Testing the cruise: to defend or disarm?

John Hay May 30 1983

Testing the cruise: to defend or disarm?

John Hay May 30 1983

Testing the cruise: to defend or disarm?


John Hay

A slim cruise missile is slicing through the northern sky at about 1,100 km-h — a little faster than the cruising speed of an Air Canada DC-9—when the whine of its single fan-jet engine suddenly stops. Seconds later a parachute blooms above the missile, slowing its fall toward the snow below. A helicopter approaches with rotors pounding, a grappling hook snatches the parachute lines, and the missile is carried gently back to Earth. That, in theory, is the scenario for the controversial cruise flight tests that the United States Air Force wants to stage in Canada’s North next winter.

The diminutive cruise (6.3 m long, 3.6 m across its stubby wings) is designed to transport a nuclear warhead past the strongest Soviet air defences. But now the missile faces resistance that was never contemplated by its designers: a barrage of public hostility against the tests raised by Canadians across the country. The cruise tests have become

the focus of a growing disarmament movement in Canada and are the central issue at the biggest protest rallies the nation has seen since the 1960s. As a result, the cruise dispute has pitched the federal cabinet into a painful choice between placating popular opinion at home and satisfying official opinion in Washington. The cabinet must decide only after Washington formally asks for the tests—a request that is imminent. But the battle lines have already been drawn. Critics say tests would amount to Canadian participation in a needless and dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race. Those who support the tests, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is among them, say that they would reinforce NATO’s defence of Europe and help convince the Soviet Union to accept an arms control treaty with the United States (page 27).

Trudeau’s own responses to the national debate reflect the conflicting strains on his government. In a virtually unprecedented “open letter” to Canadians earlier this month he argued that permitting tests would be part “of

our solidarity with the other Western democracies,” and he accused at least some critics of anti-Americanism and hypocrisy. Ina subsequent Toronto Star interview, however, he indirectly criticized the rhetoric of President Ronald Reagan. Said Trudeau of the anti-cruise protestors: “Basically, once again they are demonstrating against what they see as the policy of an American president who has rightly or wrongly been^ perceived as warlike, or so hostile to the2 Soviet Union that he cannot be trusted^

to look for peace. . . . Unfortunately, President Reagan and some of the people around him have given some justification for those fears.” With this public jibe, Trudeau seemed to be trying to temper Reagan’s language, or at least distance himself from it, while supporting the idea of cruise tests in Canada.

Advice on the issue flowed from abroad as well. Helmut Schmidt, the former West German chancellor whose opinions on-such matters Trudeau respects, last week supported the cruise tests. Schmidt told the Toronto Globe and Mail, “It is not as great a risk for Canada to test the missiles as it will be for Europe to deploy them.” Even Moscow pitched in; while a delegation from the so-called Soviet Peace Committee launched a six-city Canadian tour, Soviet Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev flew into Ottawa ostensibly to discuss agriculture trade. Asked about the cruise in a Senate and Commons committee, Gorbachev replied predictably, “If [testing] were to be introduced, it would introduce an element of destabilization.”

For all the argument that the cruise has provoked, the intent of the tests themselves is straightforward. The airlaunched cruise missile is a pilotless plane built by the Boeing Corp. of Seattle and is designed to fly close to the ground, carrying a nuclear warhead. An unarmed version of the missile would be slung under the wing or carried in the belly of a USAF B-52 strato-fortress from a U.S. airbase into the western Canadian Arctic. Then, in a simulated

attack across Siberia, the cruise would be dropped from the B-52, its engine firing and its wings unfolding automatically to give it independent flight toward the southeast. Equipped with an onboard computer preprogrammed with an electronic “map” of its flight path, the cruise would steer itself with a system called TERCOM—for terrain con-

tour matching. By comparing the map with radar and altimeter readings of the terrain below, the missile can hug the ground, swing around or over mountains, evade air defences and slip beneath antiaircraft radar. The state-ofthe-art guidance system is being produced in Toronto by Litton Systems Canada Ltd., the target of a $6-million bombing last fall. Three men and two women from the Vancouver area, all in their 20s, face charges relating to that explosion, as well as bombings in British Columbia.

