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.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Dr. Robert Huebert: He was pretty insistent that the West Block was the East Block.
An hon. member: Welcome to the Hill.
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.
That's easy. We do what the Russians are doing.
The Russians are basically saying they will follow international law and they will participate in every multilateral improvement of environmental standards. They're a major player in what's referred to as the polar code, which is going to be strengthening the creations of the environmental standards for new ships. They're basically putting in an enforcement capability that says they will follow international standards, which are the highest standards, but that they have rules for what you need to do if you're coming into the northern sea route, which is their term for the Northeast Passage.
What the Russians have been doing very successfully is saying, “World, come on in, we want you to come in, we want you under Russian standards, and, by the way, this is what happens to you if you don't follow our standards. We have these new port facilities. We're calling them the research and rescue, but we're deploying naval assets. And, by the way, we are also making sure that you have to pay a certain fee to support that infrastructure, and, by the way, you have to sign these contracts, which, in effect, say that you're acknowledging the northern sea route as internal waters.”
What we need to do is play by the international standards, create the type of vision that we want, but have that enforcement capability, so that when the Europeans—and they are probably going to be a bigger threat than the Americans, in my view, for the sovereignty—finally start saying “No, this is an international strait”, we can say, “Well, you can call it whatever you want, but these are our rules”, which means, de facto, that we would have control.
The issue with the Chinese is an interesting one because it's not going to be just China and Canada in the Arctic; it's going to be Canada in the new relationship with the new China. We're seeing this in terms of a very well thought out Chinese strategy of buying into our resource industry. They're doing it in Australia. They're doing it in Iceland. They're doing it in Greenland. They're doing it all above board, and it's all rule-based, but it's a long-term strategy to give them a control in the long term, and I think it's going to be quite interesting.
On the other hand, they are going to be the future for much of our resource development. We are a resource exporter. The Americans have shown that they're starting to have some questionable market elements, and they are going to be the future. The question is how we balance that.
The Chinese also know that they need us for the resources, but the Chinese have also made it clear that when it comes to their core interests, it doesn't matter in terms of friendships or new possibilities, they will do what they need to do. We found that out at the University of Calgary when we had the audacity to give the Dalai Lama an honorary degree and we got delisted as a university. Basically our president had to go and make apologies for having an independent university style in order to get the Chinese to say that we're acceptable. We're going to need to deal with the Chinese in a way that I think has to be mature and realistic, but in a greater context.
For the Beaufort, we're missing opportunities. We should be doing what the Australians and the Indonesians did to resolve the situation of the East Timor sea. They still say their particular view stands, but they work together in terms of environmental standards, resource development, and protection. I really think that's what we have to do.
The Americans have shown that they still want to act independent, because they put a moratorium on their fishing, which of course included the zone that we dispute. I don't understand why they didn't come to us and say they wanted to do this together, they wanted to do this through joint management. What that tells me is that the Americans still don't remember they have a northern neighbour in that context, and that makes it dangerous. I think missteps can really make that disastrous when the oil and gas does start, and it will start in that region.
For the Northwest Passage, as I was saying earlier, the key is not asking for everyone's blessing. The key is going forward and just saying, “This is our capability. We're listening to the international community for what we think standards are, but, by the way, this is a homeland.” People, Canadians, live here and have lived here since time immemorial, so we're not talking about some abstract figure—which Europeans are increasingly talking about. We need to have that ability to say to them, “This is the way we're doing it, and if you do dumb things like having the seal ban, that's going to have a ramification in that context.”
For Hans Island, I think that illustrates it. It's a silly conflict, but as soon as the Danes got a new piece of equipment, an ice-capable frigate, they escalated the crisis in 2002, from one of their scientists going and leaving a bottle of Danish liquor and our going and leaving a bottle of CC. It had been handled that way since 1974. They get a new piece of kit and they land troops. What does that say in terms of how these issues spiral out of control? That's really why we need to have surveillance and enforcement. That really, to a large degree, remedies many of the issues we'll be facing in the future.
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.