David Perry

Policy - - In This Issue - David Perry

De­fence: Prom­ises Kept, With As­terisks

At the half­way mark of its first man­date, Justin Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment has de­liv­ered on three quar­ters of its major de­fence prom­ises. The fail­ure to re-en­gage with United Na­tions peace op­er­a­tions is no­table, given the promi­nence to that pledge in the 2015 cam­paign. Oth­er­wise, the Lib­er­als have met or ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions re­gard­ing op­er­a­tional com­mit­ments, ex­ceeded them on their long-term bud­get plans and done what they promised to on pro­cure­ment and writ­ing a new de­fence pol­icy.

Of the two de­fence prom­ises the Trudeau gov­ern­ment has failed to meet—re­new­ing Canada’s com­mit­ment to United Na­tions peace­keep­ing and im­ple­ment­ing the 2011 Re­port on Trans­for­ma­tion— the for­mer re­mains an ac­tive prom­ise, cu­ri­ously un­ful­filled, while the lat­ter pledge has gone nowhere. Two years into its man­date, the gov­ern­ment has moved for­ward to: main­tain sta­tusquo de­fence spend­ing plans; not buy

the F-35, but launch an open fighter com­pe­ti­tion; in­vest in the navy as a top pri­or­ity; con­duct an open re­view of de­fence pol­icy; end the com­bat mis­sion in Iraq and re­fo­cus the op­er­a­tion; and re­main com­mit­ted to re­as­sur­ance mea­sures in East­ern Europe.

The clear­est ex­am­ples of the ful­filled prom­ises are those re­lat­ing to the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions this gov­ern­ment in­her­ited and long-term pol­icy and spend­ing plans for the mil­i­tary. Dur­ing the 2015 cam­paign, the Lib­er­als pledged con­ti­nu­ity for our mil­i­tary re­as­sur­ance mea­sures for our East­ern Euro­pean al­lies but change to op­er­a­tions in Iraq.

In the for­mer case, the gov­ern­ment has main­tained a com­pa­ra­ble pace of ro­tat­ing ships and air­craft through East­ern Europe as part of the wider NATO ef­forts to bol­ster the al­liance’s com­mit­ment to de­fend­ing Europe. Since Trudeau be­came prime min­is­ter, Canada’s con­tri­bu­tion has been sig­nif­i­cantly en­hanced on the ground by de­ploy­ing sev­eral hun­dred troops to take one of the four lead­er­ship po­si­tions in a bat­tal­ion de­ployed in Latvia.

Sim­i­larly, troop de­ploy­ments in the Mid­dle East, largely based in Iraq, have also been ex­panded. The gov­ern­ment con­tro­ver­sially pledged to with­draw CF-18 fight­ers from the air cam­paign in Iraq and Syria, thereby end­ing Canada’s com­bat mis­sion, mak­ing good on that pledge in the win­ter of 2016. At the same time, they added ad­di­tional in­tel­li­gence forces and in­creased the num­ber of special op­er­a­tors work­ing on the ground. In each case, the gov­ern­ment held to its com­mit­ments, and ac­tu­ally ex­panded Canada’s op­er­a­tional mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties abroad.

Aside from op­er­a­tions, the most sub­stan­tive of the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to de­liver on its plat­form were those re­lated to pub­lish­ing a new de­fence pol­icy and a re­vamp­ing of the longterm fund­ing model that sup­ports it. The gov­ern­ment spent a year re­view­ing de­fence pol­icy, en­gag­ing ex­ter­nal ex­perts and the pub­lic in the process. The re­sult­ing pol­icy pa­per— Strong, Se­cure, En­gaged— has gen­er­ally been

The clear­est short­fall be­tween the Lib­er­als’ de­fence record rel­a­tive to their cam­paign com­mit­ments has been their fail­ure to re­new Canada’s com­mit­ments to UN peace support op­er­a­tions.

favourably re­ceived within the de­fence com­mu­nity.

