Canada must prepare to defend itself in an increasingly ‘volatile’ world, says new military personnel chief

Canada must prepare to defend itself in an increasingly ‘volatile’ world, says new military personnel chief

The new head of Canadian military’s personnel branch delivered a sobering assessment of the international landscape on Thursday, and of how unstable relations among countries have become.

“Our splendid isolation that we have enjoyed for so long in Canada is a thing of the past,” said Lt.-Gen Wayne Eyre, who has for the last year served as deputy commander of the United Nations Command in Korea.

“Being immersed in the Asia-Pacific region has really driven home just how volatile the world is becoming.”

What has been most unsettling, he said, is “the reality that there are major powers out there that care nothing for our peace (and) prosperity and will undermine it without blinking an eye” if it gets in their way.

Lt.-Gen Wayne Eyre. (CBC News)

He did not single out any nation in particular, but China has been locked in a number of disputes with its neighbours. The growth of Beijing’s military power throughout the region — in part through its construction of artificial, fortified islands, and its dismissal of international arbitration on their status — has increased the tension.

The remarks — made at a change of command ceremony Thursday in Ottawa, where Eyre took over from retiring lieutenant-general Chuck Lamarre — came on the day it was revealed that a Canadian warship and supply vessels had transited the Strait of Taiwan in a freedom-of-navigation exercise.

More and more, Western nations are challenging China’s claim to those waters — and the journey of HMCS Calgary and the MV Asterix through the Strait joined a growing list of similar demonstrations.

Eyre’s speech also came as the threat of a military clash between the United States and Iran seemed to be ramping up.

But it was Eyre’s position as second-in-command of the UN headquarters in Korea that gave him a front row seat to the tense nuclear standoff with North Korea, and the attempts by the international community to enforce a blockade of the rogue nation following a spate of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

He sums up what that taught him — and how it translates to his new job as Canada’s top recruiter and manager of military personnel — in one sentence: “We really do need a mindset of being ready to fight tonight.”

The military, Eyre said, is the “nation’s ultimate insurance policy” — but it needs the right people and the right personnel system.

A veteran of Afghanistan and Bosnia, Eyre takes over the human resources role at a watershed time for the Canadian military. The Forces are grappling with the human cost of the five-year combat mission in Kandahar, which has seen a tide of medical releases, and is trying to stamp out — once and for all — sexual misconduct within the ranks through Operation Honour.

A recent Statistics Canada report revealed recently that, despite over four years of sustained pressure, the number of women and men in the military who identify themselves as victims of sexual assault and harassment has remained constant.

Eyre was reluctant to talk about the specifics, saying he is returning to Korea next week to close out his old posting and will comment more fully on his new job later this summer.

It was left to Lamarre to defend the military’s record under Operation Honour, which he said “gets a lot of criticism, but in reality it is the only program of its kind anywhere in Canada.”

He pointed to New Zealand, which has adopted a similar program for dealing with sexual harassment cases in its military.