Nov 17

It is a great and good thing that the Liberals are supporting the new training mission in Afghanistan. The terms of their support, however, are shamelessly disingenuos. Yesterday on CBC-TV’s “Power and Politics” the Grits’ Dominic LeBlanc talked about how the training role was in the traditional Canadian mode, redolent of our long proud peacekeeping tradition. And that’s why Michael Ignatieff could support it. Blah, blah, blah. This is straight-out pandering to the soft-hearted Canadian belief that all we should ever do is keep the peace, preferably with a blue beret firmly fixed on our soldiers’ heads.

But is training equal to peacekeeping? No, it most certainly is not. In the first place, Afghanistan is a state at war, and there is no peace to keep. Then, Canadian soldiers will be training one side in that war, the ANA and ANP, how best to fight the other side, the Taliban.

On no peacekeeping mission that Canadians took part in have our soldiers trained troops. We did not train Israelis or Syrians; we did not train Iraqis or Iranians; we did not train Greek or Turkish Cypriots. We have done military training missions in Africa in the past, but no one ever called that role peacekeeping. So let’s get our terms straight: military training is Afghanistan is a new Canadian role (not all that new as we’ve been doing mentoring for at least four years) in a long-running war. It is not peacekeeping, and no one should pretend it is.

J.L. Granastein is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute

Nov 15

Decision to maintain training presence in Afghanistan would sustain Canada’s reputation as a reliable ally and honour sacrifices made

Special to the Vancouver Sun November 13, 2010

Indications that Canada intends to convert its combat role to a military-training role in Afghanistan reflect a healthy, albeit rare, degree of bipartisan cooperation in Ottawa.

The process of consensus may not have been pretty — the fact that the Conservatives now seem to be moving to a position publicly advocated by the Liberals suggests some convergence, if not consensus, between the two — but the result, if confirmed, represents a salutary outbreak of adult judgment by both major parties.

Our independent panel observed in January 2008 that the basic aim of Canadian policy was to “leave Afghanistan to Afghans in a country better governed, more peaceful and more secure.” Progress toward this objective has been decidedly mixed with positive movement on some fronts, notably the military, thanks to a strengthened U.S. presence, but less so on others.

However, the fundamental goal remains the same and Canada’s decision would be a prudent step in the right direction.

Training is vital to an ultimate handover of responsibility for security to the Afghans. NATO has an urgent need for military and police trainers in Afghanistan, which Canada is, as a result of its heavy combat role in Kandahar, more capable than many to provide.

There is, of course, good reason to believe that Canada has “already done enough,” certainly more than its share, in Afghanistan and paid a heavy price in this difficult mission.

Similarly, there is good reason to be frustrated with the ineffective, even irrational, governance of President Hamid Karzai.

The fatigue and frustration are understandable, but should not obviate either the sacrifices or expenditures to date — or the broader consequences for Canadian international interests. It would appear that the latter, particularly the counsel of key allies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, ultimately prevailed over concerns about internal, Afghan deficiencies.

A bipartisan consensus, however informal or ragged, is enabling the government to put alliance and foreign-policy interests above narrow, domestic politics.

That in itself, is refreshing.

Parliamentary debate on Canada’s role in Afghanistan has too frequently succumbed to partisan posturing and puerile sniping. There has been little serious debate on the strategy at play in the increasingly complex military engagement — the largest for Canada since the Korean War.

Yet, on major issues of war and peace, Canadians desire and expect to see a bipartisan approach that puts national interests ahead of political point-scoring.

Helping to build a more stable, better-governed Afghanistan with a growing economy remains the fundamental objective. Few, if any, want to see Afghanistan backslide into repressive Taliban rule. Quite apart from alliance preferences about our future military deployment, it would be difficult to envisage how Canada could maintain its substantial development-assistance role and civilian presence in Afghanistan without some semblance of security support. The chronic tensions involving Pakistan and Iran put a premium on greater stability in Afghanistan.

Canada has earned prominent recognition among its principal allies for its comprehensive (and costly) effort in Afghanistan. This new-found credibility should not be squandered.

We have consistently called for clearer, more comprehensive strategies and for better co-ordination of the overall effort in Afghanistan by the international community, the Afghan authorities and other governments in the region. Against that background, an abrupt and complete military withdrawal would have made little sense.

