The nuclear mess: Part two

THE HOLE IN NATO’S FRONT WALL

BLAIR FRASER March 9 1963
The nuclear mess: Part two

THE HOLE IN NATO’S FRONT WALL

BLAIR FRASER March 9 1963

THE HOLE IN NATO’S FRONT WALL

BLAIR FRASER

The nuclear mess: Part two

Canada's armed force in Europe is really two forces: a superb army bn (jade that doesn't particularly want n/uclea}‘ war heads, and an air division dial's useless — accordtn (j to its own officers—without them. Here is a report on the nuclear mess as our fnjhhep men overseas see it

CANADA'S FIRST nuclear squadron arrived at the RCAF base in Zweibrücken. Germany, shortly before Christmas.

It is the first of the CF-104 squadrons which, over a period of months, will replace the obsolete Sabre squadrons of Canada's airdivision in Europe. The CF-104 is a light supersonic strike aircraft capable of twice the speed of sound at very low altitudes — it can skim along over the rooftops, too low to be detected by enemy radar and too fast to be easily knocked down by antiaircraft fire.

Theoretically the CF-104 can carry eight different weapons, some nuclear and some not. ("It can also carry tanks of water," said one unsmiling airman, "so we could use it for putting out forest fires it we wanted to.") But in fact no nonnuclear role has been planned for the CF-104. Canada's air division is part of NATO's Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force, and as such will carry out the role assigned to it by NATO's air command. That role is nuclear attack on predetermined targets, and the government has known this ever since it decided to adopt the CF-104 in July. 1959. This is what General Cauris Norstad. the retiring NATO commander. meant when he said Canada could not fulfill her commitments w ithout accepting nuclear weapons.

The CF-104 is not the only Canadian arm that requires a nuclear w arhead. T he army in Europe has the Honest John, a tactical rocket of about twenty-mile range — non-nuclear warheads for the Honest John do exist, but the Canadian brigade has none and no plans for getting any. At home we have the Bomarc. the antiaircraft missile which, as deployed in Canada. is the world's most expensive blank cartridge. For both these weapons the government has. until now. deemed it safe to go w ithout

the warheads until war breaks out.

The CF-104 is different. Men who have spent six months learning to fly it, first at Cold Fake, Alberta, arul now in Germany, cannot complete their training without an agreement between Canada and the United States on control of the Cl -104‘s nuclear weapon. The final stages of bomber training arc given by American instructors and are secret, not only from ordinary civilians but even from allied air forces until an agreement has been signed.

All countries that contribute to NATO air power, except Canada, have had such agreements all along. Even the French, who refuse to harbor on their soil any warheads under alien control, have an agreement covering French airmen stationed outside France. Without these agreements the NATO defense structure, as now constituted, wouldn't work. If C anada had not intended to sign one, Canada would have had to refuse the CF-104 instead of taking out a licence to build it at the Canadair plant in Montreal.

Actually, servicemen of both countries have been taking it for granted for months that Canada would sign. Canadians have been

Irai ning at great expe nsc t o h a n -die this

This is why Canada has been under pressure to take nuclear weapons at the very time when other NATO allies, especially Brit-

ain. were under pressure to forget about nuclear weapons and concentrate on conventional forces. The paradox is more apparent than real. Both pressures are symptoms of a crisis of confidence in the Western alliance.

nuclear bomber. Americans have been building (on NATO property but at the Canadian base) the special storage and security facilities that the nuclear warheads require. Neither the building nor the training is quite finished, but both soon will be: thereafter, the lack of an agreement with the U. S. would leave Canadian airmen with nothing to do. and the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force with a great big hole in its middle.

Americans feel, and have taken to saying rather bluntly, that other NATO countries aren't carrying their share of the defense load. Americans have 1.5 percent of their population under arms; the NATO average is 1.1 percent, the British figure a shade under 1 percent. the Canadian .75 percent or exactly half the American. The same contrast shows up in defense spending. Americans spend 10.7 percent of their national product on defense, the British and the French less than 7.5 percent, the Germans 5.7 percent and the Canadians 5.3 percent — again the Americans are doing half as much again as their principal allies, and twice as much as the Germans or ourselves. (This doesn't mean Canada is in last place among NATO allies — we're about the same as the Greeks and the Dutch, and ahead of the Italians, the Scandinavians and the Belgians.)

