Wednesday, 20 January 2016


It has been widely reported that Canada has been excluded from a high-level meeting of “significant contributors” to the U.S.-led coalition called to discuss stepping up the fight to defeat Islamic State militants.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has acknowledged that he wasn’t invited to Paris but he denied that Canada has lost its influence within the coalition. He is mistaken.

In 1609 Samuel de Champlain made alliances with the Wendat (called Huron by the French) and the Algonquin. These tribes demanded that Champlain help them in their war against the Iroquois. Champlain set off with 9 French soldiers and 300 natives and on July 29th, near present day Fort Ticonderoga, Champlain and 2 other Frenchmen along with 60 natives encountered a group of Iroquois. Two hundred Iroquois advanced on Champlain's position, and one of his guides pointed out the 3 Iroquois chiefs. Champlain fired his matchlock musket killing two of them with a single shot, and one of his men killed the third. The Iroquois turned and fled. This action set the tone for French-Native relations for rest of that century.

It also set the style for Canadian military policy for the next four centuries. To the extent that Canada has a military strategy, it consists of showing up to the fights that concern us with just enough strength, either in manpower or technology, to have a voice in the policies that effect us and the troops we are hazarding. Examples of this policy can be found in every Canadian conflict from the Riel rebellion to the world wars to our involvement in alliances such as NATO and NORAD.

In this case a press release from the U.S. Defence Department described the Paris get-together as a meeting of “significant contributors” in the battle to defeat the Islamic State. A senior defence department official said that the Wednesday meeting was an extension of the so-called “quint” meetings of five European nations involved in the ISIS fight. U.S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has praised those who will be at the meeting for their “significant role” while pointedly saying other nations need to step up their commitments

Canada currently has 69 special-forces troops training Kurdish soldiers and 600 air-force personnel in Kuwait, where six CF-18s are based along with two surveillance planes and one refueling tanker. The government has announced that the CF-18’s are to be withdrawn, but no timetable has been given.

Well known defence analyst David Perry has been quoted as saying “It certainly seems to suggest that there might be something to the fact that we’re not there,”.  Indeed, he said the missed invitation could be a “consequence” of Canada still being unclear about its next contribution at a time when other coalition members are pledging more. He noted that Carter made a point of referring to Wednesday’s gathering as a meeting of the “most significant mission contributors.” By not being there, Canada loses the chance to influence strategy in the ISIS fight, he said. “If we’re not there at the meeting, we’re gong to have no ability shape the agenda whatsoever. We’re just going to be told the outcome,”

David Bercuson, director for the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at University of Calgary is quoted as saying that “We don’t have a government policy. We have statements that were made in the Liberal party platform and we have various statements from Liberal ministers in the last several months and, quite frankly, I think they’re all over the map.” Bercuson said he understands Minister Sajjan “wanting to take his time” on developing a strategy but it’s worrisome if Canada isn’t at the decision-making table. “Any discussions that going on about this war should involve us,” he said. “We have men and women there whose lives are on the line.”

In the meantime the federal cabinet is reviewing a series of options presented by General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, to bolster Canada’s role in the coalition once the bombing mission ends. Military sources say the proposals include sending up to 150 Special Forces personnel to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters, having Canadian soldiers train Iraqi forces in nearby Jordan and maintaining surveillance and refueling aircraft.

The truth is that Canada's absence calls into question the degree to which allies value the contribution Canada is making to the coalition in light of the government's plan to withdraw its fighter jets from the region.

Former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy is quoted by the CBC as saying that the federal government has been unclear about what Canada's contribution to the fight against ISIS will be after its fighter jets are withdrawn from the region.

"It's not sure where and what Canada is planning to do," he said. "I know there are discussions reported … in the cabinet retreat. I hope something comes out of it. I hope that by the time Parliament meets next week that there will be a pretty clear set of prescriptions put on the table of what we can do and how we can help."

Axworthy said there are many other options for how Canada could participate in the fight against ISIS, but that for the last three months there's been uncertainty as to how Canada will continue to participate in the coalition.

It is also true that, all protestations to the contrary aside, Canada did not get invited to the meeting because the decision to pull Canada's CF-18s out of the mission has sent a signal to our allies that Canada is no longer actively engaged in the mission and can be considered a second tier partner.

To quote former Conservative defence minister Peter MacKay Canada’s decision to scale back commitment, "while other countries in the coalition are talking about stepping up their efforts … diminishes Canada's role and reputation in the world."

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson is quoted as saying that the meeting was a "one-time" event co-hosted by the U.S. and France and was not a formal coalition meeting. "The United States and Canada are great friends and allies, and together with our coalition partners, we will continue to work to degrade and destroy [ISIS]," the embassy said in an email.

“Great friends”, words of comfort which will undoubtedly go a long way in replacing a successful 400 year old policy, as long as nobody actually thinks about it.

Canada shut out of IS coalition meeting.The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 9:43PM EST

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