In the first hours of the Middle East ceasefire, Canada’s military leaders could take comfort from one fact: for the first time in the country’s history, Canada had fought in a war and had not suffered a single casualty. But behind that fact lay a more ominous observation: Canada’s military was not sufficiently equipped to play a major role in modern warfare—and its allies in the coalition knew it. Aside from Canada’s crack CF-18 Desert Cats fighter squadron, which distinguished itself by flying not more than 2,700 missions during the war to liberate Kuwait, Canada’s units in the Persian Gulf had more in common with the Third World than they did with the First. Indeed, the three Canadian naval ships in the Gulf—with a combined age of 70 years—were outfitted with weaponry cannibalized from half-completed and long-overdue replacement frigates, the first of which, HMCS Halifax, is still undergoing sea trials. Said Vice-Admiral Robert George, commander of Maritime Command in Halifax: “The Canadian navy got off by the skin of its teeth.” Added Quebec defence historian and author Tony German: “Our forces were magnificent. But the level of our contribution was shameful.” Order: Amid the accolades to the 2,200 Canadian military personnel in the Gulf last week were stirrings of a familiar debate in Ottawa. In the coming months, analysts say, Canada must decide what place it seeks in U.S. President George Bush’s “new world order”—and how much the country is prepared to pay for it. Conditioned by more than a decade of cutbacks, senior military officials appeared resigned to the message of continued restraint contained in the Feb. 26 federal budget. At the same time, military experts say that the lack of a clear defence policy hampers the department of national defence’s ability to live up to the avowals of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the Gulf War that Canada is a staunch defender of the UN mandate to maintain collective security. That concern will be weighed by the cabinet in the weeks ahead, as it considers the conclusions of an intense review of defence policy that is already under way. “Canada does not want to be an isolated island in terms of collective security,” Defence Minister William McKnight told Maclean ’s last
week. “But neither are we a superpower.” Meanwhile, critics question whether Ottawa can succeed in preserving Canada’s traditional post-Second World War role as an international peacekeeper. To that end, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark is travelling to the Gulf this week, after meetings at the United Nations last week, to offer Canadian participation in a Middle East peacekeeping mission. But, for the first time since the Korean War in the 1950s, it is not certain that Canada is assured a role. Many states in the region consider Canada a protagonist in the Gulf War—rather than an acceptable neutral—after Canadian jets engaged in more than 50 offensive bombing strikes against Iraq during the war’s last week. “In the aftermath of the Gulf,” said Daniel Mainguy, a former vice-chief of the defence staff, “Canada has become unsure of what the heck it is in the world order.”
Still, some analysts suggest that Canada may generate other benefits from the goodwill fostered among coalition members. In particular, Canadian trade officials point to the trilateral talks under way among the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Predicted Richard Belous, a Canadian expert with the Washington-based National Planning Association, an independent think-tank that concentrates on trade issues:
“Canada’s views, opinions and concerns in the negotiations with Mexico will be listened to much more than you might have thought.” According to a senior White House official, meanwhile, relations between Bush and Mulroney—always cordial— are now better than ever.
Said the official: “There is a pro-Canada mood, a willingness to make an extra effort to please.” By many accounts, Canada’s military has also won a significant victory at home—and not only as a result of its performance in the Gulf. During the past year, it has captured the attention of a public normally indifferent to national defence, and the respect of a cabinet that dislikes spending money on military hard-
ware. Before its exploits in the Gulf, the Canadian military had already gained new legitimacy with its disciplined handling of the armed standoff between government authorities and Mohawk Indians at Oka, Que., last August. In fact, some defence analysts noted privately that the military actions at Oka and in the Gulf were the only broadly popular successes enjoyed by the government in an otherwise difficult year.
Despite the post-ceasefire euphoria, however, the government made it clear last week that it would not be diverted from its priority of wrestling with Canada’s economic problems. In keeping with a 1989 budget plan to cut $2.7 billion from defence spending over a five-year period, Finance Minister Michael Wilson made only the most grudging allowance for the costs of war. In his budget speech, Wilson offered the military a onetime, $600-million infusion of cash—and a five-percent hike in defence spending for 1991-1992 that will bring the department’s total outlay to $12.8 billion. But the largess may be illusory. For one thing, any portion of the $600-million cash injection that is not absorbed by the direct costs of the war must be returned to the government’s central coffers. As well, Wilson’s own targeted inflation rate for 1991 of five per cent promises to consume all of the planned increase in the military’s regular budget. Said McKnight: “We simply can’t afford a high level of defence spending while we tackle the deficit.”
Status: It was a familiar problem on Parliament Hill. Canadian governments have grappled for more than three decades with the problem of establishing military budgets appropriate to Canada’s needs and status. Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker set the pattern with his 1959 decision to stop production of the advanced Avro Arrow jet fighter, a shock from which the country’s military planners have never fully recovered. Except for orders placed between 1975 and 1985 for 12 frigates and 138 CF-18 fighter jets—at a combined estimated cost of $14.3 billion—defence has been low in federal spending priorities. (The frigates, meanwhile, are 18 months behind schedule and beset by legal disputes among the shipbuilding companies contracted to build them.) In poll after poll, meanwhile, Canadian voters have repeatedly expressed their preference for investment in social programs at home over military might on the world stage.
As a result, few military experts expect the admirable performance by Canadian soldiers in the Gulf War to reap long-lasting rewards. In fact, senior defence department officials predict that further cuts to personnel and military installations will likely follow the release later this spring of the first defence review since the now-shelved 1987 white paper (which set out
the country’s security needs in a staunchly Cold War framework). The review, a road map for Canadian defence needs for the next 15 years, is expected to shift the emphasis from preparations for all-out war to a lighter and more mobile force. By focusing on territorial defence and contingency operations at home, the defence department is clearly hoping to meet the public’s demand for a so-called postCold War peace dividend while living within Ottawa’s financial constraints.
That prospect has angered some defence specialists, who say that further degradation of
Canada’s military may have long-lasting effects on the country’s ability to maintain peace—or wage another war. Said Alex Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, an independent Toronto-based defence research organization: “Canadians must realize that it costs money to be a player on the world stage.” For his part, Peter Haydon, a military expert with the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says that the war in the Gulf has shifted the geopolitical focus from thawed relations between the United States and the Soviet Union to regional conflicts occurring around the world. Said Haydon: “We could be in for a stormy decade. Will the government continue to deal with the situation strictly on an ad hoc basis?”
Role: Under those conditions, analysts say that Canadians must consider the larger ques tion of an appropriate role for their militaryand in particular their role in NATO, where Canada ranks 14th out of 15 nations in the percentage of gross domestic product spent on defence. Although the collective security of the North Atlantic countries appeared to be under no direct challenge-particularly in a week in which' the once-feared Warsaw Pact formally dissolved its military command-there was no sign from NATO headquarters in Brussels that the Western alliance intended to disband. "No body is suggesting that we maintain enormous stocks of war equipment," said John Martein son, a retired army colonel and editor of the Toronto-based Canadian Defence Quarterly. "But we ought to maintain a reasonably well equipped, small, professional army that could be expanded." That may be a small price to keep Canada alongside its traditional allies in a new-and swiftly changing-world order.
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