W h a t most exasperates the Americans, though, is not the amount of money the other allies spend, but the things they spend it on. Nuclear weapons in U. S. stockpiles are already more than enough to blow up the world — a nuclear duel between the U. S. and the Soviet Union might w'ell extinguish

life on earth. One way to make a nuclear duel less likely, says Washington. is to build up our conventional forces to something nearer equality with the Red Army. But instead of doing that, the British insist on spending ten percent of their defense budget, and the French an even higher fraction, on “independent nuclear deterrents" which the Americans regard as useless and highly dangerous.

This is the core of the argument that's now' going on within the alliance, and it has had an unexpected dividend for C añada. Our contribution to NATO’s ground forces in Europe may be modest, but at least it is maintained at a constant hundred percent of what w'c undertook to do — our brigade is “combat ready” all the time. In the context of the current dispute this gives Canada a special Good Conduct Prize from the Americans. The Germans have promised twelve divisions to the NATO force: so far they have provided only nine, and those a long way from full strength or combat readiness. (When the German magazine Der Spiegel reported “unimaginable chaos" in West German forces after a simulated nuclear attack last autumn, the publisher w'as clapped in jail, not for telling lies but for betraying state secrets.) The French have never put back the two divisions they withdrew from NATO command for the Algerian w'ar. The British are down in the usual NATO list as providing three divisions, or twelve brigades, but the British Army of the Rhine actually has on the spot only seven brigades — fifty-five thousand men. This fulfills the commitment that the British undertook by the Treaty ot Brussels fifteen years ago. but it’s only two thirds enough for the “force goals" that are accepted, at least nominally, as each country’s share of NATO's minimum requirement. The troops of the smaller allies are now'hcrc near a wartime footing in numbers, arms or training. So Canada’s fully manned, fully equipped, superbly trained Fourth Infantry Brigade Group stands out.

Brigadier Michael Dare, commander of the Canadian brigade group, gets rather impatient with people who keep asking about the nuclear warhead of the Honest John rocket. He regards this as a relatively minor matter. The important thing, in his view, is that the NATO alliance should have a “flexible deterrent” against any threat by the Soviet bloc — not just the hideous choice between suicide and surrender, but a whole scries of effective countermoves against w'hatever move the Soviets choose to make.

Each countermove should be appropriate to the challenge. It's most unlikely that the Communist bloc would use a massive all-out attack, even with conventional weapons, as an opening gambit. Much more likely is a campaign of political

and diplomatic pressure laced with local applications of physical pressure and limited violence. Instead of responding with mere threats of nuclear retaliation, • which might not be believed and which it carried out would be suicidal. NATO should be ready for action against such a limited attack, ready not with empty threats but with reallife measures like the U. S. blockade of Cuba last autumn.

For this kind of action, indeed for any kind of warfare likely to take place on the ground, the Canadian brigade group is a first-class outfit — all volunteers, all professionals, all fully trained and in A-l condition. Their physical standard makes medical officers' eyes pop.

About a year ago they were sent out on a winter exercise that was deliberately made severe—no tents, no special cold-weather gear, just ground sheets and boughs lor shelter during a strenuous battle drill that went on for days. “I don t understand it.” a British army doctor said. “By any medical standard I know', you should have about twenty-five percent ot your men out of action with bronchitis, pneumonia and frostbite.” The actual casualty rate from these causes was about half of one percent. It proved, to Canadian officers' satisfaction, that a high everyday standard ot comfort and diet doesn't make men soft, it makes them tough—when the time comes that they have to be tough. And the Canadian brigade group’s standard of everyday comfort and diet is very high indeed, high enough to be the unconcealed envy

of the rest of the British Army of the Rhine.

So is its standard of equipment. Soldiers are as reluctant as farmers ever to admit that times are good, but they confess that the brigade has no serious lacks. The only shortage is in artillery, and that's not a Canadian but a NATO lack. (Reason: New and better weapons are being developed, and NAIO armies are waiting for them instead of procuring any more of the guns now available.)