This was made pos­si­ble by the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to both in­crease the de­fence bud­get over the long term and change the rules gov­ern­ing de­fence funds to fa­cil­i­tate an ad­di­tional $ 60 bil­lion in de­fence spend­ing over the next 20 years. As De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan stated can­didly prior to re­leas­ing the pol­icy, the gov­ern­ment would have been forced to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions about which de­fence ac­tiv­i­ties would have had to stop for lack of funds. The fund­ing in­fu­sion al­lows for con­ti­nu­ity on most major ar­eas of ca­pa­bil­ity and in­vest­ments in some sig­nif­i­cant new ones (in ad­di­tion to a host of other changes). De­spite a sub­stan­tively more prom­i­nent fo­cus on per­son­nel is­sues, the new pol­icy is in many ways re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to the pol­icy that pre­ceded it, bod­ing well for its abil­ity to en­dure over time. One aspect of the new pol­icy that is sur­pris­ing is how com­par­a­tively lit­tle men­tion was given to UN peace op­er­a­tions. In Strong, Se­cure, En­gaged, UN mis­sions are dis­cussed in some de­tail, but only as one of many op­tions, rather than as a pre­ferred op­tion. This is sur­pris­ing, given that the sec­tion on peace support mis­sions was one of most de­tailed and spe­cific of the Lib­er­als’ de­fence com­mit­ments and one of the most fre­quently re­peated on the cam­paign trail. In­deed, the clear­est short­fall be­tween the Lib­er­als’ de­fence record rel­a­tive to their cam­paign com­mit­ments has been their fail­ure to re­new Canada’s com­mit­ments to UN peace support op­er­a­tions.

Since the Trudeau gov­ern­ment as­sumed of­fice, Canada’s troop con­tri­bu­tions to UN op­er­a­tions have ac­tu­ally de­clined by roughly 40 po­si­tions. In other words, de­spite Lib­eral cam­paign rhetoric, Canada is mak­ing fewer tan­gi­ble com­mit­ments to UN op­er­a­tions.

The gov­ern­ment did prom­ise in 2016 to de­ploy up to 600 mil­i­tary and 150 po­lice per­son­nel for UN op­er­a­tions, and pledged hun­dreds of mil­lions in pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial support. So far, none of those per­son­nel have de­ployed un­der UN aus­pices, de­spite per­sis­tent re­quests from Canadian al­lies for as­sis­tance and no short­age of mis­sions to join. In fact, since the Trudeau gov­ern­ment as­sumed of­fice, Canada’s troop con­tri­bu­tions to UN op­er­a­tions have ac­tu­ally de­clined by roughly 40 po­si­tions. In other words, de­spite Lib­eral cam­paign rhetoric, Canada is mak­ing fewer tan­gi­ble com­mit­ments to UN op­er­a­tions un­der this gov­ern­ment than un­der the last one.

The other cam­paign prom­ise that has gone un­ful­filled was the one to im­ple­ment the Re­port on Trans­for­ma­tion, a roadmap for mak­ing the Depart­ment of National De­fence more ef­fi­cient, pub­lished in 2011. De­spite the re­port’s au­thor, for­mer lieu­tenant-gen­eral An­drew Les­lie, sit­ting in the Lib­eral cau­cus as well as be­ing par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary to the min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs, no ac­tion has been taken to im­ple­ment the re­port he signed, nor has any been sug­gested. In part, this is be­cause some of the ac­tiv­i­ties sug­gested in the re­port were taken up by the De­fence Re­newal Team, al­though their re­sults

have fallen short of the orig­i­nal in­tent. More broadly, the cash in­fu­sion the Trudeau gov­ern­ment pro­vided has re­moved much of the im­per­a­tive to find in­ter­nal sav­ings.

