NATO: Time for Canada to Speak Up
Jan 15, 2013

Captain Matthew Dukowski, a Sea King pilot with 423 Squadron , ­conducts preflight checks on the helicopter prior to a mission on HMCS Charlottetown, off the coast of Libya. Under authority of the United Nations Security Resolution 1973, HMCS Charlottetown, together with Canada’s NATO partners, is enforcing an arms embargo and taking actions to protect civilians in Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector.

On any given day, representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are quick to opine that Canada is one of the lesser contributors to the alliance, that the Canadian defence budget is inadequate to meet the alliance’s defence goals, and that Canada has reneged on her commitments to the alliance...

Hold on, just a minute...
The NATO alliance has been committed to European defence and security since its inception more than 60 years ago and while Canada can expect the alliance to come to our aid in the event of a military attack from an adversary, that is a theor­etical possibility at best.

Canada has contributed to European defence and security since 1914. Approximately 650,000 Canadians served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914-1918 – almost 69,000 of whom gave their lives (the Canadian population at the time was only eight million). The Second World War drew more than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders – and more than 47,000 of them sacrificed their lives. Let’s not forget Canada’s involvement in peacekeeping and NATO operations in the Balkans that supported efforts in Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, (FYRO) Macedonia, and Kosovo.

Queen’s University professor David G. Haglund notes that the United States was initially an unwilling but essential partner in the alliance. Canada was instrumental in bringing the U.S. to the table.

In November 1947, Washington, D.C., London, and Ottawa, began exploratory talks about alternative security arrangements outside the United Nations, which had found itself increasingly ham-strung by the Cold War. These tri-national discussions ultimately engaged France, the Benelux countries and Norway, resulting in the North Atlantic Treaty of 4 April 1949 – after which, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, and Italy immediately joined.

At its seminal stage, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent underscored that NATO should be more than a military coalition, and should also include additional institutional arrangements. This led to the “Canadian” Articles 2 and 4 of the Treaty, enjoining members to accept the requirement to ­consult on important matters.

Our relationship with NATO, Haglund notes, was a continuation of the longstanding relationship with Europe, and gave Canada its early identity as a ‘European nation’ within North America. However, following the Second World War, both Canada and the U.S. recognized that their security was inseparable from that of Western Europe – that the joint security environment had evolved into an Atlantic community of shared values and interests.

Canada emerged from the Second World War with a strong economy and a powerful and successful military. She felt a shared obligation for Western European defence. Economically devastated, Europe was assisted by North American largesse in the form of the U.S. Marshall Plan and Canada’s Mutual Aid Program, through which we gave Great Britain top-of-the-line F-86 Sabre jet fighters. Beginning in 1951, Canada deployed to Germany a brigade group and an air division, whose strength would eventually reach 12 squad­rons, totaling 240 aircraft.

In those early days, Canada and the United States became producers of security – and Europe, the consumers. By 1953, Canada allocated more than 8% of its GDP to defence spending, a massive increase from the 1.4% of 1947.

During the Korean War’s final year, Canada’s defence/GDP ratio stood fourth highest in NATO, and its defence budget of nearly $2 billion accounted for 45% of all federal spending.

In time, Canada cut back a significant portion of its contributions to West European defence, because, according to David Haglund:

  • It became too expensive to sustain a robust military contribution to European defence, and concurrently assume responsibilities for North American air defence.
  • Canada was campaigning for NATO’s commitment to détente, leading Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Herbert Siegfried in 1955 to say Canada’s European policy was “remarkably naïve.” In a 1958 visit to Ottawa, NATO Secretary-General Paul-Henri Spaak, was equally unflattering when he said that Canada had become “the Yugoslavs of NATO.”
  • As Europe recovered from wartime devastation, Canada reduced her commitment to European defence in the face of growing European defence capabilities. European defence requirements were depriving Canada of focusing limited resources and assistance where it was needed and justified.

In the end, Canada withdrew its forces from German bases at Lahr and Baden Sollingen in 1993.

On 15 December 1997, Globe and Mail reporter Paul Koring wrote about Canada’s diminishing role in international peacekeeping. With only 250 Canadian Forces soldiers deployed on United Nations operations, this was the lowest level since Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize 40 years earlier. The 1,300 Canadian troops in Bosnia Herzegovina, Koring said, did not count because they were “part of a NATO force rather than UN force.” He ignored UN Security Council Resolution 1031’s authorization of the peace stabilization force and the reality that, in the post-Cold War world, the blue berets were sent to areas where fighting continued and where there was no peace to keep.

By the summer of 1995, NATO launched air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces around Sarajevo, resulting in the Dayton accords and the NATO decision to deploy IFOR, the alliance’s peace implementation force. Canada’s contribution of more than 1,200 troops, and the deployment of a ship to the NATO naval force in the Adriatic Sea, constituted one of the largest national contingents.

