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Missed Opportunity was written in the summer of 1993 as 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade was closing down in Lahr, Germany. Originally intended as an appendix to War Without Battles: Canada's NATO Brigade in Germany 1951-1993, it was subsequently deleted. I published it two years later in Canadian Military History. At the time and over the years, there was a lot of internal speculation as to the dimensions of the planned operation and the reasons for its cancellation. Since its original publication, I have developed more information, which has not seriously altered my original discussion of the events of 1990.
I wrote Missed Opportunity for a number of reasons. First, it was part of 4 Brigade's historical experience. My other concern at the time was that we learn from the series of errors and misperceptions that combined to prevent Canada from participating effectively in an operation designed to stand up to blatant aggression, stabilize a vital region that affects Canada's economy, and prevent a dangerous totalitarian state from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In those days, the J-Staff was an embryonic and arguably temporary phenomenon designed to get us through two simultaneous crises: the Gulf and Oka. There was no lessons learned cell at the time. There were even those who thought Op BROADSWORD should just disappear down the Orwellian memory hole since it was embarrassing. My belief then, as it is now, is that there were valuable lessons to be learned from the BROADSWORD experience and, as a historian, it was my job to ensure that those lessons are passed on. We are now entering a new era of history, with a new global crisis. Have our staffing procedures improved since 1990? Has the interface between the elected civilian leadership, senior bureaucrats, and the senior uniformed leadership improved? Do we have the strategic lift at hand? Will Canada participate effectively in this new campaign or will Canada sit back and let others do the job once again?
The decision not to deploy 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade1 (CMB) to participate in the Gulf War may eventually be of interest to students of Canadian defence policy. The current lack of available material on this subject will no doubt attenuate such efforts. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief and very tentative discussion of relevant factors contributing to the decision not to go. In essence, the following should be considered a "toe in the water" rather than a "headlong dive."
On 2 August 1990, Iraq overran and occupied its smaller neighbour Kuwait. This act not only threatened the delicate balance of power in the Middle East but also posed a direct threat to the economic well-being of the Western world, of which Canada was a part. If Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were invaded in turn by Iraq, the flow of Persian Gulf oil would be shut off, adversely affecting other parts of the world. Additionally, the morally repugnant and brutal occupation of Kuwait, coupled with the seizure of Western embassies and citizens (including Canadians), were indications that Saddam Hussein could not be negotiated with. The United Nations, with unprecedented haste, passed Resolutions 660 and 661 demanding that Iraq vacate Kuwait immediately or face imposition of economic sanctions.
In the wake of the conflict, a great deal of criticism was leveled at the apparent inability of Canada's Army to deploy and sustain a brigade-sized force in a regional conflict. Much of this criticism arose from inter-service disputes and defence budgetary matters. Such criticism could well be ignored except that the alleged inability of Canada's Army to conduct such a deployment was used by some to call into question the viability of Canada's land force commitment to NATO's Central Region since 1951. Such an analogy between a regional conflict and Canada's land force commitment to NATO's Central Region thus deserves examination.
Responding to the UN's request for forces to enforce the economic sanctions, Prime Minister Mulroney announced the deployment of a Canadian naval task group to the Persian Gulf on 10 August. Operation FRICTION had started. Other commands within the Canadian Forces were anticipating further action on the part of the Canadian Government and used their initiative to prepare a number of contingency plans in case the senior military leadership had to provide options to the political leadership. By 13 August, seven contingency plans were proposed even though no detailed staff work on them had been done. In order of priority these plans included:
1. evacuation of Canadian nationals from the Gulf region;
2. the deployment of CF-18s to Turkey;
3. resupply and sustainment of the Op FRICTION task group;
4. replace vessels involved in Op FRICTION;
5. in-theatre airlift support to pan-Arab forces;
6. logistical support to multi-national forces in the Gulf region; and
7. the deployment of ground combat forces.
As the Canadian naval task group departed on 24 August for its "Persian Excursion," the first U.S. pre-positioning ships from Diego Garcia disgorged enough equipment for two U.S. Marine Corps divisions. By 25 August, the UN passed Resolution 665, which permitted the use of military force to back up the economic sanctions against Iraq.
Around this time, Canadian Forces Europe had prepared a contingency plan to deploy a CF-18 squadron and an Army protection unit to an undesignated location in the Persian Gulf. This was a logical contingency to the planners who felt that the ships would require air cover and the aircraft would require protection from hostile ground forces. This contingency was quickly adopted by the Government and Operation SCIMITAR was announced on 14 September. The first CF-18s from CFB Baden left on 6 October for their base in …