It has been almost four decades since the first khaki-clad Canadian soldier stepped ashore in Europe in 1950 to join the allied military forces of the year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The troops’ arrival reflected the rising Cold War tensions of the era. Although those tensions have largely eased in the 1980s, 7,800 Canadian airmen and infantry troops remain in Europe—most of them in West Germany—as part of NATO’s military deterrent against an attack by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces. Late next week, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney will reassure Canada’s allies, during two days of talks with NATO leaders in Brussels, that Canada’s support for the alliance continues.
But many defence experts say that the government’s April 26 budget—which stripped $2.7 billion from military spending over five years—has made a retreat from the country’s NATO commitments all but inevitable.
Grim-faced staff officers in Ottawa were scrambling last week to redraw existing plans for re-equipping the military to meet commitments outlined in the government’s 1987 white paper on defence.
Few of those plans were left intact by last month’s federal budget. And many analysts— including several senior military officers—told Maclean’s that the cutbacks in equipment and manpower will leave Canada’s forces in Europe incapable of fulfilling their NATO duties. As a result, they predicted that Ottawa will reduce its commitment to the alliance by 1995. Said Douglas Ross, director of the Centre for International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.:
“With the current budget framework, that is the way it must go. We have no choice.”
As a result of the budget, the military will lose an estimated $22.6 billion over 15
DEFENCE BUDGET CUTS POINT TO A CANADIAN PULLBACK FROM NATO AND THE DEFENCE OF EUROPE
years and must trim 2,400 soldiers from its force of 87,600. A substantial part of those savings will come from the cancellation of a promised $8-billion fleet of nuclear-powered submarines capable of under-ice warfare, a decision that led some observers to question the Tories’ commitment to Arctic sovereignty (page 12). And the backlash in 14 communities where bases or stations will be closed or cut back as a result of the budget continued to grow last week (page 16). Despite evident disappointment at the depth of those cuts, most military personnel interviewed last week expressed their determination to soldier on under
the new, tighter budget plan. Declared Rear Admiral Robert George, commander of Canada’s Pacific fleet: “I have spent over half my life in the forces. There is no point in quitting out of frustration.”
But the doubts raised among military analysts by the budget go far beyond the question of nuclear submarines and base closures. Fen Hampson, a research associate at the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security in Ottawa, for one, accused the government of making a mockery of its own white paper. Hampson asked, “Have our defence requirements changed that much in two short years?” At the same time, the institute’s director, Bernard Wood, charged that the white paper had defined Canada’s defence needs in stark, Cold War terms. According to Wood, the budget has made a wholesale review of that policy an “urgent need.” Similarly, one senior officer—who requested anonymity because he is still in uniform—predicted that the cutbacks
will soon force Canada to make a difficult decision. “In the early to mid-1990s,” he said, “the government will have to choose where its priorities lie: in defence of North America, or in Europe.”
In fact, the budget did not sweep away all of the military’s spending plans. Defence Minister William McKnight said that Ottawa will continue to spend about $3 billion each year on military equipment. Among the projects that will proceed: a $750-million purchase of 12 coastal patrol ships; a second order of six new naval frigates worth $4 billion; an $840-million upgrading of northern air defences, and as many as 51 Anglo-Italian EH-101 helicopters, worth $3 billion. The navy has also been promised additional frigates and dieselelectric submarines to replace the cancelled nuclear submarine fleet. And this week, the first of 1,200 supply trucks being built for the army by UTDC Inc. was scheduled to roll off an assembly line in Kingston, Ont. Said McKnight: “We started in 1984 to rebuild the Canadian forces. There will be a pause
in those plans, but they will continue.” Still, even McKnight acknowledged that the list of cancelled or postponed programs was a long one. The air force was particularly hard hit. In order to meet the budget’s spending target, planners at National Defence headquarters have dropped their intention to add three Aurora long-range patrol planes to the 18 already in service and cancelled a plan to modernize two squadrons of older, Tracker patrol planes. Those steps, say analysts, could leave the air force unable to meet its NATO commitment to patrol the western North Atlantic for Soviet submarines. The 30-year-old Trackers keep watch for fishing fleets operating illegally within Canada’s 200-mile maritime economic zone, freeing the sophisticated Auroras to track Soviet submarines. But as the antiquated Trackers are retired, the military will have to choose between using its Auroras to maintain a watch for Soviet submarines, and cutting back on submarine patrols in order to
survey the activities of foreign fishermen in Canadian waters.
