Jones, David T., International Journal
The Long Polar Watch and Canada's Changing Defence Policy 1957-1963
Perhaps the most surprising element upon reviewing two books addressing US-Canada security from the 1960s - The Long Polar Watch by Melvin Conant and Canada's Changing Defense Policy 1957-1963 by Jon B. McLin - is how thoroughly they have disappeared.1
Prior to undertaking this analysis, I spent 50 years as a student of political science and international relations, a practicing US diplomat specializing in politicomdlitary affairs, and a researcher-author on topics relating to foreign affairs and, most relevantly for this assessment, spent almost 20 of those years devoted to US-Canada relations, including four years as the political minister counseUor in the US embassy in Ottawa. But never during these years did I encounter either book. Indeed, neither was present in the admittedly sparse embassy Ottawa library of Canadian- U S books, but nor are they carried in the Department of State's sophisticated diplomatic-oriented library, let alone in local Washington area collections. Nor do I recaU the names of either Conant or McLin passing the lips or inscribed by the pens or computers of the hundreds of speakers, lecturers, authors, or other pertinent interlocutors on Canada-US bilateral relations that I encountered over the past two decades.
Indeed, so little mark did they leave on Canadian- U S studies that Conant's obituary does not even mention The Long Polar Watch as part of his life's body of work.
Such an observation is not to dismiss the quality of the Conant or McLin works, but perhaps to acknowledge with unaffected humility to those who may know and love these books that my own studies and experience remain Hmited. However, it is also useful (and prospectively humbling) to recognize that very litde academic writing survives the first set of reviewers, let alone anywhere near 50 years. Frequently, it dies either with the author or with his or her original students and readers. For example, two of the few examinations of the bilateral U S -Canadian relationship that have survived even a decade after publication, Forgotten Partnership: US-Canada Relations Today (1983) by Charles Doran and The Nine Nations of North America (1981) by Joel Garreau, are stiU only approximately 30 years old. Nor is such dismissal restricted to academic work. The iconic text of the early 1940s, The Unknown Country by Bruce Hutchinson, is long out of print. The polemic screed Lament for a Nation by George Grant (1965) may be of slight contemporary interest as Grant was recent Liberal leader Michael Ignatieffs uncle. And even Hugh MacLennan's "great Canadian novel," Two Solitudes (1945), is virtually never referenced in contemporary commentary on Québec-Canada relations, despite the continuing reality of these solitudes.
Thus it was a pleasant surprise to find that the Conant and McLin books were not written in slumber-inducing turgid or ponderous prose. They were no longer current affairs, but the U S -Canadian defence and security issues with which they engaged had remarkably contemporary themes. To be sure, that reality should not be particularly surprising. While there have been immense changes over the past 50 years in global postcolonial political arrangements, economic activity, and technological innovation, we may be surprised at what has not changed - particularly in North American security policy.
Essentially, the political-social-economic structure of Canada and the United States continues unaltered. There have been no political revolutions: the structures of government remain the same - we even have the same Queen Elizabeth II. The countries have not changed geographic boundaries: "Canada" is still one country and not separated into two or more nationstates; the "United States" likewise remains territorially unaltered, an unum and not a pluribus. And the global security arrangements of 50 years ago remain structurally recognizable. Thus the NATO alliance, although substantially expanded numerically (and bereft of the USSR/Warsaw pact threat) continues; there is still a Permanent Joint Board on Defence; and continental North American defence and security, epitomized by the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), remains a concern.
THE GLOBAL REALITY
During the period examined by Conant and Mclin, Canada was still decompressing from the "punching above its weight" status that it held throughout World War II when, inter alia, it put over a million troops in uniform, operated a heavy bomber force attacking Germany, provided the muscle for much of the antisubmarine fighting and convoy protection in the North Atlantic, and liberated the Netherlands as a consequence of putting a Canadian combat force ashore at Juno Beach in Normandy on D-Day. This was a muscular Canada that combined adroit diplomacy - which played a substantial role in the structuring of the United Nations - with substantial military heft. The status was good for the national psyche but the postwar question became whether to sustain it and what to pay for it.