Unlike the air force, the army doesn’t seem at all upset by the absence of nuclear warheads. Anyone on the spot can see w'hy. The army's Honest John is a very different weapon from the air division's CF-104.

The Canadian Honest John battery is already equipped with these big, ugly, cumbersome rockets. In size and shape they' look rather like Second World War torpedoes. They’re carried in a special trailer drawn by a huge six-wheeled truck, and fired from a launching vehicle that is separately powered and driven. It takes a crew of about a dozen men and a couple of derricks to load, transport, reload, launch and fire the Honest John, and the operation takes about forty minutes (plus transport time). To “mate" a nuclear warhead to the Honest John would take another forty minutes. It is not exactly a weapon for shooting from the hip.

Unlike the CF-104 pilot, the Honest John crew needs no special nuclear training. The dummies that are now being handled, launched and occasionally fired (with an

aluminum-flash “warhead" to show where they land ) are the ones that would be used for training anyway. The warheads for British Honest Johns (in American custody, like all nuclear weapons in NATO's arsenal) are stationed nearby. Nobody says so, but nobody doubts that if atomic war is ever declared and the Honest John rockets armed. Canada's will be armed as well as Britain's.

It’s not by any means a foregone conclusion that this would ever happen, even if full-scale war did break out. The Honest John is a tactical weapon with only a twentymile range. The situation wherein its use would be advisable might or might not arise in combat.

Last year the Rhine Army's fourth division, which happens to be commanded by a Canadian, Major-general Jean Allard, former vice-chief of the general staff, had a battle exercise in which one brigade group was pitted against another. At the outset. Allard said to the two brigadiers:

"You can declare atomic war any time you like, either of you. The only stipulation is this : I want your reasons for introducing atomic weapons, and 1 want them in writing.”

Neither brigade commander did, in the event, declare atomic war. Both found it was too dangerous, and offered too little advantage in the battle situations they encountered.

In these circumstances it’s no wonder that the Canadian soldier in Europe, unlike the ( anadian airman, is CONTINUED ON PAGE 53

CONTINUED ON PAGE 53

THE HOLE IN NATO’S WALL

continued from page 19

Canada’s choice was made long before 1963; the nuclear role accepted, the weapons ordered

not at all embarrassed by the headlessness of his atomic artillery. Neither is he embarrassed by the relatively small size of the Canadian contribution. The fact is that a brigade group is the smallest self-contained unit in a modern army, and Canada’s brigade group is fully up to strength. The only effective way to increase Canada’s contribution, therefore, would be to double it — provide two brigade groups instead of one. Not even the most indignant advocate of stronger ground forces has suggested that any ally should do twice as much as it's doing.

On the other hand Canada's superb but small ground force doesn't earn us any vast amount of credit. Dean Rusk's statements make it plain that, to Americans, fulfillment of one commitment is no excuse for failure to carry out others. As for the British, they resent invidious comparisons between Canada's beautifully equipped little force and their own Spartan but substantial seven brigades, though they are even more resentful of American prodding to strengthen that establishment.

British officers turn rapidly from pink to purple at U. S. suggestions that the British Army of the Rhine should be increased from its present fifty-five thousand to seventy-five thousand men. What good would that do, they ask. wdien we've nowhere to put even the men we have on the Rhine now? The British soldiers' housing in Germany is already a political scandal at home, a menace to morale. Britain could, and would, move three more divisions to the Rhine within days if a serious crisis blew' up: meanwhile, they’re decently housed and usefully employed in England. What more do the Yanks want? Britain's already doing as much as she can afford, and as much as the situation requires.

Nuclear status symbol

In a recent opinion poll, four out of five Britons did not believe the U. S. was treating Britain as an equal partner. Two out of three thought their government's foreign policy “depends too much on the United States.” It was this general sense ol grievance and hostility that exploded over the Skybolt affair.

Skybolt was a medium-range air-toground missile that would, if successful. have extended the useful life of the manned bomber by perhaps five years. To Americans, the decision to drop Skybolt was a blow to Strategic Air Command and to the Douglas aircraft company. To Britons it was much more. It was a move, and perhaps a sinister American plot, to deprive Britain of that most prized of great power status symbols, an “independent nuclear deterrent of her own.”