At the same time, defence officials said that they would also retire older aircraft that form the backbone of the country’s search and rescue fleet. The result will be a much-reduced ability to find and save victims of downed aircraft or shipwrecks until the new EH-101 helicopters enter service late in the next decade. And the budget forced the military to cancel plans to buy eight more Hercules transport aircraft—a measure that may badly impair Canada’s ability to deter Soviet jets from flying across the Arctic. Current defence plans call for small detachments of CF-18 jet fighters to defend the Arctic from bases at several remote northern airstrips. But senior officers told Maclean’s that, in the event of war, those airstrips could not be supplied by the present 28-plane Hercules fleet.
But it is the cancellation of an order for more CF-18s that may result in the first reduction in Canadian forces under NATO command in Europe. In the wake of the budget, Ottawa can-
celled plans to buy 28 more of the potent fighters to replace the one or two lost each year in accidents. Without replacements, analysts said that the number of remaining CF18s—131 are currently in service—is likely to fall below the number required to provide a minimal air defence of Canada and still fill the three fighter squadrons based in Europe.
Canada’s single armored infantry brigade in Europe will likely maintain its stock of 59 Leopard Cl battle tanks. But most military specialists say that the aging,
German-built tanks are too thinly armored to withstand the modern weaponry used by Warsaw Pact troops. Since 1984, Ottawa has given the brigade some new equipment—including modern antitank weapons of its own.
And, until last month’s budget, the military had also planned to spend $3 billion to buy a new generation of frontline tanks to replace the Leopards. Now, those plans have been indefinitely postponed. As a result, said one recently retired army general, if war broke out “the brigade wouldn’t last till lunch. ”
Indeed, many analysts said that the decision to delay buying new tanks was the clearest indication of Ottawa’s intention eventually to pull back from its present role in NATO’s front line. John Marteinson, editor of Canadian Defence Quarterly magazine, for one, said that the government “has no intention of buying new tanks.” He added, “They will allow the armored brigade to wither on the vine, then pull it out.”
The army, he added, could then evolve into a lightly equipped, mobile force, well suited to peacekeeping duty and able to crush commando-style assaults on Canada—but unprepared for the all-out tank warfare of a modern battlefield. And David Cox, a military analyst at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said that a scaled-down military would save the govern-
ment billions of dollars—Canada’s Europeanbased troops and airmen alone cost $1.1 billion a year to maintain.
But the conversion of Canada’s army into a policing and peacekeeping force would likely meet stiff resistance within the military. Said John Anderson, director of defence policy planning until his retirement in 1987: “It
would tear the heart out of the army, and they know it.” And Harold Klepak, a professor of strategic studies at the Collège militaire royal in St-Jean, Que., predicted that the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Europe would force Canada even further into the embrace of the United States. Said Klepak: “We would be alone with a superpower.”
Although Canada’s small European ground force contributes little to NATO’s overall strength, European observers predicted that a Canadian withdrawal would send political shock waves through the alliance. “The loss would go far beyond any simple military question,” said Cmdr. Peter Monte, a West German defence ministry spokesman in Bonn. “It would mean that, among the six nations standing guard over Germany, a flag would go missing.”
Meanwhile, Mulroney is 0 likely to face pointed questi tioning from his NATO Caunii terparts in Brussels. De2 dared Ottawa’s Hampson: a “The government has 1 thrown its credibility into u doubt, not only with the defence community, but also with our allies.” Mulroney’s
mission in Brussels next week will be to explain to Canada’s Western allies how his government intends to close the widening gap between the country’s diminished military might and its commitments to NATO in Europe.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.