Madam Speaker, as with many aspects of Canadian life, the time has come for a long and hard look at our military policy, where we want it to go and how we want it to be an instrument of our national policy.
I would like to begin by saying how much I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important debate and I believe it is important because it affects everyone in this country.
After all, Canadians, no matter what their age, their occupation, or where they live, have a stake in defence. For that reason I am especially pleased that the government has formally launched a defence review in the House of Commons. In so doing, the government is once again showing its commitment to consult with Canadians and take account of their opinions in determining the future of defence policy.
The opinions of concerned Canadians will be given voice here today, as they have been already, and they will no doubt influence the structure and the purpose of our military forces in the future.
As the minister noted in his speech earlier today, the aim of the review is to develop a new defence policy for Canada, one that reflects not only an uncertain environment abroad, but our needs here at home and the values we hold as Canadians.
The government hopes that the special joint committee on defence policy will hear the widest possible range of views on the future of Canadian defence.
Once the committee is established I expect that it will make plans to solicit the widest range of opinion on these issues. But before consultations begin we need an answer to a basic question: Is there a need for armed forces in the world today? Many people are asking this question.
In my view, the answer is yes. A glance at the front page of any major daily newspaper on practically any given day will enforce this view. Regrettably, the potential for conflict still persists, both between states and within states.
Armed forces are designed to play many roles in the world today. During the next few minutes I would like to discuss those roles in general and I will describe how the Canadian forces could help Canada meet its domestic and foreign policy objectives.
In doing so I will identify the specific roles that the Canadian forces carry out. They exist as security at home and they exist to contribute to international security and defence through multilateral operations abroad.
Finally, I will describe some of the activities undertaken by the Canadian forces. Those activities stand as solid proof of the asset our military represents due to its great ability to carry out many necessary tasks at home and abroad.
The most basic reason that any country fields armed forces is to protect its people, its territory and its political independence. To provide that protection, armed forces must guard against threats to sovereignty from without and answer threats to law and order from within whenever those threats outstrip the availability of civil authorities to respond.
Democratic governments prefer to avoid using the military to maintain public order but having the ability to do so provides a form of insurance against unacceptable risks.
The Canadian forces have been called upon to respond to threats to public order. We all recall the calm and disciplined performance with which the Canadian forces helped to diffuse a potentially explosive situation at Oka a few summers ago. Providing protection is an important military role, but it is not the sole raison d'ètre for the military.
Most armed forces are also capable of carrying out a variety of civil roles like search and rescue and disaster relief. We do not have to look beyond our own borders for examples of this.
The national roles played by the Canadian forces can be invaluable. One of the most important and most dramatic roles is search and rescue. It is a task that demands professionalism and determination, often under daunting conditions. The crews that fly search and rescue missions enjoy their triumphs such as when a Sea King helicopter lifted two stranded hunters from an island off Nova Scotia or plucked nine Honduran seamen from a sinking ship off the coast of Haiti.
Sometimes, of course, the end result can be far from rewarding, as we saw in the futile search for the missing crew of a cargo carrier lost in the Atlantic last month or the grim discovery last summer of a wrecked plane that ended a 12-day search of the Quebec wilderness. But the point is that our forces are there, they are trained, they are equipped and they are ready to meet Canada's search and rescue needs.
Our forces are also ready to respond to calls for disaster relief. Canadian soldiers, sailors and air crew have fought floods, battled forest fires and evacuated isolated communities standing in the way. For more than 50 years Canadian forces have also played a role in protecting our marine resources. Today Aurora and Arcturus surveillance aircraft conduct fisheries patrols over huge expanses of ocean, taking over where the Argus, the Tracker and the Lancaster left off.
The proficiency of the Canadian forces is the product of their training and equipment. The dedication of our service men and service women in carrying out those domestic roles attest to their status as a national asset. Based on the contribution they make to our national, domestic interests alone, there can be no doubt that the Canadian forces should continue to play a significant role in our collective future.
I have described the role of the armed forces within the nation state. Of course, armed forces also are maintained to respond to serious breaches of international security. Few of us would have to search our memories to think of these examples. The two world wars come to mind immediately, as does the Korean conflict and the most recent war in the Persian gulf.
When the cold war ended, we had hoped this type of threat would recede, but as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait illustrated so forcefully, aggression and conflict are not yet things of the past.
