BACKSTAGE

BONN’S ARMAMENT POLICY: Is it a lesson for Canada?

BLAIR FRASER April 11 1959
BACKSTAGE

BONN’S ARMAMENT POLICY: Is it a lesson for Canada?

BLAIR FRASER April 11 1959

BONN’S ARMAMENT POLICY: Is it a lesson for Canada?

BACKSTAGE

IN WEST GERMANY

WITH BLAIR FRASER

CANADIANS arguing whether we ought to produce our own combat aircraft, guided missiles or nuclear submarines may be interested in West German policy on this point.

With a population over fifty million and one of the world's biggest and best industrial plants. West Germany has decided not to produce any big arms. Franz Josef Strauss, German defense minister, said: “We have no plans to make heavy weapons—the runs would be too small. We shall make our own small arms up to twenty millimetres and ammunition up to forty millimetres but nothing beyond that. We get our naval artillery from France, our torpedoes from the U. S. and Britain, field artillery and aircraft from the United States and so on.

"We have considered going in with France on joint production of anti-tank guns but no final decision has been taken yet. In any case v/e shall not have and do not want a self-supporting German armament industry.”

In Germany’s case, of course, there are special reasons for this. West Germans know too well not only Soviet enemies but Western friends would be alarmed if Germany went into heavy armament production again. So indeed would many Germans.

During my ten-day visit to the Federal Republic more than one man has said in casual conversation, “Even I, a German, would not like to see German militarism revived.” Strauss didn't mention this angle though he showed quite clearly he was aware of it and almost certainly shares in the fear of the old militaristic spirit.

Canada’s sovereignty argument, that we must make some major arms to bolster national identity, works in reverse in Germany—people know this is one aspect of nationhood that they must forgo.

But Strauss did bring up another point that is partly relevant to Canadian defense problems. "A German supply system makes no military sense,” he said. "‘If all-out war comes to Europe, Germany will be the battlefield. Production here will be impossible—so why begin it?”

Canadians might argue that this point, too, works in reverse on our continent and that the United States for its own safety should have arms production well north of its main targets.

But in another respect where the problem is similar in both countries Germans have taken the exact opposite of the Canadian position. This is the employment factor. Germany, like Canada, has had a slight recession during the past year and at the end of the winter had seven percent of its labor force unemployed.

Nevertheless inflation still looks to

German economists like the main threat and they have no wish to launch any such major new capital development as a heavy armament industry. “It helps to stabilize our economy that we buy our arms abroad,” said one government economist. “If we spent that money on weapons at home it would be directly inflationary.”

This is a country where consumer price levels have been wholly stable from 1957 until recent months, when they began to drop slightly! It’s also a country where, as one central banker said, “We were very brutal trying to restrain the boom of 1955-56.” The bank rate, which had been three percent in early 1955, went up to five and a half in mid-1956, and the interest rate on long-term loans went as high as eight percent.

If the same thing happened in Canada prices of government bonds would be cut to little more than half of par for the time being.

“We risked some upheaval in the capital market,” this same banker remarked in calm understatement that made Canadian listeners gasp. “Many capital projects had to be postponed, especially building plans by municipalities and so forth. However, by the autumn of 1956 relaxation began, as the boom slowed down, and within one year the long-term interest rate dropped from eight to five percent.”

That was tight money with a vengeance, enough to make investors scream as loudly as labor unions.

Obviously any government tough enough thus to let nature take its course wouldn't worry about employment lost by buying arms from other countries. Strauss, however, said nothing to indicate that economic factors

had affected German military policy one way or the other. He was asked why Germany was buying the American supersonic fighter F-104; had there been any pressure from American aircraft industry or American government?

“Not at all,” he said. “It was an absolutely free decision though a difficult one—it took us twenty months to make up our minds. We can't get delivery of F-104s before late 1961, so we had to weigh the need for manned aircraft between 1962 and 1966.”

Why 1966? What did he think would happen then?

“Nothing special, it’s just that we figure five years as the effective life of any combat aircraft. We are sure we shall need some manned aircraft during that period and as far ahead as we can see—they’ll always be needed for close support of ground troops, for example —but we had to appraise what their precise role would be. We in Germany cannot afford to use different types for individual missions. We had to look for an all-purpose aircraft, or at least one that could be developed for all three functions — interception, close support of troops, and fighter-bomber missions. There were other suggestions but they would have cost more or taken longer or both, and we felt that ‘the better solution was the enemy of the good’— in other words we settled for the F-104.”

Had he heard about Canada’s Avro Arrow?

“Certainly, we studied the Arrow. Much too heavy.”

Then, realizing perhaps he had sounded a bit tactless, Strauss went on: “It's a wonderful aircraft, but we need one somewhat lighter and also less ex-

pensive. We have to aim at a zero launching and landing, because German airfields are no longer operational in war. We must plan on using our Autobahns (the great cement highways which are one of Hitler’s few useful legacies to his people) or open turf for take-offs and landings. There would be no hope of keeping German airfields in repair after the first few hours.”

But if it made so much military and economic sense to buy arms abroad wouldn’t it be equally sensible to use soldiers from home where they are cheaper? What, for example, was the use of keeping a Canadian brigade on German soil? Ah, that was a different matter entirely. More than military considerations were involved. “It’s not only that they are excellent soldiers,” Strauss explained. “Canada represents not only military but also political and moral force. You are known as a nonaggressive country, even though you have been involved twice in world wars. Hitler started the second one because he thought Canada and countries like Canada would not come in. That mistake must not be made again. So keeping Canadian troops here, though it may make no sense for winning a war once it has started, it makes a lot of sense in preventing one.”

What he said about Canada applies of course with even more cogency to American and British troops in Europe —Canada’s brigade is just one component of the British Army of the Rhine. Keeping these conscript forces there indefinitely, though, involves special problems that don’t occur to the casual onlooker. Not only Canadians describe the Canadian brigade as the best NATO troops now in arms, but the tribute isn't quite as admiring as it sounds. “Of course your troops are the best we’ve got — why shouldn’t they be?” an Englishman said recently to a Canadian in Germany. “Your chaps are professionals. I only hope to Heaven that some day Britain can go back to a small professional army too.”

Paradoxically, conscripts get more coaxing than volunteers to keep them happy. On a ski weekend in the Swiss Alps I met a young American lieutenant. Sitting in the bright spring sunshine on top of Jacobshorn with his pretty wife, he explained that they were just finishing an eight-day ski holiday, their third of the winter.

“Nice work if you can get it,” I said.

The lieutenant’s grin was a trifle sheepish. “I get a hundred and twenty days a year, and by adjusting weekends I can stretch it to a hundred and forty, ’ he said. “It will sure feel strange when I'm back in the States next year, having to work.”

Why not volunteer for another hitch in the army? What could be better than this?

The young man shook his head. “Some of my friends have done that— one guy 1 know has been in for eight years. He skis and skis, he takes a month every summer for skin-diving, he has a wonderful time all the time. But damn it, a man has to have some sense of direction. I don t feel I m really doing anything, if you're a real professional soldier that’s different, but we’re not. I don't want to spend my whole life and end up like some of our colonels, doing nothing but wait for retirement at fifty. ’

The boy made a lot of sense, but he also made me wonder how much use that type of re-enlistment would be if trouble did break out. *