Saturday, 8 June 2013


On May 27th 2013 Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada posted comments entitled “What is the meaning of‘defence’ in the 21st Century?”. Ms. May is to be congratulated for taking the unlikely political step of actually outlining her views. It is much easier by far for politicians to criticize then to make suggestions that could be held up to public scrutiny. 

While applauding her courage, Canadian Defence Matters does not feel that this should exempt the Green party leader from fair comment. This blog has been trying for some time to contact Elizabeth May to find out more about her parties’ views on defence issues.  Her posting could, generously, be seen as a reply to our requests and this may be our only opportunity to avail Ms. May of our thoughts on the subject.

Her posting is copied below with our own comments in italics.

What is the meaning of 'defence' in the 21st Century?
By Elizabeth May on 27 May 2013 - 12:00am

We continue to discuss defence without first posing some essential questions: will we be at war? With whom? And what are the real security threats to Canada?

(This may be one of the dreaded Rumsfelds’ “known unknowns”. Not knowing is one of the reasons we probably spend more on defence then we need to. You and I and Elizabeth May can all agree that Canada will never, ever, be involved again in a large scale state to state conflict, but since it is not just our opinions that matter on this subject, we can’t be sure.)

It should be clear that, since the Second World War, we have seen millions of lives lost in the Cold War through the proxy conflicts of the large super powers. Since 9/11, and the despicable attack on innocents at the World Trade Centre, we have, in the absence of the Cold War, faced security threats that are largely diffuse. Acts of terrorists are often met with a "war on terrorism," but that is not a helpful term.

(In reality the amount of state to state conflict has been declining ever since WWII and is now at an all time low. This would be even more reassuring if we knew why.)

As former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Paul Heinbecker, has pointed out, you cannot declare war on a noun. Security threats posed by terrorists are serious, but the approach of preparedness is more closely akin to a policing action than a full military response.

(I couldn’t agree more. All these wars on nouns, like drugs, poverty, sexism and bullying are oxymoronic at best and poor English at worst. High on the list of offenses is ‘the war on militarism’, closely followed by ‘marching for Peace’.)

The largest likelihood is that Canada will no longer face another nation to nation conventional war. The security threats of the 21st century will be different from those of the last century.

(Not to belabor the point but it is this lack of ability to predict the future that in many ways drives our defence spending.)

In this new reality, Canada's traditional strategy of a 3-D approach (defence, diplomacy and development) has the key elements. What we have lacked is a national conversation about the relative importance of each. Sadly, under Stephen Harper, the role of our diplomatic corps has been de-emphasized with embassies closing, diplomats treated as irrelevant, and Canada's respect for multilateralism itself called into question. Our role as peacemakers, a role invented by former prime minister, Lester Pearson, has also fallen. While we continue to make financial donations to peacekeeping missions, we are no longer making significant contributions in terms of personnel.

(It’s important to remember that it was having a robust, first tier, armed forces that gave us the ability to take part in peace keeping operations. That first UN authorized peace keeping force from Canada, that Lester Pearson is so justly lauded for, was transported, quickly and efficiently, on our aircraft carrier. Note to peace keepers everywhere, Canada no longer has an aircraft carrier.)

Meanwhile, other military establishments around the world, from the U.S. Pentagon to the U.K. military, have identified the climate crisis as a serious security threat. Anthropogenic global warming is a clear and present danger. Global political instabilities will be exacerbated by crop losses, rising sea levels and millions of environmental refugees.

(Good to know, if a little surprising, that the Green Party follows the lead of the Pentagon so closely. I can’t help but think that this adherence to the doctrines of “military establishments around the world, from the U.S. Pentagon to the U.K. military” is a little selective.)

The capacity of our military to effectively respond may be more meaningfully employed through our emergency disaster response than through stealth fighter jets. Responsible preventative steps against this man-made security threat comes through reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an aggressive time-bound fashion.

(Why are we supposing that it is the job of the Department of National Defence to provide emergency disaster response? I know the DND likes to add it to its list of responsibilities, but just because they think it’s a good idea does that mean we have to as well? Maybe they should be in the business of providing the kind of response that can best be dealt with by stealth fighter jets while some other agency of government takes care of the victims of environmental catastrophes. It is also important to remember that if we stopped producing all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow much of the harm leading to environmental degradation has already been done. This is not an argument for not doing something to help the environment, just a plea that the military capabilities needed to deal with the effects of that environmental harm not be diluted in our attempts to halt the damage.)

Canada's Green Party calls for the following urgent priorities for a realistic 21st century defence strategy:

·        Realign our defence spending to increase our capacity and speed in delivering disaster assistance (e.g. through the DART Disaster Assistance Rapid Response Team) and our contributions to UN peacekeeping forces and missions, and decrease our contributions to NATO war efforts.

(Realigning our defence spending will mean having less to spend on some other part of the defence budget. Given that we don’t really contribute that much to “ NATO war efforts”,what part would that be?)

·        Rebuild the broken linkages among Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), National Defence and the Canadian Forces (DND/CF), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), to effectively and efficiently plan, organize, and execute our missions abroad.

