What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The politics of coalition burden-sharing: Canadian lessons learned

Over at Travels with Shiloh, there is a recent entry on my and Nik Hynek's book's chapter on Canada, which was written by Ben Zyla. A good apropos to bring up that there is a new report out on Canada's lessons learned from their operations in Kandahar - FYI.

Full reference:
David J. Bercuson - J.L. Granatstein (2011): Lessons learned? What Canada should learn from Afghanistan. Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute, October 2011. (Hyperlink)
The report focuses a lot on Canada's complaints about the informal caveats put in place by alliance partners in Afghanistan. A turn of fate after in Bosnia, Canadian battalions were sometimes referred to as "Can'tbats" because of their respective restrictions (imposed on them by decision-makers in Ottawa). Afghanistan started out similarly, but evolved fast into a largely unrestricted engagement by Canadian troops, by the time of the Canadian PRT's and Battle Group's move into Kandahar province. Press reports on Granatstein's and Bercuson's study seem to focus on this aspect mostly, claiming that "The refusal (by allies) to help Canada in Kandahar cost lives."

The report itself is more cautiously worded, and does not look to simplify causal relationships to this extent. Although who could deny, of course, that if Canada would have had to do less, and the burdens in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan would have been more evenly shared, less Canadian soldiers would have died? Moreover, the study also refers to how in terms of MEDEVAC Canadian Forces were regulary let down, and could only count on US support in this respect with real consistency.

I would stop by yet another point here, and it is the study's discussion of the reasons for Canada's decision to go into Kandahar, and not somewhere else. Based on what I know, I can agree with the authors' conclusion that it reflected a genuine desire to be there and be important at the same time. An important exception to the Realist paradigm's "Threat balancing vs. Alliance dependence" framework of interpretation for countries' participation in coalition operations, which would not leave room for normative considerations playing a role (i.e. for a logic of appropriateness as opposed to one of consequences) - something we indicate in advance in our book's opening chapter, even while putting forward the above mentioned framework as a baseline theory of coalition contributions.

Accordingly, a Canadian DFAIT (i.e. foreign ministry) official is quoted on page 21 as saying, concerning this, that the reason for the extent of Canada's involvement was:
"We didn’t do it because someone in NATO wanted us to do it, or because the Americans made us do it… We did it because Afghanistan was a serious issue, we were a serious country… and we were determined to behave accordingly. Which is why we dismissed options like sitting on a mountain top in the middle of nowhere."
Telling enough.

I also found remarkable, after my previous post on the Netherlands (and how the G20 as a forum mattered in their case), how the G8 was an important issue here in Canada's case. Of course the G8 is generally an important foreign policy influence multiplier for Canada, but here it was explicitly connected by some Canadian officials themselves to the Afghanistan mission. PM Paul Martin's communications director, Scott Reid is quoted (p.21) as having said:
"There was a feeling that this was the price of being a G-8 country."

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