A call for a thoughtful debate about Canada's long term military ambitions and how to equip our armed forces

June 1, 2011, Ottawa, ON – With Canada transitioning from a combat mission to a training one in Afghanistan, the government requesting Parliament to agree to an extension of its military mission in Libya, and the ongoing debate over the rising cost of building the F-35 fighter jets, now is the time to have a reasoned democratic debate about Canada's defence and foreign engagement.

In this context, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) today released a Commentary, Keeping Canada Strong and Free, written by Brian Lee Crowley, MLI's Managing Director, and Alex Wilner, MLI Fellow and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Securities Studies in Zurich.

In today's Commentary, Crowley and Wilner discuss four ideas that should be front and centre as Canadians debate the future of our military and its contribution to our ambitions in the world:

In defence matters, government is responsible, but also accountable. The authors begin by reminding us that it is the elected government that takes on the responsibility to govern and make decisions on any international interventions – until it demonstrates that it cannot. It is that latter judgment that properly lies in the hands of parliament and the electorate.

Prefer clear goals going in to "exit strategies" going out. Next they outline the importance of setting and accomplishing clear goals before going into military engagements. The current preoccupation with "exit strategies" puts the cart before the horse. But setting such goals requires understanding our strategic interests and matching the equipment and forces to those interests.

Time for a white paper to define Canada's defence strategy. A new, detailed white paper on Canada's defence strategy would help define when, how, and why Canada might be called upon. It should also clearly define future military needs that are in line with our goals.

Match your equipment purchases to your defence strategy. Finally, urgent decisions must be made regarding the equipment that is absolutely necessary to support our military – in all branches of the service. The challenge will be to commit the financial resources given that every major weapons and equipment purchase is overwhelmed with bureaucratic questioning.

The authors conclude, "Canada should only undertake foreign military missions in order to protect its core national interests and when it is firmly committed to a strategy of success. Our exit strategy will follow logically from that success. If we're not committed to success, we shouldn't get involved. Knowing what success is requires us to think about our strategic interests in the world and then to match the equipment and the forces to those interests."

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