The Defence White Paper: Six Comments

We asked the opinions of Douglas Frith, Desmond Morton, Luis Sobrino, John Lamb, John Barrett, Derek Blackburn, and Steve Shallhorn on the White Paper on Defence introduced by Defence Minister Perrin Beatty.

By Barry Stevens (interviewer) | 1987-08-01 12:00:00

Douglas Frith, M.P.: "If It's A Legal Question..."

[Re: nuclear submarines:]

"THE POLITICAL REASONS [for The submarine decision] go back to the lack of response by the Canadian government to the Polar Sea voyage. There was an outcry about the Mulroney government's not doing anything for sovereignty. It led them to that decision, but I don't believe the Canadian public will accept it.

"Take it from the sovereignty standpoint. Joe Clark has said that sovereignty in the Arctic is essentially a legal question. If so, I question why we're having a military response to a legal problem. I put a question in the House which was not answered except in a silly way: Suppose our sub in the Arctic runs into an American or a Soviet or a British submarine and we say 'You're in Canadian waters,' and they say, 'No, we're in international waters.' What do we expect the sub to do about this anyway? The response is, 'We'll log it and document it, in case we go to the World Court.'

"Well, if you think it's a legal question, let's pursue a legal response. And before applying a military solution to increased militarization, we should attempt to win reductions. For example, they are making the case that the Russians are there, ostensibly to send sea-launched cruise missiles. So before giving a military answer to that, why don't we try to put sea launched cruise missiles onto the arms control agenda?

[If he were writing the White Paper:]

"From a security standpoint there are far more cost-effective approaches [than the one proposed]. If we are facing the nuclear militarization of the Arctic, then using a military response simply augments the problem.

"I believe we should retain our commitment to Norway because all the Nordic countries, including ours, have the same long-term geopolitical concern about the militarization of the Arctic. And because of those Arctic geopolitical interests, I would redeploy the existing forces on the southern flank into the north, being sure to keep our commitment to Norway.

The White Paper [uses] very Cold War rhetoric. They don't address some of the evolving future issues. Supposedly it's a White Paper to deal with our next fifteen years. It was curiously silent on the U.S. Forward Maritime Strategy. The submarines could be drawn into that strategy. It will lead to a destabilization, because it could force the Russians into first use of their nuclear fleet in the Bering Sea.

I've asked in committee [whether Russians have come into our Arctic] and the response is negative. There's no proof of it. There are very narrow channels and it doesn't make much sense for the Russians to use it to exit out into the Atlantic.

"I don't think Perrin's got a leg to stand on from either a security or a sovereignty standpoint to justify this expenditure. And it's going to require enriched uranium fuel to power it. I believe the purchase would [violate the NPT treaty]. Pauline Jewett asked yesterday in the House: How is Canada going to acquire enriched uranium fuel without contravening our own foreign policy? I think Beatty was taken aback by [the question]. He had not thought of it. He said that, if we can't do it because it's a contravention of our foreign policy, then maybe we can set up the facility to enrich it here. Well, good luck!

[Re: Defence policy and global security]

"Defence policy has to be viewed in a wider context of global security -- and global security is best achieved by arms control, by peace initiatives. I don't feel that External Affairs was closely consulted on this paper. It seems to me that (a) Joe Clark lost the battle in cabinet on nuclear powered submarines, and (b) our government's stated position is not to become involved in Star Wars, and yet the defence document on page 56 or 57 clearly leaves the door open. It was mentioned in Beatty's press conference: He allowed perhaps back door participation [in] Star Wars, which contravenes our foreign policy. [These] are glaring examples of where External Affairs' views have not been taken into account.

"In any case, it will be several years before the submarine construction begins. This government is in danger of losing its mandate before they get the legal work done."

[And if the contract is signed, will it still be possible to reverse the decision?]

"I think that it's possible."

Hon. Douglas Frith is the Liberal Party Defence Critic.

Desmond Morton: The White Paper In Context

THREE YEARS AND THREE DEFENCE MINISTERS into its mandate, the Mulroney government finally issued its defence white paper on June 5. The debate about Canada's military future can now begin in earnest. The Conservatives have found that promises are easier to make than deliver. In opposition, defence was an easy target. During Pierre Elliott Trudeau's management, Canada's armed forces were under-equipped and over-committed. Since 1963, Liberal governments added new peacekeeping chores, a pledge to deliver troops and planes to NATO's northern flank and the 1971 "Priority One," protection of Canada's sovereignty. Meanwhile, armed forces strength fell by a third.

