Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our 'fair share' versus the U.S.

A Globe and Mail editorial today makes the following assertion:

Coupled with the timidity of other NATO partners, American distraction has led to Canada and a select few other countries carrying far more than their fair share in Afghanistan - and making less progress than greater U.S. resources would permit.

I agree that American distraction over Iraq has slowed progress in Afghanistan, and that more American resources would reinvigorate the Afghan project. I don't agree that Canada is "carrying far more than [its] fair share in Afghanistan" due to that American distraction.

The Canadian economy is approximately one tenth the size of U.S. GDP ($1.4 trillion to $14 trillion, give or take a couple of points). Our population is approaching 1/9th of theirs (33 million to 303 million). But while the U.S. is currently fielding approximately 36,000 troops in Afghanistan (17,000 with ISAF and 19,000 with Operation Enduring Freedom), Canada has deployed only 2,500 or so (click map below for more detail).

I mean this as no slight to the CF members who are doing the job over there and supporting it back home, but Canada is severely straining to pull its weight in Afghanistan. And compared to the U.S. we're not even keeping up on a GDP or a population proportion. Only when comparing ourselves to other NATO nations do we come off favourably, since much of Europe isn't even bothering to try to pull its 'fair share'.

Canada is not contributing more than it should to the Afghan mission to make up for an American shortfall. If the Americans were to gauge their military commitment to Afghanistan based upon the contributions of other ISAF nations, they'd have far less than the 36,000 troops they do in the country.

No, the truth of the matter is that much of the world - including the editorial board at the Globe & Mail, apparently - while despising and resenting America as the world's sole superpower, expects that country to pick up a disproportionate amount of the world's security needs on the U.S. taxpayer's dime. It's the age-old whine of 'somebody should do something' taken to geopolitical levels.

And it's truly sad that it's what passes for intelligent commentary in Canada.

Update: Just to be clear, the U.S. and the rest of the allies in Afghanistan aren't doing enough. The mission is indeed under-resourced. But blaming the Americans for that state of affairs is ludicrous.

Look at the list of NATO nations. Then look closely at the troop deployments listed in the map in my post above.

Ask yourself first if a country with the wealth and position that Canada enjoys shouldn't be able to contribute more than 2,500 troops without putting an unbearable strain upon our military. Because right now, we can't. We're living in a glass house, heaving rhetorical stones over our fences.

Then ask which other nations could be doing more to make sure Afghanistan joins the community of responsible nations in the world. I'd say every single one of them could.

But some have further to catch up than others, and despite what the Globe & Mail says, the U.S. isn't one of those suffering by the comparison.


Blogger KURSK said...

We did it to ourselves.Usually, there is 3:1 ratio of support to combat troops in the field, so with 2500 soldiers (also , redundantly acting as support at the same time..) we could have nearly 1/8 of our armed forces at any one time dedicated to this mission alone.

60,000 men and women do not stretch very far, especially when we have three coasts and a huge landmass to protect, as well as having various military commitments around the world.

We have to (at the very least) double our manpower strength.There is no reason that a country as wealthy as Canada could not field a standing army of 250,000, which is still in and of itself, pathetic.

7:29 p.m., July 18, 2008  
Blogger Puzzlist said...

Well, don't blame me for not doing my share. I'm 67, but my son Dave is finishing up his 3rd tour in Kandahar and hopefully he will return to Edmonton in August safe & sound.

Like Paul, I'm a transplanted Czech and a proud Canadian. What a country this could be if we had Vaclav Claus as our PM!

1:25 a.m., July 19, 2008  
Blogger gaz said...

I truly feel that the Americans are too generous when it comes to the whole idea of their "allies" pulling their weight.

I'd like to see any alliance with the United States based on the condition that the smaller partner increase the size of its military and the amount it spends on defence to match the U.S. on a per-capita basis. And that they'd deploy under similar rules of engagement.

5:39 a.m., July 20, 2008  

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