NATO Practices: Invasion in Labrador: A German-Canadian View

By Barbara Koerner | 1987-08-01 12:00:00

In the fall of 1983, a group of Innu went on their first public tour through West Germany describing the unbearable militarization of their homeland. The large area of Northern Québec and Labrador that the Innu call Ntessinan (Our Land) has been a low-level flight testing ground for some time. Only after West-German Luftwaffe jets entered Canadian Forces Station Goose Bay in 1980 did supersonic testing reach a critical level for the ecosystem of the region and the people living in it. The Greens in Bonn, who are pressuring the Federal government, have organized another protest tour by an Innu delegation last year. Nevertheless, Canada's Defence Department is stepping up low level tests in Labrador by more than twelve percent each year.

The Federal Republic of Germany is the country with the most low level flights in the world: In addition to Luftwaffe activities, there are the exercises of the allied forces (British, U.S., and French). Goose Bay is a way for the government to expand military testing and escape popular protests against low level flying. In densely populated West Germany, "low level testing" is permitted down to 150 meters and "lowest level testing" is permitted in seven chosen ranges down to only 75 meters. Labrador, on the other hand, has neither nuclear power plants nor baroque churches ready to collapse; pilots can feel uninhibited, flying low enough to skim tree tops, cause waves on lakes and rivers, ripple the canvas on tents, and leave poisonous exhaust everywhere. The government in Bonn, meanwhile, promotes Luftwaffe activities in Labrador as a transfer of necessary testing abroad contributing to the environmental protection of West Germany. While the Greens condemn this "export of noise" and demand a halt of the testing in Labrador, the argument (however cynical) convinces social democrats and others who oppose low level flying in West Germany.

At the other end of the deal, the Canadian government is counting on the military development to create an economic boom for the province of Newfoundland. Under the name of the Federal Goose Bay Capital Rehabilitation Plan, $93 million is being invested in the upgrading of the air base between 1986 and 995. To maximize the use of the huge lowest level testing ranges north- and south-west of Goose Bay, Canada promotes Labrador's "vast expanses of wilderness" as attractive flying space to its European NATO partners. A new agreement has been signed recently with the Dutch who conducted trial tests at Goose Bay last summer. The West German government pays 25 million Deutsche Marks per year for the use of Ntessinan's airspace. The Innu on the other hand, have never signed any treaty or land claims agreement. Their airspace is literally being rented Out over their heads, by officials in Ottawa who push the advantage of a "virtually unpopulated" area.

Goose Bay or Turkey?

Canada's government is expecting even higher returns on the federal investment plan: Goose Bay could be chosen as the site of a huge NATO Tactical Fighter Weapons Training Centre (NTFWTC). However, there is competition for the billion dollar NTFWTC contract. At the NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels in December 1986, a special committee recommended the air base in Konya, Turkey, as the site for the base, on the grounds of a cost comparison study between Goose Bay and Konya. Defence Minister Beatty managed, however, to get the final decision on the site tabled for the second time and has thereby won time to persuade Canada's NATO allies to choose Goose Bay for the low level testing centre. According to federal officials who are now more optimistic that Goose Bay will be chosen, it may take NATO another year to decide. There has been little mainstream publicity on the possible NATO base in Labrador. There has been equally little publicity on a possible base in Turkey, where the opposition, facing a military regime, seems even more hopeless than the resistance of the Innu.

The planned NATO base at Goose Bay would by far exceed the testing capacity of North America's largest military air base, Nellis Air Base in Nevada. Over a range of about 100,000 square kilometers of Labrador and Northern Québec, 140 fighter jets, flying about 200 sorties per day, would create booms in addition to the "normal" low level testing noise.

The West German government has stated in an answer to a parliamentary inquiry by the Greens that it would prefer Konya for the base. This is no surprise since Labrador's doors are already open to the Luftwaffe. The agreement with Canada on low level testing was renewed in 1983 for ten years. The Luftwaffe bombers are flying an estimated 4500 hours per year and will increase low level testing frequency to 6000 hours per year over the next three years. In addition, the bilateral agreement between Canada and the FRG includes the construction of two large bombing ranges within the lowest level testing areas.

The fact that the Tornado cannot be flown to full capacity over middle European territory makes the flying space in Labrador crucial to the Luftwaffe. Since the Defence Department has spent much money on the acquisition of new Tornadoes over the last two years, the testing at Goose Bay is obviously not a "transfer" but rather an expansion.

