Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Canada Alone?

David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein have written a report on Canada and Afghanistan that is getting much play in the media (and helped to inspire indirectly the previous post about casualty figures), with Bercuson and Granatstein writing op-eds to promote the report.  There is much that one can chew over, but let just take issue with this one recommendation:

"Canadian decision makers should think long and hard before entering into any coalition to which national caveats have been attached."
Hmmm, what can we say about that?  First, and most obviously, Canada units used to be known but CANTBATs instead of CANBATs (Canadian battalions) precisely because they had very severe restrictions on what they could and could not do in Afghanistan, Bosnia and elsewhere.*
* Deep in the report, the authors acknowledge this reality, but then do not let this inconvenience them when making recommendations.
And, guess what?  Canada has them again.  The training mission in Afghanistan is quite constrained "behind the wire."  So, insisting that others have caveats that pose problems for the Canadians (which happened to be the case for a while) ignores the reality that Canada too has controlled its agents in the field pretty directly via blunt instruments like caveats.

Second, if Canada refrains from participating on coalitions where caveats are in play, then when will Canada deploy abroad?  Um, never.  Really, never.  Coalitions of the willing (such as Iraq) had countries that were restricted by caveats.  Even working with the US bilaterally is problematic if we follow this logic, since the US has a big caveat on nearly all of its deployments--that Americans must command.  NATO will always, always, always have countries imposing caveats on their missions since a consensus-based organization cannot insist on complete compliance, nor can any international organization composed of sovereign states. 

So, Canada will only be able to act unilaterally under these rules.  But Canada lacks the capacity to operate by itself except perhaps for relief missions to Haiti. So, is this really a call for Canadian isolationism?  I don't think so, but the implications of a caveat restricting Canadians from working with countries with caveats are pretty clear.


Anonymous said...

The title's not in reference to a certain internet meme is it...?

Steve Saideman said...

What meme? I was thinking of Canada as a unilateral military actor. or the myth of Canada being alone in Kandahar.