Britain’s special need for an “inde-

pendent deterrent” is usually explained thus:

"Take our oil fields in Kuwait. Suppose there's a Communist revolt there, or an invasion from Iraq, that w'ould cut off our oil supply. We decide to land troops in Kuwait to protect it. Then Khrushchov intervenes. Withdraw those troops, he says, or the Soviet Union will drop a hydrogen bomb on London.

“In a case like that we couldn't count on the Americans. They might

not even be on our side of the argument. In any case we couldn’t expect them to threaten Khrushchov with a nuclear exchange that would be suicide for themselves. They wouldn't do it. and if they did Khrushchov wouldn't believe them.

"Britain would be on her own. and have to defend herself. We'd be helpless unless we could answer Khrushchov threat for threat, with our own nuclear deterrent to back it up.”

Kuwait is the example that’s cited.

but Suez is the one that is meant. Even those Englishmen who think the Suez adventure was wrong (and few now argue that it was right) still squirm at the recollection of Soviet threats against Britain. Never again, they inwardly resolve, shall England have to listen to Soviet bluster and have no effective reply. And Suez is a constant reminder that a joint AngloAmerican reply is not enough — can’t be counted on with certainty.

This was the dream that was shat-

tered by the American decision to drop Skybolt. British officials were quickly reassured, and their suspicions set at rest, by the Nassau agreement to provide Britain with Polaris submarines instead. Not so the average citizen in Britain, nor even the average editorial writer. To them, the Skybolt decision still means "the Americans let Britain down.”

Unhappily, this feeling of "letdown” is also shared by the Americans. They are tired of carrying the

lion’s share, physically and financially, of a burden that’s common to a dozen nations, all prosperous. But they can’t ask much more of France, so lately emerged from civil war and the brink of chaos — it’s enough that France has survived at all, as an intact nation. They can’t ask much more of Germany because Germany already is the strongest power in NATO, and "make no mistake,” an American official said, “we’d be as unhappy as anybody else if Germany became too

strong.” So that brings them down to Britain — and C añada.

It's in this context of mutual disenchantment within the alliance, rather than of any specific or physical peril, that the problem of nuclear arms for Canada became acute. The issue was not what arms we should bear, but whether we'd keep our word.

Two or three years ago it would have been possible, and might even have been easy, for Canada to choose a non-nuclear role (though even then

it would have been a bit late, and meant a reversal of some previous decisions). But long before 1963, the choice had been made — the nuclear role accepted, the weapons ordered. In one case it was only Canadian insistence that kept the nuclear weapon in being; Washington decided in 1958 to scrap the Bomarc, but Canada’s protests were so urgent that the decision was reluctantly reversed. The bewilderment and resentment that followed, when Canadians refused the ammunition for the weapon they'd been so determined to get. has not yet been forgotten. Neither has Canada’s equivocation over the CF-104.

This was the background of the tension that broke out in such extraordinary fashion on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. As Dean Rusk said in his singularly unrepentant “apology,” the U. S. would “respect the clear decisions of Canada and adapt our policies as well as we can to those decisions.” It was the lack of any clear decision either way that exhausted American patience — this and the claim that new talks in Washington and Nassau had revealed some unspecified but important changes in the situation.

Actually the end of American patience was quite clearly visible even before the outburst of recrimination that brought it to public notice. At the NATO council meeting in Paris last December, the meeting at which Howard Green and Douglas Harkness heard “nothing but praise” for Canada and her combat-ready troops, I had a long talk with an American who is a tried and true friend of Canada, and has been so for many years.

“I get worried about Canada,” he said. “I know some of you used to think you got no consideration in Washington but I can tell you honestly it wasn’t true. Not under Truman and Eisenhower administrations anyway. Whether you knew it or not you got very sympathetic treatment — preferential treatment in fact. Canada’s opinion and Canada’s wishes really counted.

“Em not sure how long this is going to last. These New Frontiersmen rather pride themselves on being a hard-minded lot. If they once come to the conclusion that Canada is just a double talker, not to be relied upon, then Canada won’t count with them any longer.”

At the time I wasn’t quite sure whether he was warning of something that might happen or telling me what had taken place already. Perhaps at the time he didn’t quit know himself. But the whole world knows now — the damage has been done. ★