Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to take part in this take note debate and to consider the Government of Canada's intention to renew its participation in the NATO led stabilization force in Bosnia beyond June 1998 in order to maintain a safe environment for reconstruction and reconciliation and a lasting peace for the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
I agree. I think it is important that Canada maintain its force in Bosnia for the continuation of the kinds of work it has done already to help maintain stability and ensure that Bosnians have the opportunity to move forward into a more peaceful existence in the near future, the mid term and the long term. It is important that Canada continue to perform what is regarded by most in the world including most Canadians as a critically important function in contributing to a better world.
Canada has legitimately and for extremely good reason become well regarded for its peacekeeping and peacemaking role around the world. It is important that we continue to do that for the benefit of those in whose country we operate, in this case Bosnia since it is important that we do our bit to ensure peace is possible there. Bosnia and all the other hot spots around the world have an impact on Canada too. In order for us to live peacefully and constructively we need to ensure we play our role around the world.
To put these supporting words into context I will make some comments about the approach the federal government and Canada has traditionally taken with regard to the role of its armed forces. The auditor general and many within the armed forces have cast considerable doubt on the ability of Canada's armed forces to do the jobs they have been set to do. The main reason is that this House and the Canadian government do not have a clear view of what functions the armed forces should provide.
Without knowing where we are going it is very difficult to know what resources need to be made available to the armed forces to ensure their priorities are met. It is not clear to many Canadians what our priorities are with regard to our armed forces. The auditor general has quite rightly pointed out the difficulties this generates for the armed forces, not only for the front line personnel but for others who make important decisions. It is not clear what place new equipment, refurbished old equipment, or modernized equipment has because we are not sure what role we want our forces to play.
The international community has gone through a dramatic transformation since the end of the cold war. The end of the cold war marked the end of close to a century of strife in which the world was repeatedly torn apart by the varying rival military alliances of the great industrial and military powers. They were rivalries which brought us the two world wars and the cold war. During such an age it was often necessary to seek security in military alliances. It was equally true that the greatest temptation of such an age was to imagine that security was exclusively a matter of military strength and of participation in the collective security of military alliances.
The NDP and the CCF before it were among those internationalists who always argued that it was important to think of security as something broader and deeper than the security associated with collective military alliances. The CCF supported the view that danger was found not only in military threats but in the social and international tensions created by economic exploitation and inequality, by the international arms trade and by the manipulation of smaller states by great powers in their strategic rivalries with other great powers. That criticism continues to this day.
In the 1960s the NDP built on that CCF critique by adding the nuclear arms race to the list of security threats. By the 1980s global poverty, environmental degradation and widespread human rights violations were also seen by New Democrats and by progressive people around the world as essential elements of any risk assessment that Canadians interested in security matters should take into account.
The culmination of this perspective in international relations for the CCF and NDP was a foreign policy statement entitled “Canada's Stake in Common Security” prepared in 1988. It has been the basic thrust of the NDP's defence and foreign affairs policy since. The main framework of NDP policy was articulated in it.
Common security instead of traditional collective security is to be preferred and actively sought and modelled by a Canada that no longer sees itself primarily or even at all as a stakeholder in a collective alliance. Canada's real stake is in a world run according to the rules of common security. The paper of course is a little dated now, but its essence remains the same and might be argued to be more poignant.
A policy of global common security is surely crucial to human survival in the post cold war era. We must not put to rest the bipolar world of the cold war only to slip back into a multipolar world of competing regional if not ideologically based alliances, or regress to the international anarchy of the international system before the First World War. Neither should we assent to a unipolar scenario that would allow the Americans to assume the role of global policeman.
At the end of the cold war many Canadians had high expectations for the possibilities of building a common security. Many hoped that with the end of the horrifyingly surreal definition of international security as a nuclear balance of terror there would finally open up some real opportunities for an authentic conception of common security. Such a common security would continue to have a military dimension.
