Friday, January 07, 2005

Canadian Military Spending: the Tsunami lesson

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the earthquake and tsunami in Asia, and about how military aid was on the short-term a much bigger priority than donations of money.

Over the past few days, I have been very happy to learn that the United States (in addition to $350 million in aid) has dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln and its various support ships and aircraft to aid the situation in southeast Asia. Pictures in the newspapers over the past few days have shown people from Banda Aceh, Indonesia (the worst-affected area) crowding around an American military helipcopter from the USS Abraham Lincoln for emergency food supplies being distributed.

Over the past few days since I have been in Canada, I have heard about how Canadian civilians have donated $35 million towards the aid effort, and how the Canadian government has donated $80 million. When you consider that Canada is about a tenth the population of the United States, these are very big numbers, about double the per-capita contribution of the United States. But, in terms of the short-term impact, you do not hear much about the Canadian contribution, because the United States has a much better military infrastructure that can ensure its contribution is effectively delivered.

One major problem with Canada is that the government has short-changed their military for many years, and Canada's lack of effectiveness in the Asian tsunami bears the fruit of this neglect. Military forces can do many things other than shooting guns and killing people - in the current Asian situation, the American forces are proving a very effective mechanism for delivering aid. Canadian forces have been active for many years in peacekeeping activities in places like the Golan Heights, Cyprus, Rwanda, etc. But, the Canadian government has put off necessary military spending for many years and has denied the Canadian forces the equipment and manpower they need to be truly effective.

The Canadian government really needs to start carrying its end of the load in terms of military spending. Canadians did great things in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. In the first Gulf War and Yugoslavia, brave Canadian military personnel were effective despite the neglect by their government. At present, however, the Canadian forces are in such a state of neglect that I doubt how effective they could be.

The chronic underfunding of the Canadian forces is a national disgrace that has undermined the effectiveness of Canadian foreign aid (such as for the Asian earthquake and tsunami), put brave Canadian soldiers' lives at risk, and made Canada the laughing stock of NATO. The Canadian government needs to wake up, smell the coffee, and do something about the serious situation this underfunding has put Canada in.