09/07/2011 04:40 EDT | Updated 11/07/2011 05:12 EST

Military Cutbacks: Reduce Bureaucracy, Not Forces


Whenever a war is over, cutbacks in military spending are both inevitable and justified.

In big wars -- WWI, WWII, Korea - cutbacks in spending also entailed cutbacks in personnel: Fewer soldiers means a smaller payroll.

Now that Canada has pulled combat troops out of Afghanistan, and our role in that country enters a new and hopefully a less lethal phase, cutbacks in spending are already underway.

Lt.Gen. Andrew Leslie, former head on Land Forces (before the name was changed back to "Canadian Army"), was tasked with finding innovative ways to save money without affecting military efficiency. Apparently he's figured out how to cut $1 billion out of today's $21 billion defence budget.

The fact the Gen. Leslie is due to retire, after delivering his blueprint for change, (Report on Transformation 2011) has provoked some to wonder if he's getting out before the roof falls in.

Despite valid paranoia about all intended military cutbacks, Gen. Leslie's proposals seem straightforward, without hidden agenda.

From news reports, it seems that the numbers of reserve soldiers will be reduced, along civilian employees at DND and in regimental units.

The one thing that our military does not need, is cutting back the size of the regular forces. The Canadian army is already smaller than it should be for the tasks it is asked to perform.

And while Afghanistan is now history, the performance of our military in that theatre guarantees that when the next international crisis occurs, Canadian troops will be wanted.

After past world wars, Canada disarmed and demobbed too fast. In peacetime, bureaucracy tends to expand as the number of soldiers decreases.

For example, in WWII Canada had perhaps a million citizens in uniform, some 700,000 of them in the army. Throughout that six-year war we had only 65 generals. Thirty years later, with a puny army of UN peacekeepers and no war, we had something like 135 generals.

Today, in DND, there are more civilian bosses of equivalent general officer rank than there are generals in uniform. This, presumably, is one of the targets of Gen. Leslie's proposed trimming.

Gen. Walt Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff, seems reasonably comfortable with Gen. Leslie's report, but he's not a politician and whatever happens is eventually going to be a political decision.

Canadian politicians have a history of economizing on the backs of the military -- the most flagrant example being Pierre Trudeau soon after he became PM and seemed eager to disband the military and withdraw from NATO. The regimental system saved the quality of our army in those days.

Rather than maintain large conventional units, the Canadian army seems ideally suited to becoming something like the British SAS -- highly-trained individuals able to function in small units or larger units, doing clandestine operations or open combat.

I know we have our JTF2 commandos, but from accounts they are better at being secretive about themselves than effective in dangerous situations. Maybe this is a bum rap, but we just don't know.

Anyway, after Afghanistan a lot of military hardware needs replacing. It could be argued we need more battle helicopters than the expensive Lockheed Martin F-35 strike fighter to replace the aging but still useful CF-18s.