On the one hand, systems of mutual independent surveillance, global arms reduction treaties and military information sharing all integrated into a new global security architecture preferably under the auspices of a reformed and revitalized UN would have to be developed and maintained. On the other hand, governments could spend more on international development, poverty reduction and environmental protection and engage constructively in the democratic development of developing societies as a way of achieving genuine international security, rather than propping up so-called friendly authoritarian regimes as happened so often during the cold war.
Canada's New Democrats would want to mobilize this reservoir of hope for a common security, but we realize there are fundamental changes ahead. The end of the cold war has brought us a few welcome steps back from the brink of nuclear holocaust. The decades of addiction to grotesque levels of military spending and the obscene accumulation of weapons of mass destruction have left the world with a formidable hangover.
Nuclear weapons remain the single greatest threat to the future of the planet. A flourishing arms trade, of which Canada plays a part, ensures the world is still awash with military hardware. Millions of innocent people are threatened daily with a plague of anti-personnel land mines. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has played a major role in addressing this issue. This hangover takes the form not only of deadly war materiel, but also in the social conflicts left in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and other former communist states in Europe and in the breakdown of social peace in many African states.
At the same time the international community must respond to the changing technological and social faces of war. For the militaries of industrialized countries, new information technology is leading to the development of an array of new so-called smart weapons which are dramatically changing the dynamics of warfare on the battlefield. In many recent conflicts the social warfare is changing.
It is important that Canada play a major role in helping the international community find its way through the military dangers peculiar to the post cold war era and on building a democratic world order where communities and finally the global community can contain and shape the global marketplace to make it serve the common good.
In that regard, it is important that Canada's armed forces understand their role. The first call on Canada's defence policy and armed forces, as it is for any country, must be to guarantee the territorial integrity of the country. While we share the longest undefended border in the world with the United States, Canada's geography poses substantial challenges to the tasks of guaranteeing our territorial sovereignty and environmental integrity. Thousands of miles of coastline present challenges to the prevention of illegal hazardous waste dumping and so on.
It is important that Canada's armed forces are equipped to meet these challenges. The auditor general points out some problems in this regard. Canada needs to be able to fulfil that primary role, that of defending Canada's integrity.
Because of our commitment to NATO, Canada needs to be able to play our role in the trans-Atlantic security issues. That is why we are in Bosnia in the first place.
Before the NDP, the CCF supported the creation of NATO and Canada's membership in it from its inception and right throughout the 1950s. In the course of the 1960s many members of my party and many Canadians became increasingly critical of American foreign policy and of NATO's first use of nuclear weapons policy. They called into question the wisdom and legitimacy of Canada's membership in NATO.
What has added to that concern in the recent past is the almost complete domination of NATO by the United States. Were it the case that Canada was participating in Bosnia under the auspices of the United Nations, we would have absolutely no reservations at all. But I think everybody is saddened by the fact that this has to take place under the auspices of NATO and is largely then seen as an American driven operation.
We have to ensure that we strengthen the United Nations. We also have to make sure that Canada works toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. We should also do our best to eliminate the international arms trade.
There are two things we have to pay attention to if we are going to focus on whether our armed forces have the tools to do the job. This comes with regard to peacekeeping in particular and also with regard to conflict prevention. I will say just a few words on each. Canadians are rightly proud of Canada's record as a leading participant in UN peacekeeping missions and want to build on past and present experiences.
The tragic incidents in Somalia show the need for vigilance and the maintenance of professionalism in the military and civilian leadership of Canada's armed forces. The government has been rightly criticized for the way in which it handled the Somalia inquiry, for cutting it short and for not carrying out all of the recommendations of the Somalia inquiry. It is crucial that as Canada works its way through this period that the Canadian public has confidence in the integrity of the relationship between the civilian and military leadership in Canada's armed forces.
As Canada fashions its military policies to support the peacekeeping missions we are so often called upon to make, it is important to distinguish between the variety of UN missions. They are often grouped together under the rubric of peacekeeping.
