Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Army 2040 in the other universe

MoS draws our attention to the UK climate secretary's comments regarding the threat of war from climate change. This comes in the wake of recent reports and scenario planning, highlighted by our Alison, from Canada's military describing similar threats to security posed by climate change.

The critical problem with the military's scenario planning is that it implicitly assumes an economy strong enough to support the current rate of technological progression and the consequent influences on the Canadian Forces. If you click through some of the links here, or even just consider the generational advances in oh, say fighter aircraft in the past 50 years (the F-35 we are told is 5th generation, the CF-188 fourth, and so on back to 1st generation Sabres and such), you'll note the hegemonic assumption of infinite linear technological progress that underpins so much of civilian modernity. We assume the that in a few months there'll be a newer, more powerful personal computers, flashier smartphones, more efficient cars, etc. The military likewise assumes more hi-tech kit.

However, if you, or the military for that matter, actually looks at what the implications of oil depletion and climate shifts imply for the that sort of technological progress mean for us and them, then we start to see a different picture.

Oil prices and climate change will collapse economies, and that means aside from massive social disruption, the end of the economy that supports the military-industrial complex which permits the continuing development of incredibly expensive and complex weapons and other martial systems. It also means the ability fuel, repair, and maintain existing systems will be under severe strain as subcontractors and suppliers go bankrupt. It may even have an effect on the morale of military personnel who are, like the rest of us, accustomed to high wages and flashy toys. A government attempting navigate climate and oil crises induced economic and social disruption may not have the revenue base to support feeding, arming, and paying the military at rates they've grown accustomed to, let alone deploy them overseas. The idea that Canada might have the economic and public support to meaningfully commit the CF in an international crisis might be as fictional as the Zefra scenario they came up with.

Further, if one looks at the past few years of CF deployment, one can see a distinction between optional deployments and necessary deployments. The optional deployments have been the overseas interventions. Afghanistan, Haiti, etc, while politically expedient, posed no direct challenge to Canada and thus, frankly, did not objectively require Canadian participation. The necessary deployments are those more in keeping with the Canadian Forces primary mission of defending Canada.

Excluding the Arctic sovereignty exercises and routine intercepts of Russian bombers, virtually all of these type of operations have been tactical responses to extreme environmental events of the sort expected of climate change. In the late 1990s we saw troops deployed for Manitoba flood relief. We had the largest mobilisation of the CF since Korea or WW2 in the 1998 Ice Storm in Ontario and Quebec, involving 15 000 regular and reserve troops (I was one of them). There have been forest fires. And this year again there was military flood relief in two provinces. Thus, the defining role of the armed forces in coming years might well be in these sort of operations, termed "aid to the civil power": multiple concurrent natural disaster relief efforts across the country involving anywhere from several hundred to more than ten thousand troops. While they may not be regular rotational operations like UN peace support or the current war in South Asia, they will require significant and random very short notice logistics support.
On the security side, the North American strategic situation bears consideration. If the US were any other country, the boffins might be assessing it in something like the following terms.  
Canada borders a militarily and economically superior state entering social and economic crisis. The political environment is paralysed, with the two major parties increasingly unable to reconcile their ideological differences enough to effectively resolve growing socio-economic disparities. Climate change too has become an ideologically divisive issue. Recently, several very right-wing populist-nationalist candidates have emerged as credible presidential contenders. Resource rich Canada presently maintains friendly ties with this country, and is economically dependent on its markets. However, if instability continues and the political environment fails to thaw, the nature of this relationship may change to Canada's detriment.

As a footnote to this last comment, Canadian politics and business includes influential players who appear ideologically beholden to the United States and are actively seeking to deepen Canadian economic and military integration with the US despite the latter's increasing instability. There exists potential for the emergence Canadian nationalist groups that resist integration efforts with violence. Violent resistance groups are not unknown in the Canadian context as similar activity has occurred subnationally in the past with Quebec and Aboriginal armed resistance to federal policies. The nationalist traditions and culture of the Canadian Forces means that these groups could attract membership with military experience. Moreover, depending on the policy approach adopted by Canadian politicians, serious issues may emerge within the CF membership.

In sum then, Canada's armed forces in 2040 may find itself in circumstances very different to the ones envisioned by contemporary planners. The global digital army of the future might well remain in the text and images of commissioned science-fiction and PowerPoint slides. Instead, we might find ourselves with an armed forces that must accommodate acute shortages of materiel, a less than stable and possibly hostile southern border, as well as providing aid where possible to victims of frequent domestic floods, fires, and droughts.


The Mound of Sound said...

I suspect military capability will be one of the last true priorities of any government as the impacts of climate change increase. They'll sacrifice pretty much anything else first.

Gwynne Dyer in "Climate Wars" notes that, in the context of global warming, each nation's greatest threat is the nearest country lying between it and the equator. That's an ominous reality for Canada.

America will be defending its US/Mexico border and its coastline against massive climate migration out of the south even as it has to deal with internal displacement and relocation due to sea level rise, severe storm events, drought and the exhaustion of freshwater resources.

In his remarks, the British climate secretary Huhne warned that the next generation could face a life that is "nasty, brutish and short." That echoes a warning Lovelock made a few years back.

I wish the public would realize that we're taking (or ducking) decisions today that may prove indelible for the next few generations.

Steve said...

I am currently playing the PC version of Homefront. A 2020 future were peak oil and climate change have rendered the US impotent, and Kim uses an EM bomb to invade America. Silly scenario I hope. However if we are really interested in defense, we would be preparing for war like the Taliban. Neighbour hood self defense and self sufficancy. Switzerland has done this for centuries and Singapore does it today. The F35 is as important to the defense of Canada as Kettling is to the maintenance of public order. However if we are to buy big ticket easily targeted items, why not instead of 5 F35 one icebreaker?