Getting Secure

An international conference on the Arctic prompted these reflections on the meaning (and the ways of attaining) security. Peggy Hope-Simpson is an influential member of the NDP's International Affairs Committee.

By Peggy Hope-Simpson | 1989-02-01 12:00:00

N OCTOBER I HAD an opportunity to observe the International Conference on Arctic Cooperation. Over 80 participants came from several countries, particularly nations surrounding the Arctic.We heard constructive proposals for cooperation in environmental matters, resource management, and the rights of northern native people. What was disappointing, however, was that there was no consensus as to the meaning of security, or as to how it is best pursued. In the end, the participants could not agree on a joint statement.

The obstacles did not come from the Soviet side, for they are promoting an Arctic Basin Regime of Security and Cooperation to work against environmental degradation and militarization. The obstacles came from the limited views in our own side as to the nature of "security." I will not report on the conference, but I do want to point out the contradictory notions of security that continue to block progress.

The dispute is this: Is the maintenance of security primarily a military or a political task? Because this question has not been resolved in the minds of our own Canadian military and foreign affairs strategists, our military procurement policies are marked by confusion and indecision. Nothing shows it more vividly than the debate as to whether Canada should acquire nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs). Conceivably, this long-running issue may still be unresolved by the time this issue of PEACE appears, despite the Conservative victory in the November election, since the Minister of Finance has been notably concerned about the cost of the subs.

He is not alone. Even senior naval personnel express conflicting opinions of the submarines. It is worth comparing the views expressed by Rear-Admiral (C.F., Retired) F.W. Crickard and by Professor Rod Byers, of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies, York University.

Does Crickard Want the Submarines?

ADMIRAL CRICKARD HAS SEEMED less-than-spirited in supporting the SSNs. The basis for his lukewarm attitude seems to be his view that military needs and roles should be determined by broad national objectives, including Canada's protection of its sovereignty and the control of northern surveillance under its ice. Such surveillance could be done, Crickard has suggested, by passive acoustic detection systems. In peacetime, he notes, there would be no need to trail transiting submarines through the Archipelago, since submarines could be detected in the Davis Strait or Baffin Bay. And "in the Western Arctic, unless Canada acquires advanced nuclear attack submarines capable of prolonged under-ice operations, there would be little control capability." Crickard would never expect the Soviets to use the Canadian Arctic for ballistic or cruise missile-firing nuclear submarines unless the U.S.Navy's anti-submarine efforts prevent the Soviet Navy from using its own Arctic.

It is encouraging to find that Crickard values the public debate on defence issues. In fact, he suggests that the public, as well as the Canadian government, should review the new U.S. Maritime Strategy. (The Department of National Defence had not even considered the U.S. Navy's Maritime Strategy when making its plans for Canadian nuclear subs. Even beforehand, Perrin Beatty had announced his receptiveness to a joint Canada/ U.S. maritime defence command in the Arctic - in other words, a maritime NORAD.)

What's a Non-Coercive Submarine?

IN CONTRAST TO ADMIRAL CRICKARD, Professor Byers clearly does want for Canada to obtain nuclear submarines. However, his rationale for this differs sharply from that of the Department of National Defence (DND), which he criticizes as "muddy." Byers is concerned about developing an independent Canadian maritime strategy, distinct from that of the United States. He criticizes DND's failure to outline a clear role for the SSNs. Byers argues that, in order to protect our legitimate maritime interests, Canada must have the military capability to respond to security threats (from the Soviet Union) and sovereignty threats (from the United States). He anticipates continuing uncertainty in the strategic environment. By the year 2025, he notes, the situation could be entirely different from now, whether or not Canada remains in NATO. He therefore proposes a Canadian maritime strategy and force structure that would allow for flexibility. Such a strategy ought to ensure a naval presence adequate for the protection of Canadian sovereignty, while also pursuing naval arms limitations.

The Canadian peace movement has, of course, opposed the purchase of nuclear submarines on the same grounds as they oppose the U.S.'s Maritime Forward Strategy - for being dangerously aggressive. But Byers tries to meet those objections, saying, "The Canadian position should explicitly reject both strategic anti-submarine warfare and strategic coercion as roles for the Canadian Navy."

One is left wondering: Why request all that money to buy strategic-capable boats that are not to be used strategically?

Another confusion also remains unresolved: NATO always claims that its strategies are defensive. However, the U.S. Maritime Forward Strategy is clearly offensive. Perrin Beatty has made it clear that he favors the U.S. model based on offensive sea control and war-fighting plans.

Professor Byers's goals are unobjectionable: sea control, the protection of sovereignty, and the pursuit of naval arms limitations. However, there may be other ways - political ways - to contribute to those goals. It is disappointing that his recent papers do not encourage the development of such political instruments. (In a 1986 study, "The Future of East-West Security Regimes," he did propose creative political approaches.) We need to look for political, not military, solutions to our security problems. One promising example is the Soviets' constructive proposal for an Arctic Basin Regime for Security and Cooperation. I wish Professor Byers would address that idea.

Toward Political Provisions for Security

The pursuit of security is, more and more, a political task. To be sure, international agreements need to be backed by adequate military force - but not overwhelming force. We should return to a view of defence that is not perceived as offensive. We should resume protecting our sovereignty by independent means. Almost forgotten is the February 1947 Canada -U.S. Joint Statement on Defence Collaboration, whereby, "each country retains control over military activities undertaken on its territory and is legally free to determine the extent of its military cooperation with the other."

Clearly, we share interests with the United States, the Soviet Union, and with the Nordic countries. We have so much in common that we should work toward developing confidence-building measures, cooperative measures of restraint and reassurance. Our Government's policy should reflect these shared interests. Most Canadians would support such a shift in foreign policy.

Two changes are immediately needed: First, Mr. Mulroney promised to protect our sovereignty from closer integration with the United States. A majority of Canadian analysts consider the U.S. naval weapons development destabilizing. We have every right to request a clarification of Canada's policies for security, sovereignty, arms control, and disarmament.

Second, the public is entitled to an open review of the political-diplomatic opportunities now open to us. A White Paper on Foreign Policy is needed and overdue. Such a review should have preceded the White Paper on Defence. As Rear-Admiral Crickard has correctly stated, "military roles and forces should be determined by national objectives, including sovereignty and independence." As a democratic society, Canada's national objectives should be determined by the people of Canada.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989, page 11. Some rights reserved.

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