Professor Elinor Sloan of Carleton University, whose work I have cited a few times in this blog, writes in the Globe and Mail, that the current tempest-in-a-teapot over industrial trade benefits (ITB) rules which may (or may not) make the F-35 unavailable to Canada, matter “because of the growing competition between the major powers. Russian bombers and fighters, for example, are increasingly testing the boundaries of Canadian and U.S. airspace. More than ever, the focus needs to be interoperability with the United States, working together on NORAD and helping NATO allies in Europe. As a flying command-and-control platform, rather than a mere fighter, Canada’s next-generation jet must work with the United States’ most sophisticated systems, and include a seamless and secure communications capability – that is a critical and non-negotiable criterion. Indeed, as DND has said, the United States will need to certify the winning jet meets Washington’s security standards … [thus, while] … Some may question the federal government’s decision to relax the ITB rules, and to grant this certification sign-off … [we must recognize that] … whatever Canada buys must be able to address threats to us and to our allies until well into the 2060s. Our relationship with the United States, both in terms of geopolitics and military technology, is crucial. Despite our trade tiff, the United States remains our most important strategic partner. Canada can either take an active part in our own security, or leave it to the United States.“
There we have the Canadian defence policy dilemma, for the past 75+ years, in a nutshell: “Canada can either take an active part in our own security … [do enough, in other words, to prevent an alternative which ones hopes is unacceptable to most Canadians] … or leave it to the United States,” and, in effect, surrender our sovereignty to the Americans, which is, I hope, the unacceptable alternative. This dilemma began, in earnest, with the dawn of the nuclear age when the security of America’s “strategic deterrent,” ICBM silos and Strategic Air Comand (SAC) bases became a priority for Canada as well as the USA. Canada’s vast airspace was the only route through which Soviet forces could attack the American strategic deterrent and, thereby, deliver a successful first strike. But the issue underlay earlier American initiatives, like the Ogdensburg Agreement (1940), which tied Canada, militarily, to its good neighbour.
The Americans made promises to defend us; they did so for two reasons:
- First ~ they are good neighbours; and
- Second ~ defending us helped them to defend themselves.
In return, they asked us to do a fair share to help defend the continent we share with them. We did that. In the 1940s, ’50s and throughout most of the 1960s Canada did a full and fair share of defending the continent we share with the USA … we defended it “forward” in Europe, facing the Warsaw Pact forces on the North German Plain and at sea, and we defended it in and around the approaches to North America, at sea and in the air and with (then) the most modern surveillance and warning systems available.
Then we decided, in the late 1960s, that we had other priorities and that America was not quite worthy of our help. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was farther to the political left than any Canadian prime minister had ever been … he was, likely, farther left than the firmly social-democrat but staunchly anti-communist NDP leader David Lewis. He seemed to dislike both American policy and American leaders; he also appeared to favour communist leaders and far-left political systems. He even spoke about “understanding” why the USSR had “problems” with the Polish (Christian-Democratic) Solidarity movement. In one of his first acts as prime minister, Pierre Trudeau tried to withdraw from NATO’s military front at the end of the 1960s, and then launched his unhelpful Peace Initiative in the early 1980s which was seen, by many leaders, as being both overtly anti-American and aimed at appeasing his left-wing partisans in Canada rather than actually helping to ease Cold War tensions.
Canadians, however, were, generally, persuaded by his anti-military sensibilities and they support, still, spending a lot more on social programmes than on national defence. Most Canadians assume that the Americans will defend us, against all threats, even when our own, Canadian, deputy commander of NORAD tells us that is not true. So, we worry more about how to persuade foreign defence contractors to invest in Canada rather than considering how many of which types of ships, tanks, guns and aircraft we should be buying in order to carry a full and fair share of the burden of defending ourselves and our friends.
Professor Sloan has put the problem in a nutshell: “Canada can either take an active part in our own security, or leave it to the United States …” but if we continue to choose the latter course, as we have, fairly consistently, for a half century, since 1969, regardless of the political party leading the country, then we will, inevitably, surrender more and more sovereignty to the Americans and, if I can be forgiven a play on words with the title of Canadian historian Arthur Lower’s famous book, we will go ‘From Colony to Nation, and Back to Colony.’ That is the status that Donald Trump seems to want for Canada and it is the status that, based on his foreign and defence policies, Justin Trudeau seems prepared to offer.