Christie Blatchford: Military has defied orders to increase army militia, report says
20 Sept 2011 http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/09/21/christie-blatchford-military-has-defied-orders-to-increase-army-militia-report-says/
Canada’s bloated military bureaucracy has consistently defied explicit orders from government ministers and failed to increase the size of the army militia as directed.
The accusation is made in a scorching but carefully documented report done by pre-eminent military scholar Jack English for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and obtained in advance of its release Wednesday by only a few media outlets, including Postmedia.
It is a “wretched saga” that Mr. English describes as marked by “sandbagging, obstruction, futile wheel-spinning, and endlessly wasted staff effort.”
Using statements made by a series of defence ministers and recommendations either from special commissions or in government “White Papers” — all of them pledging or urging that the part-time militia or reserves, whose members most proudly call themselves citizen-soldiers, would grow — Mr. English shows how bureaucrats and leaders within the regular army, who saw any move to increase the militia as a threat, stubbornly stymied the wishes of their political masters.
In the result, the size of the militia remains virtually where it was more than a decade ago, when then-Liberal Defence Minister David Collenette first called for the number of part-time reservists to be increased to at least 18,500, a number adopted by his successors, Doug Young and Art Eggleton, the latter even imposing a deadline of March, 2006, for that promised increase.
But as of March last year, Mr. English says, the militia part-time head count remained stubbornly at about 16,500 – and that includes the reallocation of about 1,200 medical and communications reserves which weren’t part of the militia before, a move Mr. English calls “sleight of hand.”
As for the man publicly seen as the saviour of the forces, popular former Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier, Mr. English notes that while he “railed against the endless process of an already bloated headquarters,” Mr. Hillier “ended up leaving it larger and possibly more inefficient than ever.”
By 2003, National Defence Headquarters, or NDHQ as it’s called, had 5,600 uniformed personnel, about the same number of civilians and “an untold number of consultants” for a small regular force of 55,000, 20,000 civilians and 20,000 part-time reservists.
“The point in mentioning this,” Mr. English says, “is that National Defence Headquarters is today roughly as large as the entire militia.”
The former veteran, who has a masters in war studies from the Royal Military College in Kingston, a master’s in history from Duke University and a Ph.d from Queen’s University, paints a scenario that could have been taken from a script for Yes Minister, the old BBC sitcom about how an intransigent civil service regularly foiled the will of Parliament, or at least of Parliamentarians.
In Mr. English’s real-life example, functionaries fudged numbers, shifted units, counted bodies in novel ways or just plain stalled as they waited for the inevitable — and for them, the happy — day that ministers or even governments would change.
At one particular low point in 2009, Mr. English says, the Canadian Forces “in typical Byzantine, prevaricating gobbledygook” actually reported it couldn’t tell the government how many reservists it had because of difficulties counting numbers in its different information management systems.
The current Conservative government hardly emerges unscathed.
Contrary to various Liberal governments, where bureaucrats ignored or thwarted ministerial directives to grow the militia, the Conservatives simply reneged on their promise to increase militia strength by 10,000, Mr. English says, and then made matters worse by slashing reserve pay budgets in December of 2009.
And while “direct ministerial intervention” partially restored some of the pay cuts, “cancelled future training could not be resurrected.”
That minister, Peter MacKay, ordered the defence department to develop policies to prevent similar turmoil — chiefly, to stop militia pay cheques being used for other purposes — but as of February this year, Mr. English says, “the vice chief [of defence] reported he was still ‘working’ on the problem.… The matter of compliance still remains to be seen.”
How compliance, or following government orders, came to be an apparently voluntary matter in a country where the military is purportedly under civilian control makes for an astonishing and complicated story.
Mr. English’s report, formally entitled The Role of the Militia in Today’s Canadian Forces, is as much history lesson as indictment.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Canada had about 33,700 citizen-soldiers, while the regular army fielded about 14,000, and though the numbers fluctuated over the years, it wasn’t until 1952 that regulars outnumbered reservists for the first time in history.
This was the era of the Cold War, when as Mr. English says, “growing fear of sudden nuclear attack appeared to increase the need for forces-in-being” over a militia, and in Canada, national survival training or civilian defence became the militia’s priority.
In the Sixties, as the preoccupation with national survival lessened, the government slashed militia strength and shortly thereafter shut down many rural and small-town armouries.
It is the armoury, where citizens come to “parade” and learn the profession of arms on their own time, on weeknights and weekends, which is the real heart of the militia and where the precious bonds between military and civilian communities are forged.
The militia has never recovered from the losses of those armouries and the deep cuts, Mr. English says, with its role changing to one of augmenting the regular army, providing individual officers and soldiers to fill vacancies.
Successive years saw the government deem peacekeeping as the forces’ chief priority, and then bilingualism.
The militia, Mr. English says, was all but forgotten until 1995, when then-defence minister Collenette appointed a special commission on restructuring the reserves.
Led by Brian Dickson, the former chief justice of Canada and a distinguished veteran of the Second World War, the commission urged that the reserves again become the basis for recruitment and training of an expanded army – for mobilization, in other words.
Large standing armies, as Mr. English says, can’t be economically sustained in peacetime: Until he or she is called to full-time duty, the reservist costs 80% less than the full-time soldier. The solution was a smaller regular army, using the reserves for what Mr. English calls a “rainy day” expansion if necessary.
The government endorsed the mobilization concept and even raised the paid ceiling, but “in reality, however, militia strength continued to drop,” hitting a low in 1998 of about 9,900 part-time reservists.
Though the mobilization role of the militia was as recently as 2002 endorsed, it nonetheless “was gradually and surreptitiously swept under the carpet by the regular force military establishment,” Mr. English says.
In the end, he concludes, “promised militia growth has been thwarted at every important turn.”
He says that while conditions of service for reservists have improved, “little progress has been made in increasing militia strength,” particularly in what’s called “numbers paraded” or those “on the armoury floor.”
While reservists are now used to plug the holes in the regular army’s units – this is why the militia made up about 20% on average of troops deployed to Afghanistan – there are too few leaders left in the armouries to train recruits.
Mr. English recommends the militia be increased to 45,000 part-time soldiers, the formation of several new militia units and that National Defence Headquarters be slashed, a move also recommended recently by Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie in his review of the Canadian Forces and by an independent commission in England, which this summer similarly urged the United Kingdom’s reserves be grown and given a broader role.
Such an expanded militia, with a solid “footprint” in towns across the country, would “create a true people’s army in which citizens who are inclined and able to serve their country in uniform would not be precluded from doing so,” Mr. English says.
“To not strengthen and reinforce the existing militia framework would be unwise as there is nothing more important for the army of a democracy than its link with its people.”