I am feeling a bit of deja vu. Over the past few years, the conventional wisdom in Canada has placed the responsibility for the decision to deploy to Kandahar upon the Canadian Forces who somehow fooled the civilians. Now, folks are blaming the CF for the F-35 purchase. It is almost as if there is no civilian control over the Canadian military.
Now, I have argued that there is no parliamentary oversight over the CF since the parliamentarians do not have security clearances. But civilian control? Yes. Paul Martin, the Prime Minister decided to send the troops to Kandahar because it fit within his anti-Chretien vision of using the military as a way to increase Canadian influence. Instead of sending Canadian troops to 40 different spots where none of the deployments have much of an impact, Martin agreed with General Hillier, indeed picked him, that the Canadians should deploy in a way that gave them influence not just over the troops themselves but over the larger effort. Oh, by the way, the Foreign Affairs types were also big fans of going to Kandahar (CIDA not so much), but have successfully allowed the CF to take the hits for the decision.
The F-35 decision has heaps of problems, but Canada is not alone in this, just like Canada was not alone in Afghanistan. In each case, Canada acted quite similarly to its allies: all NATO countries showed up in Afghanistan to varying degrees. Many NATO members and NATO partners chose the F-35. So before we delve too deeply into the pernicious influence of a military, we might want to ponder why a bunch of countries acted similarly.
The idea was a good one: more countries buying the same plane would make each plane less expensive via economies of scale and foster interoperability. Kosovo revealed the challenges of fighting a coalition air campaign with mixed set of capabilities. Libya reminds that coalition air campaigns can still happen. The problem is that the F-35 is the typical US military project: undertested, compromised (limited range), and, most importantly, increasingly expensive.
I saw a tweet that said the Pentagon was going to release the final cost estimate, and my immediate reaction was thinking of George Lucas saying he was done tinkering with the Star Wars movies. My second thought was to notice estimate in the tweet. Costs are going up, countries' fiscal pictures are not improving, so the F-35 is a problem. Not just for the Conservatives or Canada but for all of the potential purchasers.
So, did the CF compel the civvies into buying this plane? No, although they probably pushed only this plane as they seek interoperability. BUT the civilians make the decisions in Canada, and so they need to suck it up and take responsibility. Sure, militaries ask for the best, most expensive hunk of equipment because nothing is too good for the pilots, sailors and soldiers. But it is up to the civilians in charge to face the tradeoffs.
And the key tradeoff of the day is: what is necessary for alliance warfare vs what countries can afford. The Conservatives could have been clearer earlier, but that is not their style.