UP FRONT

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE

A pledge to add 5,000 troops shows the limits of Canada’s military capacity

Mary Janigan January 10 2005
UP FRONT

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE

A pledge to add 5,000 troops shows the limits of Canada’s military capacity

Mary Janigan January 10 2005

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE

UP FRONT

ON THE ISSUES

A pledge to add 5,000 troops shows the limits of Canada’s military capacity

Mary Janigan

IT WAS A VISIONARY election vow, cunningly crafted to appeal to our pride and idealism. And it has become the perfect, sad example of the vast gap between what we say and what we can actually do on the international stage. Ottawa, promised the Liberal platform, would increase its armed forces “by 5,000 personnel, creating a new brigade and greatly enhancing Canada’s capacity for peace support.” A special peace brigade sounded so imaginative and, more importantly, it eclipsed the Tories’ plodding vows.

The dilemmas were in the details. Former defence minister David Pratt had planned to ask cabinet after the election to approve the extra troops. But, insiders say, the notion of a separate brigade for peacekeeping was news to him and the defence establishment. Who would train them? Where was the equipment for them and the housing? For that matter, where was the money going to come from? The annual $ 13-billion budget can barely support the current 60,000member regular force. Martin’s advisers brushed aside those quibbles: by late August, military leaders were gamely insisting that the new defence minister had assured them that they would get the funds.

Then the tale began to twist. By early

October, the Throne Speech pledged to boost “our regular forces by some 5,000 troops.” No mention of that catchy brigade.

For military analysts, this was a relief because building a separate brigade from scratch, from infrastructure to equipment, was recklessly and needlessly expensive. Instead, most of the new troops would eventually be

In a strange way, it’s good the military has not yet recruited the troopsbecause the Liberals have not produced a defence policy

added to three existing army brigades on three bases across the nation.

Don’t hold your breath. Early last month, the vice-chief of the defence staff, ViceAdmiral Ron Buck, told the Senate security committee that he still has not received the money to hire those troops. That would start, he hoped, with the coming 2005-2006 budget. Anyway, once he got the funds, it would take five years to add them all. In carefully bland language, he chatted about the need for trainers and recruiters and equipment and housing: that is, all of those problems that nasty analysts had raised during the election. “I was shocked,” says Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the committee’s chairman. “The Second World War would have been over by the time they’re hired. This is a litmus test to show how far our defence capability has eroded.”

In a strange way, it’s good the military has not yet recruited the troops—because the Liberals have not produced a defence policy. Our armed forces are supposed to play domestic, continental and international roles. But what are they, exactly? How long should we be able to sustain troops in the field? Most defence experts say we should have a 75,000-member force to be truly effective. Is that our goal—when even 5,000 more sounds like a stretch?

“It’s difficult to know where we are going and why we are going there if the government has not told the forces about the direction,” warns Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations, a military advocacy group. “Paul Martin wants to make a name for himself in foreign policy. But if you do not have credible military forces, you will not go anywhere.” He’s right. The saga of the peacekeeping brigade is really a sadly cautionary tale about dreams and realities. And, alas, political promises. fl’U

Mary Janigan is a political and policy writer. mary.janigand>macleans.rogers.com