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

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Good morning, everyone. We're back, under Standing Order 108(2), to study readiness. This is meeting number 33.

Joining us today—and I believe he is our last witness on readiness—from the University of Calgary is Professor Robert Huebert, who is the associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

Professor, I'm going to open up the floor to you for opening comments for about 10 minutes.

March 15th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.

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

Thank you very much.

It is indeed my privilege to be here to address you. My apologies for being a couple of minutes late. My taxi driver dropped me off at the wrong block, even though I got into an argument with him about which one it was.

11:05 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

11:05 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

He was pretty insistent that the West Block was the East Block.

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Welcome to the Hill.

11:05 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

Yes.

This is an intriguing subject, of course, and one that I think the committee is very well advised to be addressing. Given the types of changes that we are now experiencing, both in the context of the international security sphere and in the context of the Canadian security environment, the idea of how we now prepare for readiness, of how we now prepare for a rapidly changing international system, is probably one of the most critical questions—if not the most critical—facing the Canadian Forces today. It's very apropos, in fact, that the work of your committee is examining this issue at this time.

I'll be having three sets of comments in terms of observations of what, in my assessment, are some of the key issues that we need to address when we talk about readiness.

The first one, of course, is environmental factors. What are we trying to become ready for? Why does it matter? Why is it so critically important that we give this the serious thought that we need to today?

The second aspect is, of course, what do we do to prepare for that readiness? What are some of the key elements that we, as a country, coming off the ending of a relatively long period of warfare...? It is indeed when we think of Afghanistan that we will look back and realize that we were in fact at war, regardless of what we were calling it, and that in fact we are now going from one war.... Be it either Syria or parts of Africa or Mexico, the next one will come much too rapidly for the international system in terms of the ability to sit and prepare and in terms of where we're going.

Finally, I will have a few concluding comments on what I think—in terms of assessment—would be the best area to go to in terms of the forces.

Let us begin. The first comment, of course, is one that probably does not resonate, at least in terms of political correctness, but we are finishing a war. Whether or not Afghanistan will be remembered in the complete context of the type of sacrifice that was required for those who participated, when the final telling is made and we recognize how much money was spent, how many lives were in fact lost and affected.... We often focus on the casualties, as we should, but what we often forget about are the wounded, both psychologically and physically. I think this is something that we as a society still have to come to terms with in a much better way than we have. But that's an issue for another topic.

Coming out of Afghanistan, we are going to be faced with a situation, too, and once again, it's a very uncomfortable truth: will it be the first war we come out of that ultimately we will have lost? There are possibilities, of course. We have to acknowledge this in this context of whether or not the Taliban will come back to power.

When we see some of what our allies are doing, when we see some of the efforts to basically disengage from the conflict, to wash their hands—whatever term you want to use—the issue is, are we going to be faced with the situation that this will ultimately be recognized as an event in which, as much as the individual professionalism of our forces came forward, the allied effort was unsuccessful? And that means defeat. Let's be blunt here in this particular context.

We know from history that for any country coming out of an unsuccessful conflict, be it the Americans with Vietnam or, if we want to go more historically, the Soviets with Afghanistan, it always is a point of reckoning for the forces. I think this is something we have to be very, very sensitive to.

The second major environmental factor we face that is probably equally confounding is that we are seeing our allies go through a series of what I would characterize as major economic missteps, which incidentally may of course make us, from an economic perspective, stewards who are that much better in terms of our international economic performance.

But nevertheless, when we look to the south, to our American allies, and when we look to the Europeans, all we see is economic crisis. We are seeing the manner in which this is reflecting both in terms of how they are thinking of themselves as a society and in terms of how they are preparing themselves for defence purposes. Right across the board, we see massive cuts—either being instituted or about to be instituted—and as a result we are probably facing for the first time considerations that our allies are not going to be able to provide us with complete dominance, particularly when we talk about air power or sea power.

