Retiring Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare says the world needs more diplomacy

The general in charge of all Canadian military operations — from the Arctic to Afghanistan — says the world's increasingly unpredictable geopolitics requires more expansive diplomacy to prevent conflict and save lives.

Retiring operations chief says Canada has tried to reshape military to respond to unpredictable world

Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command, says keeping track of the shifting hotspots of world conflict is one thing, understanding them is another.

The general in charge of all Canadian military operations — from the Arctic to Afghanistan — says the world's increasingly unpredictable geopolitics requires more expansive diplomacy to prevent conflict and save lives.

Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command, is the Canadian military's top operations officer, in charge of all deployed Canadian Forces whether at home or abroad.

It's been a busy job.

Over the last three years, Beare has overseen Canadian Forces in the midst of and on the edge of conflict around the world, from Afghanistan to Libya and now Ukraine.

Beare says the pace shows no sign of slowing. The number of militarized conflicts is high and it seems set to grow, unless something changes.

No one wants to get into an unnecessary and avoidable fight- Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare

"The world could use some diplomacy, " Beare told CBC News in an interview.

"You just see the amount of things that are changing out there, and you know, no one wants — no one wants — to get it into an unnecessary and avoidable fight."

Beare is to retire from the Canadian military in September, but on the way out he's keen to talk about how the world has changed and how it, in turn, has changed the Canadian Forces.

The military is now a more mature, operations-focused force, Beare says, persistently observing the world outside Canada's borders, anticipating conflict. That's a change, he says, from decades gone by — one that flows from the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001 and a new expectation from Canadians that their military be prepared for war.

"Pre 9/11 there wasn't a significant consciousness of the need for Canadian Forces in the modern age. Post 9/11 everybody's paradigm had a sort of shake, and there was a sort of consciousness that the world is not a safe and secure, take-it-for-granted, stable place," Beare said.

"That was quite a seminal point for Canada and Canadians in terms of the understanding of the world, an appreciation for a modern need for a modern military and an understanding that you have one and it's working for you."

Meeting that expectation required a modernization of the military, a reorganization of its structure and a focusing of its effort, Beare says.

For decades the military fought the Cold War against the Soviet Union. It was a high-stakes fight but one with no direct combat between key belligerents. The near-guarantee of mutually assured nuclear destruction meant there was more political posturing than military manoeuvring.

Same as last year

As a young artillery officer in Canada's European brigade, Beare says things got boring. The training was predictable and officers devised an acronym they used to poke fun at the dullness of their situation: SALY, for Same As Last Year. "And no kidding, as a junior officer training my gun battery in Germany, we took last year's training plan, changed the date and did it again," Beare said.

Nothing was existential. We, except for forcing the hands of the combatants in the Balkans, were not doing combat.- Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare

There was a concurrent focus on peacekeeping, but apart from a few gun fights here and there, that, too, was predictable, Beare says. His own first operational deployment outside NATO's European front was to Cyprus in 1993. It was the 59th rotation of Canadian troops to the divided island nation since 1964.

The steady reality of that military life led to a dullness on the knife edge of the force.

"There was a degree of predictability ... in that we were training land, sea and air force for general purpose combat operations and we were employing them in well-understood and increasingly well-designed interventions that did not involve combat necessarily," Beare says.

"Nothing was existential. We, except for forcing the hands of the combatants in the Balkans, were not doing combat."

But all that changed on Sept. 11, 2001, Beare says, and SALY was off the board. In the years since, the Canadian Forces has to had increase its operational focus and renew itself to meet the challenges of what Beare says is now an unpredictable world.

The world has changed again

The list of recent Canadian deployments speak to that point: Libya, counter-terrorism operations in the Arabian Gulf, counter-piracy off the Horn of Africa and, of course, the operations in support of NATO's alliance with Ukraine, "And you go, 'Holy crap, the world has changed again,' and what used to be an assumed relationship of Russia and a major Alliance can no longer be assumed."

Alongside geopolitical changes that required the military to mature and modernize were political changes at home. The government today — even in 2001 and 2005 — is more willing to deploy the force.

That has necessitated a restructuring of the military. Beare was the first commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), an amalgam of a several smaller commands that manages all aspects of Canadian military operations from search and rescue to humanitarian relief to overseas combat.

At the centre of the command's Ottawa headquarters is a new operations centre that Beare says provides CJOC, a "persistent 24/7 stare at the world in all domains, and in all places, with hands on all pieces of the deployment."

But that control is only one piece of a larger puzzle, Beare says. Seeing things is one thing, understanding them is another.

The military needs to focus on trying to better understand what's happening outside Canada's borders and interpret what it could mean in the future. Look at the situation in Ukraine, for instance, Beare says. "I can't really say where it's going. I can just say it's not the one you want."

"If you're looking for a degree of coherence amongst the major powers, particularly the P5 [permanent nuclear members of the United Nations Security Council], and a degree of predictability and stability on the NATO Russia-Europe frontier, right now, clearly, what we are watching on television is all bad."


James Cudmore covered politics and military affairs for CBC News until Jan. 8, 2016.


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