The C-17 deployment also highlights the difficulties that may arise if HoC approval of military combat missions is ever put into statute.
— Philippe Lagassé (@pmlagasse) January 14, 2013
Lots of issues come up. First, and most importantly, this deployment does not mean that I lose my bet with Phil. I wagered awhile back that Canada would NOT deploy a battlegroup into combat before the end of 2014. One transport plane is not a battlegroup. Plus it is not going into combat.
Second, the wager's specifics tie into Harper's statement--the plane is for non-combat. Harper makes this clear in his statement:
"Today our Government received a specific request from the French Government for heavy-lift aircraft to assist in the transport of equipment into the Malian capital of Bamako, a location that is not part of any active combat zone."
"The Government of Canada will support our allies in this request and will be providing one RCAF C-17 transport aircraft in a non-combat role to support operations for a period of one week. The RCAF aircraft will not operate in any combat zone.
"At no time will Canadian Armed Forces members be participating in direct action against insurgent forces in Mali."
I am pretty sure the instructions the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command (used to be CEFCOM, now CJOC) will limit what the C-17 can do. Even if it could do combat stuff, which it cannot.
Of course, this could be confusing as Harper had sworn off the Canadians intevening in Mali. But that was before the French jumped on in. So, this raises a few questions, and I will answer them here with a modicum of arrogance (since I have not done any footwork to figure this all out):
- Is this the first step to a larger escalation of Canadian intervention in Mali? Almost certainly not, as that would be costly and budget cutting is job one these days. Plus Harper has a sore taste in his mouth from the Afghanistan mission--heaps of challenges, relatively little control, and endless questions.
- If folks in Parliament are unhappy, what does this say about trying to insist on the PM subjecting combat deployments to Parliamentary votes? Not much unless the PM does not have a majority in Parliament. No PM is going to agree to a deployment that is so objectionable to his/her party that he/she cannot get a vote through. Only in case of a minority government is this problematic. And it would be problematic with or without any formalization of a Parliamentary vote since the opposition parties could cause a minority government to collapse whether nor not they have a formal excuse to do so.
- Does the noise suggest that "Smart Defence"* is in trouble, as Phil tweeted? No and yes. No, in that this case shows that the PM can support an ally by providing a resource (long distance transport) that the ally lacks without any real problems. Yes, in the sense that some folks are squeamish about the government doing the absolute minimum. Sending one C-17 or even a dozen (as if Canada had a dozen) is far from getting Canada embroiled in combat. If people get upset by this, then one can only imagine a Smart Defence kind of assist that has some real risk.
For more significant reasons to be skeptical about Smart Defence, see this.