Monday, April 8, 2024

Defence Policy Review Review!

Like others in the Canadian defence community,  I got my copy of the Defence Policy Update early so that I could sound semi-informed when the media asked me about it.  I, of course, have taken the opportunity to blog about it since I am not sure what the media types will ask if they manage to reach me in Berlin.

First, wow, that was a lot about threats.  Lots of discussion in Ottawa about how Canada does not have a foreign policy, how can you have a defence policy?  The answer here is to put a lot of text in to essentially draw out what Canada's foreign policy and thus defence policies are.  Or one could read it as filler so folks don't notice that the document may be a bit thin and vague.  The annexes are more specific, and that is helpful, but lots of generalities in the first 40 pages or so. 

I will jump back on this hill and say that while I understand that Canadian authorities have to talk a lot about the threats from the north (the doc is entitled Our North Strong and Free) as that is what gets Canadians to care, the threats really aren't up there.  Russia is a threat but not because it is going to snatch some islands or do some mining on our side.  China is a threat, but not because it will bug us from on high.  Their threats are through their aggression in their regions and through political interference and cyber attacks.  None of that requires fear mongering about the arctic, but hey, the smartest people in Canada on defence have pushed back on me about this (yes, you, Phil).  I did find focusing on climate change (not just an Arctic thing), autocracies, and disruptive tech makes sense.

That was my first gut response.  My second: $8b over 5 years and $73b over 20 is really not that much money.   Sure, it sounds like a lot, and might get Canada closer to 1.76% of GDP (if the economy slows down, so should we root for that?).  But there is so much to spend money on to get the military up to snuff and then some.    I am bad at accounting, but I think the basics are clear: everything is getting more expensive, defense inflation is worse than the regular kind, delays cost money, buying Canadian-made stuff is more expensive than buying off the shelf elsewhere, and so on.  This stuff is very, very costly. 

The key is that we are already far behind--the personnel crisis requires spending more money on salaries (demographic change and good job markets means we have to pay folks more as there are options elsewhere), the money for infrastructure and housing in this document probably help catch up to decent levels but to attracting talent I am not so sure, we don't have ammunition, etc.  So, one thing is to get to where we need to be, another thing to get to where we want to be in the future.  I just don't think this is enough money.

Third gut response: eight missions for the military with the domestic emergency stuff at the end of the list.  Whenever you list a bunch of priorities, those listed last are ... lesser priorities.  Which has harmed Canadians more: Russia in Ukraine or floods/fires/pandemics?  Again, I get that the point of a military is to do war stuff, but since we will not get anybody else to do the major domestic emergency stuff (don't count on the provinces to get their act together--they see the advantages of sucking the feds for as much as they can), the CAF will not be last responders.  Sorry, but I am a realist when it comes to domestic politics.

Ok, what are some of the big news items (for me, anyway):

  • National Security Strategies and Defence Policy Updates every four years!!! Hell yeah.  We definitely need this so that we can adapt, evaluate how we are doing, and make policy changes.
  • Probationary period for recruits.  How to get recruits in faster?  By reducing initial standards and then being able to kick out people.  This has been much discussed and is more than about time.  I know more than a few people who wanted to join but were turned off by how long it took (years!) to get through the initial stages.
  • A big omission--we need to reform personnel strategies so that folks don't have to move so often.  Today's military involves people who have spouses/partners who happen to have their own careers/lives and moving around is a huge burden.  The doc includes money and text regarding housing, which is good, but reducing the frequency of movement would make a big dent in that.
  • A mentioning of thinking about new submarines.  Nothing specific, because any specifics would be like a torpedo, blowing a hole in the hull of the defence review document, since subs are super expensive.

There is more in it than that--build more capacity to make artillery ammo, maybe get HIMARS or something like that for the army, more drones and counterdrones, more specifics about what is being spent on NORAD, etc.  I would suggest folks read the annexes first as they are far more specific.  

Lastly, after interviewing a retired German admiral after reading the doc but before the DND briefing, his consistent point on taking responsibility for hard decisions, my big question that I can't ask in this briefing is: what was the hardest thing to reject?  What did folks want that you ultimately decided not to do?

Like the Defence Review of 2017, the document suggests everybody wins, and that can't possibly true.  If one tries to do everything, something will not work out and some will lose...  I just don't see the hard choices that need to be made.


Brett Boudreau said...

Take 'military housing investments' as one example of the $ backloading, and some disingenuous narrative framing: FY24/25 -$0; 25/26 -$0; 26-27 -$1M; 27-28 - $2M; 28-29 - $4M. So, $7M in five years!!! then allegedly, $238M from 2029/30 to 2044.

RFlo said...

If the Conservatives were smart, they would come out and announce a large $100+ billion defence infrastructure and equipment spending stimulus plan for 2025 to goose the defence budget up to 2% right away, which would front load the equipment and base updating. Build base housing, buy the equipment required to bring the armed forces up to at least 2020’s, ships, tanks,MLRS, SPG, MRAD, SHORAD, sealift, drones, and aircraft for the RCAF. Create and fund provincial militias like the us national guard, to let the regular army and reserves concentrate on their core missions. Let the provincial militias deal with domestic events. Buy the aircraft to allow former RCAF pilots stay in the reserves and still fly combat aircraft part time like the us air national guard does. Buy five or six U-212CD AIP subs to piggyback off the savings of a bulk buy with NATO countries.

Steve Saideman said...

The problem is that the Conservatives care far more about deficits than the Liberals do, so they are more likely to cut defence spending--that's where the money is at.

Asking the provinces to do anything leads to sadness.