Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Second Canada-Afghanistan Rant of the Day

Paul Robinson, a prof at U of Ottawa, has claimed that Afghanistan has upset Canadian values by privileging the military.  There are some decent points in the piece, but I think it is mostly vastly overstated.

Again, as a foreigner who has only lived here for about nine years, I may not be that familiar with Canadian values, but I think that multilateralism, responsibility to protect, and wanting to make a difference in the world are Canadian values.  How can one be responsible if one avoids doing the hard work, which often requires violence to be deployed?

Is Canada more militaristic?  Since Canada has left Afghanistan due to the pressures of party politics and political competition and public opinion, I would say nay.  Yes, the Canadian Forces get more respect, but is that over-compensation for the "decade of darkness" after Somalia or about the right level of respect for one of the truly national institutions?  After all, we have had a series of Quebec-based units fighting and dying for the Canadian effort in Afghanistan, with little controversy despite expectations (including mind to a degree).  What other national institutions get respect in Alberta and Quebec?  The Supreme Court?  Uh, no.  The RCMP, I guess.  Who else?  Exactly.  So, having the CF be viewed positively across the country is almost certainly a net good for Canada.

Robinson claims that the "support the troops" mantra has undermined civilian control of the military.  Yet the civilians did manage to stop the Afghan combat mission.  The opposition has opposed the F-35 and have confronted the government and military on detainees (which I continue to believe is a distraction from more central questions, but that is just me).  There is no real parliamentary oversight over the Canadian military today because this is the way British-style systems work.  The question really is whether the Prime Minister, cabinet, and the civilian side of DND have control over the military?  Civil-military relations are dynamic with power among the actors changing in response to events and personalities.  Harper chose Natynczyk to replace the more outspoken Hillier as Chief of the Defence Staff, when he could have either renewed Hillier or appointed someone else like him.  He did not--exerting civilian control.

Do not blame the military for the demise of DFAIT.  Blame Harper and his series of less than stellar Foreign Ministers. 

Regarding: "The distorting pull of DND is also warping spending priorities elsewhere ...Foreign aid"--that was temporary.  Afghanistan aid dollars are being cut.  CIDA will again return to its long term focus that tries to be as un-tied to Canadian national interests as possible.  Not sure that is a good thing, but CIDA bureaucratic culture will overcome "Canadian mil superiority."

Finally, Robinson and I have a big disagreement.  He likes the myth of the Canadian peacekeeper.  I believe that we need to understand the reality of post-Rwanda peacekeeping: that militaries sent to had to places will have to kill and risk being killed as the rebels/opponents will not meekly obey those in Blue Helmets.  Indeed, being prepared to fight in such situations makes the fight less likely.

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