Small Wars Journal

Money’s Too Tight to Mention: Integrating Our Forces

Fri, 10/02/2015 - 9:30am

Money’s Too Tight to Mention: Integrating Our Forces

Morgan Smiley

Canada and the United States are in the early discussion phase about the creation of an integrated military force designed for contingency operations.  Given the history of our two countries which includes integrated forces, like the “Devil’s Brigade” of WW 2 fame, as well as our desire to capitalize on a decade-plus of working together in Afghanistan and Iraq, solidifying and formalizing such a relationship by creating a permanent integrated force has merit.  Dwindling defense monies provide further impetus to look at such efforts.

As funding for military forces in the US and our allies (specifically the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) continue to shrink, perhaps now is the time to seriously consider additional efforts at integrating forces.  The Canadian-US integration model can serve as the model for a Pacific element….a “task force” comprised of battalions from the US, Australia, & Canada (or Japan?) that could complement our “Pacific pivot”.  In Europe, a similar task force, likely under the aegis of NATO, could be made up of battalions from the US, UK, and the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, etc.  This would allow us to make better use of smaller budgets, further institutionalize long-term relationships developed and refined during our “Long War”, and help ensure that multi-lateral interests are met with multi-lateral efforts.  Another model that deserves attention is the Franco-German Brigade which was created almost 30 years ago.  Though primarily a symbolic venture, this unit has endured, sent some its troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and deployed part of its combined force to Mali in 2014.

An obvious concern for such an integrated force would be command relationships….who exactly is in charge?  Which country gives orders to an integrated force?  Does such a military relationship violate national laws?  Legitimate concerns certainly, but we have a long history of successful combined operations, from WW 2, Korea, the Balkans, and the Global War on Terrorism, that can serve as templates for such an integrated force, though admittedly adjustments to legal frameworks (in the form of treaties?) may be required to quell concerns about serving under “another flag” in a more permanent integrated organization.

Shrinking defense budgets in the face of continuing, even growing, threats (ISIL, Russia-Ukraine, nuclear proliferation in ME/Asia) will require new ways of addressing the need to protect mutual interests which have become more and more integrated thanks to globalization.  The creation of integrated forces may be a cost-effective way of protecting those shared interests and maintaining a united front against multi-pronged threats.


The Europeans already have multi-national formations -- the French and Germans have had one for a number of years, now. I believe it's under the auspices of the EU, rather than NATO, which probably has some resourcing implications.

A combined U.S.-Canadian force would probably be worse for them than for us -- at about 115,000 in all ranks, they simply aren't sized for the optempo we've set over the last decade. Up through 1995, they provided about 10% of the UN peacekeeping forces deployed -- in many ways, they were the preferred solution for such missions because they were well-trained, reasonably resourced, and didn't carry the political baggage associated with being U.S., British, Russian, etc. I suspect that's gone down because their other deployments have risen -- according to the Canadian Forces website, they're sustaining deployments in Europe and the Middle East.