(Some of those linkages were broken when it was determined that people in Foreign Affairs and CIDA really didn’t see part of their job as being willing to die. How do we plan to get people from those agencies into the field in the future?)

·        Play a lead role in establishing a standing UN Rapid Response Force with a mandate for peacekeeping and environmental restoration in both international crisis situations and domestic catastrophes like floods, earthquakes, storms and fires.

(What are we going to do about politics at the UN? We are not talking about NDP vs Liberal party of Canada politics; we’re talking about a body where the majority of members are not in any sense democratic countries. What is Canada going to do when the “UN Rapid Response Force” announces they can’t help some disaster stricken country because they’re out of favour, think Israel here, and they won’t release our units to help?)

·        Instruct Canadian embassies and consulates around the world to develop effective early disaster reconnaissance and assessment capabilities in order to speed up Canadian response times.

(Canadian embassies and consulates around the world can barely help stranded individual Canadians, where are they going to find the resources to “develop effective early disaster reconnaissance and assessment capabilities” and what effect will it have on their current ongoing efforts?)

·        Oppose the use of the United Nations Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine as a military solution to force aid relief on countries that are rejecting it.

(R2P was a major step forward in that it suggested that maybe, just maybe, what other sovereign countries did to their own citizens was not just their own business but that it affected others as well. The use of the United Nations Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine is subject to a variety of politics. Under what circumstances exactly do we oppose the doctrine and when do we support it?)

·        Focus Canada's development aid efforts and economic investment in the specific key areas that:
·        Foster alternative fuels and energy sources that dramatically reduce the need to import oil and natural gas and further allow the growth of recipient nation independent and/or majority ownership of these sectors and/or businesses as they develop.

(I can see how the above might be a” good thing”, but it’s not clear in what way it increases Canadian military security)

·        Focus on agriculture sectors that provide for food sovereignty through both subsistence farming and domestic commercial farming methods that are in keeping with green environmentally sound and gender equality principles.

(The threats to Canada from world food instability are obvious, the reliance on local production to avoid food instability not so much. Food security comes from an interconnected web of available calories at affordable prices. The bigger the web, the greater the security, dependence on local supplies is often a recipe for famine)

·        Increase bilateral trade, where possible, to facilitate the export of value added products from small island economies.

(I’m not 100% sure what this has to do with security, but as a Vancouver Island resident, like Elizabeth May, I feel I should support it)

·        Support and strengthen cooperation with regional organizations to further the goal of regional independence and sovereignty.

(There is a certain amount of contradiction in the notion that joining any kind of international organization leads to greater sovereignty. In general it means ceding at least some sovereignty to the group; free-trade would be an example.)

·        Advance the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and ensure its principles are at the core of Canadian foreign policy.

(Even trying as hard as I can to be sarcastic and/or supercilious, it’s hard to find any thing wrong with this as a goal, I’m just not sure in what way the Department of National Defence could be of use in this matter, although I accept that it is a security issue.)

·        Support the creation of a Department of Peace and Security.

(Absolutely, but lets not task the DND in any way to support it or find any of its budget coming from that department)

·        Review Canada's membership in military alliances including NATO and NORAD to ensure they are meeting Canada's priorities of diplomacy, development and defence.

(This is a boilerplate statement used by all the parties. It is, I suppose, of comfort to those on every side of the argument. The reality is that governments of all stripes have been reviewing Canada’s membership in NATO and NORAD for over twenty-five years and have found, not always to their pleasure, that they provide good value.)

·        Press urgently for global nuclear disarmament and the conversion of military industries in Canada and worldwide into peaceful and restorative industries.

(Everybody is in favour of global nuclear disarmament; it can even be argued that Canada did it first. The difference between Canada’s non nuclear weapons status and that of, say Sierra Leone’s, is that Canada could change its mind tomorrow and develop them, whereas Sierra Leone can’t. The same can be said of other military industries. Having an industrial and technical base means that Canada can choose what they want to produce. Less industrialized countries can not. This means from the point of view of these other countries that Canada will always have a military advantage. Not of course that we would ever use that advantage to impose our standards or wishes on another country. )

·        Meet the urgent needs for aerial and nautical search and rescue with fixed wing planes and Coast Guard vessels and icebreakers.

(Given that the average DND program takes at least twelve years, and that at least half that time is because of the DND twiddling its collective thumbs, it would appear that the only likely of timely acquisition of new search and rescue assets would be to take it out of the hands of that department. If we really wanted fast action we could even privatize search and rescue, but that option may not be as popular with Green Party stalwarts.)

·        Ensure that Canadian veterans are treated with respect and that those requiring ongoing treatment and/or disability payments are ensured compensation at least as generous as that provided for civilian work place injuries.

(It may indeed be a good idea to tie veterans compensation to the rates afforded in the civilian work place, but it saddens one to think we trust the market place and the unions to take better care of those who served us then we trust ourselves. As well, one instinctively recoils from the belief that there is a commonality of experience and sacrifice between someone injured while risking his life for our society and an industrial workplace accident)

These and other steps will assist in achieving true global peace and security.


Originally published in the Hill Times.