Quotulatiousness

June 20, 2017

The Guardian turns on Justin

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Last week, Martin Lukacs savaged Justin Trudeau by way of contrast with British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the pages of The Guardian, which must count as one of the most unexpected sources of criticism for our mediagenic PM:

Their depiction in the international media couldn’t be more different.

You know Justin Trudeau from the Buzzfeed photo-spread or the BBC viral video: the feminist prime minister of Canada who hugs refugees, pandas, and his yoga-mat. He looks like he canoed straight from the lake to the stage of the nearest TED Talk – an inclusive, nature-loving do-gooder who must assuredly be loved by his people.

Then there’s what the columns of trans-Atlantic punditry told you about Jeremy Corbyn: the rumpled, charmless leader of UK’s Labour party whose supporters are fringe lunatics and his stances out-of-date utopianism. If he dared run an election with his political program, he would just as assuredly be rejected by the electorate.

So far, so conventional … and then the gloves come off:

Trudeau’s coronation as a champion of everything fair and decent, after all, has much to do with shrewd and calculated public relations. I call it the Trudeau two-step.

First, he makes a sweeping proclamation pitched abroad – a bold pledge to tackle austerity or climate change, or to ensure the rights of refugees or Indigenous peoples. The fawning international coverage bolsters his domestic credibility.

What follows next are not policies to ambitiously fulfill these pledges: it is ploys to quietly evacuate them of any meaning. The success of this maneuver – as well as its sheer cynicism – has been astonishing.

In this manner, Trudeau has basically continued, and in some cases exceeded, the economic agenda of Conservative Stephen Harper: approved mega fossil fuel projects, sought parliamentary power grabs, cut-back healthcare funding and attacked public pensions, kept up the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, undermined the prospect of universal childcare, maintained tax loopholes for the richest, and detained and deported thousands of migrants.

Out of breath? He has also broken an electoral reform promise, initiated a privatization scheme that is a massive corporate handout, left un-repealed a Tory political spy bill, launched air strikes in Iraq and Syria despite pledging a withdrawal, and inked the largest-ever weapons deal with the brutal, misogynistic Saudi Arabian regime.

Not exactly what those who voted for “real change” were expecting? Before you answer, here’s something titillating to distract and disarm you: Justin and Barack Obama rekindling their progressive bromance at an uber-cool Montreal diner. Jeremy Corbyn has shown us the meaning of a politics of genuine hope: what Trudeau has deployed has only ever been a politics of hype.

Trudeau’s latest progressive posturing is over foreign policy. Last week his government announced, to wide-spread acclaim, a brave course for their military that is independent of the reviled US administration. Except they will boost wasteful military spending by more than $60bn, a shocking seventy percent budgetary increase, and are already entertaining new Nato missions — exactly as Donald Trump has demanded. The doublespeak seems to have escaped the navel-gazing pundits: this is utter deference masquerading as defiance.

I don’t think Justin’s fans on the left need to be too worried about all that mucho-macho military posturing … until the promised spending is actually in the budget, it’s just politico-military theatre for our American allies than anything that will make a material difference to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. Once Trump is satisfied that Justin is doing his bidding, it can all be allowed to quietly go away (like the last government’s promises to beef up the armed forces and live up to our NATO commitments).

H/T to Ted Campbell for the link.

June 10, 2017

Canadian Special Operations Forces Command

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While we hear a lot about the special forces of some of our allies — US Navy SEALs, US Army Rangers and Delta Force, the British SAS and SBS — we generally hear very little about our own special forces. Some of that is natural: maintaining operational secrecy is very important, but long after the event, we still hear very little from official sources. A few years back, I posted a quick crib on the organization of Canada’s special forces, based on what was available at the time. Here, cribbed directly from the pages of Strong, Secure, Engaged [PDF], the new Canadian Defence Policy document, is a description of the role of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command:

Special Operations Forces are small, highly skilled, adaptable, multi-purpose forces held at very high readiness levels. Special Operations Forces are employed in situations that pose an imminent threat to national interests, where the use of larger military forces is inappropriate or undesirable, in operational environments where access is limited, and against high-value targets.

