Force Structure or Forced Structure? The 1994 White Paper on Defence and the Canadian Forces in the 1990s, IRPP Choices

Force Structure or Forced Structure? The 1994 White Paper on Defence and the Canadian Forces in the 1990s, IRPP Choices

Abstract:

The 1994 White Paper on defence was a vague policy document which could be interpreted in many ways. Based on a superficial and dubious analysis of the world situation of the day, and without detailed force structure guidance to accompany it, the White Paper was so flexible that it could be used as a basis for status quo maintenance rather than dynamic or even transformational change to accompany the new era in international affairs that emerged after the Cold War in the 1990s. The 1994 White Paper was too cautious in its approach and tended to reflect a bureaucratic consensus rather than clear policy guidance and leadership. What if, however, national security policymakers had been forced to make available to the Canadian public what it would have taken to maintain an armed forces that could actually implement the declaratory defence policy? What would Canada’s force structure have looked like? How should Canada’s force structure relate to roles, missions, and policy? The answers to these questions, on reflection, can inform policymakers as they look towards a defence and foreign policy review in 2004.

Executive Summary:

The 1994 White Paper on defence was a vague policy document which could be interpreted in many ways. Based on a superficial and dubious analysis of the world situation of the day, and without detailed force structure guidance to accompany it, the White Paper was so flexible that it could be used as a basis for status quo maintenance rather than dynamic or even transformational change to accompany the new era in international affairs that emerged after the Cold War in the 1990s. The 1994 White Paper was too cautious in its approach and tended to reflect a bureaucratic consensus rather than clear policy guidance and leadership. What if, however, national security policymakers had been forced to make available to the Canadian public what it would have taken to maintain an armed forces that could actually implement the declaratory defence policy? What would Canada’s force structure have looked like? How should Canada’s force structure relate to roles, missions, and policy? The answers to these questions, on reflection, can inform policymakers as they look towards a defence and foreign policy review in 2004. Key points that emerge from this study include:

  1. Future defence policy must be based on a realistic vision of Canadian interests, how they may be threatened, and what military forces need to exist to counter those threats. Over-use of vague language may be acceptable politically, but it smacks of deception, indecision, and a lack of leadership.
  2. The Canadian Forces must be able to operate across the spectrum of conflict in order to protect Canadian interests. Selecting one band in the spectrum and confining the force structure to that band does not serve national interests. Canada can and does fight wars and is not merely a “peacekeeping” nation. Obsolete concepts of “peace” and “war” must be jettisoned. They are products of the 19th Century, not the 21st.
  3. Policymakers should be mindful of Canadian strategic traditions and how they affect national security policy and the development of the force structure to carry out that policy. The principles of Saliency, Operational Influence, and Forward Security will always be operating in the background no matter what terminology is employed to describe Canada’s military operations.
  4. The human factor is absolutely critical when the balance of commitments, rotations, and deployment capability is considered. Too much quantitative analysis overlooks this which in turn will have negative effects on recruitment, retention, and morale. Ignoring force burn-out is not only morally wrong, but criminally negligent and will, over time, increase the costs of defence beyond the apparent short-term “savings” accrued by introducing too much “efficiency” into the system.

Too many analysts believe that Canada “just got it right” in the 1990s. Canada’s cultural tendency towards mediocrity does not necessarily have to be reflected in its foreign and defence policy, given what is at stake for us in the dangerous world of the 21st Century. By not sweeping our mistakes under the rug, we gain better insight into the directions we need to take to keep Canada secure and economically prosperous.