Saturday Debate: Are the Canadian Armed Forces Too Small?


Hugues Segal

Former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

For the most part, during times of muted international tensions or daily life in Canada not shaped by a pandemic or excessive natural disasters, most Canadians do not think of our Armed Forces. Neither the size nor the various priorities of our armed forces are discussed publicly or in the media.

Recent government decisions regarding cultural challenges related to harassment allegations have received and deserved more public discussion, and rightly so.

The recent tensions with the threat of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine offer us all a chance to reflect on whether the size and scope of our current military is sufficient for a country whose population and geography adjoin three oceans.

The evidence that our armed forces are too small is pressing.

Having a total strength of the armed forces of 67,000 men, of which only a small fraction are combat ready and trained, is deeply insufficient. Compared to the military to general population ratio of other nations, we are well below the vast majority of our NATO partners and many other friendly non-NATO nations.

No G7 country has an army as small as ours. When the relative “firepower” (kinetic impact) of our armed forces is compared to that of other countries, we rank 21st from the top. Many smaller countries rank much higher.

As we have seen during the pandemic, the federal government had to deploy Armed Forces personnel to assist the provinces, which did not have enough provincial and agency personnel to handle the number of long-term care cases. or operate vaccination centers. Canadians all remember the use of Canadian Forces personnel to help clean up floods, fight forest fires and so on.

We need a Canadian army of at least 100,000 regular members and a reserve armed forces (army, navy, air force, special forces) of at least 60,000.

This would allow us to have armed forces that could provide aid to civil powers at home, while having enough personnel to deploy overseas as alliance, national security or of ONU.

In today’s global environment, if the United States and other European NATO allies decide to deploy military forces to our sister NATO democracies bordering Russia, Canada would be well advised to contribute troops, combat-ready Canadian aircraft and ships to this defensive engagement. . As has always been NATO practice, preventive defensive deployments constrained the former Soviet Union and supported peace.

President Putin’s current efforts to bully his way to a new balance of power in Europe merit not only financial sanctions in the event of an invasion, but military deployments that would discourage the Russians from making the wrong choice.

Our navy and army commanders have already spoken of significant personnel shortages. The interminable delays in acquiring a new jet fighter for the RCAF has resulted in a decline in our fighter pilot complement.

Although a well-trained and courageous armed force can provide leverage to a smaller force, there is a point beyond which insufficient numbers are simply insufficient numbers. All the services within our armies suffer from insufficient manpower.

The recent mandate letter to our new Defense Minister Anita Anand did not ask her to seriously increase the size of our armed forces. It is neither his fault nor the fault of the women and men in uniform who serve in the defense of Canada. But it is the fault of a government that has not taken seriously the expansion of our armed forces since its election in 2015.

Only two Canadian prime ministers, Louis St. Laurent, a Liberal, and Brian Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative, have actually spent at the level of 2% of GDP on the military, as US heads of government have demanded. NATO gathered in Wales before our current government was elected.

A country of 36 million people, on the second largest national landmass in the world, with alliance bonds, three oceans to patrol and a tradition of global military operations on humanitarian combat engagement , peacekeeping and defense, needs an armed force large enough to do two or three things at once, in more than one part of the world.

It is high time that Ottawa and all of our political parties stop looking the other way.

Hugh Segal is a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Mathews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University, and a fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.


Bianca Mugyenyi

Director of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute

Those who profit from war and arms sales want us to believe that our security depends on increased military spending. But for most Canadians, the opposite is true. In addition to a pandemic, our security threats are ecological, social and economic and the expansion of the federal government’s largest department cannot protect us from these crises.

The Canadian Armed Forces has 125,000 soldiers, reservists and other employees. The army manages the “largest infrastructure portfolio of the federal government” covering a landmass equal to half of Switzerland.

From chemical waste to explosive ordnance, its operations have marked landscapes across the country. Although little is said about it, the Department of National Defense is also responsible for a staggering 59% of the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentally harmful armed forces receive 15 times the public resources allocated to Environment and Climate Change Canada. On the world stage, Canada accounts for 1.1% of international military spending, despite having less than 0.5% of the world’s population. There are only 12 countries that spend more on their armed forces than Canada.

In the two largest public procurements ever by the federal government, Ottawa plans to spend $100 billion — $350 billion over their life cycle — on 88 new combat aircraft and 15 surface combatants. The fighter jets will carry 18,000 pounds of destructive munitions. The warships, equipped with state-of-the-art radars, will allow US officials to launch “Canadian” missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of hitting targets 1,700 kilometers away.

Canadian Navy ships are militarizing the seas. Last week, a Canadian navy ship was dispatched to the Black Sea, which borders Russia. Provocatively, Canadian frigates recently joined US warships crossing the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Canadian warships regularly patrol the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

To assist Canada’s global maritime force, small bases have been established in Kuwait, Jamaica and Senegal. Ottawa also negotiated to set up four more “lily pads” in Singapore, Germany, Tanzania and South Korea as part of an effort to “project combat power” under the direction of the Pentagon.

Although not officially at war, the Canadian Forces currently participate in some two dozen international missions. Hundreds of Canadian soldiers are in Iraq as well as in Latvia and Ukraine, two countries bordering Russia. A smaller number assist a Palestinian security force that helps enforce Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and others are part of a mission that dates back to the early 1950s to the Korean War.

Let us not forget that over the past three decades, tens of thousands of Canadians have been deployed to fight in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya. What good are these wars? Thirty years later, fighting continues in Iraq, while ethnic tensions simmer in Kosovo. NATO bombings of Libya in 2011 led to slave markets and an ongoing civil war. In Afghanistan, the newly dominant Taliban appear moderate compared to ISIS-K.

Canadian forces also caused significant damage in some places with barely firing a shot. In 2004, for example, 30 Canadian JTF 2 commandos “secured” Port-au-Prince airport the night US Marines exiled Haiti’s left-wing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the Republic. Central African. Thereafter, 500 Canadian soldiers protected the Haitian government abroad for six months as it suppressed the democratic movement.

Six years later, when a devastating earthquake killed tens of thousands of people, Canada failed to send its heavy urban search and rescue teams. Instead, they sent 2,000 troops to Haiti, which largely policed ​​a traumatized population.

Internal government documents reviewed by The Canadian Press revealed that Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising”. A “secret” briefing noted: “Political fragility has heightened the risks of a popular uprising and fueled rumors that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to engineer a return to to be able to.”

The Canadian military is not designed to defend against a foreign aggressor, let alone protect citizens against pressing security issues like a life-changing pandemic or ever-worsening climate breakdown. It is structured to aid US military objectives.

Few nations possess warships capable of launching missiles 1,700 kilometers. New Zealand, its Canadian counterpart Five Eyes, its North American trading partner Mexico and its European ally Ireland do not have operational fighter jets. Thirty countries, including Costa Rica, Panama and Iceland, have no armies.

Let’s get our priorities straight. We need less, not more, spending on the Canadian military.

Bianca Mugyenyi is director of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.


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