Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My! (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 1)

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To Colonel Kelvin Truss, Editor in Chief, Royal Canadian Air Force Journal

Sir:

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you for opening a discussion on Canadian defence issues in the Summer 2014 edition of the Royal Canadian Air Force Journal (RCAFJ). The Point/Counterpoint section is a much needed forum in which we can freely debate the issues and provide our opinions/insights on critical matters.

The McKillips’ Point article, “F35s and the Canadian ‘Military-Technical Condition,’”[1] is an excellent vehicle to lead off with. Your counterpoint[2] to their article raised three interesting perspectives, but to my mind, if such arguments are not properly framed, further discussions are moot, as they will not progress meaningfully beyond a paper exercise. In the spirit intended, I would like to add some points on the monetary issues; principally, defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

The McKillips make clear that the essential point of the military is that it “must be able to overmatch any threat to the nation’s existence.”[3] But the fundamental question has always been, “at what cost?” Truly, there is no definable boundary to budgetary needs that adequately addresses the premise. Budgets are constrained by a nation’s ability to pay and, ostensibly in the end, what the taxpayers are also willing to bear.

Classifying and quantifying security obligations around a construct of domestic and/or collective security obligations as the McKillips do[4] has been used as a framework to sell the point to Canadians. However, whatever argument is used is merely the smoke and mirrors in selling a palatable programme that Canadians are willing to bear which supports their interests and that best minimizes risks commensurate to the threats at hand. But, then again, at what level? How much is enough? The McKillips posed these questions and then summed up with “How long is a piece of string?”[5]

This is the truly relevant point. We cannot do everything, which leads to the question of what budgetary framework is required in order to balance needs and that minimizes the risk of failure and defeat and that maximizes success. The construct of building a Canadian defence programme on the basis of collective defence may have been debunked, and orienting the defence mission toward domestic requirements may be a preferred option; however, regardless of the construct of the argument, both require some measure of investment and assessment of their relevance, both to Canadians and their allies. You simply cannot show up with a knife to a gunfight and be considered relevant.

To state that Canadian military contributions may always be welcome, regardless of the specific nature of the force, is indeed laudable. However, questions on the force employed, its relevance, and the decisions surrounding the deployment of the force are often criticized in the court of public opinion. Relevance and utility are important to not only Canadians but also our allies, otherwise we are simply a burden. Canada’s agreements must include a mechanism that ascertains our true relevance and the worth of the capabilities provided to either collective defence or domestic security. These are the divergent poles upon which the outcomes of a defence services programme are truly measured.

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The McKillips’ posit this statement: “Although there have been efforts to tie defence structures to cost benchmarks such as percentage of gross domestic product or percentage of federal government spending, these measures have never proven very useful.”[6] This statement suggests this measure is irrelevant, but in fact, it is essential to getting anything done and advancing the capital programme. There is a corollary to their “how long is a piece of string?” which is, “how effective is the short string?” The measure of the short string could be viewed as having the entire Defence Services Program (DSP), votes for grants, operations and maintenance, and capital orchestrated all within the context and boundaries of the defence spending percentage of GDP.

It is often a quest of epic proportions as defence planners, in an attempt to reach this figure, juggle the needs of their seniors and politicians. National Defence Headquarters, often likened by those who have served there as “Fort Fumble on the Rideau” or the “Puzzle Palace,” has faced this struggle on a yearly basis, encountering challenges reminiscent of going down the yellow brick road on the quest to locate the Great Wizard of Oz to get Dorothy home. The refrain “Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!”[7] often comes to mind as budgets are shifted and options are changed in the delivery of Canada’s defence capability, which has been characterized by some as merely shifting the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. Meanwhile, the band plays on!