These situations benefit from small, well-planned or precision tactical operations. Such activities include: domestic and international counter-terrorist response, discrete intelligence collection, surveillance and reconnaissance activities, specialized capacity building to assist allied host nation forces, and immediate reaction in response to emergent or imminent threats. Flexible, scaleable Special Operations Task Forces often play a role in longer-term military missions but the limited numbers of highly skilled individuals at the heart of such forces typically deploy for limited durations of time.

Canada’s Special Operations Forces structure is lean. It consists of a headquarters commanding Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2) – Canada’s military counter-terrorism unit; the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) – Canada’s military Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear detection and response unit; the Canadian Special Operations Regiment; the Special Operations Aviation Squadron; and the Canadian Special Operations Training Centre.

At its core, Canada’s Special Operations Forces are focused on a cooperative joint, inter-agency, and multi-national approach to operations. In order to meet future challenges, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command will continue this cooperation to support government decision-making in security situations, including counter-terrorism efforts. Additionally, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command will support international peace and security missions, and contribute to and harness the ‘Global Special Operations Forces Network’ consisting of allied Special Operations Forces.

The lean nature and unique characteristics of Canada’s Special Operations Forces require sustained and tailored investment to ensure continuity and effectiveness over the long-term

June 9, 2017

The new Canadian defence policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Unlike all the other issues that might have moved the Canadian government to finally address the weaknesses of the Canadian Armed Forces (including the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the high-tempo troop deployments to Afghanistan, escalating tensions in Ukraine and eastern Europe, and the rather embarrassing ongoing rusting-out of the RCN’s ships), Donald Trump appears to have been the trigger … and the first visible result (after Chrystia Freeland’s rather … muscular speech the other day) is the publication of Strong, Secure, Engaged [PDF].

It certainly says a lot of the right things, from personnel to equipment to training and deployment, but as always with a big government announcement, the devil will be in the details. From Defence minister Harjit Sajjan’s introduction:

The pages that follow detail a new vision for the Defence team for the coming decades. It is about our contribution to a Canada that is strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world. In a rapidly changing and less predictable world, we recognize that the distinction between domestic and international threats is becoming less relevant. Therefore, we cannot be strong at home unless we are also engaged in the world.

The policy also includes a new framework for how we will implement that vision. “Anticipate, Adapt and Act,” sets out a way of operating that addresses the challenges we face today, and the ones that will emerge tomorrow.

Canadians take pride in their Armed Forces, and its members serve their country admirably every day. Whether it is responding to natural disasters, providing expert search and rescue, defending our sovereignty, or contributing to greater peace and security in the world, our military answers the call wherever and whenever it occurs

So, along with all the verbiage, what is the new policy going to mean for the Canadian Forces?

This is the most rigorously costed Canadian defence policy ever developed. It is transparent and fully funded. To meet Canada’s defence needs at home and abroad, the Government will grow defence spending over the next 10 years from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27.

(more…)

June 7, 2017

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

That’s Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with a statement that would cause the late Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau to throw her out of cabinet … because Canada has been relying solely on the US security umbrella since shortly after the elder Trudeau became Prime Minister in 1968. The interesting thing is that the federal government is reportedly going to announce significant new funds for the Canadian Forces in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency:

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa will forge its own path on the world stage because Canada can no longer rely on Washington for global leadership.

In a major speech setting the stage for Wednesday’s release of a new multibillion-dollar blueprint for the Canadian Armed Forces, Ms. Freeland rejected Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and its dismissal of free trade, global warming and the value of Western alliances in countering Russian adventurism and the Islamic State.

While she did not mention the U.S. President by name, Ms. Freeland expressed deep concern about the desire of many American voters to “shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

[…]

Ms. Freeland said Canada has been able to count on the powerful U.S. military to provide a protective shield since the end of the Second World War, but the United States’ turn inwards requires a new Canadian approach to defend liberal democracies.

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state,” she said. “To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power.”

Giving Canada’s military “hard power” will allow it to meet global challenges, she said, listing North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Baltic states and climate change as major threats to the world order.

“We will make the necessary investments in our military, to not only address years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing – with new equipment, training, resources and consistent and predictable funding,” she said.

Wednesday’s defence-policy review is expected to lay out the military’s priorities for future overseas deployments, and outline Ottawa’s 20-year plan for spending billions of dollars to upgrade warships and fighter jets, among other things.