In addition to the many civil wars currently under way, tensions between nations are high and could easily lead to conflict. Think of the uneasy truce that exists between North and South Korea or the apprehension among the states bordering the civil war in the Balkans. Obviously there is no substitute for armed forces to respond to situations where diplomacy and negotiations have failed leading nations to resort to force.
Indeed even the authors of a document as hopeful as the United Nations charter acknowledge that these types of situations would continue to exist and in response they called upon states to maintain armed forces that can be used to defend the principles contained in the charter.
Canada's armed forces are no strangers to operations of this type. We were a major allied power during the second world war. We sent forces to Korea under UN command. In 1990 we were among the first countries to commit forces to the multinational coalition that operated in support of the United Nations and reversed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Collective defence is another form of multilateral military co-operation in which security minded nations choose to participate. While sovereign states join organizations like the United Nations, helping to ensure international security on a global basis, collective defence arrangements are more limited and more focused. Essentially collective defence arrangements result when like-minded nations promise to co-operate to guarantee each other's defence.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO is a classic example of that co-operation. Since it was founded in 1949 the alliance has grown to include 16 nations, all of which have pledged to pool resources for the common defence. NATO's primary purpose has been to prevent a major war through the deterrence of aggression and in this it has been very successful.
Considering that the cold war could easily have ended with a nuclear confrontation, we are very fortunate that NATO never had to use its military capabilities. That does not mean however that other than preventing an east-west conflict there were no benefits to collective defence through NATO. Far from it. At a basic level NATO reduced the expense and increased the efficiency of providing for defence within the Atlantic community
and from a political perspective NATO contributed greatly to the reconciliation of countries that only quite recently had been at war with each other.
NATO has also served as a meeting place where nations could discuss security issues and as a catalyst for military standardization and interoperability. In fact the familiarity NATO bred was put to very good use during the gulf war. Many of the allied countries were well acquainted with one another's equipment and procedures, factors that enhance the success of joint operations.
Canadians have been strong supporters of collective defence, not only through NATO but through a longstanding bilateral defence relationship with the United States. We have placed our armed forces at the service of NATO and NORAD and we have actively participated in shaping allied positions. I hope that Canada will continue to play this constructive role.
A third international role for the armed forces and for Canadian forces in particular is the involvement in peacekeeping operations. Most Canadians today are familiar with the contribution we are making to a concept first introduced in the years following World War II. Back then peacekeeping and observer missions were seen as something of an exotic innovation, but today they are widely accepted.
The review will provide Canadians with an excellent opportunity to reflect on the complex and evolving state of peacekeeping. The reality is that many current operations bear little resemblance to the original concept.
Within the last five years alone military forces have stepped into the breach to carry out an ever increasing and changing variety of tasks. Let us consider some of them for a moment.
Peacekeepers have helped to monitor elections in Africa and Central America. They have trained local populations to recognize and disarm land mines in Afghanistan. In Cambodia they helped provide administration on a nation-wide scale. In the war torn remnants of the former Yugoslavia they have ensured the delivery of humanitarian aid and created safe havens for refugees.
In only a few years peacekeeping tasks have expanded exponentially and the demand for qualified personnel to serve as peacekeepers has risen to new heights. No one is more aware of these developments than Canadians. In the past few years we have listened to reports about the activities of our forces in troubled spots around the world. We felt pride when Canadian forces air crews flew humanitarian aid to Sarajevo. We watched on television one hot summer day as a young Canadian soldier risked his life in the same city to save two women wounded by sniper fire. We have read about the difference our peacekeepers have made in Cambodia, in Central America and the Middle East.
There are many other worthy stories that have never, ever received wide circulation. Take for instance the military engineers in Bosnia who lowered the road through a mountain tunnel and straightened hairpin curves to improve a critical route used to deliver humanitarian aid. The Canadian soldiers in Somalia, we hear a lot about them but we did not hear about the ones who improved schools, reopened a hospital and got public utilities up and running in this area.
In essence, the defence review will chart a new direction for the Canadian forces as we enter the 21st century. That role has changed dramatically, even since the end of the cold war. Although sovereignty protection and collective defence remain important priorities, peacekeeping has become a focal point for the Canadian forces. We need to ask ourselves how best to strike a balance between these activities.
In conclusion, the end of the cold war has brought about dramatic reorderings and turbulence throughout much of the world. To meet the challenges of today and those we expect to encounter in the future we must field flexible, capable military forces.
If Canada seeks peace in a time of great transition and upheaval then it follows that we must retain armed forces capable of meeting the challenges to our defence and security at home and abroad.