These are long-term ramifications. But I think we have to seriously start recognizing that the superiority that we, as western allies, gathered at so much blood by 1943 and that we have never surrendered, the complete air domination we have had, may become in jeopardy. It won't be because of the better ability of an enemy. Rather, it will be because of the economic crises. When we look at the cuts to the F-35s, the F-22s, and the Eurofighters and so forth, these are very troubling developments, which we see worldwide, in terms of our future operations and our state of readiness.

The third environmental factor, and perhaps the most troubling, is the continuation of dangers internationally. Syria, of course, is entering the first year of its agony, and there is no sign that it will be letting up at any point soon. Try to consider our situation, our economics, if indeed these types of crises start spreading into countries such as Saudi Arabia. Try to imagine the impact on oil and gas and what that means for our international economics and our requirement to involve ourselves if the so-called Arab Spring does, in fact, move itself into the Arabian peninsula. That will truly be of epic proportions, because in that type of environment, everybody will be intervening for their own interests, and that will just make it that much more complicated for Canada.

We also see the proliferation of missile and weaponry technology at a rate we pretend is not there. When the full story is told of the achievement of the Pakistanis in achieving nuclear weapons, and the full story of the involvement of the so-called Pakistani father of the atomic bomb, Khan, is actually told, we will have a very telling story in which the proliferation and exchange of these deadly weapons is, if anything, increasing rather than decreasing in the modern era.

All of this means that the type of environment Canadian Forces will be asked to participate in will become much more dangerous, will be much more deadly, and unfortunately, will be on a much broader basis than what we have faced. We have to acknowledge the inclusion of weapons of mass destruction.

Ultimately, Canada is a warrior state that does not want to call itself that. Once again, if we are honest with ourselves, from an empirical perspective, since our involvement in the Boer War, Canada has been one of the most active deployers of military forces overseas, short of the very strongest powers. Take out the Americans, British, French, and Soviets. When you start looking at who else has participated the most, the list narrows very quickly to countries such as Australia and us. Once again, we can call it peacekeeping, peace enforcement, protection of allies, NATO commitment, or whatever, but we have a history, and one of interest, which I suspect will not diminish any time in the future. Hence, the need for readiness becomes that much more important.

Where can we look with regard to where some of the issues will be coming from? The new reality is that in terms of readiness, this is going to be a come-as-you-are party, as it is often referred to in the literature. We're not going to be able to pick and choose. And the crises that are coming down the road will be occurring at a rate that will catch us off guard.

Many Canadians, of course, are not aware and pretend that the events in Mexico are not leading to the possibility of Mexico becoming a failed state. But if you look at most of the open literature on what's happening with regard to the type of warfare now extending among the various drug cartels and the increasing inability of the federal government to control those issues, the possibility of Mexico deteriorating into some form of civil war, narco-war, or whatever adjective we add, is something that I think Canada, as a North American state, will not be able to ignore. It will be one of those situations when, of course, we will follow the lead of our American neighbours to the south. But it will be a very difficult issue that will test the readiness of the Canadian Forces.

We also have to recognize that we will not be able to depend on our allies for the complete type of overlay of forces they have provided us in the past. In the immediate future, there isn't that much of a problem. We will continue doing business as we've done business for the last 20 years. That means the type of support the Americans, the British, and the French have provided in Indonesia, East Timor, of course, Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan, all the areas everyone said we wouldn't do at the end of the Cold War but that we in fact did. That type of support is going to be diminishing, and we will have to stand more and more on the protection of our own forces, if we choose to follow our historical orientation.

So how do we do this? I would suggest there are two major elements that we have to focus the most on. The first one is on the state of readiness, and this is something as Canadians that we don't have that good a history of doing. We are going to have to increasingly create, develop, and perfect our ability to have our own strategic analysis. Traditionally what we have done is rely on our allies. Once again we go back to the Boer War, where we really started deploying as a nation overseas, but then you get into World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War era. The overall strategic orientation of what we say we need has tended to follow what we have devised in consultation with our allies, but generally speaking we have tended to follow what our allies have suggested. Our naval commitment during the Cold War of anti-submarine warfare was predominantly devised because of our allied command suggestions. The type of air protection we provided was, once again, at the suggestion of our allies.