World War II was followed, however, by a Canada that was wimping out and attempting to adjust to whatever the term "middle power" was going to mean in power-politics terms and whatever fiscal resources would be required to sustain a substantial military force. Larger and larger military budgets would be necessary to maintain force levels - and with a society that rejected conscription, personnel costs were daunting. Concurrently, Canada was grappling with the reality that it was falling steadily behind in the technological-industrial ability to produce state-of-the-art weaponry at an acceptable price - a downsizing in economic self-appreciation from its World War II image and the immediate postwar period, in which Canadian manufacturing-technology was world class. Harsh fiscal realities with blunt political consequences drove the cancellation of Canada's flagship aviation project of the era - the Avrò Arrow - a point that still sparks chauvinistic angst and anguish from Canadian nationalists. Moreover, the deliberate Canadian decision not to produce nuclear weapons - although it was technically and materially quite capable of so doing - also limited its potential politicomilitary leverage. Retrospectively, this act of self abnegation may be the decisive turning point for Canadian postwar foreign policy - a decision taken apparently without formal debate. It is interesting to speculate on the foreign affairs attitudes that a nuclear-armed Canada would have advanced and the weight that it would have had for international disarmament proposals if the United States had had a nuclear neighbour.
In the end, Canada elected the cheaper approach: Ottawa embraced the judgement that it could never defend itself against an aggressive US but that anything that threatened Canada would also threaten the United States - and the US would have to deal with it (and concurrently protect Canada). This green-eyeshade approach was hardly courageous but doubtless saved Canadian taxpayers uncounted billions, perhaps enabling a national health care program and a generous social safety net in its stead. But as the sop to its punching-above-weight self-image, Ottawa concentrated on UN-oriented peacekeeping that, with penny-packet lots of military forces, projected an image of the good world citizen at a significantly lower price.
The years have passed, but circumstances have not really changed. Canada is stiU attempting to get bang without buck as far as global security commitments and global accolades are concerned. But, as Conant put it, Ottawa's effort is "not as impressive to others as it seems to them[selves]" (70). It has dropped from being ubiquitous in peacekeeping to being close to the bottom in forces committed to UN missions. To be sure, that approach may weU be adroit as the Canadian forces, since 2001, have been primarily committed in support of the UN-mandated NATO peacemaking operation in Afghanistan. Effective as these forces have been, global goody-goody bureaucrats would prefer that Canadians be spread throughout UN peacekeeping operations rather than committed virtuaUy solely in Afghanistan. Indeed, some argue that Canada's concentration on Afghanistan cost it an open seat on the UN security council in 2010. On the other hand, can anyone identify a peacekeeping commitment not made by Ottawa in the past decade that resulted in peacekeeping disaster?
But just as was the case in the 1960s, with the forthcoming departure in July 2011 from direct combat in Afghanistan, Canada is again groping for a global role that will be appreciated, useful, and cheap, and that will not further stress the overextended Canadian forces, weary after a decade of endless rotations and (in today's terms) significant casualties. Unfortunately, once again, a global role will not be cheap. And even in a country less heavUy straitened by the great recession than most, there are Canadians for whom any military costs are too high.
Fifty years ago, Canada was struggling with just how much of a commitment to retain in Europe and how its forces should be equipped. There were intense arguments over whether Canadian forces should stay in Europe, given the rising rearmed strength of European NATO members (and there was a regular effort to escape forward by having NORAD declared a NATO command to free Canada from direct one-on-one bilaterality with the United States and counting NORAD commitments as NATO contributions).
Canadians have always projected a dubious air about their relations with Europe - more dutiful than devoted in their commitment to western defence (and more skeptical about the likelihood of a Soviet smash through the Fulda gap). Ottawa's decision to retain European deployments was as much to encourage small NATO countries to remain engaged as from real belief that the "Russians are coming" or that their forces could make a deciding difference.
Thus there was frustrating (for the US) foot-dragging by Ottawa throughout the Cold War, and for abstract observers almost an amusing rush to the exit after its end, to remove Canadian forces from Europe. With the demise of the Soviet Union, one could ask whether there was any purpose in continued Canadian membership? (Indeed, one senior "Extaff" official noted privately in 1993 that with the arrival of the Liberal Chrétien administration, Canadians were doing a zero-based review of all foreign relations, including its NATO membership.) That Ottawa's bureaucracy presumably decided to endorse continued NATO presence is unsurprising; surprising was that it considered the question at all.