Defence was a good issue for the opposition. A lot of voters were humiliated by comparisons with Luxembourg military might or reminders of worn-out destroyers. Peter Newman's tract on Canada's unpreparedness was standard equipment in Tory committee rooms in 1984. Conservative candidates promised a modern navy, bigger defence budgets, and a stronger commitment to NATO.

Once in power, Tories found themselves with plenty of top priorities, from the deficit to daycare. Appointing Bob Coates to the defence portfolio was a signal that defence issues would be limited to brand new uniforms. Coates's sudden replacement by Erik Nielsen left the defence department with a part-time minister committed to government cost-cutting. When Perrin Beatty arrived a year ago, the defence department was his third stop on a series of suicide missions that had included running the tax system and Canada's prisons.

In fact, Beatty has proved to be the brightest defence minister since Brooke Claxton. He has listened to the military and he has handed them some tough, controversial orders. Admitting women to combat units and warships may send veterans twisting in their graves but Beatty grasped the fact that only combat duty brings true equality in a military organization.

Selling a serious defence effort to Canadians will be a lot harder for Beatty than making generals and admirals accept the idea of women as real soldiers or sailors. Most Canadians regard peacetime defence as an optional extra. Russians, Americans, and such endangered species as Israelis and white South Africans accept military preparedness as natural; Canadians do not. Confederation in 1867 gave us a country that was invulnerable on three sides and utterly indefensible on the fourth. Most Canadians accepted the arrangement with equanimity, cut their military effort to the minimum needed to show the flag, and lived happily ever since. Canadians have paid no real price for unpreparedness. Pearl Harbor, which seared the American psyche, has no meaning here.

Canadians have plenty of experience in this century's wars, but they are remembered partly because of deep divisions over conscription and partly because they were milestones in asserting our national sovereignty. The First World War gave Canada some proud military achievements and a conviction that Canadians should manage their own foreign policy. The Second World War made us a prosperous middle power, shook us out of isolationism, and showed us that Americans could heed Canadian autonomy even less than the British.

Canadians could cling to the conviction, best expressed by Raoul Dandurand's famous claim to the League of Nations in 1924, that Canada was a "fireproof house far from the sources of conflagration." However, that belief should have vanished in a world of nuclear- armed superpowers. Sandwiched between the United States and the Soviet Union, Canada would be a killing-ground in almost any imaginable nuclear war.

"Jaw-jaw," said Winston Churchill, "is better than war-war" and thoughtful Canadians hope that the preference is universal. Perrin Beatty's political problem is that he has to prepare Canada for the nasty alternative. The 1987 White Paper is in fact a compromise between defence advice, public opinion, and business and regional lobbies which insist that the $10 billion defence budget be designed for their benefit.

The White Paper's NATO policy is an example. Even opponents of NATO's first-strike nuclear strategy may welcome a reinforced Canadian contribution to the Central Front. Ending Canada's northern flank commitment has been a military priority for years. Promising to deliver a brigade and some obsolete fighters to Norway at the outbreak of war seems to replay the 1941 Hong Kong expedition, when Canada sent 2000 ill-trained, unequipped troops into death and captivity.

Transforming Canada's obsolete navy into a force of nuclear submarines is probably the quickest, cheapest method of creating a genuine three-ocean fleet. Building more patrol frigates to please landlubbers and traditionalists would simply add more versions of the USS Stark to a navy that would be as obsolete in 1999 as it is now. Predictably, Canada's allies have joined Canadian critics to denounce a notion that is too adventurous for our humble station.

If nuclear submarines are too modern for Canadian taste, expanded reserves sound old-fashioned. Spending money on part-time sailors, soldiers, and pilots is the one part of Beatty's blueprint some professionals deplore. Since 1950, regulars have replaced Canada's old reliance on amateur defenders and today's professionals worry about sharing scarce resources with ill-trained, scruffy, and opinionated citizen-soldiers. The tradeoff, for Beatty, will be twice as many Canadians in uniform and a lot more apostles of preparedness.

Canadians who complained about their country's military weakness have had their answer from the Mulroney government. The White Paper, thanks to deliberate preliminary leaks, contained few surprises. Nor will the Canadian response. A country that thinks of military matters in symbolic terms (sovereignty patrols, tri-service uniforms, Vimy Ridge) may be dismayed at the cost of substance. Beatty's blueprint would raise 'the cost of defence from about $400 to $600 a year per Canadian. Selling that deal may be one of the big battles in Canadian military history.

