Last week, Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie, Chief of the Land Staff and Commander Land Forces for the Canadian armed forces, told the Canadian Senate' security and defence committee that the country’s military is in trouble, and may need a year-long “operational pause” after the country pulls out of Afghanistan in 2011 to reset the force.
“We are running out of time to keep your army functioning the way it should because our vehicle breakage rates are far higher than I've ever seen,” he testified, adding that over 80 tanks are still sitting in storage a full two years after their purchase, because no contractor has been hired to perform upgrades.An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen rightly calls this unacceptable.
The Canadian government can't send soldiers to places like Afghanistan without holding up its part of the bargain. And this isn't just about fighting foreign wars. Canada's most pressing security interest is right here at home, as other countries try to erode our sovereignty in the North. The Russian surveillance plane that came up over the Arctic and tried to make mischief on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa won't be the last.
The 2010 Vancouver Olympics -- the largest peacetime security efforts in this country's history -- will further strain the military. Canadians may see themselves as a nation only of peacekeepers, but in today's world we neglect national defence at our peril.
This reminds me of something Fareed Zakaria recently wrote which cuts to the heart of the debate over Canada pulling out of Afghanistan in 2011, despite a strong American desire to see them stay. More often than we’d probably like to admit it, the conduct of American foreign policy, policy makers, and large segments of the mainstream media, fall into the habit of thinking that “other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own.” The Canadian involvement in Afghanistan is a perfect example. With a much smaller military—and a vastly smaller budget—than the one the United States is able to maintain, the Canadian deployment of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan has taken a big toll on its military, with many soldiers on their third of fourth tours, and equipment wearing out without the funds to replace parts and gear fast enough. As the Citizen pointed out, Canada has other pressing issues to contend with, including Russia and other countries creeping into the arctic in the search for natural resources.
This isn’t to say that a relatively stable—or at least not chaotic—Afghanistan isn’t in Canada’s national interest. It clearly is, and Canadian officials have made noises that the country will continue to play some role in Afghanistan after 2011. Still, the country must face challenges and realities that the United States doesn’t, which effects the partnership between the two countries.