Amazing. I didn’t think it would fall to Freeland to announce that we’re planning to stop being freeloaders on the US military…

May 27, 2017

Canada’s hollow army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Thanks to a post at Army.ca, here is the rough outline of the NATO battle group that Canada will be leading in Latvia later this summer (oddly lacking in attached artillery support):

… the Canadian-led battalion level battle group will be composed of about 1,138 soldiers, as well as armor, armored transport and combat support. Of that number, 450 will be Canadian mechanized infantry bringing with them armored vehicles and various support elements. A specialized Canadian reconnaissance platoon will also be on the ground. Albania will send 18 combat (explosive ordnance disposal) engineers. Italy will send a mechanized infantry company consisting of 160 soldiers plus armored fighting vehicles. Poland will send a tank company with 160 troops. Slovenia will send 50 soldiers specializing in defense against weapons of mass destruction, (chemical, biological and nuclear weapon defense, decontamination operations etc). Spain will send the second-largest contingent: 300 soldiers from a mechanized infantry company and armored vehicles, combat engineers and support elements.

As Ted Campbell points out, this is an odd and unwieldy formation and seems unnecessarily multi-national for such a small tasking. Why isn’t the Canadian Army just sending a full battalion with the necessary supporting troops (artillery, armour, engineers, medical and logistics, etc.) to minimize operational and linguistic friction? It’s because we don’t have enough troops to do that successfully:

There is an old, tried and true, military expression to describe this: “it’s a dog’s bloody breakfast!” Can you imagine trying to command and control that organization? Especially under NATO’s rules that, as we saw in Afghanistan, allow each country to impose caveats on what where when and how its forces may be told asked to do anything at all.

So how did we, Canada, get to this? How is it that we cannot, it appears, deploy a complete battle group without Albanian, Italian, Polish, Solvenian and Spanish troops? After all, we had a full battle group in Afghanistan just five years ago, didn’t we?

Well, yes, but …

First, a “battle group” is rarely a formed unit (never in the Canadian Army). It is, usually, either a full up armoured (tank) regiment or infantry battalion with add-ons: tanks or infantry, artillery in direct support, engineers and so on and so forth. Our battle group in Afghanistan was always based on one of Canada’s nine infantry battalions with attachments from a tank regiment, an artillery regiment and so on. But even the infantry battalion, the “base” of the battle group had to be augmented. Canada has not had one, single, full strength, properly organized and equipped infantry battalion for more than a decade. A battalion ought to have 950± soldiers and its own, organic, mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank or assault weapons, and, and , and … but many years ago, in an effort to “balance” the army the infantry was (stupidly) stripped of its mortars ~ the artillery will take care of it, it was said … and, bless ’em, the gunners have not let the infantry down, but that doesn’t mean the decision to strip the mortars, especially, from the infantry made any military sense at all. It didn’t; it was a dumb decision ~ the wrong thing for all the wrong reasons. But, a good friend tells, me, the prevailing view in the Army, especially, is that nothing must ever be cut because it will never, ever be gotten back. Thus we strip the battalions but leave the empty shells ~ a Canadian battalions circa 2017 has 500+ soldiers, not the 1,000- it needs. Even at the height of the Afghan campaign, when Major General (then Lieutenant Colonel) Omer Lavoie led Operation Medusa (you know, the one which Harjit Sajan said he conceived as “the architect”) his battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment 1RCR) had to be augmented with a company from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry because there were not enough companies in all three of the RCR battalions that had not been deployed within the last 18 months … the Army, in other words, had been hollowed out for years, even decades.

March 15, 2017

Sensible reasons to reject a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Africa

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ted Campbell explains why it would not be a good thing for Canada to send a peacekeeping force to Mali (or to anywhere else in Africa right now):

The Globe and Mail, in an editorial, asks the key question:

“Is there a Canadian national interest in sending troops to Mali?”

I suggest that unless and until the Trudeau government can say, “yes,” and can explain that vital interest to most Canadians that sending Canadian soldiers off to Africa on a United Nations operation is problematical. “The Canadian Armed Forces shed blood and lost lives during the decade-long mission in Afghanistan,” the Globe‘s editorial says, “Sending them into a similar campaign in Mali may further Liberal political interests. But does it serve the national interest?

