Monday, April 09, 2012


One of the first things I learned in land-navigation training was the very simple art of resection, or how to unlost yourself. In basic terms it means locating two or more identifiable geographical features on a map, shooting reciprocal bearings from them with your compass and drawing those lines on your map. Where they intersect is more or less where you're standing, contingent on map accuracy and your skill with the compass. Navigating from point A to B required such simple things as knowing how many paces it took you to cover 100 metres, and relating that to your map and compass. We did things like collect a pocket full of pebbles or slide buttons along bits of cord to help us track distances we covered.

It was interesting to find not more than a few years later, troops were moving through training and barely touching the compass, instead relying on GPS of either civilian or military issue. It vaguely dawned on me that an essential and very simple military skill-set might fall into decline as troops gushed over the coolness of the new tech because it did the hard work for them.   

Whether it realises it or not, there are indications that the Canadian Forces is in unfamiliar terrain and it might benefit dusting off a compass and a current map and doing a bit of resection. Here's a few features it might use as references.

1. F-35. The RCAF by its own rhetoric and actions seems to have become a public charity for people afflicted with the uncontrollable desire to fly very expensive machines beside Americans in distant lands, not a key pillar of the military defence of Canada. If they get their way, they will hoover up massive amounts of fiscal resources that will deprive the other services and Canadians in general of essential things. [Hey, how about running an aircraft/pilot selection exercise in the far North where the CF-18 people get to live in sandbagged holes for months, try to fly sorties and defend themselves, while CSOR and the bugs play enemy force?]

2. Post-Afghanistan. What now? There will be a personnel health and raison d'etre problem for the armed forces as a whole for sometime to come. 

3. Stephen Harper. This man is a slow burning coup d'etat. Any analyst worth their salt would look at events around the last election and conclude that we are venturing down a very dark path. His tenure has already changed the relationship of the military to the politicians, and his ministers have already enlisted the military in helping them cover their political tracks. Harmless enough and not irreversible, but what happens if he tries to enlist the sharper points of the military in suppressing his political adversaries in the Canadian population (before or after he effectively shuts down democratic or procedural means of removing him)? For example, what will he and his viceroy in Victoria ask the CF to do if opposition to his Northern Gateway Project starts to look like the Oka Crisis on steroids?

4. Economic crisis. There is a very real potential that the major Western economies behind NATO and the US are in long and permanent state of decline. We won't be far behind. This has implications for our relationships with our major allies and equipment suppliers, which in turn affects what the CF does in the future and what it does it with.

5. Climate change and peak oil. The implications of these two problems are two fold. First, they create a real security problem in Canada's North worthy of a military first priority (might help with the post-Afghanistan purpose problem). Peak oil also impacts the ability of a highly mechanised armed forces to operate anywhere. To date, the German military is apparently the only one that takes it seriously. If you read the military future environment and resource crises scenario literature from richer states, they largely assume they'll be operating more around the globe, like now, as if they will all be fine and able to deploy as they always have. That's hubris and is encephalitis to strategic thinking. Uncertainty for thee but not for me, I suppose.



Christina Montgomery said...

All of these things should provide a nice opportunity for Canadian citizens to resection too, don't you think, Boris? (Jeez, resection, what a weird verb. Sounds a lot like conducting surgery on yourself.)

Seems to me like the occasions when the military hits the news, and remains in the public consciousness for more than a minute or two, are relatively rare in Canada. But they are useful.

We have a warring and war-minded government that has a schizophrenic approach to military matters. They don't hesitate to haul out the international scare tactics/useful photo ops/patriotic and historic stuff when they need it. But the rest of the time, as you have all documented here so well, they can go really quiet and dismiss questions about what they're doing as irrelevant.

Right now, we're in one of those odd moments for me when all things military are up for debate, or could be opened up for debate.

So I'm thinking this list you've put together (I'd add the huge military shipbuilding contracts to it) is a good argument that it's time Canadians rethought the military path they're headed down, and figured out exactly where they are now, and where it is they're going to end up if they don't alter course.

That's a debate I'd like to see. In the House of Commons, and around kitchen tables across the country.

Boris said...

Yes, I very much agree, Christina. As I mentioned to a friend tonight, progressives are very good at thinking up good alternative aid, environmental, economic, and social policy (including veterans care) but do not really engage things military or strategic. Too often defence and the military becomes the purview of the right-wing who more than ever now mistake jingoism and shiny objects for sound policy and puchases.

The shipbuilding contracts would be great place to start as they tie into the defence of Canada. Defence of Canada is the first purpose of the military and I think that topic is a great place to start the conversation.

sunsin said...

The US military is going into biofuels on a fairly large scale:

Of course, IIRC, Republicans in Congress want to ban this.