The need for a careful collaboration and co-ordination of decisions on military employment is at the root of the alliance’s raison d’etre. Once taken, however, the decision should be articulated clearly so that it will resonate intelligibly as a considered expression of Canada’s national and global interests, based on analysis, not on partisan concerns of the moment.

Agreed time frames are also needed, tied to strategic assessments of what is happening on the ground, as opposed to unilateral withdrawals based on domestic political calculations. But, for this, some degree of bilateral cooperation is essential.

The commitment from some NATO allies has been ragged and inadequate and this could have been an easy excuse for Canada to withdraw altogether — easy, but inconsistent, with Canada’s military tradition and its foreign-policy track record. The war is complicated, debilitating and, at times, seemingly futile.

Success is not a certainty and any new commitment should not be open-ended; but a decision to maintain a significant training presence in Afghanistan would honour the sacrifice to date and sustain Canada’s reputation as a reliable ally committed to deliver on a UN-sanctioned mandate.

Derek H. Burney, a former member of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, is Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) and Senior Strategic Adviser to Ogilvy Renault LLP.

Nov 15

What is strange is the way it has been announced. It has been a central principle of the Westminster system of Parliamentary government that major government decisions are made collectively by the cabinet and that cabinet members are collectively responsible for those decisions. It has been apparent for at least two decades that the Prime Minister, whatever the party, has increasingly been usurping that power of decision. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, laure Hawn, has now made this changed reality completely clear. This is what he has just had to say about the Prime Minister’s decision (not, it is very apparent, the cabinet’s) to shift the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul and to change its role to solely non-combat training:

1) On CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Nov. 12, at 6:40 on the clip:
“…The Prime Minister is empowered to make this kind of decision…”

2) And more fully on CBC Radio One’s The House, Nov. 13, at 8:35 on the clip:
“…The Prime Minister is the head of our government and he is empowered to make these kinds of decisions… The Prime Minister is within his authority and mandate to make this kind of call…”

So the Canadian federal government is de facto headed by a powerful presidential figure; there is no de jure to prescribe the powers of the cabinet vis-a-vis the Prime Minister, just accepted convention that is more definitively not what it was. One wonders when our politics, punditocracy and professoriat will remark upon the constitutionally rather startling statements by Mr. Hawn.

One pundit, Chantal Hebert, does make these rather telling observations on how the Prime Minister’s decision was presented to the public:

“…Stephen Harper’s communications director, Dimitri Soudas, did the media rounds. The sight of an unelected partisan staffer apprising Canadians of their government’s thinking on a top-of-mind defence and foreign policy issue that involved committing hundres of Canadian men and women to a war theatre  for an extra three years was unprecedented. The power of the PMO has been in ascendancy at the expense of the federal cabinet for a number of decades, but that evolution has rarely been as blatantly obvious as over the past two weeks…

“The Crown may still have ministers but they no longer are of any real account. The Prime Minister indeed rules the executive alone. And, with a majority government, the legislature too, unlike the United States where the two branches of government are firmly separated.”

Mark Collins is a prolific blogger at Unambiguously Ambidextrous 

Nov 15

There is no legal requirement for the Harper government to seek approval from Parliament for the deployment of up to one thousand troops on a training mission in Afghanistan. The executive branch has the power to send troops where it wishes when it wishes. A declaration of war might require parliamentary sanction, but a deployment does not. There are ample precedents to support this position.

But should Parliament be involved in the deployment decision and vote Yea or Nay upon it? Declared or otherwise, wars are not popular with the public, and if the Kandahar experience is any guide, Canadians are also casualty averse. Although the public has supported the troops - and very well - they have not supported the war since 2006, as repeated opinion polls demonstrate. What kept the mission going in the face of public concern was that the Conservatives and Liberals had cooperated in drafting and passing the 2008 resolution that let Canada remain in a combat role until 2011. The support of the two mainstream parties was the essential element in the picture. Without it, without strong Liberal and Conservative support in Parliament, Canada would have staged an ignominious retreat in 2009.