I would suggest that in this modern era, to truly be ready we need to start thinking much more in strategic terms rather than in tactical terms.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

I'm going to have to cut you off there. You are already a minute and a half over your allocation of time. Maybe you can tell them your further comments in the Q and A portion.

Because we only have an hour, we're going to take that first round and instead of making it seven we're going to do five minutes.

Mr. Christopherson, you have the floor.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you.

Please don't use all my time, but take a couple of minutes to finish your thought, because I thought you were getting to the crux of our issues here. I'll use some of my time to allow you to finish, please.

11:15 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

I would say the most important is that we need to have that strategic independent analysis. I think the types of reports General Leslie provided in transformation is a critical point for the structural organization, but I do think it's missing the point that we need to start looking more. It's not good enough to just simply have a white paper at the beginning of every new government. That has been the Canadian practice, Liberal or Conservative. We need a process that we can anticipate, that we can start looking at and considering.

That leads to the second point I would leave you with, and that is the procurement point. The experimentation we are doing with the national shipbuilding strategy and many of the techniques we are now developing in terms of a much more open process, where we are working with industry, where we are trying to develop a capability rather than the platforms—I believe that is indeed a model that we should be looking to in terms of procurement of our other forces. Now, we're not going to be able to do exactly what we've done with shipbuilding in the context of the aerospace requirements that we will face, but I think many of the techniques that are now being pioneered in how to make it truly competitive in a truly uncompetitive industry.... I mean, hence we can see all the issues with the F-35 because of the lack of competition in that regard.

As we look to the future in terms of the types of forces...we need to rationalize, the way we are in fact doing for the shipbuilding strategy.

Thank you.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Great. Thank you very much.

We're down to the final parts of our public submissions, and we'll be grappling with a report. Hopefully in an ideal world we will be unanimous in our agreement, but given the political world we're in, that may not be possible.

Given that that's where we're about to head, with a blank slate, where would you start? We've just turned to you and said we like the way you're thinking, we like your approach, go. What would be step 1, step 2, and step 3, in terms of how you would begin to address the question of readiness?

11:15 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

The first step is to create a greater independent mindset amongst our senior military and political decision-makers when it comes to issue of security. We are going to have to be acting on our own, so that means in the context of not thinking just simply about how you deal with the more incremental things, such as strategic reviews, saving money, but that you start addressing the big question of what you need a strategy for, why you need readiness. That has to obviously be with the chief of defence staff, but I would contend that it has to be the number one important mission that he or she has in terms of future development.

The second is, of course, the issue of a broader procurement strategy. As I said, I'm a big fan of where I see the shipbuilding strategy going. I've been a major critic in terms of how we've done it on an ad hoc basis, be it the Sea Kings or the frigates. Whatever major procurement issue we have, we've tended to be platform-focused. We've tended to be ad hoc. We need to be thinking of a much broader, longer-term procedure, very much along the thinking that has come forward with the shipbuilding strategy.

The third issue I would suggest, in terms of a blank slate, is, of course, this: we have to get out of the mindset that Afghanistan is over, everything is hunky-dory, and now we don't have to worry about anything else. I think that's a very dangerous mindset overall.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

The approach you're suggesting would be even more difficult for us, because we actually need to do both. There are still some areas in which our international approach is multilateral with our allies. We are a country that focuses on UN cooperation. We need two parallel tracks: one in which we maintain our relationship as a partner with our natural allies, our NATO allies, and another that reflects our strategic interests in a stand-alone capacity. Really, we need both tracks happening. So what you're suggesting is that the job is even tougher now than it's been in the past.

11:20 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Huebert

Absolutely. Going with our allies is the best. Let me be clear on that. My idea would be to let the Europeans figure out their crisis with the euro and the Greeks, and let the Americans figure out how to get out of political deadlock. Meanwhile, we can proceed as we proceeded for the last 20 years. I think that's the ideal. My fear is that the time is now past. It's not that we are choosing to be a more unilateral nation; we are going to be forced to be a more unilateral nation.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Mr. Norlock.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

I believe Mr. Strahl was first.