Military Training Assistance Program

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The Canadian military has trained thousands of soldiers from countries throughout the Global South. Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada's Military Training Assistance Program (MTAP), its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CFs [Canadian Forces].” At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves to achieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. ... Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”

When Ottawa initiated post-independence military training missions in Africa a memo to cabinet ministers described the political value of training foreign military officers. It stated: “Military leaders in many developing countries, if they do not actually form the government, frequently wield much more power and influence domestically than is the case in the majority of western domestic nations … [it] would seem in Canada’s general interest on broad foreign policy grounds to keep open the possibility of exercising a constructive influence on the men who often will form the political elite in developing countries, by continuing to provide training places for officers in our military institutions where they receive not only technical military training but are also exposed to Canadian values and attitudes.”

After Ghana won its independence Canadians organized and oversaw a Junior Staff Officers course and took up a number of top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, in 1965 High Commissioner McGaughey wrote the under secretary of external affairs: “Since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, a leading pan Africanist president. After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian high commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program. Writing to the Canadian under secretary of external affairs, McGaughey noted, “All the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.”