Canada to become Policeman of the world? We can't afford this insanity!
Walkom: Is Stephen Harper’s global military policy delusional or just plain mad?
A Canadian F18 jet fighter from 3 Wing Bagotville Quebec lands at the Trapani-Birgi base in Sicily, Italy, last year. The military has been hunting for seven strategically placed nations willing to host a network of Canadian bases. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
By Thomas Walcom June 10, 2012
Sometimes, it’s as if Stephen Harper’s Conservatives suffer from delusions of grandeur.
How else to explain the decision by Canada’s apparently cash-strapped federal government to set up a network of military bases around the world?
That’s usually something only countries with imperial pretensions, such as the U.S., France and Britain, do. And even the U.S. is pulling back these days.
As reported by my colleague Allan Woods, who broke this story, Ottawa claims its new bases will ultimately save taxpayers money.
But that rationale only works if the government is planning to deploy Canadian soldiers on a regular basis to global hot spots. Are the Conservatives setting the stage for more Libyas and Afghanistans?
At one level, they are. As historian and defence expert Jack Granatstein notes, the Harper government has quietly shifted Canada’s military posture from one focused on protecting North America (with a dose of United Nations peacekeeping thrown in) to one in which Canadian soldiers play an active fighting role in far-away places.
The decision to wage war in Afghanistan for more than a decade is the most obvious element of this new strategy. But the purchase of new, massive C-17 transport planes — and the plan to buy F-35 jets — also fit into the Conservative government’s new, if unarticulated, global military focus.
The short-range, one-engine F-35s may not be that useful in the Canadian Arctic. But their radar-avoiding stealth capacity would do well in a Middle Eastern war against, say, Iran.
Granatstein, incidentally, supports the Conservatives’ more robust military strategy and thinks that, in theory, the idea of securing global bases makes sense.
But he is baffled by Ottawa’s decision to build seven forward military bases — in areas ranging from Africa to Singapore to the Caribbean to Kuwait — at a time when it is trimming defence spending.
“We don’t have enough equipment to stock seven bases,” he says. “What would you put in them? Boxes of Corn Flakes?”
David Bercuson, director of the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, is also puzzled by the government’s move.
“If they’re just talking about renting an airfield to lock up some stuff and have a few people looking after it, it makes sense,” he says.
“But if it’s something more elaborate, like Camp Mirage (a former Canadian base in Dubai set up to support the Afghan War), I’d have to question it.”
Bercuson argues that a base in the Caribbean would be reasonable because at least Canada operates there occasionally. He says a Canadian base in Singapore could support U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to confront China more boldly in the Pacific.
But bases in East and West Africa? That decision confuses him. “We haven’t paid attention to Africa since 2000.”
And Kuwait? Given that Canada is pulling its troops from Afghanistan, a Middle Eastern base doesn’t make obvious sense, he says — unless Canada is interested in helping the U.S. and Israel in a war with Iran.
Steven Staples, a military analyst and head of Ottawa’s Rideau Institute, calls the entire idea a waste of money.
“The notion that we’re going to have permanent bases around the world is over the top. I don’t understand the rationale for parking a bunch of equipment in Singapore in case we might need it some time. That’s why we bought C-17s in the first place — so we could move troops and material quickly.”
My analysis is darker. I fear the government is deliberate in its madness. I think it is setting up foreign military bases because it fully expects to have Canadian troops fight alongside the U.S. or NATO in more Afghanistan-style wars.
I think it has learned nothing from the past 10 years.