ABCA Reserve Armies: History and Future Roles

Peter M. Archambault


The history of reserve forces in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia should be easy. They share a predominantly ‘British’ heritage in terms of the development of military forces.

It is difficult to find a discussion about the present or future of ‘reserves’ or ‘reservists’ or the ‘militia’ without being drawn into the past of what the ‘reserves’, ‘reservists’ or the ‘militia’ have been asked to do, tasked to do or, naturally, whether it was a proper or improper role for the ‘volunteer’ citizen soldier to have undertaken in the first place. History is central to the spirit of the citizen soldier (as it his with professionals), looking to fit his/her service to his/her country into the same seamless web of traditions and myths shared by others of the ‘regiment’ or local community who served previously, and will serve in the future. It is very important that we do not discount the importance of such links with the past that provide continuity when we look at a future that can sometimes seem so much a break with that past.

History, however, has its limits as a crutch for today’s decisions, particularly because the new security environment does not provide for an easy definition of homeland defence. One trend is sure, though: reserve forces have gradually become more integrated into the armed forces of the four subject countries. As a result, career professionals tend to see the value of reserve forces to be a product of their ‘usability’ abroad, rather than a sense of inherent social or political value they may wield at home.

The evolution toward expeditionary forces was evident before that 9/11. The operational tempo of all four armies is as before. The transformation of military forces continues in step. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are proof of that. US and coalition forces have proven they can quickly defeat enemies, institute regime change and do so in an ever-increasing ‘precise’ way. Extended discussions about what proper roles the reserves play or could play in supporting the military objectives of their respective countries is secondary to appreciating fully how 9/11 has laid to waste any notions that first, there are no serious threats to the West and, second, that military force has no legitimate role in a post-modern, post Cold War security environment.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.