There was no necessity for that 2008 resolution, any more than there is a constitutional requirement for a 2010 resolution to send trainers to Kabul until 2014. But it made political sense then because it put the House of Commons on record in support of the mission. The minority Tory government was thus not acting on its own, but with the endorsement of a majority of elected MPs. If it made sense in 2008 to act in this way, it makes even more sense now, and the government should seek the agreement of the Liberal Opposition on a resolution that lays out the role of the training mission and its time frame.

J.L. Granatstein is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute

Nov 15

One particular reason why moving the Canadian military mission to Kabul will be a Good Thing: without the prospect of fairly frequent deaths and ramp ceremonies to obsess over (which coverage has only undermined support for the mission), and with the much greater costs of being based in Kabul, the Canadian major media will rapidly lose interest in what the Canadian Forces are doing in Afghanistan. The media will then bring almost all their people home.

That indeed can only be a Good Thing. Those media, television above all, which has by far the greatest public impact, have done a generally miserable job reporting and explaining the Kandahar mission and all its aspects (though there have been some exceptions, most notably Matthew Fisher and Brian Hutchinson of Postmedia News.)

Besides which our media’s almost exclusive focus on the CF and Kandahar has left Canadians miserably ill-informed about the war, and the country, as a whole.

In the name of God, go! Without you, the public, politicians, and punditocracy will rapidly lose interest in the mission. Leave the forces just to get on with their work as was the case for by far the greater part of the CF’s some twelve years deployed in various major Balkan missions, first under the UN, then NATO.

Mark Collins is a prolific blogger at Unambiguously Ambidextrous.

Nov 12

Civil-military relations in Western democracies tend to be governed by two basic rules. First, the national state controls the use of military force, its last resort in maintaining domestic order. Secondly, the elected politicians control the military in accord with the nation’s laws, thus making the politicians ultimately accountable for the use of force. In Canada, the military can provide Aid to the Civil Power, putting troops on the street in a crisis. This is an essential role, but the way in which this can be done requires clarification.

The National Defence Act (NDA) permits the attorney-general of a province to ask Canada’s senior military officer, the Chief of the Defence Staff, for military assistance “where a riot or disturbance occurs or is considered likely to occur.” The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) must respond to this request for troops, but the CDS alone can decide on the nature and level of the response. In other words, if CDS General Walt Natynzcyk was asked to send soldiers to deal with a crisis in Prince Edward Island tomorrow, on his own authority he could despatch a master corporal on a snowmobile or a brigade of troops. The province requests and the general must act. The CDS then conducts his force’s military operations under the direction of the provincial authorities. Completely left out under the terms of the NDA is the federal government.

A just published book, Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy, by Harry Swain, the Deputy Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs from 1987 to 1992, makes clear that the Aid to the Civil Power provisions of the NDA are far from hypothetical. The Oka crisis of 1990 pitted Mohawks in Quebec against the provincial police, the ill-led and ill-trained Sureté du Québec, and angry white citizen. After the killing of a policeman the crisis escalated dangerously, and Premier Robert Bourassa’s attorney-general called the CDS to ask for the military’s aid.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, as Swain makes clear in his first-rate account, could have used the federal Emergencies Act to deploy troops to Oka. But that was “impractical,” Swain writes, “as well as politically unthinkable.” Eventually as many as 3700 soldiers from Canada’s army were put into the field at one time - at provincial demand but with the federal government “looking like it had complete political accountability for the effectiveness of a great but long-starved national institution that it did not, in law or in fact, control.”

Fortunately for everyone, the army did its job with great skill. The Warriors at Oka, heavily-armed and dug in with substantial tactical skill, found themselves squeezed out of their positions, psychologically out-gunned, and eventually defeated in the media. As Swain writes, “The army carried out its duties with a degree of thoughtfulness - given the budgets and respect that society is willing to accord its armed forces in peacetime - Canadians had little right to expect. Domestic internal security operations require strategic sensitivity, tactical brilliance and firm discipline where boots meet the ground.” At Oka, Canadians were well served.
But not necessarily by the Aid to the Civil Power provisions of the National Defence Act. An overwhelmed provincial government could ask for and secure a modern military force with tanks, helicopters, artillery - all of which were deployed at Oka - and the actions of the soldiers were to be controlled only by the good sense of their commanders. Who was accountable here? The Bourassa government? The Mulroney government? The Canadian Forces? If Oka had turned into a bloodbath, in all likelihood the army would have borne the brunt of the blame, not the politicians. And pushed and prodded by the politicians as they were, the generals would have had little defence.