Fi­nally, on the peren­ni­ally be­dev­illing topic of de­fence pro­cure­ment, the Lib­er­als have largely stuck to their script and de­liv­ered. Dur­ing the cam­paign, the Lib­er­als pledged to make in­vest­ing in the Royal Canadian Navy a pri­or­ity. In gov­ern­ment, they have re­branded and em­braced the National Ship­build­ing Strat­egy, the route for­ward to build­ing three new fleets for the navy.

A few months after the elec­tion, they an­nounced a major change to the process for ac­quir­ing a new fleet of war­ships with the in­tent of ac­cel­er­at­ing it. A year after form­ing gov­ern­ment, they re­leased a Re­quest for Pro­pos­als to buy new ships. At the two-year mark, the com­pe­ti­tion for new war­ships has been ex­tended by at least seven months, with the in­ten­tion of hav­ing bids sub­mit­ted by Novem­ber 17, and the process has been re­vised along the way to max­i­mize the chance of a suc­cess­ful pro­cure­ment. While it’s too early to tell how the process will ul­ti­mately fare, just launch­ing the com­pe­ti­tion was a major mile­stone and a nec­es­sary step for­ward in in­vest­ing in a new navy.

The other major Lib­eral pro cure­ment pri­or­ity has been re­plac­ing Canada’s fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. When cam­paign­ing, the Lib­er­als made contradictory prom­ises to, on the one hand, not buy the F-35, which the Harper gov­ern­ment had planned to pur­chase, while on the other hand, run an open com­pe­ti­tion.

At the two-year mark, the gov­ern­ment has promised a com­pe­ti­tion will be launched within its first man­date, and is en­gag­ing in the prepara­tory work to do so, but has yet to re­lease bid doc­u­ments. Roughly a year after as­sum­ing of­fice, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a con­tro­ver­sial two-track plan to ac­quire jets, which would ex­plore the op­tion of ac­quir­ing 18 Boe­ing Su­per Hor­nets on an in­terim ba­sis, while launch­ing a com­pe­ti­tion be­fore the next elec­tion. The in­terim ac­qui­si­tion was pred­i­cated on clos­ing a pre-ex­ist­ing fighter ca­pa­bil­ity gap the Trudeau gov­ern­ment finds un­palat­able. To do so, it pro­posed a sole-source con­tract with Boe­ing for a tem­po­rary fleet of new jets. That plan has been widely crit­i­cized, and now sits in limbo fol­low­ing Boe­ing’s trade com­plaint against Bom­bardier with the U.S. Com­merce depart­ment. On Oc­to­ber 17, it was an­nounced that Air­bus would be tak­ing a ma­jor­ity stake in the C Se­ries, which may help re­solve the dis­pute. As of now, the out­come and im­pact on the in­terim pur­chase and fu­ture com­pe­ti­tion are un­clear.

In sum, the gov­ern­ment has done a good job of do­ing what it said it would. Some of its choices have been con­tentious, but, peace­keep­ing aside, that’s been a re­flec­tion of their orig­i­nal cam­paign prom­ises, not a fail­ure to de­liver on them.

The other major Lib­eral pro­cure­ment pri­or­ity has been re­plac­ing Canada’s fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. When cam­paign­ing, the Lib­er­als made contradictory prom­ises to, on the one hand, not buy the F-35, which the Harper gov­ern­ment had planned to pur­chase, while on the other hand, run an open com­pe­ti­tion.

David Perry is Se­nior An­a­lyst and Fel­low at the Canadian Global Af­fairs In­sti­tute. He is also an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tre for Mil­i­tary and Strate­gic Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Calgary and a colum­nist for the Canadian Naval Re­view. dperry@ cgai.ca

DND/CAF photo

Two CF-18s, which has been the Canadian fighter jet since the 1980s, and are due to be re­placed. But by what?

Adam Scotti photo

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau with De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan and Gen­eral Jonathan Vance at the NATO Sum­mit in Brus­sels in May 2017.

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