The Most Important Corpses

NATO symbol moving

By Steve Saideman

I was on twitter talking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping–it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics–it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

The basing of NATO troops in the East (the Eastern Front is what people are calling it) is all about two things: reassuring the allies and deterring Russia.  And, no, the forces to be deployed would not stop a Russian invasion.  Just like the old days, the point of the troops would be to serve as a tripwire–that any invasion of West Germany in the Cold War would almost automatically produce an American/West European response because any such invasion would kill Americans and Brits and Canadians and on and on.

Four battalions/one brigade is not a lot of troops and divided among four countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) means that there is actually not a very complicated force generation problem.  The current commitments thus far are one American battalion, one German, one British (I think), and one TBA.  Today’s conversation was about Norway and Denmark possibly jointly providing the fourth, with, of course, other NATO countries sending smaller numbers to complement the bigger American, German, and British units.

For me, going back to whose dead bodies are most important, I would like to see US, UK, Germany and France make the bigger commitments.  Why?  Three of those countries have nuclear weapons and all four are the major decision-makers at NATO.  France and Germany are often viewed as the most reluctant to assent to various decisions (France, which is always sensitive to the costs it pays; Germany, because it does not want to provoke Russia and has a bit of a history problem).  One could imagine a scenario where some NATO soldiers have been harmed, and then a decision has to be made at the North Atlantic Council (NATO’s decision-making body).  Since there is no automaticity to Article V, we would want those countries who have the greatest heft and most likely tendency to block action to have a direct stake in the form of soldiers who are hit in the first wave.

Tying French and German hands as well as tying British and American hands would be important both to assure the Baltics AND to send a clear signal to Russia that an attack would lead to World War III via an uncertain but potentially uncontrollable process that starts with a Russian attack on territory held by Americans, Germans, Brits, French and others.  Italians?  Not so important?  Canadians?  Only important to those who study/pundit Canadian defence (guilty!).

It is brutal but necessary to think in these terms–what would it take to deter Russia?  Which countries matter to Russia’s decision-making?  How do we make the commitment to escalate credible?  Politicians are more likely to react if their soldiers have been harmed than if the soldiers of their allies have been harmed.  So, tripwire that has the usual major force contribution countries present and accounted for.


Canada should make climate change part of Security Council bid

By Chris Penny

Canada’s United Nations Security Council bid presents an extraordinary opportunity to highlight the global security threat posed by climate change, not only advancing this issue within the UN’s most powerful body but also distinguishing Canada from rival candidates.

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau recently announced that Canada is seeking a two-year Council term beginning in 2021, kicking off a multi-year election campaign. To win, Canada cannot simply claim it deserves a seat. Instead, it must show why. This necessitates continued attention to hard security concerns and, likely, a larger Canadian peacekeeping presence. However, campaigning for further council engagement with climate change could provide an important additional platform.

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Dron’t Panic! What to know about Canada’s use of drones

By Stephanie Carvin

Last week there was a lot of attention in the media that Canada is considering purchasing drones that would have the capability to be armed.

This should not be a surprise – Canada has used drones in Afghanistan for surveillance and has considered procuring them under the Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) program for over a decade. Further, there are clear financial reasons. Where a Reaper drone costs approximately US$17 million, the cheapest model of the F-35 starts at about US$98 million. (Although some armed drones, such as the Global Hawk can cost up to US$222 million each.)

Armed drones immediately conjure up worrisome ideas about the CIA program that has operated overseas. This is seemingly at odds with the new global vision that the Trudeau government has been touting.  But Canada purchasing drones would not make it a global exception. A recent global survey of the technology reveals that over 90 countries have military drones of some kind. Of these countries, 27 have “advanced drones” that can spend at least 20 hours in the air, fly 16,000 feet and weigh at least 1,320 pounds. Ten countries had armed drones as of 2015, but it is expected that many more are acquiring them going forward. Last year Nigeria and Pakistan used drones against armed insurgents in their borders.

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Dilma’s soft auto-coup

By Jean Daudlin

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is handing over effective control of the government to her mentor and former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. While on Thursday she formally named him head of the government’s non-military affairs (chefe da Casa Civil) — though a judge attempted to prevent the appointment, even temporarily —  it is clear to all that he is now in charge and has become de facto president of the country. Rousseff, who was re-elected barely 18 months ago, thus becomes a figurehead devoid of real power. Institutionally, this development makes short shrift of the Brazilian Constitution, putting supreme executive power in the hands of a man who holds no elected office whatsoever.

Four developments have produced this astonishing turn of events.

The first is the utter dereliction of Rousseff’s popularity and power. Since her election, and in fact since the large demonstrations of June 2013, she has been unable to effectively govern the country, her utter political weakness in the face of a divided and ever-restive Congress paralyzing the government.

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Five reasons Canada faces an uphill battle in its anti-ISIS efforts

By Stephanie Carvin

Whether you agree or disagree with its reasoning, the Liberal government has taken Canada’s Iraq/Syria strategy in a new direction. Despite the criticism (much of which I share), the new policies are far from a disaster. Canada is making a clear commitment to provide aid in one of the most complex emergencies the world has seen. And we are keeping key military capabilities in theatre to assist our allies, such as refuelling and reconnaissance planes. Significantly, Canada will be putting more troops in theatre, including our Special Operations Forces, who have an international reputation for their effectiveness.

But announcing a policy is one thing; implementing it and achieving the goals the Liberals have set out is another. Indeed, there remain several challenges that the government faces in implementing its new policies that could threaten the success of its new strategy.

1. Incongruent interests between Canada and the Kurdish Peshmerga will likely trump training efforts.

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Breaking down Canada’s military training mission in Iraq

By Steve Saideman

The past week has been pretty interesting in Canadian defence and foreign policy as the Prime Minister announced Monday that Canada would focus on training in Iraq while taking out some (not all)* of the planes dedicated to the bombing effort.

There have been many questions raised about the training effort and many opinions offered. So, I’d like to offer a few answers. To be clear, I am not an expert on the specific skills to be transmitted or the nature of the training exercises, except in terms of the broadest categories.

* I had been advocating that the government keep at least the recon (Aurora) and refuelling (Polaris) planes as they are, in the military jargon, low-density/high demand enablers.  In other words, there are few of them and they have much valued added. Glad to see the government keep them there, even if it adds a soupçon of incoherence since they are integral to the bombing effort.

Q: Does this mean this is a combat mission?

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Three ways Canada can influence the Asia-Pacific region

By Steve Saideman

It is easy to understand why Canadian political leaders tend to focus on Europe rather than Asia/Pacific. Because of the various institutions in Europe, especially the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we know how Canada fits in. We know what Canada’s role is in Europe, but we have a hard time imagining how Canada can make a difference in the vast waters of the Pacific and among the huge populations of Asia. The answer, to preview, is for Canada to do what it does best.

I recently spent a week in Japan, on a trip organized and paid for by that country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so you can take what I say with a grain of salt. However, what I suggest below can advance Canadian interests, be true to Canadian values and not blow out the budget.

There are two clear realities: That Canada cannot make much of a difference in any military kind of way; and North Korea is someone else’s problem. The Canadian Navy is simply too small and currently too stressed to do much. Same goes for the Air Force. North Korea is the most immediate threat with its nuclear-weapons development, missile tests and awful regime, but Canada will have to rely on others to address North Korea. Canada simply lacks the tools to influence North Korea or provide security for the neighbourhood. So, we need to focus on what Canada can do as the region faces the growing pains of China.

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