Now, I believe that I can make a sensible, mid to long term case for Canada to be “engaged,” politically, economically and militarily in Africa:

  • Africa will be, after Asia, the “next big deal” for economic growth, trade and, therefore, profits;
  • Canada will want to be involved as a trusted friend when Africa is ready to “blossom” and have an economic “boom” of its own; and
  • Despite Chinese and French incursions there are still plenty of opportunities for Canadian engagement.

In other words, we have interests in Africa; even, perhaps, in the mid to long term, we have vital interests, at that.

I cannot make a case for getting involved in any United Nations mission in Africa. I cannot, even with rose coloured glasses, see one single United Nations mission in Africa that is working, much less succeeding and doing some good.

I’m not opposed to the UN. In fact, I’m one of those who says that if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. The current UN is better than the old League of Nations, and some UN agencies, like the International Telecommunications Union, for example, do good work for the whole world and are, alone, worth our entire UN contribution, but we ask too much of the UN and it is neither well enough designed or led or organized or funded to do even a small percentage of what is asked of it. Peacekeeping is one of the things that the UN cannot do well in the 21st century. Peacekeeping was fine when it was ‘invented’ (circa 1948, by Ralph Bunche, and American and Brian Urquhart, a Brit, not by Lester Pearson in 1957, no matter what your ill-educated professors may have told you) but it could not be adapted to situations in which there is:

  • No peace to be kept;
  • A plethora of non-state actors who are not amenable to UN sanctions.

A few days ago I wrote about the risks involved in sending soldiers to Africa. The Globe and Mail‘s editorial just adds some more fuel to that fire.

February 25, 2017

Updating the junior rank structure of the Canadian Army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Earlier this week, Ted Campbell offered his suggestions on how to address some issues he notes in the lower ranks of the Canadian Army, based on both Canadian and allied armies’ experiences:

There was always a problem with the old (1850s to 1960s) Army rank structure: there was some need to tie rank to trade, but not as tightly, many military people believe, as […] in the Canadian Armed Forces today. Some branches (corps) used to have fairly strict rules; in the old (1960s) Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, for example, the technicians, amongst the very highest paid soldiers in the whole army, could not attend the long, difficult and expensive, advanced (3rd of 4 levels) technician course until they had passed the junior leadership course and they could not attempt the senior leadership course until they had passed the advanced technician’s course, and so on. But that system always excluded some good people. There were, and still are today, many people who can be excellent, even outstanding technicians but cannot lead or manage soldiers. The United States Army addressed this same issue by creating the “specialist” grouping which allowed soldiers to “advance” through part of the pay system ~ higher salaries for technical skills ~ but not the other ~ even higher salaries for leadership. In past years there were many different (paid) grades of specialist but now it is a “rank” equivalent to the US Army corporal for soldiers who have not yet or cannot pass the first level junior leader course. The British Royal Air Force has a similar and, in my opinion, better system …

… which recognizes both technical skill and leadership requirements.

In my opinion we should undo much of what Mr Hellyer did, while thanking him for addressing the pay problem, and restore the junior leadership positions, especially the tank and rifle section commanders, to the real, and younger, junior leaders: those in the rank of master corporal. This will restore the senior leaders to their traditional roles as “guides” and mentors to the junior leaders: both to the corporals and the lieutenants. The ranks of sergeant ~ in several “grades” and warrant officer are often, and very correctly, referred to as the backbone or even the “heart and soul” of the army. That is partly because, traditionally, they stood ever so slightly “aloof” from the rank and file. The lieutenants gave orders, advised, coached and mentored by the sergeants, to the corporals who, then, directly led the riflemen but were also mentored by the sergeants. It was, to repeat the words I used to describe the US constitution, “a fine and finely balanced system;” we upset the balance 50 years ago to solve a pay problem. We should, also, adapt the RAF’s aircraftman/technician to our own needs to allow some soldiers to advance “up” in their technical field (and be paid more) without becoming leaders (and being paid more for that, too).

To do that the Army will have to reform itself.

First, it will have to repose trust in its junior leaders; that’s something that will be hard to do, even after the Army, of absolute necessity, makes junior leader training ~ making privates into corporals and civilians into second lieutenants ~ its highest priority and the job it assigns to its very, very best senior leaders.

