Canada after Afghanistan, peacekeeping role a myth

By Chris Pedersen

When the war in Afghanistan ends, Canada will need a new policy to deal with international crises.

Retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie spoke at the Military Museums in Calgary on March 5 to discuss the role of Canada’s military in the world after the Afghanistan conflict. His speech focused on the creation of an amphibious task force, designed to respond to international situations.

“Of all the countries in the world that should have an amphibious expeditionary capability, it should be Canada,” said MacKenzie.

Starting his speech with a lighthearted tone, it then became more serious as MacKenzie turned to the myths of Canada’s role in peacekeeping.

At the height of the cold war, Canada’s priority was not peacekeeping, but protection of Western ideals against communism.

“The big myth, number one Canadian myth– we’re a peacekeeping nation,” said MacKenzie. “Bull crap. At the height of our peacekeeping reputation, we had over 10,000 highly mechanized troops in the central front of Europe, navy at sea worldwide, airforce dominating over Canadian airspace and participating over European airspace armed with nuclear weapons. That was our number one foreign policy priority, not peacekeeping.”

MacKenzie believes that Canada needs to respond to international crises quickly, with no delay in arranging transport or finding ships.

He wrote an essay early in his career, arguing that Canada needed two assault ships to imme- diately carry troops to a crisis.

“Ralph Fisher, Admiral Harry Porter and myself put together a thing called Seahorse [in 1993],” said MacKenzie. “The whole idea was to have an assault ship on each coast. That ship would have 1,000 to 1,100 soldiers, helicopters, vehicles, medical facilities and it would be available for rapid deployment.”

Canada now has the troops and equipment to handle international problems, but action is delayed due to transportation problems.

“It is a real tragedy because we have this Canadian expeditionary force on 10 days notice to move,” said MacKenzie. “We have everything to undertake a particular mission except the lift, the ship.”

With the current war in Afghanistan, the military is in financial troubles and it would take co-ordination between all three branches of the military to see the creation of an amphibious assault force.

“What’s now happened with Afghanistan is the reduction of funds in the three services; army, navy and air force,” said MacKenzie. “It is understandable that the two generals and admiral are fighting for survival financially. You need the three of them backing the concept together for an amphibious force.”

MacKenzie speculated there is another reason that the amphibious force has been relegated to the backburner.

“The odds are not good that it’s going to be approved because of one other factor, [the 2010] Olympics,” he said.

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