The Tornadoes of the Luftwaffe and the British Air Force that are testing in Labrador are central for Deep Strike, that part of the U.S. AirLand Battle Doctrine that was officially adopted by NATO in November of 1984. The Deep Strikers aim to increase NATO's readiness to win a limited war by using "conventional" and "dual capable" weapon systems for fast air battle attacks deep inside Warsaw Pact territory. At present, West German Phantoms, Alpha-Jets and Tornadoes are testing Deep Strike in Labrador. At supersonic speed, lowest level flying, they are mapping the area as for a cruise missile, tactical manoeuvering and munition delivery -- all of this under radar. The Tornadoes' role is especially important; in addition to the multipurpose weapon (MWI) and the anti-radar weapon (HARM), they can carry a shorter-range nuclear missile.

The FRG's export of testing to Ntessinan itself constitutes an invasion. West German bomber jets are brutally intruding into an environment idealized by Europeans as untouched and peaceful. Yet, the fish are dying in polluted water systems; the life cycle and migration patterns of the last great caribou herds are being severely disrupted. This makes it nearly impossible for the Innu to continue a traditional way of life that was based on the caribou hunt for thousands of years. Also, the terror from the air exposes Innu families in the woods to sudden, damaging levels of noise, often causing a "startle" trauma. According to Canadian promotional brochures, the military command in Goose Bay registers Innu hunting camps as danger zones to be carefully avoided by the jet pilots. However, independent observers repeatedly witness Innu camps being intentionally flown over. Consequently, many Innu now refuse to report the location of their camps, in a growing spirit of noncooperation with the military.

Since Newfoundland joined the Canadian confederation in 1949, the government has made the Innu leave the woods, stop migrating with the caribou, and instead settle in special communities and send their children to school. Because the caribou hunt was taken from them and not even replaced with employment opportunities, the Innu became largely dependent on welfare. While multinational companies recognized this land's natural resources, running water and decent housing was withheld from the Innu. Today, governmental Innu settlements are in as sad a shape as most of North America's Indian reserves: alcoholism is very common; the suicide rate is five times the Canadian average; suicide by young people is seventeen times more frequent than among the average Canadian youth. Returning to the woods of Ntessinan was an attempt to escape their social misery and regain some national independence.

Things have turned out quite differently. According to the heavily subsidized business lobby in Happy Valley, Goose Bay (including the town's mayor), the Innu "should not stand in the way of further development" -- meaning the militarization of the region. Defence Minister Perrin Beatty supports this view. At a gathering in Sheshatshit last September, he told the Innu council that government always has the right to expropriate and the right to do things for the common good.

Across the ocean, his West German colleague Manfred Worner reminds the citizens that they are ultimately being protected by the low level testing noise and that "we" have to make some sacrifices for our "national security." The question is, who defines national security and the common good?

There is a sense of futility and powerlessness when the Innu and Inuit of Labrador and Québec state their human rights violation allegations at the United Nations and when the Greens in Bonn demand that the West German government pay reparations to the Innu. It has to do with the very marginal place that the Innu occupy in our minds. The reason for this is not their physical remoteness but the fact that Native people are treated as a expendable factor in the leading industrialized technocracies. The debates about the low level testing export in the Bonn parliament, initiated by the Greens, therefore pass widely unnoticed. The citizens initiatives against low level flights in the Federal Republic focus, understandably, on their own sonic stress. After all, their efforts banned tests over the Black Forest. In short, the issue of low level tests in Labrador is the exotic; the transfer has been completed successfully.

The same is true for the Canadian peace movement. Labrador is far away. Ears started perking up only when word got around about the planned NATO base. Goose Bay was then taken up as an issue that perhaps could generate a united front of anti-militarists, environmentalists, and Native organizations. Last June, for example, Greenpeace organized a balloon action in solidarity with the Innu and Inuit, despite relationships being usually strained due to the Natives' caribou and seal hunt.

The resistance actions of the Innu are proving increasingly desperate and radical. In April, a group of Innu set up tents on a Goose Bay runway, risking arrest to stop the testing. Other band members have been imprisoned on charges of illegally hunting caribou. The Innu have also recently refused to cooperate with the Federal Environmental assessment study that is scheduled to be completed by early 1989.

There are groups in the Canadian peace movement such as ACT for Disarmament, that take the position of non alignment and demand NATO out of Labrador, Canada out of NATO. And there are some who confront the offensive strategies of the military with nonviolent focus of resistance, in solidarity with the Innu. Fifty eight members are supporters of the Alliance for Nonviolent action (Ontario and Québec) were arrested last November at a first blockade of the Department of National Defence in Ottawa. More than thirty were arrested again at a similar action at the DND the day after Reagan's Ottawa visit.

The low level testing in Labrador, Germany (East and West) or anywhere else, embodies the dehumanizing concept of war preparation. In effect, it already constitutes an ongoing war. The reported and unreported deaths; the pilots who died as a result of plane crashes, the family who were killed at the air show in Frankfurt in 1983, the Innu youth who commit suicide; they are all victims of World War III.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987, page 17. Some rights reserved.

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