Second, it will have to restore the “sergeant’s mess” to its traditional pride of place in the Army by giving the sergeants and warrant officers back the senior supervisory and management duties that have, in far too many cases, migrated “upwards” until they are now done by captains and even majors. Once again, it is a trust issue and we live in a world where many of the most senior leaders are timid because they have been “burned” too often, by their own superiors, when a subordinate makes a mistake. Mistakes are part of human nature; they have to be corrected, forgiven, in most cases, and, very often, used as teaching aids.

Third, the government will need to revise the pay system so that junior leaders are paid more and, meanwhile, the gap between corporal and master corporal and sergeant is maintained.

Fourth, promotions, in the Army, at least, to corporal and to captain must not be automatic. Promotion to corporal must require that one pass a very tough junior leaders course; promotion from lieutenant to captain should be by examination.

But, doing these four things will, in my opinion, give the Army a firm foundation upon which to build and fight.

January 17, 2017

Vice Chief of the Defence Staff relieved of duty

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Vice Admiral Mark Norman, former head of the Royal Canadian Navy, was relieved of duty as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff on Monday. Details are sketchy, but Robert Fife and Steven Chase report on the highly unusual activity for the Globe and Mail:

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was relieved of his duties as the Canadian military’s second-highest-ranking officer over alleged leaks of highly classified information, The Globe and Mail has learned.

A source said General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, ordered Mr. Norman’s removal after an investigation of “pretty high-level secret documents” that had allegedly been leaked.

The source would not provide further information on the nature of the sensitive leaks. It is unknown whether the alleged leaks were to journalists, business interests or another country.

The military is offering no explanation for this extreme measure which took place Monday morning.

Vice-Adm. Norman has served in the Forces for 36 years and was previously in charge of the Royal Canadian Navy. He commanded the Royal Canadian Navy for more than four-and-a-half years until General Vance appointed him as vice-chief in January 2016.

The use of the term “temporary” to describe Admiral Norman’s relief may indicate that further investigation is required (my speculation), but no official explanation has been provided yet.

November 26, 2016

Using anecdata to paint a picture of PTSD-plagued veterans

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the way Canadian Forces veterans have been portrayed in the media:

Yesterday the Surgeon General of Canada issued the latest in a series of annual technical reports on Canada’s great soldier suicide crisis. If you occasionally read the newspapers, and particularly if you ever pick up the Globe and Mail, you have probably been left with the impression that it is astonishing anyone who fought in Afghanistan in a Canadian uniform is still alive and sane. There is a tradition in newspapering, admittedly a recent one, of being very cautious and elliptical in reporting on suicides for fear of encouraging imitators. The Globe observed the run-up to Remembrance Day this year by blowing out the sphincter of that tradition, offering intimate details of suicides by a sequence of Canadian Armed Forces veterans left to struggle with the psychic aftereffects of witnessing combat.

The idea was to point an accusing finger at an unfeeling, ignorant state and to awaken the consciences of those who elect representatives to it. We are all to blame, you see: Canadian soldiers come home with nerves shattered by conflicts to which we have dispatched them, and yet at election time we overlook a lengthening trail of dead and a choir of the emotionally tormented. Veterans scarcely ever turn up in the newspaper, as veterans, without the words “suicide” or “PTSD” nipping at their heels. They are stalked by drink, painkillers, nightmares, uncontrollable outbursts of violence, homelessness. Only by the wildest of chances will one turn up in the news as a successful, well-adjusted individual.

So it is with trepidation and nausea that one turns to the Surgeon General’s report, hoping for a careful epidemiological documentation of the crisis. What one quickly finds is that when the overwhelmingly male Canadian Forces are compared to the ordinary male population… there is no crisis. Until very recently, CAF members have had significantly lower rates of suicide than male civilians in the same age brackets. The rates are statistically indistinguishable for the most recent time period in the table, 2010-12, owing to a transitory spike in CAF suicides in 2011.

Soldiers are, by this measure, healthier if anything than the average chap. This is not really surprising if you do not read the newspaper, and you merely hold to the old-fashioned idea that the military is pretty good at taking man-children and giving them purpose, abilities, structure, and a social network.

