A More Humanitarian Military

Today, Rahul Singh received a Jubilee medal. Last week, he shared his vision of a more peaceful future.
By: /
May 16, 2012

Where Canada was once a respected nation of peacekeepers, it has now become a nation of fighters who slash foreign-aid budgets. Can we maintain our role as fighters? Is it sustainable? Is it who we are?

I would suggest that Canada’s military needs to trend away from roles in active combat. Actually, I am not going to suggest it, I am going to say it straight out: We need to change course.

The combat role is not sustainable. We are not a big enough nation: We lack the resources, the personnel, the money, and the national soul required to survive the loss of soldiers’ lives. The new game of war is just too costly. The human toll is enormous. Those lucky enough to survive come back wounded, and the wounds you can see are the easiest ones to treat.

The toys of war are also expensive. It’s hard to ignore, for instance, the latest expenditure debacle surrounding the F-35s.

The Treasury Board Secretariat reported $21.8 billion (or about 1.4 per cent of our GDP) in funding for the Canadian Forces in 2011. That’s triple what we spend on foreign aid, and more than 50 per cent higher than what we spent on the Canadian Forces before 9/11. The question has to be asked: What bang do we get for our buck?

In the past decade, Canada has spent $18 billion in Afghanistan on the military alone. But is the post-Afghanistan legacy going to be favourable? Will history judge our interventions and subsequent pull out as the just course of action? Our American neighbours need to pull out, as U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term needs the troop reductions that he promised. So what have we left behind?

Look at the recent mission in Libya, and the $50 million that it cost us just to keep our planes fuelled, running, armed, and maintaining the no-fly zone. There is no doubt that the intervention and destruction of Gadhafi’s tanks saved civilian lives – but did the cost justify the means? Other nations could have had their warplanes fulfill this role, allowing us to address other areas. As a result of our focus on airspace, we neglected the needs on the ground – needs that $50 million could have gone a long way toward filling. For instance, that money could have provided medical aid, food, and clean drinking water to the victims of war, and provided sufficient resources to deal with the explosive remnants of war that litter city blocks, and are too often picked up and accidently detonated by children.

I would argue for a leaner approach to our military. For the specific purposes of defending Canada abroad, I would call for the restructuring of Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) units and the formation of a special logistics and movements team. Our DART system is big and bulky and designed to start running several days after a disaster. It is a good system, but it isn’t designed to suit all disasters. If you redeployed the skillset into smaller, more agile sections that could deliver just parts of the package –like a clinic or a water-purification system – then you would have a more efficient mechanism that could deliver more aid much more quickly.

For the big and long-lasting operations like the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Canadian military could roll in the full DART package right behind the enhanced smaller units. Expanding the scope and modularizing the deployment capacity opens the door to more missions of smaller scope where needs can be filled quickly and efficiently.

The military recently acquired C-17 Globemaster aircrafts, and they are stellar. They are incredibly efficient at moving equipment and personnel. Creating a logistics team that our nation could offer up into disaster zones as part of our package of deliverables is the logical next step.

I can’t tell you how many times I, or other GlobalMedic personnel, have been ferried into hot zones (carrying out field hospitals, water units, and emergency aid) by the American, Australian, Brazilian, Malaysian, and Indonesian air forces. Offering a logistics movement is perfect for diplomacy and a great way to showcase what Canada is about through our military.

Imagine the day when Canadian soldiers, planes, and choppers ferry aid and international teams into disaster zones. The future should be one where the military does the heavy lifting to get humanitarian teams into place so lives can be saved.

I’d like to think that this is who we really are.

Also in the series


Foreign Policy Is Not Just Defence

Canadian foreign policy should be about more than providing military support, writes Roland Paris.

Lessons From Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the military made good decisions without Ottawa's okay. Steve Saideman on what this means.

Just How Threatening is the Terrorist Threat?

“The 9/11 decade is over” declares Wesley Wark.

How To Protect Canada From Terrorism

Kent Roach considers Canada’s improving, but still poor, record of terrorism prosecutions.

Recalibrating the Response to Domestic Terrorism

Stephen Flynn wonders why the Cold War security apparatus is still being used to fight terrorism.

A Whole-of-Government Approach

The Canadian military is just one piece of the disaster-relief puzzle.

Environment At War

Climate change presents a whole slew of new security concerns says Richard Matthew.

The Outsourcing of the Cyberwar

Increasingly, non-state actors pose the biggest cyber-security threat argues Jon Penney.

Drones Vs. Democracy

When war no longer comes with a political risk, what does that mean for democracy?

The Cost of Drones

Jennifer Welsh on why military drones and liberal democracy don't mix.

A Drone Field Guide

Unmanned aerial vehicles are filling the skies both in war zones and at home. Get to know them.

Between Co-operation and Co-optation

Aid agencies must find a way to work with militaries and still be neutral.

Whither Humanitarian Space?

Integrating militaries and humanitarian actors in Afghanistan came with a cost.

Building A New Internationalism

War, some would have you believe, is inevitable and internationalism is obsolete. Not so argues Noah Richler.

The "Virtuous" War

War is now being promoted as bloodless, humanitarian, and hygienic. This is not the reality.