Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exchange Relationships and the Realities of Alliances

It was reported today that there are Canadians serving in Kandahar!  Gasp!  Yes, Prime Minister Harper had promised to get out of Kandahar and never to come back.  Yet, there are Canadian Forces in Kandahar apparently.  How could this be?  Canada has exchange relationships with its allies, especially the US, UK and Australia.  So, Canada sends its officers to work in the militaries of its friends and vice versa.  The idea is to learn how the allies operate and to develop relationships that might be handy on the battlefield some day.  I bumped into a British officer in June of 2011 at the Canadian fighter base in Quebec.  The pilot had served in the Canadian squadron over Libya as he just happened to be in the unit that was first deployed to that mission.

Canada did not always respect such arrangements.  It apparently pulled its sailors out of British ships that were sailing towards the Falklands Islands way back in 1982.  Because these officers that were being exchanged were actually doing real work in legitimate billets, their sudden absence was a big problem for the Brits.  So, in 2003, when the Canadians had officers in American units headed towards Iraq, Prime Minister Jean Chretien did not yank them out. Most notably, the Deputy Commander of III Corps, based at Fort Hood, was none other than Lt. General Walt Natyncyzk, who later became the Vice Chief of Defence Staff and then the Chief of Defence Staff--the commander of the Canadian Forces.

The Iraq deployment was particularly controversial given the stance Canada had taken on the war.  In the current case, this was a war Canada agreed to fight and has agreed to continue to stick around.  So, when the opposition feigns shock:
NDP defence critic Jack Harris said it shouldn't be permitted and the fact the soldiers and air crew are on a secondment doesn't make any difference.
"I believe it's contrary to the Parliamentary motion," Harris said. "It is a decision of this country that they're not going to participate, and their participation in the combat mission in Afghanistan is ended. That means no Canadian troops."
All I can say is: give me a break. If the NDP wants to be seen as a mainstream party with a decent amount of expertise on defence policy, then they need to pick their scraps better.  This is not a deliberate effort by the Canadian government to evade the will of Parliament, but a happenstance that occurs from time to time if one wants to be engaged in multilateral defence efforts.  Should the government have been more transparent about this?  Of course, but this government does not do transparency easily or by habit.  Still, the NDP should not complain about this.  There are much bigger fish to fry in the realm of Canadian defence policy, and experts on contemporary militaries take these kinds of exchange relations/complexities as quite normal.  So, my recommendation is: be more expert by being more chill about these kinds of things, and then people will take you more seriously on more important issues and more serious violations of parliament's intent.


Anonymous said...

On the more general topic of combatting Al Qaida, it would be interesting to have your comment on the terrible attack on the 14-year old activist girl in Pakistan, and whether you think forces outside the country can do anything about it.

Steve Saideman said...

It is, of course, awful. But our list of things we cannot change in Pakistan is so very long. Awful stuff similar to this happens in Afghanistan, and we have had heaps of influence (sort of) there for a decade. So, no, I don't think there is much that can be done.