when war broke out there in 1991. Canadians have since served in the region with NATO, and over 20 have been killed. Moreover, Canada has been continuously at war in Afghanistan since December 2001. Over 150 Canadians have died in Afghanistan, with several hundred wounded.
As recently as March, Prime Minister Harper dispatched war planes to engage in NATO and UN operations against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. This Canadian force is supported by Air Force personnel and a war ship, complete with helicopter and air detachment.
These operations have the support of Parliament and, I believe, most Canadians. Wouldn’t it be helpful, though, if Canadians had a context for evaluating these and future engagements? For instance, do we need to project our influence beyond our shores? Are we a nation of peace keepers or of peace makers, or are we both? Why do we even need armed forces? And, assuming we need some, how many of each do we need, how well-equipped should they be? What should be their cost?
No one should make political points from our involvement in war—precious lives are at stake and, all too often, are being lost. I do wish, though, that our leaders would use this general election as an opportunity to share with us their vision of the role, size and make-up of our armed forces.
We’ve all heard debates over individual purchases and troop deployments. But, as important as those debates may be, I believe we deserve to hear much more about the “big picture.” We would then be better able to evaluate individual equipment purchases and to understand better the need for military involvement in faraway places. We could, as it were, see how these specifics fit into the grand design.
Judging from past debates and speeches, I have concluded that the three main parties have very different policy objectives and envision quite different roles for our armed forces. As I see it:
- New Democrats want a very small, low-cost force to deploy in national disasters and emergencies and for peacekeeping missions sponsored by the United Nations—more akin to a paramilitary force than to formal military forces.
- Liberals want a small well-trained, but minimally equipped force—one meeting our obligations in NATO and the joint defence of North America in a minimal fashion.
- Conservatives want a medium size well-trained, fully-equipped force to meet our obligations in NATO and the joint defence of North America, and to project influence internationally as many would expect of a G8 member.
This is what I have discerned from the way the parties have voted in Parliament and from the speeches I have heard in the past 20 years of so. But how accurate are these impressions? I’d like to know. And most Canadians, I believe, would welcome policy debates regarding our armed forces.