Desmond Morton is professor of history in the University of Toronto, principal of Erindale College, and author of The Military History of Canada (Edmonton, 1985).

Luis Sobrino: "Sensors Are Cheaper"

We reached Professor Sobrino by phone in Vancouver.

"SO FAR, I'VE SEEN ONLY THE PRESS RELEASE. There's no background in it discussing what we are defending ourselves from -- nothing is put forward in it to justify the policy. Canada is involved in some 2000 agreements and bilateral treaties with the U.S. Given that fact, it's very difficult to develop a defence policy that is really made in Canada. We'd have to sift it out and look at the situation from scratch -- starting with our agreements on NATO and NORAD. As far as the increasing forces in Europe go, they are useless there. There is no point in having forces there.

"The thing that concerns me most is the intention to build the nuclear submarines. It says in the press release that 'Canadians have to ask themselves whose submarines we want controlling our waters -- Soviet, American, or Canadian?' But suppose we do build them. Suppose one of them is patrolling the Arctic and it detects a Russian or American submarine. What can it do -- shoot them? There is nothing we can do; we're not going to shoot. if we were to shoot them, it would be a far greater threat to our security than anything else. if we want to know who is in the Arctic, it is much cheaper to have sensors.

"The press release also asks a rhetorical question: whether as a three-ocean nation dependent on trade, Canada, can afford not to have a navy. The answer is no, we can't afford not to have a navy. But what is the purpose of the navy? Surely it's not for use in a general war. In case of a general war, whether we have a navy or not is irrelevant. So presumably we are going to use this navy in a local war. But who would attack Canada locally? Neither the Soviets nor the Americans are going to attack us militarily. So what's left?

"Our navy should be used to defend our coast from intrusion in fishing and to protect our waters from being polluted. That's about all our navy should do -- peacetime policing, plus protecting our seaman by having an effective search and rescue system. In a generalized war it would be useless and a local war is inconceivable.

"Finally, the White Paper also points out that the emergence of Soviet ALCMs and SLCMs makes Canada vulnerable to attack. It is interesting that the government is saying this now, after it helped develop the cruise missile.

"This program is going to cost plenty. In the present state of the economy it's ridiculous to spend that much money for items that add very little to the security of Canadians. We are getting into the same situation as the U.S. -- militarizing the economy and thereby ruining it"

Luis Sobrino is Professor of Physics, University of British Columbia.

John Lamb and John Barrett: "Son of Star Wars"

These remarks are by the staff of the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, Ottawa.

PUNDITS SAID THE WHITE paper on Defence contained no surprises. There was at least one surprise, or rather shock, though: a one-liner announcing DND plans "to participate in research on future air defence systems with the U.S. Air Defence Initiative."

The Air Defence Initiative, or ADI, is really a "son of Star Wars." The best way of understanding what is involved with ADI is to recall NORAD's former Commander-in-Chief Gen. Robert Herres's statement that there is no point constructing a "roof' for protection against Soviet ballistic missile attack without also building "walls" to defend against bomber and cruise missile attack. Thus the ADI is a research program running concurrently with SDI to develop an air defence system capable of detecting, tracking, identifying, and destroying bombers and cruise missiles which would be meshed technically with the SDI. Expenditures for ADI research programs in fiscal year 1988 are expected to exceed U.S. $200 million.

Although cruise missiles can, in theory, be detected and shot down, in practice doing so would be exceedingly difficult and expensive. . . . Far from being merely a continuation of the air defence effort that we have pursued through NORAD for the past thirty years, the ADI stems from a wholly different conception of deterrence. Indeed, it is based upon the same conception that gave rise to the Strategic Defence Initiative. In the past, we have based our security on ensuring that each side felt confident that, if attacked, it could retaliate with sufficient force that the other side would be deterred from attacking in the first place. Both the Strategic and Air Defence Initiatives would deny the Soviet Union not only the capacity to get away with a surprise attack (which in itself would not be a bad thing) but also the capacity to retaliate in response to a U.S. attack. In short, by threatening the Soviet Union's deterrent capability, these programs raise Soviet fears about American first-strike capabilities and intentions. Hardly a recipe for stability.

Back in 1985, a public invitation was extended by the Pentagon for Canada to take part in the Strategic Defence Initiative. That invitation was followed by vigorous public debate, parliamentary hearings, and a governmen decision. This time, the niceties of public and parliamentary participation have been dispensed with and a one-line announcement made. In our view, that is not good enough.

Derek Blackburn, M.P.: "Danger Under The Icecap"

These are portions of a phone interview by Barry Stevens.

