In self-defence

George Ignatieff April 21 1980

In self-defence

George Ignatieff April 21 1980

In self-defence


George Ignatieff

In our national anthem, we sing heartily of “the true North strong and free” and pledge ourselves repetitively to “stand on guard for thee.” I sometimes wonder why there is so little discussion of how best this commitment should be carried out.

I know that options in defence are limited by our alliance commitments, but this does not mean that these cannot be renegotiated. The North American Air Defence (NORAD) agreement comes up for renegotiation periodically. We should ask ourselves whether sheltering under the NORAD nuclear shield still serves our defence needs, in view

of radically changing circumstances.

NORAD was the product of another era—the Korean War and John Foster Dulles’ doctrine of “massive retaliation.” Times have changed and the Soviet Union has now overtaken the United States in the production of nuclear weapons systems. The one sure thing about nuclear weapons is that they do not constitute a defence; they can only be a threat. I do not believe that the threat remains credible as a deterrent if it becomes destabilized by the quest for parity. If this point is reached it is the solidarity of the alliance, not “massive retaliation” or “mutual assured destruction,” that guarantees our safety.

In this new situation, I urge, it is important for Canadians to review our dependence on the nuclear shield of NORAD and to think unambiguously of more realistic, nonnuclear means of defending our interests. Obviously our major priority should be in the defence of NATO’s northern flank—the

circumpolar region stretching from

Alaska to Norway’s border with the Soviet Union. This area is rich in oil and, therefore, of increasing importance. The importance of NATO’s northern flank is enhanced by the growing instability on NATO’s southern flank, giving access to the oil-rich areas of the Persian Gulf and the Near East.

In planning the protection of the northern region, it is necessary to take into account the peculiar ecological fragility of the Arctic environment, as well as its exposure to the threat of the Soviet fleet in Murmansk. We need to consider a complex of new multilateral agreements with our northern allies, both to protect our northern environment as well as assuring its security.

Both factors suggest that the protection and guarantees should be based upon international co-operation backed by mobile, specialized conventional forces. We should agree with our NATO allies on a policy of banning the deployment of nuclear forces in the northern Arctic regions, just as they were banned from the Antarctic region by the 1959 treaty.

As long ago as the ’40s, I remember Lester Pearson, then undersecretary of state for external affairs, suggesting that NATO should include Canada’s Arctic in the

4It is important for Canadians to review our dependence on the nuclear shield of NORAD... *

defence of its northern flank, rather than have Canada committed to a purely bilateral defence arrangement with the U.S. Since the Canadian North is already comprised within the North Atlantic area, no fundamental renegotiation of the North Atlantic Treaty would be required.

However, this would imply that the U.S. would have to be willing to share decision-making about North American defence with the European members of NATO. In the ’50s, when the nuclear power of the U.S. was clearly superior to that of the Soviet Union, the Americans were not willing to involve their European partners in any way in the defence of North America. Today, American military capabilities are strained in trying to match the expanding military

power of the Soviet Union and their threat toward NATO’s flanks. Ever since the ’60s, Canada has been associated in a minor way with strengthening the northern NATO flank in the event of an emergency. Considering the extent to which we and other NATO countries, like the U.S., Britain, Norway and Denmark, depend on oil reserves in the North Sea and in the Arctic, there is more than enough to do in sharing the tasks of surveillance and protection.

Lest measures of military preparedness in the North should unleash a further arms race with the Soviet Union, it would be important that the reorganization of northern defence be accompanied by measures of arms control, particularly addressed to the gradual denuclearization of the region. The suspension of the ratification of SALT II by the U.S. has enabled the Soviet government to claim that while it is anxious to proceed with arms control negotiations, the West is holding them up. The reorganization

of the Geneva Disarmament Committee, following the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSOD 1978) enables the whole question of the control of nuclear weapons proliferation to be tackled afresh with the participation of all nuclear weapons powers, including China and France. In these talks, the aim should be to scale down the nuclear deterrent to a minimum on a global scale, as well as denuclearization of extensive regions like the Arctic.

Canadians, concerned as they are with developing resources in the Arctic—oil, gas, fish, minerals as well as improved communications—have a major stake in developing the necessary co-operation with other circumpolar powers in the pursuit of common aims. The Arctic North offers a classic example of how defence, economic development and arms control can all be addressed in a comprehensive and balanced approach. Ad hoc or piecemeal solutions are no longer possible. We need an integrated policy. I suggest a royal commission be set up to recom -mend policies on the interrelated aspects of defence, development and denuclearization of the North.

George Ignatieff s diplomatic career includes ambassadorships to NATO and to the United Nations. He is now president of the United Nations Association of Canada.