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Monday, February 6, 2017

What President Trump Might Mean for Canadian Defence Policy


By Vincent J. Curtis, Espris de Corps Magazine (Vol. 23, No. 11) 

With the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, the world can expect a large recapitalization of the U.S. military over the next four to eight years. We can also expect the Trump administration to pressure NATO allies to increase their defence expenditures to two per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product).

Trump famously campaigned on the theme that the United States was not going to carry a heavier share of the defence burden of the western world than was justified by economics. If NATO allies expected the assistance of the United States, then they needed to do their part. Some of that pressure will undoubtedly be applied to Canada, for Canada is one of those not spending up to the agreed level of two per cent of our GDP.

What does this mean for Canadian defence?

In the first place, it would mean that the Canadian defence budget would have to increase to be in the range of CDN $48-billion. The budget track released by the Trudeau government in its maiden budget forecast revealed a decrease in defence expenditures — the amount projected for 2016 was $29.4-billion with a decrease to $14.4-billion by 2020–2021. In the eyes of Trump, we are moving in the wrong direction.

Yes, defence is one of many competing priorities for federal tax expenditures, but national defence and maintaining good relations with allies is among the most fundamental of priorities of any national government. Those priorities have a higher call for money than new spending to make life more comfortable for a minority of Canadians. The needs of all take priority over the needs of the few.

What use could be made of additional defence expenditures?

There is no question that the Canadian Armed Forces are in need of recapitalization. The Royal Canadian Navy needs to be completely rebuilt, and soon. The fighting capacity of the Royal Canadian Air Force is aging rapidly, and the replacement for the CF-18 fleet is late and nowhere in sight. The Canadian Army could also use a new store of capital equipment for general-purpose combat operations.

The government is dithering over whether it should acquire 10 or 12 frigates to refight the Battle of the Atlantic, should it ever come back. The naval brass is still in the grip of the old-school small ship navy mentality that has dominated Canadian naval thinking since the days of the Niobe and the Rainbow. The RCN brass need to have in their top drawer a plan for a real battle fleet — a fleet consisting not just of frigates but of one or more battlecruisers as well. And if battlecruisers seem to be too war-like for political tastes, then missile-cruisers in the 10,000-ton range can be had off-the-shelf from the United States at $2-billion apiece, less than the cost of a 5,000-ton custom-built frigate. Anyhow, a capitalization project for the Navy in the range of $40-billion should be ready to go.

The RCAF is caught between the failure of Lockheed Martin to deliver a viable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a timely and cost-efficient manner, and a new government that wants to start the bidding process for a CF-18 replacement aircraft from scratch. The solutions are easy: buy off-the-shelf F-16s, or the updated F/A-18E/F Super Hornet off the shelf, both of which are also still in production. These are Gen 4.5 fighters, not Gen 5 fighters, but they can be had soon; they are still current and viable for modern combat air operations, and should be seen as an interim purchase until the Gen 5 fighters are finally available.

The Army could also use a store of useful equipment, in particular modern artillery. The M-777 proved spectacular in Afghanistan, and no army has been able to succeed in modern combat operations in the absence of dominant artillery since the 17th century’s Thirty Years’ War.

The problem of joint operations between air and surface has and will continue to bedevil CAF combat operations. If it flies, it is said to belong to the RCAF. But what about rotary aviation? What about a naval aircraft carrier? The United Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal regions ranged from 77 to 92 per cent.

Although PRTs were once described as the militarization of aid, some of these areas are just too dangerous for aid workers. In South Sudan, peacekeepers ignored the rape and assault of aid workers in the country. The adoption of a UN PRT model would allow aid workers to operate more freely in the country. It would also allow more positive interaction between the indigenous population and UN peacekeepers. The interaction with aid organizations and the local population will foster trust and, in turn, hopefully, generate useful, operational intelligence.

PRTs involved a level of Civil-Military Co-Operation (CIMIC) and that level and overall approach can vary depending on the model. There are four generic PRT models: American, German, British(-Nordic) and Turkish. These four generic models can be then divided into many sub categories that vary depending on which nation implemented the model in Afghanistan. A PRT model can be adapted to suit the requirements of a UN peacekeeping mission. Moreover, a UN PRT model in Mali may not work for South Sudan or Somalia and therefore a PRT model will need to be drafted to meet the requirements of each individual theatre.

The Trudeau government is weighing its options and conducting fact-finding missions to pinpoint the one mission that has the least of political consequences. The last thing the Trudeau government and the Canadian Armed Forces need is another Somalia incident. Since our withdrawal, UN peacekeeping missions have been blighted with accusations of rape and the solicitation of sexual relations with prostitutes and even trading weapons for gold.

Canada’s re-engagement with peacekeeping will offer its own unique challenges. Peacekeepers are regularly fired upon and that alone will create a political fervor in Canada. Our re-engagement will take political fortitude, but if the Trudeau government really desires for Canada to take international leadership, we must drive the evolution of UN peacekeeping.