The NDA’s provisions need a careful review. Should the CDS still be required to act on his own authority? Should the federal government not have the right to reject a provincial request for the use of the troops for which it is responsible? Does the national interest never override a provincial request for assistance? And where is Parliament in this equation?

Harry Swain, the deputy minister who deserves much of the credit for the eventual resolution of the Oka crisis, carefully notes that “The NDA has serious deficiencies and reforming it is unfinshed business.” So it is, and the time to remedy these deficiencies is now rather than after the next domestic crisis requiring the use of the Canadian Forces.

J.L. Granatstein is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. This piece was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on Nov. 10, 2010 under the title “Sending in the Army”

Nov 08

Suddenly the Conservative government is making noises about keeping some trainers in Afghanistan after the 2011 withdrawal. This is the right thing to do without a doubt, but the instant complaints from Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae that the government is scrambling ring true. What are the trainers to do? How many? Where will they be located? With whom will they work? And for how long will they remain? Give us some answers, the Grits say, or we might not agree. They’re right to demand a clear government statement of policy.

After all, there have been years of flat-out denials that any military would remain, speech after speech by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Affairs Minister, and the Defence Minister that out meant out. Now this sudden reversal. Why? Why now? The upcoming NATO meeting in Lisbon likely has much to do with this reversal, but it’s not as if the government didn’t know that Portugal was on the horizon. Regrettably, unfortunately, this stumblebum policy-making seem to be becoming the norm.

J.L. Granatstein is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute

Nov 04

The pollsters were pretty accurate. I want to see final voter turnout and some of the breakdowns, but it is clear independents that voted Democrat in 2006 as a reaction to the war, and then for Obama as a reaction to Bush/hope for change, are unhappy with the direction of the country so they gave the governing Democrats a spanking.

For us, the border stuff won’t get any easier as the GOP puts big emphasis on ’security’ and enforcement - it’s a basic piece in the Pledge to America. Remember Sharon Angle’s comment about the terrorists coming from the northern border - she just voiced the old canard that Hilary, McCain and others have said before. And there is a Pat Buchanan/Ross Perot strain within the new Republican coalition that is isolationist. This won’t help us.

Climate change legislation is dead for now and this puts back into the box the border levy on ‘dirty oil’. But, what they can’t do through legislation, the Administration will try to do through regulation and the EPA and so Renewable Energy Standards (the detail stuff) will keep us occupied not just on low carbon fuel standard, but on ‘big hydro’ as well. Any special interests on alternative fuels will soon be lobbying for ‘protection’ against ‘dirty oil’ and Canadian energy that is subsidized by public funds (the usual argument).

The Arctic takes a bit of a hit as things were moving along the multilateral track fairly nicely, but now there is little hope the Senate will ratify either the START Treaty with Russia on arms control, or the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. This raised challenges for a deal on Arctic security (if the US won’t play by international rules why should China or Russia?.)

Watch agriculture, always a sleeper. Much will depend on whether farm subsidies take a hit as part of budget chopping. If they do they’ll be squeaking about Canadian subsidies and trade harassment from USTR.

Lumber, by the way, is already under investigation by the USTR over BC exports. Like Freddy Krueger of Elm Street, it’s the nightmare that just keeps coming back. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan will be regretted, but as Obama is now trying to figure out his own exit, I don’t think that this will cause us much grief. Americans are sick and tired of war.

Our first objective must be to get to know the new players both in the White House (Summers, Emmanuel, and Romer are gone and more will follow) and Congress. Remember we have no permanent allies, only interests, that we have to be pushing every day. There is a slight allergy on our part to dealing with evangelicals and conservatives. Get over it and get knocking.

We need to underline to every new legislator the jobs in their district that depend on trade with Canada and point out the jobs created by Canadian investment. We have the information - use it to effect. That means we must be big and visible.

We need a Team Canada effort involving the premiers working their governor counterparts: look at the likely Republican roster for 2012, they’re almost all governors.

A third of Canadian unions are American affiliates. Ambassador Doer gets this and used this effectively in securing the Canada-US Reciprocity Agreement in February, but we have to be more visible as unions will matter even more in the reduced Democratic coalition. Fortunately, we’ve got two very good ambassadors who quarterback the relationship in Doer and Jacobson. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had five American ambassadors in a row who got Canada, and most importantly, can pick up the phone to the White House and get an answer.