September 25, 2016

The Lorne Scots 150th anniversary

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Personal — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Yesterday I drove out to the wilds of Brampton to attend the Trooping of the Colours for the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). Given how hot this summer has been, they had a great day for the event. I’m sporting a bit of a sunburn on the right side of my head, but the temperatures were much more comfortable than they’d have been on pretty much any weekend since June. Elizabeth and I sat in the second row of seats, which meant that a lot of my photos were constrained (or even bookended) by the heads and shoulders of the folks sitting immediately in front of us. It was still a great trip down memory lane.

lorne-scots-trooping-of-the-colours-2016

If you’re on Facebook, you can see a selection of photos from the event here (unless Facebook is making it awkward for non-members to see albums posted as “public”, which is always a consideration). If you can’t see ’em, let me know in the comments and I’ll repost at least a few of them here.

August 13, 2016

Harjit Sajjan: “Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time”

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Our minister of national defence is on a tour of several African countries, looking at potential deployments for Canadian troops in troubled areas. A positive sign that the government is moving away from their long-standing infatuation with 70s-style “blue beret” peacekeeping missions is the message the minister communicated at the first stop of his tour, as reported in the Globe and Mail by Steven Chase:

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says what Canada will ask its soldiers to do in Africa can no longer be called peacekeeping because the term doesn’t reflect modern demands of stabilizing a conflict zone – something experts say could run the gamut from training other countries’ troops to counterterrorism.

Mr. Sajjan spoke from Ethiopia, the first stop in an eight-day fact-finding mission to Africa, as Ottawa tries to narrow where to deploy soldiers in what it promises will be a return to a major peacekeeping role for Canada.

The Defence Minister acknowledges the job in conflict-ravaged countries is potentially more dangerous these days and said he prefers the phrase “peace support operations” to describe the task Canada is preparing to embrace in one or more places in Africa.

“I think we can definitely say what we used to have as peacekeeping, before, is no longer. We don’t have two parties that have agreed on peace and there’s a peacekeeping force in between,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

“Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time,” he said. “Those peacekeeping days, those realities, do not exist now and we need to understand the reality of today.”

Mr. Sajjan has been directed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peace operations” – a campaign pledge made by the Liberals, who had accused the Harper government of turning its back on peacekeeping.

I strongly suspect that the Canadian Forces do not currently have the ability to engage in a significant role in Africa, given existing commitments to our NATO allies and the long list of equipment that needs to be replaced to maintain the Forces’ current capabilities. Aside from the big-ticket items for the RCN (replacing the current frigates, destroyers, and logistical support ships), the RCAF (the CF-18 is coming to the end of its service life so a new fighter aircraft is needed soon and we are still flying 1960s-era Sea King helicopters on our ships), there is a long list of boring, everyday equipment that also needs to be budgeted and ordered. The federal government is looking for economies in the defence budget, rather than looking to spend more. Foreign expeditions are very expensive, and Canadians are particularly sensitive to the risk of casualties in distant lands. Minister Sajjan may find a role that Canada can fill that would satisfy the PM’s desire to be seen to be doing more, yet does not run the risk of higher military spending and disproportional danger to our troops, but I don’t expect it to happen.

August 1, 2016

A new flag for the Canadian Army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Chris Banks posted a link to this article in the Lorne Scots Facebook group:

Canadian Army flags

The Canadian Army (CA) will advance into the future under a new flag that nods to its proud past.

The flag was unveiled July 14, 2016, during a ceremony on Parliament Hill in which CA members welcomed their new Commander, Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk.

The new design features the Canadian flag and a white, stylized maple leaf against a red background. Superimposed on the white maple leaf is the badge that members used during the Second World War and the Korean conflict, consisting of three maple leaves over a pair of crossed swords. Sitting atop the centre leaf is an image of St. Edward’s Crown, a symbol that has been used in coronation ceremonies for over 300 years.

The maple leaf was worn on the collars of Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge during the First World War, and was included on the new flag to honour the 100th anniversary of the battle, which will be marked in 2017. The same maple leaf flew on the Headquarters flags of the fighting Divisions during the Second World War and still flies across Canada at the CA’s various Division Headquarters.

July 17, 2016

Peacekeeping today is not like the peacekeeping Canadians remember

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ted Campbell is not in favour of the federal government’s nostalgic view of peacekeeping:

Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS wants us to follow France into the peacekeeping business because modern, 21st century UN peacekeeping can be, in some respects, seen as unwarranted Western interference in the internal affairs of Islamic states. Many Islamic leaders believe and teach that Islam is a complete socio-economic-political ‘package’: all that on needs to live a good life in this world and achieve paradise in the next is to obey the holy Quran. There is no need for laws or courts or institutions or banks or schools or anything else … just obedience, submission, to Islam.

