Evidence of meeting #33 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was arctic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Robert Huebert  Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Noon

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

In my view, absolutely, yes. Russia has a huge aerospace capability over its own land territory and over its Arctic waters. The only reason you would actually sail or fly your aircraft with live bomb loads right up to the international border is to make a political statement. You make a political statement by doing it once or twice, saying, “We're back. We can do it.” Then you back off in that context. They have increased the number of flights. In fact, a Russian commander was asked point blank, “Why are you doing this? This is increasing tensions. You don't need to do this. You did it right when Obama comes to visit. We get it that you can do it.” His response was, “We like to operate in our operational area.” He was asked, “Why is this your operational area? It wasn't your operational area before 2007”, when Putin reasserted them.

Once again, in my view, it's needlessly belligerent. But the Russians don't do things that are needlessly belligerent. There's almost inevitably a reason behind why you would make the efforts you're making in this context. I think quite clearly they are, first, illustrating politically and strategically that they are back, but they are also practising a capability that they see a future need for. That's the most chilling part for me.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

You don't have time for another question.

Mr. Alexander, you have the last round.

March 15th, 2012 / noon

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

I just have one quick question.

Thank you so much, Professor. Really, much of what we've heard around this table on readiness supports your vision of more attention being given to grand strategy and to all of the factors that have to go into determining what capabilities we need and what we need to be ready for. That has to be an emphasis for Canada in the future. Thank you for underlining that at the end of our discussions.

My question, and I agree with much of what you have said, is about the one issue on which I disagree, namely the outcome of the Afghan mission. It's obviously not a good week to be talking about the momentum from month to month, because there have been some setbacks. But just tell us a bit more why you now see a defeat for NATO, if I understood you correctly, to be a likely outcome, given that the objectives that were set were never set in terms of victory for NATO; they were set in terms of the ability of an Afghan government to protect itself and to prevent the country from becoming a host for major terrorist groups in the future. That objective to date has been achieved. Some would argue it's closer to being achieved in an enduring way than ever before. What makes you think otherwise?

12:05 p.m.

Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

Dr. Robert Huebert

Let me start.

I absolutely respect the type of work that you were doing prior to your entry into politics, and I have to commend you for that.

I absolutely, secondly, hope you are right in that particular context.

My hope is that what you have said is exactly that we will see the Afghanistan central government extending its reach into the provincial regions, that in fact we will see the moderate individuals that we tend to broad-brush as Taliban—and you know better than anyone else that to say there is one Taliban is just simply wrong—can then be brought in, that we can see development of a type of regime or society that will respect rule of law, that we can wean away from the extremism of the Taliban regime.

My fear is that we are basically entering into a situation that is being exasperated by these international economic drivers, so that we say we're there, we're done, now we're seeing.... We get into the mindset that the Afghans don't appreciate us; look at how quickly they're attacking us on all these issues, for right or wrong reasons. You know better than anyone else that's a misperception, but at what point do we wash our hands and say that's it, just as we did when...? You know the history. You know once the Soviets were pushed out, one of the biggest problems of the west was that our attention went totally away from Afghanistan, and that allowed the Taliban to come in.

Will we repeat that mistake, and then will it be a Taliban...? My suspicion would be they will call themselves something different, because if they call themselves Taliban, that will get people's attention. They'll call themselves something different, but go back to the fundamentalist problem that was created with the filling of that vacuum after the Soviets withdrew in the first place, which ultimately places us back.... Then you combine that with a collapsing Pakistan and all of a sudden we're back into a worse situation than if we had never intervened in the first place.

So that's what I see as the steps that would lead to a military defeat of what NATO was trying to do in that context, following on what you very properly elicited as our objectives.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Everybody was able to ask questions, and we're out of time.

Professor Huebert, we really appreciate your assessment, your input, and your candour today. I found it very useful and interesting.

I'm going to just remind members of the steering committee that we will convene as soon as the floor is cleared, and we'll be in camera.

Professor, thank you again for coming, and safe travels home.

With that, we're adjourned.