What we need is a strategy that is big and bold and built around jobs. Jobs are number one in America today, or did we not read Tuesday’s message?

Obama is on the right track when he says America needs to export its way out of the malaise and recession. We’re their number on market because of the deep integration -  supply chains on everything from soup to cars to nuts. This is not the time to hunker down. If we have learned anything from these midterms it is that American politicking is loud, visible and in your face. Like it or not, we have to play by their rules, because no one has such deep abiding interests.

And because it is an asymmetrical relationship, we have to try harder and take the initiative. The bureaucrats who prefer to sit tight are living in an old paradigm; the American DNA now has a distinct salsa tinge and that is one reason why we should also be calling Mexico City today. We’ve more in common than we think.

It’s  going to be a lot of work and not just process. Minority government is no excuse - there are enough members in the Liberal and BQ parties who get this (including Duceppe and Ignatieff) to support an initiative that would also enjoy the support and backing of the provinces and premiers.

We also need to make it a big deal, because the American tendency is to nickel and dime us on security and give nothing on access. They play hardball all the time. We forget this at our peril.

If we’ve learned anything in recent years, it is that Canada (the most trade dependent country in the G8) can’t afford to sit and wait.


A Clinton or a Carter? The media have simplified Obama’s challenge. Neither really works: different times and different players. A week is a long time in politics, but the US has big structural problems around jobs and I think this is the one figure that you should be watching.

Economists I respect say its unlikely unemployment will drop below 9% in 2011. This will create psychosis of its own and Obama will be held accountable. Very hard to beat this. In the midterms, moreover, a president effectively runs against himself, especially when it becomes a national referendum on ‘his’ performance as it was this time instead of a bunch of local races (as the Dems tried to achieve). Nor could he point to a potentially ‘rouge’ legislative chamber as Clinton did in 1996, especially after the Gingrich-inspired government shutdown in 1995. In 2012 Obama will have a flesh and blood opponent. Stay tuned.

Colin Robertson is Vice President of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and Senior Strategic Advisor at McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP

Nov 02

It is encouraging to see a senior Senator argue for Canada to continue a commitment in Afghanistan, even if it is only a small training cadre. But in fact the parliamentary resolution that extended the CF’s combat role to 2011 did not demand the end of all combat roles - only the conclusion of such a role in Kandahar. The government could accept such a role in Helmand, for example, and satisfy the resolution. It could also maintain the Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams that work with Afghan Army units; it could continue the military role in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams; and it could provide soldiers to protect the PRT, so long as none of these roles took place in Kandahar.

I don’t see much chance that the Harper government will do any of these out-of-Kandahar tasks. I don’t think it likely they will accept Sen. Segal’s suggestion either. but they could. And they should.

J.L. Granatstein is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. 

Nov 02

The approach of the NATO heads of government meetings this month affords Canada an opportunity to recalibrate its Afghanistan commitment and formally announce as much to its NATO allies. Ending the formal combat deployment in Kandahar province, where Canada has held the fort until NATO and the US made larger commitments on the ground, is consistent with the Parliamentary resolution on the deployment. That resolution is silent on future training engagements elsewhere. Failing to leave enough military in Afghanistan to lead training and the “standing up” of Afghan security forces would be a serious mistake. “Joined up - All of Government” deployments, involving training, development, security, infrastructure and governance are very much the future for global stability relative to terrorism, insurgencies and natural disasters. Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Project in Kandahar has received high marks. Pulling out all our military when a modest training cadre has been requested would be wrong.

Canada’s Forces moved early with the Americans to engage the Taliban in Kandahar, then managed security in Kabul during elections and government set up, then took on the most dangerous region in Afghanistan and kept the insurgency at bay. Staying is not about “sunk costs’ of blood and treasure, although they have been substantial. It is about a NATO-wide commitment to reach a stable outcome, supportive of European and North American security. That outcome is closer, but not yet there. And, as members of a military alliance, (NATO) we should not end our military engagement fully until the Alliance does as a whole.

Senator Hugh Segal, a Senior Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, chairs the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism, and is a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.