Canadian military still obsolete

By Kevin Rothbauer

The Centre for Military and Strategic Studies continued its recent series of speakers last Thursday with an appearance by Dwight Mason, former U.S. chair of the Permanent Joint Board of Defense. The PJBD is, according to the CMSS’ Rob Hubert, “one of the most powerful bodies in terms of the U.S.-Canada defense relationship.” Having been U.S. chair for eight years, Mason is very familiar with that relationship and where it is currently heading.

“At the moment, [the relationship] is strong,” Mason said. “But it will weaken if current trends continue.”

Mason discussed the history of the Canada-U.S. defense relationship, from the 1938 agreement between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister MacKenzie King, through the establishment of NORAD, to the recent developments of September 2001 and how those events changed the North American defense strategy.

“Our plans did not contemplate this kind of threat,” Mason explained. “Our map was of the perimeter [of the continent]. Now the map is solid through.”

The U.S. may be the world’s top military power, but Mason underlined how that country’s defense plans depend on Canada, and how the military relationship between the two countries continues whether war is imminent or not.

“We can do a lot of things by ourselves, but not all,” he stated. “We’re dependent on Canada for radar.

[The U.S. and Canada] work together in peacetime as well.”

Mason brought up the example of the U.S. participation in airlifting of troops from Edmonton to Montreal during the 1998 ice storm as a notable peacetime joint project.

While some Canadians may argue that we are less likely to be a target of peacetime terrorist strikes such as those of last autumn, Mason pointed out that several major U.S. centres, such as Chicago and Detroit, are close enough to the border that attacks there would also affect Canadians. He added that it was a Canadian officer, based at NORAD in Colorado, who gave the go-ahead to launch all the fighters on September 11.

“There is no way to separate the two countries on this,” he said.

Mason stressed the necessity of interoperability between the two militaries, both because of technology transfer and because Canada can’t currently afford to develop its own military technology. Although both countries have been “well-served” by the process thus far, Mason believes there is a danger of it coming to an end.

“[Interoperability] is at risk because the Canadian government has refused to fund and refused to explore North American missile defense.”

Echoing remarks made a week earlier by Canadian historian J.L. Granatstein, Mason suggested that, in its own interests, the U.S. may have to take control of Canada’s defense.

“The net result will be a larger role by the U.S. in the defense of North America,” he said. “We are prepared to defend North America unilaterally–with or without Canada, with or without NORAD.”

According to Mason, there are a few things that Canada could do to improve its ability to help the U.S. in defending of North America, and to boost its military and peacekeeping profile. This includes purchasing more C17 heavy lifter aircraft, which would help in our ability to move troops and equipment.

“Canada could lift peacekeepers from one country to another without Canadian peacekeepers being involved,” he noted.

Mason added that the U.S. relies on Canadian assistance as well, often requiring Canadian frigates in its fleets because of a lack of such boats stateside. The recent Canadian trend of underfunding the military bothers the U.S. because they have become so adjusted to Canadian assistance.

“Since we are so used to this great co-operation and its utility, we don’t like what we see,” said Mason.

However, according to Mason, the American method of saying through the media that Canada needs to show more support is inappropriate.

“The most useful strategy the U.S. might adopt would be to talk to Canada in private… Let’s tell them something specific [about how Canada could improve its efforts]. The joint planning process is useful in this, in terms of contributing advice in a government-to-government manner.”

Mason is holding out hope that Canada’s attitude toward its military will turn around soon.

“I’m confident things will change,” he said. “I don’t think Canada wants to stop peacekeeping. I don’t think Canada wants to stop defending North America.”

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