The Globe and Mail is running a series of stories on the future of the Canadian military, and, if public opinion matters, the future is bleak. Why?
First, funding for the military is going to take a backseat to all of the other priorities. I cannot argue with Canadians that say that health care, jobs, and such should be higher priorities, but in a time of budget squeezing, the implications are quite clear--significant cuts are in the Canadian Forces' future. I just hope they end up being more rational than the cuts being made by the UK.
Second, there is a big mismatch between what Canadians want and what they will get. The poll shows that the highest priority for the Canadian Forces would be UN peacekeeping. My sole but pithy quote in the piece essentially suggests that any future peacekeeping will involve significant combat--causing and taking casualties. So, the next time the CF is deployed, the Canadians will be surprised that they will be doing something like what they were doing in Afghanistan. Which leads to the third reason why the future of the CF is bleak
This strong opposition to anything like Afghanistan is understandable, as it has been a costly mission in terms of lives lost and damaged as well as Canadian dollars with no certain success. Yet if the military is an instrument of foreign policy (which it is), then the CF effort in Afghanistan has been a success by impressing allies, demonstrating commitment to multilateral organizations (NATO and the UN), and practicing the need to adapt in difficult conditions. Canadian Forces have done very well in Afghanistan, particularly in comparison to both caveated allies (Germany, Italy) and reckless friends (US). This has bought some influence, although Canada's departure reduces the leverage gained from this effort.
Again, the problem is that future missions, peace-keeping or not, are more likely to look something like Afghanistan (such as Darfur) than like Cyrpus. If Canada puts its limited $$ into planes and ships to defend the Arctic, it is likely to mean more under-equipped army guys put into harm's way once CA politicians forget that foreign deployments are vote drains.