The Canadian North, particularly in winter, is of special interest as a testing ground because the Pentagon wants to make sure that the TERCOM system will work across snow-covered land that is flat and featureless—landscape that yields few navigation clues for the computer to follow. In a war, the missile might cross just such territory through Soviet Asia before slamming into its target.

In the tests the cruise would carry electronic recorders in the space designed for a warhead. Among the chase planes following it on its subsonic flight would be a military 707 carrying the mission director, who could take over control of the cruise if it wandered off course. The Canadian and U.S. defence departments have still not decided the precise routing details, but the external affairs department says that the missile would likely be launched in the high Arctic and follow a course across the Northwest Territories and the northeast corner of British Columbia into Alberta, ending at the huge, barren

Primrose Lake Air Weapons Testing Range straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Retrieved by helicopter either after a soft landing or in the air under a parachute, the missile and its recorders would then undergo close examination.

The Pentagon is supremely confident of the cruise’s attack capacity. The military plans to deploy about 3,000 airlaunched missiles on Strategic Air Command bases across the United States, about 4,000 on ships and submarines and an initial 464 groundlaunched cruises in Europe. Pentagon officials claim that they could score a direct nuclear hit on Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium from a ship far out in the Atlantic. They even contend that a conventionally armed cruise, equipped for greater accuracy, could be delivered through either goalpost. But there have been hitches. A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged in an interview that there have been eight cruise crashes in 125 test flights launched from ships, submarines and planes in the Pacific toward targets in barren areas of California, Nevada and Utah.

But the Pentagon points out, as a gesture of its own confidence in the cruise, that most of the tests have been flown along a 15-km-wide corridor that crosses densely populated Southern California on its way to Nevada and Utah. Near Santa Barbara, the corridor lies five kilometres south of President Reagan’s California ranch.

Still, the proposed cruise tests have become a symbol of many Canadians’ anguish about nuclear weapons in general. The reason, says a noted arms con-

trol activist, Toronto psychiatrist Frank Sommers, is at least partly that testing such a missile “is totally alien to our self-image—prostituting our nature to these killer weapons.” Sommers, who heads the 1,200-member Canadian Physicians for Social Responsibility, an antinuclear group, fears for the effects of the nuclear threat on the general populace. “Even if not one shot is fired,” he told Maclean's, “the arms race is creating casualties right now, particularly among the young.” He says some children are so worried about the possibility of a nuclear war that they are sometimes driven to impulsive behavior or are hampered by an emotional in-

ability to make plans for the future.

Even in Alberta, where Canadian forces have been conducting weapons tests for decades, public opinion about arms control has shifted dramatically, largely because of the cruise. “For some people it brought the issue home,” says James Stanford of the Calgary Disarmament Coalition. “The awareness of the average Calgarian and the sympathy with which they view the problem has increased tenfold.”

An indication of that increased awareness can be seen near the Cold Lake forces base, just south of the 180-km-by-65-km weapons range. There, Catherine Moir, a 30-year-old mother of four, has established a“peace camp.” After a winter spent with two other people in an unfinished basement, Moir is moving the peace camp to a provincial campground on the road to Primrose Lake. “It’s going to be great when 1,000 people are out there,” she said. Members of the little group take turns fasting, and in February they opened a storefront office in the town of Grand Centre near Cold Lake—supported by $500 a month from the Greenpeace environmental organization. Despite local economic reliance on the Cold Lake base, Moir says reaction from townspeople has been remarkably friendly.