That said, Canadian participation in NATO was so de minimus during the 1990s that it was essentially irrelevant. Its decline in defence spending during the "decade of darkness," as the former chief of defence staff, General Rick Hillier, put it, reflected the reality that Liberals during the past generation have virtually never seen a military expenditure that they would prefer not to spend. And that reality-based effect meant that Canada carried less and less weight in the councils of Brussels, moving from the Olympic athlete to the couch potato in military terms.
The game changer was 9/11. History hadn't ended but rather transmuted into another viral challenge. NATO invoked article 5 of its charter, declaring that the terrorist attack was an attack on the alliance and, buttressed by a UN resolution, sent forces to Afghanistan by 2002 in what they presumably believed would be a Boy Scout-level stabilization operation. There are various explanations for the continued Canadian participation in this NATO force; a persistent explanation is that it was taken to compensate for being one of the "unwilling" in the US attack on Iraq.
Nevertheless, whatever the rationale, Canadians ended with a dirtyend-of-the-stick commitment in Kandahar, resulting in casualties that, while trivial for those with D-Day memories, became unacceptable for the Canadian population. They had no commitment comparable to that of the US, stiU determined that "never again" will Afghanistan be a sanctuary for al Qaeda or Bin Laden-type terrorists. Canadians, however, saw no discernable progress despite the blood and treasure expended for an undeserving Afghan leadership. The result is the projected July 2011 redeployment of Canadian forces into what amounts to a training role for Afghan soldiers and police. StiU, the decade of Afghan action has brought Ottawa "corridor cred" in NATO's haUways - and has also created a battle-tested light infantry whose future activities remain very much unresolved.
NORAD AND THE DEFENCE OF NORTH AMERICA
Retrospectively, it is difficult to understand the extended anguish in Canadian politics over the creation of NORAD as depicted by Conant and McLin. Now "iconic," the two-nation air-aerospace defence structure was designed to defend North America during the Cold War against Soviet air attack and, to the extent possible, against baUistic missile attack. The logic for a coordinated defence, integrating the multiple radar detection systems (pine tree, mid-Canada, distant early warning, baUistic missile early warning system) would have appeared clear to a fourth grader. But it generated massive angst among Canadians who seemed inter alia to resent that the United States existed to the south and wanted Canadian assistance for its defence; were not thrilled to learn that such defence was more designed to preserve US nuclear strategic counterstrike capability than to defend Canadian cities; and believed that the presence of defensive airbases and missile sites, particularly if armed with nuclear weapons, would attract Soviet attackers. Others argued that no defensive effort should be undertaken from bases in Canada unless directly authorized by Canadian leaders. Essentially, they feared they would be involved a war not of their choosing. Still others, as Moscow began deploying intercontinental baUistic missiles, argued that there was no longer a need for defence against Soviet bombers.
Nevertheless, NORAD was agreed upon in 1958 and repeatedly renewed over the decades with greater or lesser political attention and irritation. Ultimately, Canadians realized that the US would fight a Soviet attack in Canadian air space with or without Ottawa's agreement. Thus a bilateral arrangement provided a nod to bilateral comity while providing Ottawa with some leverage over defence and security arrangements. The bureaucratic device of a US commander and a Canadian deputy has survived the test of time, and the physical structure of the NORAD headquarters has moved from the nuclear-resistant Cheyenne Mountain fastness to a standard office building on Peterson airforce base in Colorado Springs. IronicaUy, as NORAD institutionalized and became uncontroversial (even becoming a treaty of indefinite duration in 2006), it has also become less relevant. Technology makes it possible for US command centres to cover aU approaches to North America and air traffic within continental borders - and the likelihood of a Russian bomber attack is de facto zero. The Canadian aUergy regarding US nuclear weapons deployed in Canada has also ended, with such weapons eliminated. There is utility in joint North American security arrangements against terrorism, but NO RAD' s participation is incidental rather than imperative; it remains as a talisman of our commitment to mutual continental security, with the recognition that withdrawing from the treaty would be politicaUy costly and not worth any putative financial savings.
