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Defense spending reflects weights of hawks and doves

anon — April 1984

Editors’ note: Last December, MP and former Prime Minister Joe Clark was given responsibility for disarmament and arms control by the federal Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Clark is now in the process of developing policy recommendations in these areas for his party, which will likely be in draft form by this spring.

In order to help prepare these policy recommendations, Mr. Clark held a series of hearings in five cities across Canada Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax and Montreal.

According to a spokesperson from his office, Mr. Clark was impressed by the quality of the submissions made during these hearings, both by those who were asked to participate, and by those who chose to attend and speak during periods set aside for open discussion.

The following submission on Canada, NATO and conventional weapons was made by Dr. Don Bates, who was asked to address the hearing in Montreal on February 24.

Dr. Bates is a professor of the History of Medicine at McGill University. He is also a member of the Canadian Committee of the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign.

By Don Bates

Let me begin with a number of statements: Nuclear weapons are useless for fighting wars.

These are statements of fact which no serious student of nuclear weapons can deny. Yet it follows from them that NATO’s reliance on the first use of nuclear weapons to repel a Soviet conventional attack on Europe is both .obsolete and dangerous: If the Soviet Union were over-running Europe with conventional arms, NATO would have only. two choices : defeat or extinction. The two forces confronting each other in Europe are, in reality, the Warsaw Pact and the Suicide Pact. Clearly it is time for a change.

NATO must back away from the principle of a nuclear response to a non-nuclear. Soviet attack. It must adopt a “no-first use” policy and adjust and reorganise its conventional forces accordingly.

A basic objective of Canadian NATO policy, then, must be to persuade NATO to make these changes. And the most critical questions are what changes to conventional forces are necessary, and what is and appropriate role for Canada in helping to bring these changes about.

Before these questions can be sensibly answered, a lot of misinformation, not to say propaganda, needs to be corrected.

It is not true that Warsaw Pact conventional forces are so numerically superior that they would be unstoppable by currently available levels of NATO conventional defenses.

It is true that NATO forces, including their nuclear weapons, are presently organised in a way that encourages an early resort to nuclear weapons in the face of a determined Warsaw Pact attack.

It is not true that the readjustments needed to make NATO forces adequate for conventional defense require large sums of money or the infusion of large quantities of troops and materiel.

It is true that these changes can be brought about with very small increases in defense spending, probably a good deal less than called for by NATO commander General Rogers. This is particularly true if these changes are accompanied by a reduction in the current nuclear weapons build-up going on in Britain, France and the US.

It is not true that current levels of Canadian contributions to NATO are clearly inappropriate, or that they play any significant role in making or preventing an adequate conventional defense of Europe.

It is true that Canada’s influence on NATO policy, whatever the level or character of our involvement, cannot be decisive. We are a relatively minor player and nothing will change that. Our influence must inevitably be primarily moral rather than material.

With the above as background, I would like. to suggest a number of guidelines for Canada’s NATO policy.

  1. The sole reason for Canadian membership in NATO is the enhancement of Canadian national security. NATO is not a gentleman’s club, and the issue is not to display our good manners by paying our dues. The question is our survival, and we should feel little obligation to contribute to a Kamikaze Club.
  2. Canadian non-compliance with wrong-headed policies is a better strategy than withdrawal from NATO. Contrary to statements made by\ Prime Minister Trudeau, non-compliance does not necessitate withdrawal. In this regard, some of our NATO allies have shown far more courage than Canada has.
  3. We will not get NATO to do our bidding by bribing the organisation with conventional weapons any more than Mr. Trudeau got the Reagan Administration to support his peace initiative because he agreed to test the cruise.
  4. It is highly doubtful, even in military terms, that an increased Canadian commitment of men and materiel would make a significant contribution to a NATO no-first-use policy. The problem is largely one of reorganisation, changed priorities and a greater European commitment to its own conventional defense.
  5. When NATO has changed its policies, and if a military (as distinct from purely political) analysis shows that there is an appropriate role for Canada to play, then Canada should stand ready to comply, but not before.
  6. Polls suggest that current public opinion would support a political party that proposes to boost Canadian conventional forces in NATO as a way of working towards a diminished reliance on nuclear arms. But, in my opinion, adopting such a position would be to place political opportunism ahead of Canada’s national security.

Before concluding, I should like to make two other comments. The question of Canada’s contribution to NATO should not be confused with what Canada’s armed forces may require to serve this country’s primary defense needs. What makes an assessment of these requirements difficult is that they must be based on Canada’s defense policy. And what is wrong with Canada’s defense policy is that we do not have one.

A thorough review and redefinition of just what it is we want our armed forces to do has not taken place for almost 15 years, and it is sorely needed. In the absence of such a review, arguments over defense spending become simply a political calculus of the relative weights of hawks and doves. There is currently no sound basis for the claims being made for either side.

Particularly worrisome are the horrendous military and political costs, looming on our horizon, for new northern defenses against Russian bombers armed with cruise missiles. Since Canada’s own behaviour has done nothing to encourage a negotiated, bilateral ban on these weapons, this bleak future might be regarded as poetic justice. Unfortunately, poetry will become tragedy when money for social services gets rechannelled into military hardware as is happening now in the United States.

My other comment is to thank you, Mr. Clark, and your panel, for making the effort to hear from ordinary Canadians. Should your party form the next government, I would hope that it will remain diligent in listening to us and will become energetic in supporting our efforts to be heard.

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