A total of about 85,000 turned out for anti-cruise rallies across Canada last month—65,000 in Vancouver alone. Gallup polls since December have shown 50 to 52 per cent of Canadians opposed to cruise testing, with 37 to 40 per cent in favor. British Columbia’s End the Arms Race Coalition is highly organized, with brochures and mail-in campaigns aimed at Ottawa. Greenpeace President Patrick Moore says his organization plans major events both in Cold Lake and in Ottawa, where another group of about 2,000 people protested by joining hands in a ring around the Parliament Buildings on Mother’s Day, May 8.

Big-city rallies attract the most attention, but interest in the issue is also present in small towns. Coffee night in the North Battleford, Sask., United Church, which draws 50 people on a good night, attracted 250 to see the National Film Board’s If You Love This Planet, the Oscar-winning antinuclear documentary labelled as foreign propaganda by the U.S. justice department. The Prime Minister’s Office has picked up yet another signal of opinion: as of last week it had received 3,646 letters this year opposing the cruise tests (compared to 106 for) and 17,778 write-in campaign cards provided by a variety of groups opposing tests. The cruise has been generating more mail to the PMO than any other issue, including the seal hunt and abortion.

The cruise has become, as External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen con-

ceded in an interview, “obviously an important political issue.” But MacEachen said the government can regain ground by making a firm decision on the tests. “We’re still dealing with a maybe,” he said. Once a formal decision is announced, “it will be clearer and easier to defend that decision,” he contended. The cabinet’s freedom to choose is constricted by the impact that the decision will have on relations with the United States—a decision that “will undoubtedly influence the atmosphere between the two countries,” according to MacEachen.

The government’s dilemma is rooted deeply in the odd history of the cruise’s development. For all its high-tech magic, the concept of a cruise missile is not new. During the First World War a group including Orville Wright built a flying torpedo out of papier-mâché and cardboard, with a 40-hp Ford engine. Controls were activated by bellows taken from player pianos. The war ended before it was fired in anger. Then there were the frightening German buzz bombs of the Second World War. The U.S. Navy made several attempts at mastering the technology during the 1950s, but its Snark missile missed its target by an average of 1,500 km; one even fell in the wrong hemisphere and vanished somewhere in Brazil.

Defence analyst Richard Betts of Washington’s Brookings Institution says development of the modern cruise became possible with coincidental advances in several fields in about 1970, primarily improved turbo-fan engines, compact warheads and better maps. By the late 1970s U.S. forces were planning deployment on ships and submarines on the ground and on B-52 bombers. If technical development has been haphazard, the destructive power of the cruise is still immense. A single battleship, the U.S.S. New Jersey, will carry cruises with more explosive power aboard than all the bombs dropped in the Second World War—including the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. That is not all. The Pentagon is working on a so-called “stealth” cruise, faster and even better equipped to slip undetected through radar.

Like most other new weapons, the cruise was developed before a strategy for its use was ready. But the NATO alliance soon found a need for the new missile. In 1977 Schmidt, who was West German chancellor at the time, gave voice to a resurgent European fear that Washington’s commitment to defend Europe with its own nuclear arsenal was weakening. It was becoming clear that the Soviets had achieved rough parity in intercontinental nuclear forces with the United States. And Western Europeans often raised the troubling question of whether any pres-

ident would risk losing Chicago to save Hamburg. Or would he indeed concede Europe to a Soviet occupation? Adding an edge to European fears was the Soviet deployment, starting in the late 1970s, of powerful SS-20 missiles aimed at Western Europe. To some European statesmen, it seemed conceivable that Moscow might be tempted to extort concessions from the Continent or even invade, while holding Washington out of the fight by threatening to attack the United States. That scenario was not adopted by all NATO leaders, but by December, 1979, the Alliance reached a compromise formula for dealing with the issue. Members agreed that the United States would deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe—a visible, physical U.S. presence that would reassure the Europeans and chasten the Soviets. At the same time, they would try to open talks with Moscow on limiting intermediate-range nuclear forces (the INF talks, which resumed last week in Geneva). But NATO deployment, they said, could be forestalled if an INF agreement was first reached with Moscow. As a result, the cruises and Pershing Ils destined for Europe became bargaining chips, to be bartered in return for removal of SS-20s—a “two-track” policy.