Canada participated in combat air missions in Kosovo against the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic who were endeavouring to evict ethnic Albanian Kosovars from the region.

Defence Minister Art Eggleton told an audience at Harvard University on 30 September 1999, that “Canadian pilots flew 682 combat sorties, or nearly 10% of the missions against fixed targets – and they led half the strike packages they took part in,” and that Canada was “among only five countries delivering precision-guided munitions.”

The 1,400-strong Canadian contingent to the Kosovo peace force (KFOR) included an infantry battle group, a reconnaissance squadron, a tactical helicopter squadron, and an engineer contingent. In the spring of 2000, Ottawa decided to consolidate its Balkan presence in Bosnia where a Canadian major general assumed command of the Multinational Division Southwest, a region comprising 45% of the total area of responsibility for IFOR’s successor, the Peace Sustainment Force (SFOR).

More recently, Canada was among the first to commit forces to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011, calling on the international community to enforce an arms embargo, maintain a no-fly zone and protect civilians and civilian populated areas from attack or the threat of attack in Libya. Canada provided a frigate, CF-188 fighter aircraft, Aurora patrol aircraft, supported by CC-150 Polaris and CC-130 Hercules aircraft. LGen Charles Bouchard commanded the operation.

To use a tired cliché, Canada punched above its weight in supporting NATO’s efforts to end the bloody war in Bosnia, to wage a successful military campaign against Serbian repression in Kosovo, and to assist liberation efforts in Libya.

For 50 years, three unifying forces gave NATO its purpose: the Cold War; North America’s continuing strategic interest in European security; and political elites from Europe, Canada and USA, who remained strongly committed to the concept of an Atlantic community.

The events of 11 September 2001 reinforced cooperation between NATO and the European Union in crisis situations. Formal contacts and reciprocal participation increased. On 12 September 2001, the Secretary General of NATO joined with the EU General Affairs Council to analyze the international situation following the terrorist attacks on the United States. Since then, the terrorist attacks in Madrid (March 2004) and London (July 2005) emphasized the need for increased cooperation. Direct contacts between the two organizations have developed in a number of fields, in addition to the fight against terrorism.

Inevitably, the fundamental shift in the landscape of world politics and global economics is having adverse effects on the transatlantic partnership: conflicts of interest are becoming more visible and significant; political, strategic and economic differences reflect profound strategic differences between the United States and its European allies; and the collapse of the Soviet Union has removed a common adversary, exacerbating the unrelenting problem of credibility.

Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, observed that during the Cold War, the rigid logic of bipolarity’s ­limited choices on both sides of the Iron Curtain resulted in remarkably little debate about the fundamentals of Western grand strategy.

Europe’s decision to develop its own military capability caused a geo-strategic bump at the Anglo-French summit in Saint-Malo in December 1988. The European Union was to “play its full role on the international stage” and committed the EU to acquire “appropriate structures and a capacity for … strategic planning,” as well as “suitable military means” to conduct its own foreign policy. This process intensified after the war in Kosovo demonstrated that Europe could not manage a minor power like Serbia without relying primarily on its U.S. ally. Autonomous European military operations in the Balkans was yet another “bridge too far.”

Financial Reorganization
Global economic difficulties have already forced NATO to reorganize its structure, slicing off whole limbs of military capability from its northern and southern European forces, centralizing resources and activities, and rationalizing its workforce. That, however, was prior to the profound economic downturns of some allied and partner nations. Recent social and economic difficulties experienced by the U.S. and a number of European governments will have a profound impact on the abilities of these nations to meet their commitments to the alliance, forcing still more ­geo-economic challenges on NATO.

Crucial questions remain unanswered: Will the economically-challenged international community be able to continue funding Afghan development after 2014? Will Europe’s Great Power allies (Britain, France and Germany) be able to sustain a credible level of military capacity for as-yet unseen threats and crises? Has NATO sacri­ficed its capability for collective response to a mass attack in favour of less-expensive combined joint task forces?
At this point, strategic analysts can only surmise what the alliance will look like when it arises from the current economic quagmire.

Canada’s traditional approach to NATO has been modest and far too self-deprecating, seeing ourselves as one of the ­historic lower contributors to Alliance ­security, costs, and activities. In fact, this modest self-image belies a number of stark realities outlined in this article.

Canada needs to revisit its self-image as a NATO partner, shed its undeserved modesty and recognize that we are among the heavy lifters of the Alliance, sometimes in treasure and oftentimes in blood.

Tim Dunne retired from the Canadian Forces in 2009 after 37 years of service. He is FrontLine’s Atlantic correspondent.

© FrontLine Defence 2013