[…]

Let us understand that the United Nations, as currently constituted and managed, is a failure at peacekeeping. It wasn’t always this way … there were times and places ~ Kashmir and Palestine in the 1940s, the Egypt-Israeli borders in 1956 when there was a peace to be kept between belligerents who actually wanted peace, albeit, in the case of Egypt’s Nasser, only until one felt ready for war again in 1967. It began to go wrong in 1960 … with the first UN mission to the Congo. There was no peace to be kept … a UN Force was inserted into a failed state and left to its own devices while a civil war raged around it. The UN used second rate troops (Irish, Malaysian and Swedish) where first rate ones might have done some good and the civil and military leadership, from Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld on down was somewhere between inept and ignored. In fact the UN peacekeeping effort was being used (misused) as a proxy for the larger Cold War. Canada and a few others became proxies for the Western allies; Poland a a few others stood in for the Warsaw Pact members and Sweden and India represented the non-aligned nations. It got worse in Cyprus, although a few lessons about the quality of troops were learned, as the mission devolved into a semi-permanent “holding action” that recognizes the de facto partition of the country. The UN has, literally, become a significant component of the (failing) Greek Cypriot state and the UN force because part of the status quo, making peace even more elusive.

Most UN peacekeeping missions since 1960s have been failures … some abject, others only relatively so. Mostly the UN “kept the peace” as an adjunct of the cold war. There is, in the 21st century, too often, no peace to be kept, especially not anywhere in Africa nor in the Islamic crescent that stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way through to Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. and the UN does not want a mandate to make peace. The internal politics of the UN prohibit members from interfering in the “internal” affairs of others ~ notwithstanding what advocates of R2P (Responsibility To Project) (or even more ill considered doctrines like W2I (the Will To Intervene) propose ~ unless government almost totally breaks down. Then the UN may step in, under certain very controlled conditions: in Africa, for example, a robust, useful peacemaking force will not be tolerated, the force must be from the African Union and it must, first and foremost, protect the interests of the failed states neighbours. If the failed state is in “French Africa” then the French may send in the Foreign Legion to protect French interests. And this is the situation into which Justin Trudeau wants to send Canadian soldiers ~ preferably, he suggested during the 2015 election campaign, French speaking female police officers ~ to be UN peacekeepers.

As a quick rule of thumb, you only send in peacekeepers where there is already something resembling a peace to be kept. You don’t send in peacekeepers to create peace. That’s not their role: they’re not equipped or organized (or ever in sufficient strength) to do that.

May 20, 2016

A reporter with the Lorne Scots at Meaford

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

My old regiment gets a bit of media attention, this time from the Orangeville Banner, as Chris Vernon goes along on a spring weekend exercise with the Lorne Scots:

As my handler Lorne Scot Master Corporal Christopher Banks drove through the gates of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre, I was overcome with a familiar anxiety.

The centre, known by soldiers simply as Meaford, is approximately 17,500 acres of dense bush, limestone cliffs, open meadows, a lake and 22 kilometres of Georgian Bay shoreline. I spent two months here for basic training in the summer of 2005 and at age 35, I believe I was the second oldest recruit.

Soldiers in 32 Brigade Group complete their basic training at Meaford, other career courses and perform several weekend exercises on the base throughout the year, and every fresh-faced private in 32 Brigade knows the anxiety I felt, even now as a civilian, as Banks drove us through the gate.

You see, there is a certain “suckage factor” to Meaford.

“Welcome to the Meaford weather machine,” said Banks, an inside reference among soldiers that refers to the fact that it can be sunny on one side of the base while on the other side it can rain for hours while you are out on a foot patrol.

There’s also poison ivy, a rumoured ghost, mosquitos, and large ruts left in the ground from the 1940s when the army used the base as a tank range. These ruts have sent many recruits home with broken and sprained ankles, not to mention broken dreams, as the injured troop will have to wait till next year to complete basic training.

Headquartered in Toronto, 32 Brigade Group is mostly an infantry brigade consisting of more than 2,400 soldiers in 12 reserve units based in Toronto, Aurora, Barrie, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Mississauga, Owen Sound, Brantford, Simcoe, St. Catharines and CFB Borden. It also has two reconnaissance regiments, two field artillery regiments, a field engineer regiment, six infantry battalions and a communication (signals) unit.