Despite the protests the decision engendered, none of the NATO governments has renounced the 1979 two-track decision to start deployment by the end of this year, although Belgium and the Netherlands have so far withheld their approval. NATO’s bargaining power with Moscow may have been weakened by the demonstrations. Said MacEachen: “I doubt very much whether the Soviets will move while there is the slightest hope of the Alliance backing down, failing in its resolve.”

The cruise debate began in earnest in Canada a year ago, just as the antinuclear movement was becoming popular throughout the West. On March 10 the Southam News Service broke the story that the United States had asked Canada for an agreement that would permit cruise tests in the North. In fact, Reagan had written to Trudeau in December, 1981, proposing an arrangement for “weapons systems testing.” Reagan did

not specify cruise tests. But, as one U.S. official phrased it, “when a boy takes a girl out on a date, after a while she knows what’s on his mind.” Trudeau replied immediately, agreeing to begin talks on an umbrella pact that would set out financial and other conditions for weapons tests generally.

The Canadian reaction to the plan was sudden, intense and a surprise to both governments. In Washington, after all, the tests were merely one small piece in Reagan’s rearmament plan. Critics later charged that Ottawa’s handling of the whole issue was clumsy and excessively secretive, with ministers first appearing to confirm a commitment to cruise, then denying it.

Trudeau himself has seemed increasingly uneasy with the prospect of the

cruise tests, even after the umbrella agreement was finally signed and published in February. Sources who have discussed the issue with him say that the prime minister is torn between his instinctive attraction to arms control and his long-standing practice of avoiding showdowns with the White House —particularly on matters of principle strongly held by an incumbent president.

Now Trudeau appears to be taking refuge from his dilemma by using NATO’s planned deployment of groundlaunched missiles as a reason to test air-launched cruises for the U.S. Air Force. “You may get some benefit of our testing the cruise if we do,” Trudeau told Vice-President George Bush in Ot-

tawa on March 23. “But it is not to help you; it is because the Europeans have asked us to do this for them.”

In fact, however, Canadian and European diplomats say the European governments have not formally asked Canada to test the cruise. Nor have they put any pressure on Ottawa to agree to the tests, although sources say they would be disappointed by a Canadian refusal. The Americans, for their part, want the Canadian tests for their air-launched cruises now based in the United States, not for the ground-launched cruises destined for Europe (although the guidance systems for the two are similar). But Trudeau did not need to stretch the truth in order to make a convincing point—cruise-armed B-52s will form part of the NATO deterrent, and testing those missiles would contribute to the Alliance.

Some Trudeau watchers speculate that he is deliberately delaying a decision on the cruise tests to strengthen his hand in trying to push Reagan into productive arms negotiations with the Soviets. Trudeau himself revealed that he had urged Reagan during their recent White House meeting to set up a summit with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, telling the president that “in our view time is running out not only politically for him and perhaps others but it is running out in terms of the future of humanity.”

But in the end, Trudeau now has few opg tions. A dramatic break2 through in the Geneva y INF talks might enable “ him to delay a decision on the request for a few months— through the next winter testing season. But there was no real expectation in Ottawa or Washington that a big breakthrough was imminent. MacEachen argued, in addition, that even if the number of NATO cruises is cut, the case for testing is still valid. Ultimately, the crucial decision is not the one allowing cruise testing. As Trudeau told the Commons recently, “The crucial decision is how quickly the two superpowers are prepared to begin reducing their arsenal of atomic weapons.”

With Diane Luckow and Andy Orkin in Vancouver, Suzanne Zwarun in Calgary, Dale Eisler in Regina, Carol Bruman in Toronto and Michael Clugston in Halifax.

Diane Luckow

Andy Orkin

Suzanne Zwarun

Dale Eisler

Carol Bruman

Michael Clugston