The Americanization of Canada's Military
By STEVEN STAPLES*
Special to Shunpiking Online
OTTAWA -- IT IS arguably the most important issue facing Canada, but it was not discussed at all during the election. It is consuming billions of taxpayers' dollars, it dramatically increases the risk of a terrorist attack in Canada, and it has already claimed several Canadian lives.
The issue is the dramatic transformation of the Canadian military from a UN peacekeeping force into a U.S. war-fighting force.
The Canadian government has been rapidly building up the military and forging new Canada-U.S. agreements to help fight the U.S.-led war on terrorism and build a virtual Fortress North America.
Pressure to fall in line behind U.S. military and security priorities increased dramatically after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Shortly after that, President Bush declared, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Analysts in our Department of National Defence concluded that "Traditional U.S. allies will find that calls for military, diplomatic and other support from Washington will be regarded as a test of their loyalty."
As an expression of that loyalty, the Canadian military's goal is to achieve complete "interoperability" between the Canadian and American forces, so that on land, at sea, and in the air, Canada's forces can easily integrate with U.S. forces for all missions, be they exercises, patrols or heavy combat.
Already, Canadian frigates regularly deploy with U.S. carrier battle groups -- small armadas of warships and submarines led by a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Canadian warplanes are being fitted with smart bombs to better join "shock and awe" bombing campaigns, and the billion-dollar leaky submarines are needed because "the Americans like us to have them," as the Defence Minister once admitted.
But keeping up to the U.S. is so expensive, substantial increases in military spending are required to fuel military integration. The Liberals and NDP agreed that defence should receive an extra $12.8 billion over five years in Budget 2005, the largest increase in a generation. Canadian defence spending will soon reach $20 billion, its highest level since the Second World War. The Conservatives would top up that increase by $5 billion.
But while all the parties have agreed to push billions into the military, there is no consensus on how this money should be spent. The NDP recently expressed concern about the "warlike" nature of Canada's upcoming redeployment of troops to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan will be the proving ground for Canada-U.S. military integration. Our secret commandos are conducting combat operations with U.S. Special Forces under U.S. command, and handing their prisoners over to U.S. interrogators. Hundreds of Canadian troops are in Kandahar under the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom, where their numbers will swell to more than 2,000 troops in the coming weeks under a new NATO mandate.
But what price will be paid for the Americanization of the Canadian Forces?
The military's spending already exceeds $14 billion a year -- sixteen times the budget of Environment Canada. Last year's trumpeted new $5 billion child care program was less than half of the increase the government gave to the military. Two thousand new family doctors could have been attracted to Canada for the cost of just one of the twenty-eight new helicopters Canada purchased.
UN peacekeeping has been virtually abandoned. With so many troops committed to the U.S. war on terrorism, Canada has dropped to 36th place as contributor of troops to UN-led peacekeeping missions. Only a few hundred soldiers wear Blue Helmets today.
The move to more aggressive combat missions to support U.S. military objectives will also cost Canadian lives. Eight soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and most recently a diplomat died in an Iraq-style suicide car bomb attack. The Taliban has said that they will not distinguish between Canadian troops and their U.S. counterparts, viewing them equally as enemies.
Even more worrisome, will our role increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Canada? Of course it will. The more closely we wage war with the United States, the more their enemies will become our enemies.
Canadians strongly opposed joining the invasion of Iraq and the missile shield. The government cannot keep the steady transformation of the Canadian Forces from a UN Peacekeeper to a U.S. war fighter secret from the Canadian public any longer. There is no issue more fundamental to a democracy than whether a nation should or should not go to war. We may have missed the opportunity in this election, but it is never too late to engage Canadians in such an important debate.
*Steven Staples is the Director of Security Programs for the Polaris Institute, a public interest research group based in Ottawa.
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