Whether it’s because of the increasingly dangerous world we seem to be living in, the sad state of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), or the growing unwillingness of our NATO allies to countenance our failure to live up to an alliance-wide pledge to spend 2% of the value of gross domestic product (GDP) on military preparedness, the general public’s traditional reticence to take Canada’s national security seriously is waning.
The most recent evidence of this change is Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s pledge earlier this month to cut “wasteful foreign aid that goes to dictators, terrorists and multinational bureaucracies” and reallocate that money to the CAF to enable Canada to “work towards” meeting NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target.
Since I don’t believe in basing defence (or international assistance) spending on an arbitrary percentage of GDP, I’m ambivalent about Mr. Poilievre’s hedge on meeting the NATO commitment.
It’s not as if the current government has been any better, and while being a good ally certainly matters, NATO's feelings (positive or negative) are ultimately less important than allocating what it takes to defend our country and its interests, be that 2% of GDP, more, or less.
Still, I have serious concerns with the specifics of Mr. Poilievre’s proposal and, more important, the defence community’s (lack of) response to it.
As I have suggested in this blog before, militaries do not fight 21st century wars alone.
We need diplomats at relevant international fora; intelligence gatherers in the field; humanitarian aid workers on the ground; immigration officials administering the increasing numbers of refugees and displaced persons that conflict creates; settlement workers supporting those refugees once they arrive here; mental health professionals dealing with their trauma.
The Canadian Armed Forces are one element – albeit a critical one – of a larger national security apparatus, all of which has been neglected by successive governments in Ottawa and all of which requires re-investment.
Members of the defence community learned this lesson all too often in Afghanistan (first during struggles to implement a comprehensive approach to provincial reconstruction in the field over a decade ago and then again during more recent efforts to evacuate endangered Afghans after the return of the Taliban).
Depleting the capacity of Global Affairs Canada in order to rebuild the CAF risks re-balkanizing a national security community that is at its best when all of its members work together.
In sum, when a leading politician who looks likely to be our next prime minister pledges to pit one element of the national security community against another, defence advocates should be up in arms.
Kudos to The Globe and Mail’s editorial board and to John Ibbitson for expressing their objections, but I have yet to find similar thoughts being expressed from within the defence community.
For the sake of our national interests, that must change.
One of Canada’s premier defence analysts, Philippe Lagassé, has a new Substack, Debating Canadian Defence. If you’re interested in such issues, it’s a must-read.
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