Mark Collins – The Canadian Forces, or, The Byers Disarmament Plan

Further to this post exactly a year ago,

“The Harper Disarmament Plan”

the latest effort by the quasi-pacifist, oh so seemingly plausible prof., is examined in two parts at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s blog–excerpts:

1) A Response to the Byers “Smart Defence” Report: Too Clever by Half – Part 1

In this two-​part series, CDA Institute Research Manager and Senior Editor David McDonough [more here] responds to the recently released Rideau Institute/​CCPA report by Michael Byers on “Smart Defence.”

The current government remains mired in procurement challenges and defence spending shortfalls, in which even supposedly good news – including the initial delivery of the CH-​148 Cyclone, the Halifax frigate upgrades, and the creation of an independent-​panel meant to provide a procurement “challenge” function – are meant to partially offset deeper (often self-​inflicted) failures.

This is the broad context of a new report by Michael Byers, jointly produced by the Rideau Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Titled “Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada’s Military,” Byers calls for a new “smart” approach to how Canada deals with defence policy and military procurement – one that he claims can generate over $10 billion in savings over the next twelve years.

Byers rightly identifies many of the problems facing the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), including the government’s recent deficit cutting efforts targeting National Defence, the delays in procurement projects that compounds the problem of inflation, and the many procurement failures that have arisen during this government’s tenure – issues that have been explored in the CDA Institute’s Vimy Paper series by Chuck Davies and Dave Perry. He also calls for the government to undertake a foreign and defence policy review, a commendable suggestion given the evolving geo-​strategic landscape and challenges facing the CAF

It is certainly telling that Byers emphasizes missions that are either constabulary in nature or do not require much in the way of higher-​end combat capabilities. After all, higher-​end capabilities tend to be more fungible and multi-​mission capable, and therefore are employable for lower-​end missions, but the reverse is not necessarily true – a fact that raises questions on the degree to which this plan would severely limit the type of missions undertaken by the CAF. Compared to the flexibility ingrained in earlier efforts at specialization, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly smart about Byers’ proposal.

The reasons why Byers selects such a narrowly prescribed mission focus are also suspect. To assess a more specialized defence role, the report uses as a benchmark the types of recent missions undertaken by the CAF.

Yet, by so doing, he assumes that future missions for the CAF will be the same as past missions, which effectively embodies what military strategists try to avoid – namely, fighting the last war…

[By the way the institute that co-published the prof.’s paper is really pacifist: “Government-funded Peaceniks: and the Rideau Institute, or…“]

2) A Response to the Byers “Smart Defence” Report: Too Clever by Half – Part 2

Byers’ “smart defence” proposal would significantly reduce the CAF’s capacity to undertake combat operations and operate in more contested environments, with little in the way of multi-​purpose flexibility and no guarantee that capabilities lost and platforms disinvested would ever be reacquired. If specialization must be pursued, and this is not to say either acquiescing to it or refraining from making the case for additional funding, a more sensible approach would be to safeguard capabilities that are multi-​purpose and mission flexible [but all of those capabilities, especially those of the RCN? more here].

In the absence of more funding, it might also be prudent to finally explore how defence spending is allocated, given that personnel requirements eat up the vast majority of the defence budget and could potentially be used to free up the capital budget envelope. Now that could be the start of a smarter way to do defence.

David McDonough is Research Manager and Senior Editor at the CDA Institute, and a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. He received a PhD in Political Science from Dalhousie University in 2011, was a SSHRC post-​doctoral fellow from 2012 to 2013, and has published widely on Canadian strategic policy and international security.

One trusts Prof. Byers’ drift has been made clear.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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