On the eve of November 11, 2010, Remembrance Day, Canada is involved in another tussle over the future of the Afghanistan mission. Whether to stay after 2011, at least in a primarily training capacity is the operative question. Both Liberals and Conservatives are in a quandry about how to approach the issue.
For our part, there is no doubt that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are verging on collapse, without adequate governance and are both in danger, perhaps Pakistan more than Afghanistan, of falling to forces that include the Taliban and Al Qaeda. With its own nuclear arsenal, Pakistan's fate is especially fragile and significant. Some observers are today noting the lack of adequate leadership, especially through the aftermath of the recent floods which left 20 million displaced, many of them without adequate food or shelter or medical treatment.
Canada's contribution in Afghanistan, along with NATO forces, has been both exemplary and costly in terms of human sacrifice. And the future of conflict seems to point toward more and smaller actions on the ground, with foot soldiers, and less with high powered planes and submarines. However, there is also a trend toward "drone" type conflicts, where few if any human sacrifices would occur.
While we will all reverentially pause, thank those who fought and served in both WW I and WW II, Korea, and now Afghanistan tomorrow, and veterans will parade and lay wreaths on the monuments in Ottawa, we will also reflect on the country's future stance on war itself.
With national budgets facing incremental debt and long-term deficits, many countries are facing substantial cuts to their military budgets. France and Great Britain have forged a military alliance, although they have not addressed the need for increased numbers of "foot soldiers," a key component in any future conflict, with forces similar to Al Qaeda. The Presidential commission in the U.S., in a 'starting point' paper made public earlier today, has proposed some 20% in cuts to the Pentagon budget, as one attempt to reduce spending and cut both debt and deficits.
War, as a national commitment, may be increasingly difficult to find adherents, supporters among the citizenry, especially when the reasons for them are clouded in ambiguity. Dubya, through his invasion of Iraq, may have succeeded, involuntarily, in making war a less likely choice for the pursuit of international settlement of disputes, although the hawks are still keeping the military option on the table with Iran.
The removal of nuclear weapons, the secure storage of any loose nuclear materiel, the reduction of military budgets, the rise of collaboration among the G20, and the concentration on economic and currency issues may have the cumulative effect of taking the international focus off military conflict.
And for that all veterans, and all military personnel, and all political leaders might even shed a sigh of relief. Certainly, the people in the coffee houses, the pubs and the restaurants around the world will shed a long collective sigh, in the face of such a possibility.
Human dependence on military conflict is a global issue requiring collective collaborative initiatives from all, if the tragedies are ever going to be ameliorated, reduced in number and in severity. One good place to start would be a doctoral program in Peace Studies at Canada's military colleges.