The measures of the percentage of GDP or percentage of federal government spending are relevant to all with an interest in the DSP. It is basically a government’s statement of intent as to how far it is willing to support its armed forces and prosecute its foreign and domestic policies.[8] It is the stability that provides the planning view. It is very indicative of the role that the government desires and points out the extent it is willing to play on the world stage. It is the foundation of the structure of the Canadian Forces that is supportable by the Canadian public. At the same time, it may be seen as a direct measure of the risk a government is willing to undertake by not funding the programme relative to all of the perceived threats and requirements. There is much data to support its relevance and, in my opinion, the measure has been proven useful.[9]

The percentage of GDP is the foundation of the arguments still to come on the relevance of the F35 and other procurement programmes that are on the table for defence renewal, some of which—such as the maritime-helicopter project and Navy ships—have been on the table for a very long time. It is the essential argument of the boundary that sets the tone for the selection of the priorities within the DSP.

The ability to move the markers on many of these projects, as well as on future investment, is stymied by a lack of funding that is directly tied to the percentage of GDP that the government has allocated for defence spending. So, changes to the percentage of GDP allocated to defence should be of great concern to all! It is the relevant marker. It is the harbinger of good times or bad, and that benchmark is indeed relevant to the discussions that must surely ensue, particularly on the F35 file, if proper decisions leading to effective defence procurement and renewal are to be attained. Dorothy would never get back to Kansas by clicking only one ruby slipper!

Gerry Madigan

 


Gerry D. Madigan, CD, MA is a retired logistician, Canadian Armed Forces. His career spanned 28 years as a finance officer. His notable postings included National Defence Headquarters, Canadian Forces Base Europe, Maritime Canada, and the first Gulf War Qatar. Major Madigan (Retired) is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada’s War Studies Programme.

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Abbreviations

DSP―Defence Services Program

GDP―gross domestic product

Notes

[1]. Major J. D. McKillip and R. W. H. McKillip, “Point: F35s and the Canadian ‘Military Technical-Condition,’” The Royal Canadian Air Force Journal 3, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 55.  (return)

[2]. Colonel Kelvin Truss, “Counterpoint,” The Royal Canadian Air Force Journal 3, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 59. (return)

[3]. McKillip and McKillip, “Point,” 55. (return)

[4]. McKillip and McKillip, “Point,” 56. (return)

[5]. McKillip and McKillip, “Point,” 56. (return)

[6]. McKillip and McKillip, “Point,” 56. (return)

[7]. Quoted in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (return)

[8]. John M. Treddenick, “The Defence Budget” in Canada’s International Security Policy, eds. David B. Dewitt and David Leyton-Brown (n.p.: Prentice Hall Canada, 1995), 413–21. (return)

[9]. A selection of sources includes: “Canada’s Armed Forces - Fighting to Keep Fighting,” The Economist, September 9, 2010, accessed March 5, 2015, http://www.economist.com/node/16994606?story_id=16994606; “The Future of NATO, Fewer Dragons, More Snakes,” The Economist, November 11, 2010, accessed  November 18, 2010, http://www.economist.com/node/17460712 (subscription required); Terence Corcoran, “U.K. Spending Cuts Foretell Our Future,” Financial Post, October 20, 2010, accessed March 5, 2015,

http://opinion.financialpost.com/2010/10/20/terence-corcoran-u-k-spending-cuts-foretell-our-future/; James Kirkup, “Conservative Party Conference: Forces Budget Will Fall Below NATO Minimum,” The Telegraph, October 7, 2010, accessed March 5, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/8047477/Conservative-Party-Conference-forces-budget-will-fall-below-Nato-minimum.html; Gerry Madigan, “Canada First – Defence Strategy: A Retrospective Look. Too Much? Too Little? Or Just Right?,” Canadian Military Journal, 10, no. 3 (2010), accessed March 5, 2015, http://www.revue.forces.gc.ca/vol10/no3/06-madigan-eng.asp; and Jonathan Paige, “British Military is Becoming a ‘Hollow Force,’ Says Chief of the Defence Staff,” The Independent, December 18, 2013, accessed March 5, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/british-military-is-becoming-a-hollow-force-says-chief-of-the-defence-staff-9014086.html. (return)

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