[On the purchase of nuclear submarines.]

"THE THRUST WAS MORE POLITICAL THAN MILITARY. The government has become sensitive to the fact that it's perceived as weak in negotiating with Washington. Canada appears to cave in to U.S. pressure and [the nuclear submarine purchase] is a way of showing that we're prepared to "stand up to the Yanks" over our disputed Northwest Passage, and even to pay a lot of money to wave that flag up there...

"But I don't think they'd be spending more than ten percent of their time under the ice cap. It's very, very dangerous. Those transit routes are treacherous in places and I don't see the Canadian subs going in there except for the odd operational practice unless there's a very good reason to go in. We could survey with what we've got now and with a few add-ons -- sub-surface sonars, hydrophones. That kind of thing could tell us almost as much as the subs themselves..

"And politically, I don't see how we can be a strong proponent of a nonproliferation treaty (NPT) and use nuclear power for military purposes. That would break the spirit of the treaty and it would cause us trouble in trying to convince other countries not to enter the nuclear camp...

"Of much greater concern is the distinct possibility of our nuclear powered submarines becoming part of the new forward defence strategy the new Maritime Strategy of the U.S. Navy, in which the U.S. Navy might he used in an alert to move forward and harass the European continent in the air, on the surface, and below the surface. While that's not official policy in Norfolk, they're damn close to it. And of course the navy, of all three services, is the most destabilizing of all because the nuclear subs are the finest stealth weapon we have, par excellence. I mean they are it. They are very difficult to detect. They're fast They can go long distances."

[Have the Soviets come into Canadian waters?]

"They would be damn fools to [do 50] However, that's in no way to underestimate the Soviet threat. The Soviet northern fleet is one horrendous armament. They have expanded both their Pacific and particularly their Northern [Atlantic] fleet by leaps and bounds. As you know, they have the largest submarines in the world today and also the submarines with the greatest kill factor. Those Typhoons ain't to be laughed at. They have missiles that will go 8000 kms. That means that they won't have to leave port. Why would they move those bastions with their killer attack submarines and their SSBNs [submarine ballistic missiles] under the polar ice-cap? That would be stupidity if they can do the same job by leaving the Typhoons in port, or by moving the Oscars to the edge of the Bering."

[Re: troops in Europe:]

"I'm not looking at this from an anti-NATO or pro-NATO view. I'm looking at it from a strictly military defence point of view. Frankly, our position in Lahr is a poor policy. We're not a major part of Western land or air defence. But we're there in a symbolic role that harkens back to a different age: the Maginot Line approach.

"The real potential threat to us and to the Western world is again the northern Soviet fleet. Sure, there's still a threat to Europe, but the Federal Republic, France, the U.K. have fully recovered from World War II. They have massive military machines and it's silly to keep the 4th Mechanized and the two air units at Lahr, when we can spend that billion dollars a year more wisely in upgrading our defences here."

[Re: NDP defence policy]

"Assuming that our policy remains to negotiate out of NATO, we would then begin that discussion. You don't pull out of an alliance like that in forty-eight hours. There must remain some kind of political liaison with our Western European friends, but we would consider withdrawing from Lahr, while reinforcing our command in an ASW [Anti-submarine Warfare] mode. The most important contribution we can make to any war in Europe is to protect sea lines of communication. The Number One nightmare that SACEUR has in Europe is the supply of hardware and troops. He can't hold out more than 14 days against a massive Soviet preemptive strike. So we've got to get the supplies there fast before he's forced to go nuclear. That's where we should make our contribution, which is almost the same role we had in 1939-45."

[Q: Isn't that basically an extension of Canada's being tied into Europe's defence, as we are now?]

"My dear friend, we do not live on a separate planet. We live in a real world. If we're talking defence, we're talking defence. If we're talking peace, were talking peace. What we're talking about now is the White Paper on defence, not a blueprint for peace. . . . Our defence role would be two-fold. It would be the defence of the northern half of North America, and a sharing of intelligence with the United States. If we don't, they'll be in there getting it themselves. And I can't conceive of my party turning its back on Europe in a time of need. We haven't done it before. So, the second line of defence is the protection of the sea lines.

"(The navy] is the most destabilizing aspect of the whole defence posture because you have various platforms that are armed with conventional and also with nuclear. And submarines can get themselves into such remote situations that even with the most advanced electronic communication, you could still get a situation in which the skipper must decide on his own whether to go nuclear. That's a frightening prospect...

