Ernie Regehr. James Lorimer & Co, 1987, 273pp, $16.95pb, $24.95 cloth
Ernie Regehr's Arms Canada reveals our nation's role m the global arms race, challenges the premises of continentalist arms and foreign policies, and offers a bold, independent alternative.
Arms Canada documents how Canada's defence policy is tied to goals that are far removed from national security. Regehr's careful research is largely based on government publications that promote weapons exports, and it shows how national priorities have been lured by economic growth and exports to the U.S. and the Third World. Even Canada's selection of weapons for its own armed forces are influenced by its obligation under the terms of the 1959 Defence Production Sharing Arrangement to import from the U.S. quantities of materials that balance its exports. Regehr also shows how this bilateral agreement with the U.S. has become an increasingly bad bargain for Canada. It involves our importing advanced new weapons systems proportionate to our exports of small components for their large weapons systems.
Regehr also reveals that Canadian exports to the U.S. result in Canadian weapons being used in conflicts around the globe. He notes that the "sophisticated microcircuitry from Garret Manufacturing of Rexdale, Ontario," guided F-15 jet fighters in the American invasion of Grenada. Also, helicopter engine parts and blades, navigational and landing gear of transport aircraft and the F-15s cockpit cooling system used in the Grenada invasion were all manufactured in Canada. Also, Canadian avionics were employed in the F-11 U.S. bomber attack on Tripoli and Canadian firms provided parts for U.S. assembled tanks and armored vehicles used in Beirut. Largely because of the lack of any end use controls on Canadian weapons exported to the U.S., these arms are sent to such international war zones as El Salvador, Honduras, Iran and Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
Regehr demonstrates that Canada's export control system is ineffective in preventing direct sales to areas of conflict and human rights violators. He notes how when "economic interests come into play -- notably in the case of Indonesia -- the fact of the country's involvement in conflict is overridden." He calls for an open, annual review of a list of human rights violators, to which Canadian arms sales would he banned. This would prevent repeats of such absurd examples as Canadian export permits to allow the sale of "body armor and flak suits," permitted because they were "protective items that did not pose a threat to the civilian population."
One weakness of Arms Canada is its refusal to concede to any domestic source of Canadian militarism. Accepting Peter C. Newman's view that "we are a nonviolent people ... by virtue of both temperament and history," Regehr lets this myth of Canadian innocence lead him into making historical errors. Most notable was his assertion that, "not since Confederation have Canadian armed forces fought on Canadian soil," which forgets their importance in the suppression of the Riel Rebellion. It would have been better for Regehr to simply state that the domestic role of the Canadian armed forces is not the focus of his book, but is worthy of separate study.
Despite these omissions, Arms Canada has some important messages for Canadians and the peace movement, especially the need to restructure our armed forces and defence industries around Canadian needs. Regehr also points to the need to understand such usually overlooked areas as the Canadian stationing of troops in Europe and the importance of the demilitarization of Central Europe to Canadian security. He also gives the unusual message that in the short term, a Canadian-based defence policy will not save money; it will, however, be a better investment in human survival.