OUR REAL DEFENSE POLICY: Is it only to keep NATO happy?

BLAIR FRASER March 28 1959

OUR REAL DEFENSE POLICY: Is it only to keep NATO happy?

BLAIR FRASER March 28 1959

OUR REAL DEFENSE POLICY: Is it only to keep NATO happy?




WITH THE ARROW out of the way the government is now free to tackle a larger problem, the formulation of a Canadian defense policy. The one we’ve been using since the Korean war is worn out. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say we have no defense policy at the moment.

Don’t be alarmed. This doesn’t mean Canada is running into any additional danger. It’s a hard thing to explain in a political speech from either side, but in fact there is no connection between Canadian defense policy and the defense of Canada. Our land would be just as safe, maybe safer, if we followed the example of Iceland and had no armed forces at all.

The efficient way to attack cities and industrial areas of North America is to lob ICBMs over the Arctic, or IRBMs from submarines off either coast. There is no known method of stopping these missiles. There is only the deterrent power of counterattack in kind, which is wholly in the hands of the United States.

“Continental defense” is the defense of that retaliatory power and nothing more. The manned bomber is still a threat to it, because ballistic missiles are not yet accurate enough to knock out all its bases at one blow. For that task the enemy would still need to use bombers (or so our planners think).

Stopping these bombers, and thus protecting the power to hit back, is the purpose of North American Air Defense (NORAD), [hat’s what our airborne Bomarc missiles are for, no less than the manned interceptor we decided not to build. Any protection they might give to any Canadian city, living or dead, would be purely coincidental. So the lack of an over-all defense policy, for the moment, is not a threat to Canada’s security, but in that case what’s the point of having a defense policy at all? What is it, and what’s it for?

One man of long experience said, only half in jest: “Our defense policy hasn’t changed for years in fundamentals. It is to spend about a billion and a half each year on projects that are plausible, painless, and related as closely as is convenient to national defense.”

He went on to argue quite seriously that it doesn’t matter what Canada does so long as we do something, acceptable to the other allies as a fair and useful share. Object of the exercise is not to defend our shores, which we can’t do however hard we try; it’s to remain a first-class member of the NATO club, reorganized as equal in status by the big powers. The defense budget, according to this argument, is simply our annual NATO club dues.

But even in those terms, the problems facing Canadian defense planners are numerous and complex, and they all hang on certain prior decisions that the government has to take. First of these big questions is this: How long will Canada keep an air division and an infantry brigade in Europe?

Prime Minister Diefenbaker, speaking in Bonn last November, said, “Canada will stay in Europe and will not go back on its responsibility as long as something is left to be done here.” As reassurance to European allies that sentence in an after-dinner speech was no doubt welcome and adequate. But for defense planning that involves the outlay of a billion dollars or more, something a little more precise is required.

At present the Canadian air division in Europe is equipped with obsolete, Korea-type Sabres, and with equally obsolete CF-100s. The RCAF has made a careful survey and has decided what aircraft it would like to have to replace these—their choice is believed to be the U. S. Navy’s Grumman Tiger. The air division could be re-equipped, if the government should so decide, by about 1962. But there is no sense in spending money on some three hundred new jet fighter-bombers if the Canadian air division is coming home in, say, 1963 or even 1965. In that case the RCAF would carry on with what it has got and shop around for whatever new aircraft it might need for whatever new role might be assigned to it.

That’s assuming the RCAF will be getting new aircraft at all. Conceivably the air division in Europe might be

switched over to missile warfare, like the squadrons in Canada who will handle the new Bomarc. This, too, is something the government must decide now, before any coherent plans for the future can be set in motion.

If the decision is to keep the air division abroad and to re-equip with new manned aircraft, the next question is where the plane will be made. Three hundred are enough to warrant making them in Canada, on license from the U. S. as in the case of the Canadian Sabre, but the Canadian aircraft industry does not (as some Toronto newspapers seem to think) consist exclusively of the Avro plant at Malton. De Havilland is busy making useful propellerdriven machines, and selling them quietly to the United States Army among other custömers. Canadair in Montreal is making Argus submarine - chasers, T-33 jet trainers and several other items. As things look now, Canadair would be just about finishing the Argus job in time to go into production on a new jet fighter; meanwhile, the Avro development and production team is almost certain to break up. But can the government afford to let a big modern plant and an important industry in Malton go permanently to waste? This, too, will be a big decision when they get to it.

Similar but not identical problems surround the Canadian brigade in Germany. First, even if we do keep the air division overseas, should we also keep infantry there indefinitely?

Economically and militarily it makes no sense at all. The cost of maintaining the Canadian brigade in Europe is

exactly the same as the cost of maintaining a Belgian army corps. There is no military advantage in having soldiers from a different country, with slightly different gear and very different ways, fitted into larger forces in a unit as small as a brigade—it merely complicates an already difficult supply problem. The sole reason for Canada’s presence in Europe is political, living proof that the North American countries will treat an attack on Western Europe as if it were an attack on their own territory.

Probably this reason will continue to be valid. But will it still be necessary to keep two Canadian forces on European soil? Or will the time come soon when a re-equipped air division is enough?

After the government has answered this question, it can proceed to the task of arming the army. At present the force is pretty helpless. Tentative decision has been made to buy the Lacrosse, a short-range, ground-to-ground guided missile, but the Lacrosse is not yet in production. Of anti-aircraft missiles the Canadian force has none at all. The Canadian Army would like to buy the U. S. Army Hawk; it would also like a vast increase in suitable air transport so that it could again call itself mobile.

Defense advisers agree that it would not make sense to re-equip the army with made-in-Canada goods. Aircraft for a whole air division make something like an economic order; weapons for an infantry brigade would not. Whatever we get for the army overseas we shall have to buy, presumably from the United States.

This will bring up anew the matter of sharing defense production, already a hot issue between Canada and the United States. Ottawa officials are not as upset about it as some Canadian businessmen seem to be. They say, “Washington agrees in principle that it will be useful to have some defense production capability here in Canada.” But they don’t delude themselves into thinking that very large orders for weapons and equipment can be placed in Canada by a United States government subject to the vigilant eye of the U. S. Congress.

“Let’s keep our sense of proportion, though,” one Canadian official said. “The whole outlay on defense procurement by this country is only two percent of our gross national product. Of that two percent, probably nine out of every ten dollars will be spent in Canada anyway—we’re not going to the United States for boots, or uniforms, or automobiles. So when we talk about defense production in this context and the loss to the Canadian economy of orders placed in the U. S., let’s remember we are talking about one fifth of one percent of our GNP.”

But this soothing reminder won’t bring much comfort to those who see U. S. firms hiring away the brightest and best of young Canadian scientists and engineers, and who believe that the money spent on defense research— small though it may be in proportion to the whoie economy—is nevertheless “the cutting edge of industrial development,” as one worried Ottawan put it.

These are some of the tough nuts that the government will have to crack in the weeks to come. None is desperately urgent, in the sense that the country’s safety hangs upon it, but all are important and all are interdependent; until they are tackled, Canada’s defense program will be marking time. ★