Thursday, May 1, 2014

Less With Less

Today, I had the chance to testify before the Standing Committee on National Defence.  This was my first time ever (the title of this post steals inadvertantly from Dave Perry's work on this).  I first presented a short statement, which I have posted at CIC.  After Alexander Moens of Simon Fraser U gave his statement, we got peppered with questions asked by the Canadian parliamentarians.  We proved to be quite a contrast since my Less with Less message was that Canada was facing difficult tradeoffs and needs to accept doing less in the world with less capability since it was spending about the same despite inflation.  Moens, a self-identified Christian Realist, invoked original sin (surprised me just a bit), said the world was more threatening than I depicted and that Canada should increase its defense spending.  I am a small r realist as I know that more money is not happening, so we might as well figure out what we can do with what we got. 

The formal agenda was supposed to be North American defence, which I have not really researched, but it ranged just a bit (and was shorter as we started late due to parliamentary vote on something).

What did they ask and what did I answer?
Q: How important is interoperability for the next plane (F-35 or whatever)?
Me: Very, Canada always operates with NATO partners--Kosovo, Libya.

Q:  How should Canada handle northwest passage dispute with US?
Me: Trade it.  That is, Canada buys into the international rules about straits everywhere else, and is pretty close to alone in the world in thinking that the NWP is internal waterways.  So, face reality, get more from the US in the disputed waters off of Alaska.

Q: What is the geographic imperative regarding the next plane?
Me: It may not be so much the ranger of the aircraft but its sensors and weapons.

Q: How severe is the threat to the Arctic?
Me: Not much.  One thing is that it is not only incredibly costly for us to build heaps of stuff up there, but it is very costly for the Russians.  So, let them!  (I think it was the only laugh I got).  Missed the opportunity to quote Napoleon: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

Q: A Quebec parliamentarian was upset that a Quebec shipbuilding company was not participating in the shipbuilding program.
Me: Better if built abroad anyway, as it should be about best ship, not most Canadian jobs.  I think this is where I said that Canada should be wary about following American model of making procurement decisions based on jobs--citing a system being built in more than 400 districts and 50 states.  Got some nodding heads--hey, let's not be American....  (I should couch more of my stuff this way--how to avoid being American--it plays well).

Q: How are US-Canada defence relations
A: Quite distinct from Keystone XL and such.  Good experiences between US/Canada in Afghanistan/Libya.

Q: Extending NORAD?
A: Yes, easier to build on existing institutions than create new ones.  So, it makes sense to fold in maritime stuff into NORAD.

Q: Environmental security?
A:  Mostly not a military thing, other than improving military's impact on the planet, but frigates useful for over-fishing, eh?

Q: Defense of Arctic?
A: Remember, focusing on increased rate of Russian spending ignores baseline, that US can afford to cut a Germany-sized hunk of military spending (that the US really did reduce defense spending by approximately the amount Germany spends!) and still have robust force.

Q: Homework assignment: write a paper explaining the pro's and con's of using defence procurement as jobs program.
A: Really?  Ok.

Q:  If you say less with less, what would you do less of?
A: Subs.  Subs are great, but one or two working subs is not going to cut it  and is only a bridge to the time where Canada has to face decision of making serious investment (6-10 real subs) or cutting entirely.

Overall, it was an interesting experience.  Given that my next project, if I can get funding, is on legislatures doing oversight over the military, kind of useful to testify.

Of course, the only music that can go here is:

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