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A great nation must be willing and able to defend itself.
It’s not about having a massive or overwhelming amount of military force, but it’s essential to have a force that earns respect and discourages aggression.
Unfortunately, Canada’s armed forces have deteriorated so severely that our nation is basically undefended.
Our army is tiny, our navy barely exists, and our air force is plagued with pilot shortages and old aircraft that are barely air-worthy, not to mention the “replacements” for our old F-18s that are just more old F-18s.
The procurement system is a total shambles, as nothing comes in on time, it takes a decade or more to even organize the purchase of garbage equipment, and everything ends up going over budget.
And while the Trudeau government has certainly failed to strengthen our armed forces, responsibility for the debacle is a multi-party problem.
Defence spending under both PC and Liberal governments was around 2 percent of GDP for many years (itself an already-low number), until the Mulroney government started cutting the military budget.
The Chretien government kept spending low, and while both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper periodically talked about boosting the budget, it never strayed far from 1 percent of GDP, which is about where it remains today.
Like past governments, the Liberals talked a big game about increasing the budget, and then failed to deliver.
Simply put, the Canadian political establishment has made a decision that our nation doesn’t really need a military, and the resulting pathetic levels of funding have led to us being surpassed by nations with a dramatically smaller GDP.
According to Global Fire Power, Canada ranks 41st in the world when it comes to the number of fighter aircraft with just 53 of them.
We are barely ahead of Sudan and Bangladesh. We trail Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Morocco, Angola, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and many others.
When it comes to tanks, we are in 85th spot, with 80 tanks. We just barely surpass Slovenia, Kenya, and Uruguay. Stunningly, we trail nations like Armenia, Georgia, Peru, Tanzania, Singapore, Albania, and many others.
If our military was commensurate with our position in world GDP (around 10th), then we should be closer to having about 2000 tanks and around 250 aircraft. Even if we focused more on our air force than our land forces, which would make sense given our large amount of air space, we should have a dramatically larger air force.
This is often where some people will say something like, “we’re a small country,” or “we don’t have any enemies,” or “the US protects us.”
However, all of those arguments are deeply flawed.
First of all, Canada is not a “small country.” Since we have a relatively high GDP per capita, we are one of the world’s largest economies. Our economy is comparable to Russia, and Russia has one of the most powerful armed forces in the world. There is no reason that we couldn’t focus our country on, as I’ve proposed elsewhere, building a strong and advanced air force and taking the lead along with our allies in the development of hypersonic missiles. We certainly have the money and technology for that.
Second, the idea that “we don’t have any enemies,” is false. Even the Liberals have bragged about sending troops to Europe to counter Russia, and the increasing militarization and aggression of Communist China certainly isn’t “friendly.” The whole point of having a strong military is that —while we hope to not need to use it—we can if necessary. Peace can turn into war in a split second, and we’re either prepared, or we aren’t.
Third, while the US is a great ally and we have a strong relationship with them, we are also a sovereign country. And being a sovereign country means not being reliant on others for our national defence. After all, we are supposed to be contributing to our alliance with the US and with NATO, and having at least a decent level of military power is essential to that. Additionally, it’s quite ironic that many of the same people who criticize the US for supposedly spending too much on their military instead of addressing domestic issues are the same people who say Canada doesn’t need a military since the US protects us. Why should we ask US taxpayers to pay the price for our defence?
Some also argue that it’s simply “too costly” to build up our armed forces. Sure, it would cost anywhere between $25 billion to $50 billion annually if we brought our military spending up to 2 percent or 3 percent, but those are about the size of the budget deficits run by both the Harper and Trudeau governments in previous years. Additionally, such a large investment—if directed largely towards domestic military arms production—would create a massive amount of manufacturing jobs, would have spin-off impacts that would boost research and development, and would expand the economy, offsetting some of the initial costs.
And before anyone says “Canada doesn’t build weapons,” just remember that we are already producing many billions of dollars worth of military equipment, we’re just selling it to countries like Saudi Arabia instead of utilizing it ourselves.
In fact, a 2016 Globe and Mail article noted that Canada had become the world’s second-largest arms exporter to the Middle East.
And for those who would question the cost, just imagine what would happen if the world is plunged into massive conflict and we are totally unprepared. The build-up would have to happen in a far shorter period, meaning it would be far more desperate, far more wasteful, and far more expensive.
We can either start to invest now, or desperately try to catch up when it may be too late.
Canada is a beautiful country with a proud military history, including building an immense fighting force that helped defeat Nazi Germany in WWII. Having a strong military is a core part of our national identity as Canadians, is intrinsic to who we are as a people. It’s time to remember that, and start strengthening our armed forces once more.