THE PERMANENT JOINT BOARD ON DEFENCE
A similar circumstance has affected the Permanent Joint Board on Defence. Founded in August 1940 and once touted as the epitome of Canadian-US cooperation for continental defence, it was originally headed by national luminaries, reflecting the serious nature of its professed purpose. However, over time, and with the diminution of external chaUenges, the quality of the board's leadership has devolved in to dim bulbs, if not empty sockets. Indeed, two years into the Obama administration, the US has not nominated a chairman, an absence that, if not publicly remarked upon, is nonetheless insulting. Twenty years ago, meetings were held over several days, multiple times per year. Now they are perfunctory, briefings rather than planning sessions. Both sides realize that the nub of a structure is maintained for optical rather than operational purposes.
Canadians have shifted their criticism to the assorted efforts that the US makes to improve security against terrorism around the North American perimeter. Canadians on the left of the political spectrum tend to equate US foreign policy and Islamic terrorism as moral equivalents, just as they viewed the USSR and the US as Tweedledee and Tweedledum during the Cold War.
BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE
Although arguments about defence against Soviet bombers are now irrelevant, they have been superseded by arguments over continental ballistic missile defence. Despite sneers about "Star Wars," the United States has worked steadily on missile defence for decades; it is a complex and difficult challenge but has been given fresh relevance with the North Korean and Iranian development of extended range missiles and Pyongyang's nuclear program, as well as the expectation that an Iranian nuclear program will ultimately be successful. In 2005 Ottawa was offered the opportunity to participate in the development of ballistic missile defence, with no requirement for basing or a financial contribution; indeed, the opportunity also included potential defence contracts.
In the end, with the dithering that characterized the Martin Liberal government, Ottawa declined to participate. From a Washington perspective, one had the head-shaking impression that Liberals more feared doing something that might benefit the United States than desired doing something that might benefit Canada. Rarely has this American seen a more ideological exercise among Canadians. They professed financial, technical, political, and philosophical objections to missile defence: none withstood analytic testing. Let's examine the reasons Canada had not to participate.
Weapons are evil
Somehow, missile defence is wrong because it is unCanadian. Or presumably, since the United States is moving forward with such a system, it must by definition be wrong in the collected wisdom of those for whom the United States has not done anything right since revolutionaries dumped tea into Boston Harbor. If weapons are evil, US weapons are evil squared.
Missile defence won't work or costs too much
So what? If it doesn't work, Canada will have lost nothing. Ottawa isn't funding the system, Washington is providing the money, and Canadians could get some contracts. If it doesn't work, Canadians will be permitted to snicker knowingly at US bumbling. And no matter how expensive the system would be, as an insurance policy, poor insurance is better than none. It is cheaper than rebuilding San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo, or Seoul. And, to be sure, potential enemies are less likely to gamble the future of their societies on the assumption that our systems will not work.
Tests have failed
ActuaUy, no. Tests have been held with mixed results. Indeed, that is why one conducts tests; no complex system works perfectly from the start. There is a reasonable chance that the limited system now deployed will work against the limited level of attack that could be mounted by a rogue state.
Nevertheless, the US simply shrugged its shoulders foUowing the Canadian refusal to participate in missile defence; it isn't equivalent to the threats in the 1950s or 60s. The US can do missile defence alone and has done so, with deployments in Alaska as of 2006 that are deemed to be effective against North Korean or accidental Russian or Chinese launches. Whether there will be further deployments is more a political and fiscal than technical issue. As missile defence has been such a ideological third rail in Canadian politics (and the US doesn't need Canadian assistance), it did not raise the issue. Although Conservatives might be philosophicaUy inclined to participate, the political costs could be so high (and putative benefits so low) that even raising the issue now would be counterproductive.
Nevertheless, there remains the implicit Canadian belief that the United States would counter any missile identified and tracked as heading for Canada. It would be more honest for the opposition, as part of their next campaign platform, to declare that Canada refuses to be defended by any US missile defence system and that any missile headed toward, say, Vancouver, should be ignored by the US missile defence. Simultaneously they should declare that Canada will refuse to participate in any future contracts for the system as it would be hypocritical to oppose and then benefit from such action.