Often it is the case that Canadian military personnel find themselves not keeping the peace that is in place but bringing about peace among warring parties, as was the case in Somalia and which I think is a component in Bosnia too. In other situations military personnel are sent to secure food supplies and safe havens for civilians in the context of civil or international conflicts, which is plainly the case in Bosnia and in a number of other missions. In these situations of peacemaking and protecting civilians from conflicts in progress, the Canadian military will need to maintain armed forces equipped and trained to be combat capable.
Our military planning, so long attuned to the context of the cold war where peacekeeping was of secondary importance, must adjust to the primary importance of peacekeeping and peacemaking for our armed forces. It is important for this place and the government to make clear Canada's commitment to peacekeeping and peacemaking and following that to ensure there are the resources, the materiel and the personnel needed in order to appropriately fulfil that requirement.
Canada needs to play a stronger role in conflict prevention. Perhaps the Prime Minister's visit to Cuba this week is an indication of a commitment to that. Certainly it is an indication that we are prepared to be independent of the United States on this important issue.
As a leading contributor of personnel and resources to UN peacekeeping missions, Canada has a special responsibility to work for a just international order of common security which is geared to conflict prevention.
Preventing conflict means addressing the problems at their roots, encouraging democratic development and human rights, sustainable development to prevent resource depletion and an international economic order that will reduce inequalities and eliminate poverty. We have not done a very good job on these last matters. We have not made a major contribution in this area. Such a conflict prevention approach is not primarily a military matter but it is a question of prevention.
If we are to play our proper role in the world, we have to do our bit on the prevention side. We know from various issues at home, social programs, health care and unemployment, that we take prevention issues seriously. We should do that in the military too.
I have two final points to make. If we are to ask the Canadian Armed Forces to play these important peacekeeping-peacemaking roles, as I have said, we need to ensure that we have a clear vision of what those forces are intended to do. We need to back up that clear vision with resources in order to fulfil that vision.
At the moment we have neither the vision nor the resources to adequately fulfil the jobs we ask the forces to perform from time to time. That is my first point.
The second point I want to make is that it is becoming increasingly clear that the morale in Canada's armed forces is at an all time low. One of the things we surely cannot expect to do is to ask the men and women in our armed services to go into dangerous situations in circumstances in which their morale is low and in circumstances in which they feel they are not adequately appreciated.
A former vice-admiral, Chuck Thomas, has said “We put our troops in jeopardy when we don't give them enough money to support their families. Soldiers have never been rich but I have never seen anything like this”.
The defence committee is crossing the country and hearing on a daily basis of how difficult it is for soldiers and their families to make ends meet. Surely we cannot expect these men and women to risk their lives for the benefit of the world in a far off place unless we treat them well, unless we treat them better.
We recognize—and indeed the Minister of National Defence appears to have recognized it—that there is a serious problem which needs to be addressed. That is one thing. It is another thing to actually address it.
We have a situation in which our armed forces personnel are not feeling very confident about their role within their organization. They do not like the way they are treated, feel they are undermined economically and socially, and have some difficulty seeing why they should do what they are called upon to do when they are not adequately appreciated. Indeed a recent internal Canadian forces poll showed that 83% of the military has lost faith in the leadership. That is not a very good sign.
The last point I would like to make is with regard to the auditor general's report that was published today. It raises very serious concerns about the ability of our forces to function within present circumstances. He says, for example, that if the status quo persists the department's available capital funding may not be sufficient to equip and modernize the force that national defence is currently planning. He points out the roles that have been expected of the armed forces but calls for a significant refocusing of the mission and a reallocation of resources to do the job we are asking them to do today. He talks about declining funds for equipment modernization. He talks about the Canadian forces trying to cope with equipment deficiencies and shortages. He says that the army has difficulty keeping pace with technology and that the air force is facing obsolescence.
None of these things is designed to provide any confidence in the ability of our armed forces to do the job that is asked of them. We all know that those men and women will do the job that is asked of them, but are the government and the armed forces as a whole up to the task?