"I don't think [the government will change its policy] but this is a long term thing. The first boat won't go into the water until about 1996. And there's an election coming up in a year and a half. You could see the nuclear subs dead in the water. Both the Liberals and the NDP are opposed to them. I don't know whether the Liberals can change their position; I'm positive we wouldn't."

Hon. Derek Blackburn is New Democratic Party Defence Critic.

Steve Shallhorn: "The Subs Are Not For Arctic Sovereignty"

From a phone interview by Barry Stevens.

[Re: Nuclear submarines:]

"I think the White Paper is a prescription for political disaster for both Perrin Beatty and the Tories. I don't think that financially or politically they are going to be able to sustain their shopping list of goodies. They had an opportunity to rationalize Canadian defence policy with their arms control and foreign policy and to update it to the 1990s, but didn't do it. The most obvious example is nuclear powered submarines.

"They tell the Canadian public that subs are the answer to Arctic sovereignty. That's a bogus answer. Our trouble with the United States is a political, legal problem that's not going to be solved by submarines. Neither Canada nor the United States is going to start filing in court detailed voyages of its submarines under the ice.

"When Beatty was speaking on Friday, [presenting the White Paper] he said they have a role to protect the sea lines of communication. But there's some difficulty with submarines getting mixed in with other submarines and escort vessels. They have to operate pretty far from the sea lines of communication or they'll be sank by their own frigates. When you've got surface escorts operating, they assume that every submarine they find is unfriendly and that friendly subs are supposed to be nowhere near. They're supposed to have stored in their computer memory banks the sonar 'signature' of every friendly submarine. if they find a signature that doesn't match any of them in the data bank, they torpedo it." why couldn't governments in Greece and Spain withdraw from NATO? Economic retaliation.

[Re: plutonium under the sea:]

"Canada is going to be the sixth country in the world to use nuclear technology for military purposes, and I think that's a step backward. We think it violates the NPT, mainly through the fueling arrangements. Submarines use enriched fuel -- that's 97 percent uranium 235. A commercial reactor uses about 3 to 4 percent U-235. Weapons grade is 95 percent. Currently, a clause in all Canadian uranium export agreements says that uranium cannot be enriched for military purposes. And their practice has been to include the fuel for nuclear powered submarines in the definition of "military purposes." That precludes the possibility of Canadian uranium being used for submarine fuel. Canada doesn't have its own enrichment facilities, so we'll either have to ask a nuclear weapons state to enrich Canadian uranium, or buy uranium from a nuclear weapons state. Spent submarine fuel has plutonium. So, if we buy enriched uranium from a nuclear weapons state, dollars to doughnuts they're going to want their plutonium from the waste back. And we won't have any control over how that's used. It's unlikely that Canada will be able to force an anti-enrichment policy on other countries if we do that.

"An article in the Globe said that there's never been a submarine nuclear accident. Not so. It's believed that the Thresher had a nuclear shutdown, which is why it sank. A number of Soviet nuclear submarines have sank.

"The U.S. Navy says they monitor the sites for radiation leakage. I don't know anything about their measurement practices, but it's the Navy monitoring the Navy. if they confirm that there's a leak on the ocean floor, that's not going to show up right above. It's going to be caught up in the ocean currents and God knows where it's going to end."

[Re: The special dangers of Arctic voyages.]

"There are specific dangers for submarines under the Arctic ice. They can't operate conventional subs in there. if someone starts a fire in a garbage can on a nuclear boat, that usually forces the sub to surface while they fight the fire, because there's only a limited amount of oxygen in the submarine and fires use that up pretty fast. if the thing's operating under the ice, it's much more complicated. Even the most sophisticated equipment is going to get confused sometimes in the Arctic. There's always the possibility they're going to hit an ice keel and be opened on the side, causing a spill. [The results to the ecology of the ocean] would be severe."

[If he had been writing a Defence White Paper:]

"I would have pulled the mechanized brigade and the air group out of Germany. I'd pull back all permanently stationed combat troops to Canada and put resources into an independent air defence and sea defence system where we'd share the information with the U.S. and pick up the full cost, but remain independent.

"I would have kept the Norway commitment, because it is appropriate for small, medium powers to have some sort of joint reinforcing mechanism. I'd make a reciprocal deal, so that, in the extremely unlikely event that Canada was attacked in the Arctic, or elsewhere, Norway could come to its aid.

"If I were in government I'd have to make a decision as to whether it was worth trying to withdraw from NATO. Governments in Greece and Spain wanted to but found it politically impossible because of economic retaliation."

Steve Shallhorn is with Greenpeace, Canada.

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1987, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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