Why Can't They Accept a Moratorium on Low-Level Flying?

By Peter Armitage | 1987-10-01 12:00:00

The Federal Environment Assessment Review Panel has called for minimum altitude restrictions and a moratorium on Increases in low-level flying until the environmental review process In Labrador and Quebec is complete. The Department of National Defence has, however, refused to accept those recommendations. Why?

Before hearing any results of environmental impact studies, DND wants to expand the scale of low-level flight training out of Goose Bay. NATO is trying to decide whether to build its multi-million dollar training base in Goose Bay, Labrador or Konya, Turkey.

No decision is likely this year nor perhaps even next year because whichever country wins the con-test for the base, there will be hard feelings that could have serious repercussions for the alliance. NATO is having difficulty in making a decision because there are serious disadvantages to each location.

For a start, the Goose Bay location is more expensive. According to the latest figures (December 1986) it would cost $634 million to build in Goose Bay and $400 million in Konya (in 1985 Canadian dollars).

Second, moving back and forth from Europe to Goose Bay requires mid-air refueling. Many NATO countries do not have mid-air refueling aircraft, and must rent such aircraft from the U.S. Air Force at great expense.

Third, the protests against the low-level flying by the lnnu in Quebec and Labrador may also be one of NATO's considerations. German Air Force personnel, for example, say that when they came to Canada in 1980, they had been led to believe that the region was unpopulated. Come here, they were told, and you can do what you want without disturbing anyone. Soon after they arrived, however, the Innu started protesting against low-level flying, to the discomfort of a number of these Luftwaffe men. The protests may not count for much, but they add to the other arguments against locating in Goose Bay.

What about Konya, Turkey? The problem with building the NATO base there sterns from the dispute between Turkey and Greece. Greece fiercely opposes the Konya location because it doesn't want Turkey to benefit. A training base in Konya might strengthen Turkey's hand in the dispute over Northern Cyprus and would better its position within NATO; it would prove that NATO accepts this right-wing military regime.

In this case, NATO countries have to listen to Greece. To get to Konya from northern Europe, without having to refuel mid-air, NATO aircraft need to fly through Greek airspace. Even if the Greeks agreed to that now, they could ban overflights at any future time as a pressure tactic in their squabbles with Turkey. if they were to ban transit, the cost of flying to and from Konya would greatly increase, since circumnavigating Greece requires mid-air refueling.

A second problem with Konya is its location in an earthquake zone.

Experts recently warned that a severe earthquake there could put the military installations out of action. Between 1974 and 1984 there were about 70 earthquakes in the Konya area. Although the strongest tremor in this period measured only five points on the Richter Scale, the scientists predicted a disastrous earthquake of more thin seven points on the Richter Scale within the next twenty years. This possibility may weigh heavily against NATO's building the base there.

In addition to this problem, the rural peoples inhabiting the region around Konya, are, like the Innu of Quebec and Labrador, upset with low-level jet noise and the prospects of supersonic air combat training over their heads in the future.

Many of the village administrations in the vicinity of Konya have protested against the proposed NATO base, and a number of Turkish Nationalists are also up in arms. They wonder why the Turkish people must now bear Europe's unwanted jet noise. Turkish papers have already taken up the issue of this noise pollution and they question the government's decision to accept it.

Perhaps in response to public opposition, the Turkish government has proposed a number of restrictions on low-level flying operations to West Germany. This shows that the Turks are willing to allow weapons training only in very restricted zones. NATO's quandary is further complicated by the fact that the Konya project is a bargaining chip in a heated political dispute between the European Economic Community and Turkey. Turkey had expected that its workers would have the right to look for work in all the EEC countries as of December 1st, 1986. According to an Association Treaty of 1961, they were to have been given this right. However, the EEC governments decided to breach the treaty by arguing that it is just a declaration and not a binding document. In protest over the unwillingness of EEC members to accept Turkish immigrant workers, the Turkish government has requested full membership in the EEC. This in turn has panicked the EEC side, as none of the member nations wants Turkey in the organization.

It is difficult to say exactly how the Turkish government is playing its cards in this affair because it also argues that it would be doing Europeans a big favor by accepting the NATO base in Konya. Your aircraft may train here, the Turks say, but if you build your base on our soil, don't hit us in the face with our 'foreign' workers and the EEC problem.

This debate about where to build the NATO base is unlikely to be resolved for some time. So what is Canada's strategy in the whole affair?

Canada can go along with an indefinite deferral of the decision, since its trump card can be played two or three years from now, after the military presence in Goose Bay has grown through bilateral agreements with individual NATO partners. By 1990 or so, Canada can tell NATO: You may as well give us the base, because a number of NATO countries already train here and much of the infrastructure is now in place.

The Dutch Air Force is coming unless opposition in the Dutch parliament to this training program obstructs the ratification of a ten-year Canada-Dutch agreement, and the U.S. Air Force and Navy have also shown interest in conducting air combat training in the region. Low-level flying may increase from 6,500 hours in 1987 to 40,000 in 1990.

compatible with an effective, detailed assessment of the environmental and health effects of low-level flying in the region. DND is spending heavily on an environmental review process -- yet it is also rushing to increase the training operations before the results of this process are complete.

DND cannot accept the "stop the clock" recommendations of both the Federal Environment Assessment Review Office Panel and Canadian Public Health Association Task Force. Doing so would ruin its strategy for getting the NATO Training Base.

Acceptance of the recommendations would also make life difficult for the West German government, which sees Goose Bay as a solution to its own domestic low-level flying problem. It argues publicly that it is actively moving low-level flying Out of West Germany. The "stop the clock" recommendations, if implemented, would damage these plans and stimulate even more ferocious protests at home against the low-level flying.

Peter Armitage is an activist working on the Goose Bay issue.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987, page 15. Some rights reserved.

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