Military support would be mainly symbolic, experts say
By KRISTA FOSS AND JEFF SALLOT, The Globe and Mail
Thursday, September 20, 2001
WINNIPEG and OTTAWA -- Canada's contribution to any U.S.-led armed conflict would be mostly symbolic, military watchers say, despite the hawkish words of some of its politicians.
"I think there's a lot of politicians who are not aware how limited the capabilities of the Forces are right now," said David Charters, director of the University of New Brunswick's Centre for Conflict Studies.
Canada's total infantry would just fill a "community hockey stadium"; most of its military equipment "is in the shop window," and it doesn't have "strategic lift," the ability to transport supplies, ships, artillery and troops quickly to overseas bases, he said.
Even if the country could support an overseas armed conflict at first, there's little to suggest Canada could keep it up.
"We can make a beautiful contribution, albeit small and not vital. The big problem is that we wouldn't be able to sustain it," said Jim Fergusson, deputy director of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Defence and Security Studies.
Both experts agree that of Canada's 60 recently retooled CF-18 fighter jets, only a third could be deployed at any time, because of the need to keep pilots and planes in rotation.
And without aircraft carriers or missiles, the most the Canadian navy could contribute would be frigates with antisubmarine capabilities (of which Canada has a dozen) and supply ships.
"If we're talking about the ability to strike from a distance, from short to medium term, our navy is incapable because of lack of equipment," Prof. Fergusson said.
The country's armed forces have diminished since the Persian Gulf war to include an infantry just 3,000 strong, most of which is currently committed.
The only Canadian army unit of any size in the Middle East at the moment is a logistics battalion of 190 serving as UN observers on the Golan Heights.
Canada's major overseas military commitment is to the peacekeeping forces in the Balkans, where about 1,600 are deployed in Bosnia.
"We had to take 200 soldiers out of Bosnia and send them to Macedonia: That's all we had," said Scott Taylor, editor of the military magazine Esprit de Corps.
"Unless we shut down and pull out of Bosnia, we are fully committed right now in terms of soldiers."
Still, Prof. Charters said, while acknowledging that the Americans need to "thump somebody in a big way," they haven't got much of a target right now -- which raises the question of whether there can be any kind of military response at all.