Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to Motion No. 130.
The 20th century was host to two of the most costly wars mankind has ever known in terms of lives lost and material resources consumed. In the aftermath of the second world war, the international community banded together to form the United Nations. One of the prime roles of the UN was to engage in the new concept of conflict prevention. By providing the international community with a forum for debate, international players could air and resolve their differences without resorting to conflict.
During the last 50 years the United Nations has largely failed as an institution which could engage in successful conflict prevention. With the start of the cold war and the nuclear arms race the international community was divided between the east and west, both supporting a number of client states which engaged in a number of small and medium size conflicts.
With the collapse of this bipolar world over a decade ago, the number of international conflicts has actually grown with the gulf war and the recent conflict in the Balkans as two conflicts in which Canada has been actively and heavily engaged.
The international community's reaction to these conflicts has been slow and focused on conflict management, post-conflict resolution and reconstruction. This has not only proved costly in material terms but has created a major burden for the armed forces of mid-size powers like Canada.
The Liberal government has spent the last seven years slashing defence spending and cutting personnel and hardware from the Canadian armed forces. Despite cutting defence spending by 23% and over 13,000 personnel since 1993, Canada has more troops abroad than at any time since the Korean war 50 years ago. Despite having a mandate to monitor and defend Canadian territory and the territories of our allies, more and more of the resources of the Canadian armed forces are being dedicated to peacekeeping.
Figures from the Department of National Defence claim that direct peacekeeping duties cost the department $1.45 billion during the 1999-2000 fiscal year. Almost $1 billion is forecast to be spent next year on peacekeeping. That is over 10% of the armed forces budget which has shrunk so small that urgent acquisitions of equipment such as the replacement for the Sea King helicopter has been postponed a decade and counting.
The cost of peacekeeping has more than doubled from the $465 million spent by DND during the 1997-98 fiscal year. The status quo has become unsustainable. With the number of conflicts around the world escalating and Canada's defence budget dwindling, the international community must finally act and move from a focus on conflict management and post-war reconstruction to one of conflict prevention. International financial institutions must play a role if we are to succeed, with the World Bank and the international monetary fund being two key examples.
On the other hand, however, soft power initiatives must be accompanied by hard power military assets because without hard power there will be little incentive for some nations to respond to purely economic levers.
This is where Canada is letting down the international community. The problem is that the idea of influencing other nations using soft power initiatives does not always work. Look how influential our Minister of Foreign Affairs was with the military junta which took over Pakistan recently.
Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs really think that Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic will really mend their ways? Both have already experienced punitive economic blockades with little effect on their inherent aggressiveness. Ironically, even the creator of the soft power concept, Joseph Nye, understood that soft power meant absolutely nothing without hard power to back it up.
As mentioned, the Liberal government has slashed defence spending by a whopping 23% from $11.28 billion to a low of just $9 billion last year.
The modest defence spending increase in this year's budget barely maintains the status quo with only $60 million in additional funding to purchase badly needed equipment. This has literally gutted the Canadian armed forces.
I believe many of my Liberal colleagues on the defence committee would agree with what I am saying here today. Both the Liberal members and the Canadian Alliance members supported the defence committee's first report to the House of Commons calling for significant increases in defence spending as a percentage of GDP over the next five years.
The finance committee has also realized the urgency of this situation and recommended a five year budget increase for national defence. The result of the massive cuts to defence spending was predictable. Personnel levels had to be cut to 60,000, far below that recommended by the special joint committee of 1994 and a dramatic drop from the 87,000 troops we had in 1987.
According to the Conference of Defence Associations which appeared before the defence committee last December, the number has even fallen below the 60,000 level to 57,000 because national defence cannot afford to replace those who have left the Canadian forces.
As we know, manpower is an essential aspect of combat capability. The army is particularly hard hit with personnel at only 65% of what is needed. The Conference of Defence Associations told the defence committee that the Canadian armed forces would be hard pressed to fulfil the Liberal government's 1994 white paper commitment to build a combat capable brigade size force. This is important because the 1994 defence white paper is the government's policy on national defence and the government cannot ensure that the commitment it made to Canadians can be enforced.
The Conference of Defence Association argued the Canadian army was really only combat capable at the company level, which is a group of about 150 troops. Here is Canada, a nation of 30 million people, only capable of fielding company size combat capable forces. We have seen how stretched our two battalions are in Kosovo and Bosnia. We have to bring home our battalion of 1,300 troops from Kosovo because we cannot effectively sustain two battalions in the region.
The army is getting so desperate that recently Colonel Howie Marsh advised the government, contrary to the government's own defence policy, to cut the army to 10,000 from the current 20,000 and make up the difference using high technology. What a ludicrous argument. The idea is unworkable.
The Conference of Defence Association stated to the defence committee that our army at 20,000 was far too small. High technology, as crucial as it is, will not make up for the role played by highly trained individuals. Soldiers on the ground are what the army needs. It is just as important as the massive deterioration and rust out of our Canadian forces equipment.
Last year the auditor general determined that equipment requirements of the Canadian forces exceeded the planned budget by $4.5 billion. With a capital budget increase of only $60 million, Canadians are wondering how DND will replace the aging Sea King helicopters and enter the revolution of military affairs, and how our armed forces with the latest technology will be able to put up any combat capability whatsoever.
In conclusion, preventing conflict before it begins must become an international priority. I congratulate my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for bringing to the House such an innovative and worthwhile international plan of action. He has my support, and I suspect he should have the support of all members of the House on this initiative.