Wednesday, 13 February 2013


 It has been widely reported that the recent spate of retirements and promotions in the upper ranks of the Canadian Forces is directly related to the governments attempt to balance the budget by cutting spending in all departments. (1) While Canadian Defence Matters is always in favour of making economies by getting rid of excess generals, (2) in this case it would appear that the over all amount of brass will remain unchanged, meaning that other methods of saving money must be found. 

In fact, the staffing changes come after Prime Minister Stephen Harper made clear last fall that he wanted the military to find administrative savings. A 2011 report on transformation done by Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, (3) now retired, identified measures that could save as much as $1 billion in administration costs. It should be noted that, as has been pointed out in these pages, the Department of Defence never met a cost cutting program that it didn’t like. (4)

While not every observer sees these changes at the top as being influenced by the governments desire to implement savings, (5) there is no doubt that the Defence budget will be cut and that one way or another the department will have to deal with it. (6)

The danger is that poorly managed economies will lead to what has been called a “hollow force: one that while capable on paper is in reality unable to fulfill its duties. It happens when budgets contract and it seems easier to take a little something out of  maintenance, training, and operations, and to add a little  bit of "doing more with less". It’s easier than making the hard choices by identifying what missions you won't do anymore and trimming low priority capabilities. Those easier choices may be described as “temporary” and they may seem better than making the "wrong" long-term choices, but eventually you end up with a military force that can not accomplish the goals that have been set for it 

The hardest part is deciding which missions and capabilities are going to be sacrificed. (7) If you get it wrong then equipment and capabilities available will determine policy. This is exactly backwards. What should happen is that strategy should determine operations, operations determine tactics, and tactics in turn should inform equipment procurement.

Venturing into the swampy waters of Canadian Strategy is another impediment to the rational decision making that is necessary when budgets are tight. Robert J. Sutherland, director of operational research, Department of National Defence, 1962 once pointed out that, ”Canada has no particular tradition of strategic calculation. Such tradition as we possess seems to be that strategy is a suitable diversion for retired generals who need not be taken very seriously”.
While not having the status of a retired general Canadian Defence Matters takes heart in the thought that it is not taken very seriously and therefore qualifies, in Canada, as a traditional purveyor of strategic calculation. 

That being said, Sean Maloney (8) has pointed out four aspects of Canadian Strategic tradition. 

Forward Security: This is the deployment of Canadian Forces overseas to ensure that violent international activity is kept as far away from North America as possible and that Canadian interests overseas are protected.

Coalition Warfare: Canada has a comparatively small population and its industrial base is maximized for civilian purposes. Canada can not generate large standing forces like its allies can. 

Operation Influence: The ability to determine what deployed Canadian Forces can and can not do within the coalition and prevent there misuse by larger coalition members.

Saliency: Canada must have effective forces allocated to the coalition which have unique capabilities or employment which makes up for the lack of numbers and permits operational influence in the coalition command structures.

This is the kind of thinking that has to start any discussion about which missions and which capabilities are going to be eliminated in order that the remaining forces remain capable. You can be reasonably sure that there was a lot discussion around the decisions to delete the air defence capability found in ADATS (9) and the direct fire capability of TOW. (10) What is not known is what strategic calculation went into these decisions.

 Without a public discussion of the alternatives within the context of strategy and Canadian foreign policy, there is no assurance that the inevitable contraction of our armed forces will result in an effective force for Canada.

 Strategy is an art of the possible. It is not just about the politico-military means of employing purposive and definitive force; it is also about sustaining in the context of competing peacetime values the means to act should the necessity arise. 
 ( A Two-Edged Sword, The Navy as an Instrument of Canadian Foreign Policy, by Nicholas Tracy. Page 317)

 (1) Toronto Star, 2013/02/06

 (2) Canadian Defence Matters, General Inflation 

(3) Report on Transformation 2011

(4) Canadian Defence Matters, Raiding the Readiness Budget

(5) Defence Watch, New Canadian Forces Leadership To Oversee Budget Cuts? February 7, 2013.

(6)  The Globe and Mail, Published Thursday, Mar. 29 2012, Deep cuts to military mark reversal for Harper

(7)Canadian Forces selling equipment, mothballing base housing to meet cuts.

(8) Sean M. Maloney, War with Iraq, Canada’s strategy in the Persian Gulf, 1990 – 2002, Martello Papers # 24

(9) ADATS Heading To Museums and Concrete Pads Outside Bases
May 16, 2012. 11:49 pm • Section: Defence Watch

(10) Canadian Army Studies Its Direct Fire Capability As It Gets Ready to “Divest” Itself of Some TOW Systems May 28, 2012.