Banks, who did tours in Afghanistan and Bosnia, drives us down a pothole-riddled dirt road. I recognize the road. It’s where I jogged every day between seven and 10 kilometres at 5 a.m. while on basic training.

Banks is taking me to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) where approximately 266 infantry reservists are camped out.

“We are doing raids. Offensive training. When they (soldiers) arrived last night there was no rest. We pushed them across that line of departure at 5 a.m.,” said Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Mair from inside a command post tent where officers are milling about and looking over maps.

Reservists are part-time soldiers who serve generally one night a week, one weekend a month and a few weeks in the summer. Mair has been a reservist for 29 years and in the civilian world serves as a police officer.

Reserve units primarily respond to domestic situations, like ice storms or blackouts. However, they are trained for combat and many members have gone overseas to serve with the regular force in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

May 7, 2016

The Canadian Forces’ obesity problem

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Canadian military (all branches, but especially the reserve forces) have an obesity problem that needs drastic measures to address. Ted Campbell offers his prescription to trim down the bloat:

Command of the Armed Forces should flow from the Governor General, who is, by the Letters Patent of issued by King George VI in 1947, the Commander in Chief, through the Chief of the Defence Staff who should also, for clarity, be styled “Commander Canadian Armed Forces” (COMCAF) and to four regional joint commanders: Commanders of Pacific, Western, Eastern and Atlantic Commands. Each of those commanders should have subordinate and appropriately ranked Naval, Army and Air “component commanders.” (Appropriately means according to the size and scope of the forces in their commands. The Naval Component Commander in Western Command, which has only a handful of Naval Reserve Divisions, might be a Navy Captain while the Army Component Commander in each of Pacific and Atlantic Commands might be an Army colonel or, at best, a brigadier general.)

Staffs should be lower ranked and as [a] firm, absolutely inviolable rule no staff officer in any headquarters may outrank the principal commanders who are directly subordinate to the commander that staff officer serves. In some, rare, cases principal staff officers might be equal in rank to subordinate commanders so that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the officer who heads the national Joint Staff might both be three star officers (vice admirals/lieutenant generals) as would be the commanders of the four Joint Commands. But in an army brigade group, which, given its size and combat power, ought to be commanded by a brigadier general (not by a colonel), where the principal subordinate commanders are lieutenant colonels, the principle operations and support staff officers ought to be majors.

In short almost every staff officer currently serving in almost every HQ, large and small, high and low, in the Canadian Armed Forces is, right now, one (in a few cases two) rank higher than (s)he needs to be. This (over-ranking) is a serious problem because it contributes to HQ bloat and it clouds what should be a very, very clear “chain of command.” It should change, soon. Change would be unpopular and moderately difficult but not, at all, impossible.

Fewer, smaller, leaner and meaner, and lower ranked HQs will, I am 99.99% certain, be more efficient and effective and they might be forced to actually understand the unique pressures that face reserve force members ~ most of whom have full time, civilian jobs (or are full time students) and who do their reserve force work after the “bankers’ hours” that almost all Canadian Armed Forces HQs work. (If I had a penny for every horror story I have heard about army staff officers who know far, far too little about the reserve force units in their areas and who give, sometimes just silly but often quite stupidly impossible orders guidance or tasks, that cannot possibly be met on time, if at all, I would be a wealthy man. Now, it may not be clear that lower ranks will solve that, but I believe that lower ranked officers are more likely to work harder (as all staff officers should) and, in an effort to impress their commanders (and his subordinate commanders, too), work smarter, too, which will alleviate many of the problems that are the result of useless HQ “busy work.”

[…]

Less money spent on useless, over-ranked staff officers in redundant HQs would mean that equipment and support personnel could be found for the Army Reserve. Minister Harjit Sajjan knows the problem … all he needs to do is to push General Jon Vance in the right (unpopular but right) direction. They are both new enough on the job and each brings to it well known sense of “operational” soldiering that they could make unpopular decisions, give unpopular orders and shake up the comfortable, somnolent, entrenched uniformed bureaucracy, especially in the Canadian Army, and, thereby, reinvigorate the Canadian Army Reserve, using the Auditor General’s damning report as a catalyst for change.

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