A couple of weeks ago I appeared on Rick Howe's CJCH morning talk show along with Alex Morrison,... Armed Forces our insurance.
A couple of weeks ago I appeared on Rick Howe's CJCH morning talk show along with Alex Morrison, another retired army officer. As expected, the subject was the military, ranging through Afghanistan, peacekeeping, recruiting, equipment, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and several other related topics.
Most of the calls were thought-provoking and stimulated good discussions. One caller, however, took us more than slightly aback when he referred to Canada's Armed Forces as a "dirty little secret," which should be hidden away out of the public eye.
Obviously, our hackles were raised and we promptly went on the offensive. But it occurred to me that this person was probably not alone in his opinion - although I'm certain he's in the minority.
The Armed Forces are, in essence, the nation's insurance policy. If a person believes in the need for insurance - life, home or car - then that individual understands risk/reward ratios.
There's a certain price to be paid for annual insurance premiums, but the benefits only occur on death, destruction or damage. No one really wants to claim these benefits, because that means something unexpected - and possible tragic - has occurred.
But when bad things do happen, insurance is there to help out. So are the Armed Forces, unless the premiums - in the form of the annual defence budget - haven't been paid.
Some people ask why Canada can't be neutral, like Switzerland or Sweden. They don't realize that neutrality isn't free - it comes at a cost. Simply declaring yourself neutral has essentially the same effect as declaring your house burglar free.
Both Switzerland and Sweden maintain strong, modern armed forces and have retained conscription. Yet it appears the realities of the modern world have recently convinced Sweden that neutrality isn't all it's cracked up to be. The government recently approved the deployment of its soldiers outside of the country for military operations.
Next year, Sweden will be the lead nation for a Nordic Battle Group composed of soldiers from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Estonia. The battle group will form part of the European Union's rapid reaction forces.
Canada has neither the population nor the finances to support large Armed Forces in peacetime. But we need to have a modest, yet effective, military capability as insurance against the uncertain challenges of the 21st century.
During wartime - hot or cold - we've never fought alone and always been part of some alliance. Our best defence remains through collective security arrangements with like-minded countries, which is why we're part of NATO and NORAD.
The world is neither stable nor secure. Since there's a risk that any military conflict may spread, it is in Canada's best interests to play a part in resolving conflicts around the world. That's why we're in the UN and have taken part in so many peacekeeping/peacemaking missions under the auspices of the UN or other organizations.
It's hard to deny the need for Armed Forces internally. They are the government's ultimate response in case of civil disobedience. Additionally, no other organization can provide the type of assistance the Armed Forces do when forest fires, floods, ice storms or any other natural or man-made disasters overwhelm first responders.
Some people regard government expenditures on the Armed Forces as wasted money that could be better spent elsewhere - health, education, welfare, infrastructure, culture, sports, foreign aid - whatever the individual's concerns are. But government spending is not a zero sum game.
There will never be enough money to finance these areas as thoroughly as many would like to see them funded. The most we can hope for is a rational proportionality that sees the government provide sufficient money to create the best possible situation it can by balancing competing requirements.
"It is customary in the democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free."
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