THE NATION’S BUSINESS

Martin’s $l-billion defence-spending hit

Peter C. Newman January 23 1995
THE NATION’S BUSINESS

Martin’s $l-billion defence-spending hit

Peter C. Newman January 23 1995

Martin’s $l-billion defence-spending hit

PETER C. NEWMAN

THE NATION’S BUSINESS

One of the biggest hits in Paul Martin’s budget, due next month, will be a significant reduction in defence spending. Although the beleaguered department—with current annual spending of $11.5 billion—has absorbed $21 billion in reductions from planned expenditures over the past eight years, as much as another $1 billion may be cut this year, with at least $7 billion to be bled off by the end of the decade.

We deserve a peace dividend, but the notion that we can contribute only peacekeepers to the world’s security net is naïve and wrong

It’s a politically tempting decision because military lobbies are notoriously weak in this country; few Canadians outside the militaryindustrial complex support rearming our troops at a time when no clear and present danger exists. The end of the Cold War certainly should yield a peace dividend, but the notion that we can unilaterally disarm and contribute only peacekeepers to the world’s security net is naïve and wrong. For one thing, the military is not just an armed force. As Graham Clarke, who owns a Vancouver boat-chartering company and follows defence matters, maintains: “It is also an instrument of public policy. It creates not only jobs, but more significantly, it builds character and values that are the underpinning this country cannot afford to do without.”

The Chrétien government’s white paper on defence calls for a decrease in military personnel strength from 75,000 to 60,000 by 1999, with another 12,500 (out of 32,500) civilians due to be given the boot. Despite the deep slashes expected in just about every category, ironically one of the equipment purchases to remain on the priority list will be new helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings that have become a menace to fly. The new machines will, of course, not be flying Cadillacs like the EH-101s the previous Conservative government promised, but Defence Minister David Collenette has recognized that the expensive fleet of new patrol frigates under his command are next to useless without their air component. Another item on the protected list is an order for several hundred new armored personnel carriers, designed to protect our peacekeepers. The single largest equipment rollback will probably be the mothballing of half the CF-18 fighter-bomber fleet. Several more obsolete military bases are due to be closed, but since at least one is in Quebec, that decision will be postponed until after the referendum.

While nothing is impossible in an unstable world, Canada is not about to be invaded by anybody, so that most of our Cold War postures can happily be put out to pasture. In a study of how Canada fits into future military trends, conflict analyst Colin Gray of the University of Hull, England, has pointed out that we may be living in an inter-war period; that the Russian revolution is far from finished; that much of Africa has moved beyond governance; and that nuclear proliferation remains unstoppable. “The cause of prudent security organization in these post-Cold War years,” he wrote in a study titled Canadians in a Dangerous World, “is hampered by the fact that there is barely a glimmer of major talent for statecraft among the current leaders of the G-7 countries, plus Russia. The activism of Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s United Nations is the product of a now rapidly diminishing post-Cold War honeymoon period in great-power politics; it is not plausible evidence of the growth of effective global regimes and institutions.”

Despite best efforts to reduce their number by the former components of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics themselves, they still hold in reserve 9,344 strategic nuclear warheads. They simply don’t have the spare cash to pay for the expensive process of disarming these deadly weapons, and the country’s internal climate is growing unpredictable enough that a takeover by the loopy Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has threatened to reoccupy Finland and most of Eastern Europe, can’t be ruled out. Eduard Shevardnadze, once foreign affairs minister for the former Soviet Union, warned the West that serious threats to peace will exist until Russia completes its democratic transformation and economic reform. That may explain why a dozen former Soviet satellites have applied for space under the NATO “partnership for peace” umbrella. The Korean peninsula and the Muslim crescent, stretching through southwest Asia and into Africa, remain unstable and, according to the latest count, 15 Third World countries have or are in the process of buying the SCUD missiles used in the Iraqi war.

None of that has much to do with Canada, except that we can’t realistically opt for disarmament in a world that remains conflictprone. The fact that we can’t, and shouldn’t even try to keep up with the latest war technologies doesn’t mean we can become disinterested bystanders. Using space-based intelligence-gathering satellites, future generals and admirals will deploy their forces far from the enemy and try to eliminate the hostile forces with precision-guided missiles. That’s not for Canada, but we are responsible for our sovereignty, and that means knowing what goes on within our borders and around our shores. At the moment, we don’t. One example: on the west coast, there is only one coastal radar installation (at Holberg, on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island), leaving most of the area north to Alaska (including Prince Rupert and the Queen Charlotte Islands) a blind spot. We still haven’t resolved the problem of Arctic sovereignty, and anyone attempting an incursion into our North would be met only by a Mountie on a Ski-Doo, determined to hand the invader a parking ticket.

Many years ago, when he was heading the Royal Commission on National Development in Arts, Letters and Sciences, Vincent Massey, who later became Canada’s first Canadian-born governor general, defined what remains the seminal issue in any defence debate. “If we as a nation are concerned about the problems of defence,” he wrote, “what, we may ask ourselves, are we defending? We are defending civilization, our share of it, our contribution to it. It would be paradoxical to defend something which we are unwilling to strengthen and enrich.”