If we found a cure for cancer, would we then ask our scientists to invent a new disease so that oncologists had something to do? Something rather similar is being proposed for the Canadian Forces. A consensus has formed that there is no foreseeable direct military threat to our security – but many are arguing that the logical consequence is that instead of enjoying the peace, we must invent new missions for the military in order to keep our soldiers occupied.

An article in last week’s Ottawa Citizen encapsulated this idea. The end of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, the Citizen said, would leave Canadian soldiers suffering from “disillusionment, impatience, and frustration”. Soldiers need “the heart-pumping excitement” of war, and besides, according to Lieutenant General Devlin, “[c]onflict and war are great for recruiting”. Faced with a period of peace, sitting around in barracks is not an option, agreed a former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Maurice Baril. According to him, “[s]uggesting that the (Canadian Forces) return home and retire to mothballs seems a waste of talent, treasure, life and lessons learned.” Canada should rather engage more actively in UN operations, with “boots on the ground”.

“If the armed forces have nothing to do, we should cut them down to a size commensurate with our needs.”

Military officers are not the only ones making this suggestion. Oxford University professor Jennifer Welsh argues that traditional war is obsolete. But rather than propose that this provides a rare opportunity for prolonged peace, Professor Welsh concludes that the Canadian Forces should get involved in dealing with what she terms “generalized violence”, such as “drug, gang, or political violence”. Just why the military would be a suitable tool for this, she fails to explain. She insists, however, that we should be thinking of “other possible vocations for our armed forces” than fighting wars or even peacekeeping.

Nobody would be taken seriously if they answered ‘yes’ to my opening question. But for some mysterious reason, similar suggestions seem commonplace when it comes to the military. They should not be. If the armed forces have nothing to do, we should cut them down to a size commensurate with our needs. The resultant savings would do far more for our country than any number of overseas military operations carried out in order to make work for our soldiers. A more unnecessary and dangerous policy than finding operations for the armed forces to conduct just so that they don’t have to sit around doing nothing in barracks would be hard to conceive.

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