For obvious reasons, countries prefer to manufacture and equip themselves with their own weapons and then seU them to others. Canada was reasonably successful in this regard through the 1950s, but Conant and McLin recount the angst when Canada was no longer able to manufacture and export high tech weapons systems and was forced to depend on others - notably the United States - for high-performance aircraft and missiles. This come-downance rankled and has continued to do so for decades with each significant defence purchase or prospect of such. Although the Conservatives were willing to purchase US weaponry while working on defence contracts and consequently securing access to the US market, Liberals seemed to view defence as just another special interest group and military hardware as an unnecessary luxury in the toys-for-boys category.
Consequently, during the 1993 election, the Liberals fastened onto a Tory commitment to replace aging Sea King helicopters with EH-101 stateof-the-art craft. Describing them as gold-plated "Cadillac" aircraft, Liberal leader Jean Chrétien declared he would cancel the contract. And so he did - at a cost of approximately $500 million in penalty fees. The Liberals then struggled for over a decade to find a replacement that was not the EH-101 and finally setiled on a pair of Sikorsky variants to do search-and-rescue and antisubmarine warfare. The downside? Neither has been deployed with the Canadian forces and operational capability regularly recedes further into the never-never (while the Sea Kings, which are older than their pilots, are described as a vast coUection of nuts and bolts flying in loose formation).
They have mangled other procurements as weU: the effort to replace the aging submarine fleet with mothbaUed British subs has morphed into an operational disaster. Attempts to modify the subs ostensibly for Canadian standards and do maintenance left aU four in drydock repair at the end of 2010. It is a pathetic end to the vaulting plans of the past for Canada to build its own nuclear powered submarine force.
More currently pertinent, the Conservative minority government that took power in 2006 committed to substantial equipment upgrades. Some have been relatively uncontroversial, such as the purchase of C-130J and C-17 heavy lift cargo aircraft, given that the Canadian forces had to lease old Soviet-era Antonov 124s to carry deploying troops. The disaster assistance response team was delayed two weeks in deploying to assist in the 2004 Sri Lankan tsunami due to having no indigenous heavy lift - an embarrassing circumstance for Ottawa.
Much more controversial has been the decision to purchase F-35 fighter jets. The July 2010 announcement that the government would purchase 65 F-35 fighter jets signaUed the largest single military contract in Canadian history - a sole-sourced $9 billion purchase with up to $7 billion more in maintenance - prompted justifiable skepticism over ultimate costs. The spin from the prime minister's office - that the planes were needed to counter renewed Russian bombers threats - was risible. Led by the Liberals, the opposition announced it would cancel and rebid the contract, but the effort to replay the 1993 campaign failed. Canada will get F-35S, but the opposition will decry their costs ad infinitum.
There is an element of past is prologue in reviewing the resonance of the major defence and security issues of 50 years ago - continental security arrangements, NATO participation, and weapons procurement in particular. Nevertheless, the echo effect is muted. Decisions that were regarded as part of a corporate effort to stave off Apocalypse tomorrow, and were thus seen to be life-or-death imperatives, are not seen that way today. Canadian governments 50 years ago were rising and falling on the issue of advanced air defence purchases and nuclear armament for these weapons. Today the issues are fiscal effectiveness and political maneuvering, rather than societal survival.
The intensity of potential disagreement is further mitigated by the reality that 21st-century technology permits the US to manage continental aerospace security virtually unilaterally. Washington encourages Ottawa's participation as a "good neighbour" and to prevent terrorists from using Canada as a staging ground or safe haven. Nevertheless, Canada's protected position continues to permit it to indulge, as McLin suggested, in measures of "unarmament" that would have been reckless for other countries, and to take contrarian foreign policy positions "simply because of it being different" (151).
It is regrettable that Canadian political parties have never agreed on a consistent defence and security policy, but rather have fibrillated over policy, depending on which was in power.
1 Melvin Conant, The Long Polar Watch (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962); John McLin, Canada's Changing Defense Policy 1957-1963 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967).
David T Jones is a retired senior US diplomat and the co-author of Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs : A Study of US -Canadian Relations."…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: US-Canada Security. Contributors: Jones, David T. - Author. Journal title: International Journal. Volume: 66. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2011. Page number: 451+. © Canadian Institute of International Affairs Fall 1997. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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