Friday, January 22, 2010

Investing in the military is like putting money away for a rainy day

Someone at the Globe and Mail seems to have realized that:

Canada's restored military is making a real difference in the world, but the army will particularly suffer from $81-million in budget cuts to the military, the result of the Department of National Defence's reallocation of that amount to "higher priorities." Cost overruns are unsurprising, considering the scale of the commitments, but robbing Peter to pay Paul in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year risks undermining vital readiness and strategic assets.

The army has to train 3,000 troops for Afghanistan every six months, until the mission ends, and the cuts have fallen disproportionately on soldiers, both regular and reserve. Though the Canada First defence strategy promised to increase the forces by 1,000 new recruits, the army is reducing regular-force intake by 1,000, because there is no money to train new recruits.

The reserves are especially feeling the pain, as 80,000 man-days of training are slashed from their budget. This means many units will not train at all. Unlike the regular force, when reservists don't train, they don't get paid. The reserves are a critical strategic asset, both operationally and culturally. Comprising about 20 per cent of the Canadian contingent in Kandahar, they are also able to back up the regulars, enabling rapid deployments to places such as Haiti. Arguably the most important role the militia plays is to connect citizens to the military - both as the military's presence in the community and in making sure that the military is reflective of society: The reserves are more ethnically diverse and have a higher percentage of women than the regular force. What hurts the reserves, hurts the army.

The Conservative government likes to talk about supporting the military. And it does, but only compared to the other federal political parties. If that's not damning them with the absolute faintest of praise, I don't know what is.

Support for the Canadian Forces by the Canadian public is a mile wide and an inch deep. Now's the time to put our money where our mouth is.

Because when things go all to hell - domestically and internationally alike - it's our men and women and uniform who get the call to bail us all out.

Update: A couple of points are left unexplored by the G&M editorial, but are worth considering.

First, from what I understand, the $81M is just the tip of the iceberg. While this is unconfirmed, I've heard RUMINT that up to $1B could be coming out of DND in both direct cuts and holdbacks. By holdbacks, I mean money that was promised to DND out of other departmental budgets to pay for the Afghan mission, that will now have to be covered out of the DND budget. Again, that's unconfirmed, but I fear it has a credible air about it.

Second, what is the effect of any sort of cut in funding on an organization living on the leading edge of its budget due to too much mission and too little resources? Morale takes a hit as ordinary soldiers, sailors, and airmen look around and realize they're being asked once again to do more with less. Readiness takes a hit as a financial triage process is applied to every line item in the budget, and what was considered important yesterday is relegated to unaffordable today.

Worse than that, the long knives tend to come out in the higher echelons. That is to say, when resources are increasingly scarce, each tribe within the CF has to strain mightily to resist the instinct to protect its own. Some are better at that sort of political infighting than others.

We've already gone down that road before: Hillier's "decade of darkness." Doing so yet again would be sheer idiocy.

Upperdate: The National Post is also talking sense on this. The editorial finishes strongly:

We call upon the federal government not only to go forward with the purchase of the Close Combat Vehicles, but also to provide new equipment for the navy, whose destroyers and supply ships are older than most of the sailors aboard them. The government also should reverse some of the recently announced reductions in basic equipment maintenance and training exercises.

Given the harsh fiscal realities of the post-crisis economy, it is hard to argue for yet more government spending. But having a capable military with global reach is worth the price. Much like a good insurance policy, it's better to spend the money and have a capable military than suddenly discover you need one when you don't.

As a long-time insurance guy, I've been saying this since Day 1. Hear, frickin' hear!

We-get-mail-update: In the comments, Fred opines that a cut of $81 million to Canada's military budget is but a tiny percentage. True, as far as it goes. But as it turns out, that cut was to the Army's budget of $1.6B, and amounts to a 5% cut. Apparently both the Air Force and Navy had even higher percentage cuts (6% or 7%), but I haven't verified that. And that's not even taking into account cuts required of the non-elemental commands (Canda COM, CEFCOM, CANSOFCOM, and CANOSCOM).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quick back of the envelope calc says an $81m cut is about a budget reduction of 0.004%.


Maybe the G&M didn't want to put the budget cut into perspective.

Or maybe, like most MSM reporters, this one finds arithmetic "challenging"

5:38 p.m., January 22, 2010  
Blogger PenGun said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:57 p.m., January 23, 2010  
Blogger PenGun said...

To put it another way.

Could you please explain who we need the military to protect us from.

Anyone will do.

3:30 p.m., January 24, 2010  

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