Friday, 27 April 2012


 Here is the Department of National Defence's deepest secret: there is no plan. There is no real plan for how the DND will be used to achieve Canada’s objectives. That is because no one has decided what our objectives are. In other words, we do not know what the DND is supposed to do. That being the case there is no systematic way to decide what forces we need. Before we can decide capabilities and numbers for the DND, we must first decide quite clearly what we want them to be able to do.

 It is difficult to predict the future.  It may be said that Canada is among the world's developed countries least likely to be subject to a military attack in the foreseeable future. Every Canadian military commitment in the past 30 or so years has been essentially discretionary in response to what governments have rather loosely interpreted as Canada's' obligations, using forces which we ourselves chose to contribute. And today there is even less credibility to any threat-based analysis than there was before the end of the Soviet Union.

  Given that, it could be argued that Canadian armed forces need only include, at a core level, all the key military capabilities likely to be required to counter any military threat that might emerge in the future and that would require a long lead time to develop. This core force would provide an expansion base of military and technical skills that would greatly reduce the time to build a more capable force as any credible threat began to emerge. Providing this level of defence would allow for the kind of discretionary engagements we have seen in the past and expect in the future.

 Following this model, however, the default position becomes one of “lets just get more of the same, but newer”. This is the kind of thinking that leads to reflexively purchasing 65 F-35’s and then trying to rationalize it later. The financial cost of a contented military hierarchy in a peacetime democracy is high and it takes courage for any Government minister to question or, worse, set aside the advice of his military chiefs.

 In a stable defence environment, governments should always look for broadly-based advice on the huge expenditures involved in maintaining an appropriate defence force. Although strategic thinking has never been popular at any level of the Canadian-Military community it may become necessary to engage in it now.
It is a difficult time to be asking these fundamental questions. We live in a rapidly changing world. Strategic circumstances are unusually uncertain. For example: should our defence planning assume that the United States will continue to play the same role in Canada’s security in the future as it has in the past?

 It may be difficult but it is necessary. We must first decide quite clearly what we want the armed forced to do before it is possible to properly decide capabilities and numbers.