Saturday, August 6, 2011


To digress: "The Night Watch Man" philosophy is a largely discredited 19th Century political concept which postulates that the State's only legitimate function is the protection of the liberty of its citizens. Two imperative manifestations of the theory are prison building, and massive military build-up and deployments.

The three-week long "Operation Nanook" which the Canadian Government by way of the Department of National Defence is launching this weekend,  is the largest display yet of Arctic military muscle. In fact it is not just the military: Peter MacKay, the Minister of Defence, calls it a "whole of government approach" which includes the Coast Guard, the RCMP, Transport Canada, Public Safety Canada, Environment Canada as well as Indian and Northern Affairs. It culminates near the end of the month when Stephen Harper travels North to be photographed amongst this silly display doubtless much to the amusement of our allies and foes alike. Ever the supportive good Tory soldier, MacKay descibes Harper as..."very engaged on this file, part of his strong commitment to the Arctic."

One of a couple of  key elements of this mutli-faceted "operation" involves a maritime search and rescue mission in international waters between Greenland and our northeastern Arctic coast. Three Danish Navy ships and a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker will share in the duties. Of course that comes just a couple of weeks after Mr. Harper's Government floated (pardon the pun) a trial balloon about putting the "Search and Rescue" capabilities of Canada's military into private hands, I digress.

In fact, a highlight of this largest ever military deployment in the far north will be the first ever use of  Boeing ScanEagle surveillance drones to aid in (among other things) the Greenland search mission. -  Just like the ones Canada's military was using until recently in Afghanistan these predator drones aren't really ours. The drones flown in Afghanistan and their operators were part of a $95-Million lease from/with west coast based mega-defence contractor MacDonald-Dettwiler (MDA). Guess it's somewhat evident the good folks at competitor Boeing want in on the action. This week Peter MacKay told journalist Matthew Fisher this deployment is "precedent setting (and) a harbinger of things to come." Er, Ah, Ahem...truth be told - Alas, like so many other of Mr. MacKay's pronouncements about the Canadian military, this project is years behind schedule - May not see the light of day.  In this case because the Forces don't have (Can't find - Can't afford) anyone to fly the drones. While they don't carry a pilot, each aircraft still requires operators on the ground to fly the plane on a typical 20-hour mission; experts to down-load and interpret its sophisticated photos data and images, and staff to maintain the equipment and prepare each drone for flight.

Dubbed JUSTAS (Joint un-manned aerial vehicle Surveillance and Target Acquisition System) it was an estimated $1.5 Billion venture scheduled for the government's approval back in 2009. Natch! It's backlogged by the Harper Government's "efficiency and effectiveness" review along with the Close Combat Vehicle program; the Buffalo aircraft replacement program; the Navy shipbuilding program...the list goes on.

Back to Arctic chest-thumping: Commenting on last spring's flurry of secret U.S. documents released via "Wikileaks," Journalist John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail wrote about a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa - "Washington looks on all this with condescending amusement, noting that, though Mr. Harper is forever making announcements - An Arctic deep sea port! Armed patrol vessels! A new icebreaker! - his government rarely actually cuts a cheque."

Ultimately, it seems it's all just politics and photo-ops. I guess we should be grateful.

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