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Defence Policy White Papers 1987 ~ 1994 ~ 2004


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Assessing The 1987 White Paper

Reaction to Canada's first defence white paper since 1971 was predictably varied. Indeed, the casual observer may have concluded that there are as many opinions on the white paper as there are editorial writers, politicians, peace researchers, academics, defence industrialists, and members of the armed forces. A perusal of the most recent assessments of the white paper -- as found in media commentaries, scholarly journals, defence and business publications, and testimony before the Commons and Senate defence committees -- quickly establishes a number of recurring themes. There is, for example, relief that a new white paper has finally appeared, and well-deserved praise of defence minister Perrin Beatty for his determination to provide a successor to the moribund Defence in the Seventies -- a document which in some major respects was obsolete within three years of its appearance. For the most part, the Mulroney government has garnered high marks for so explicitly acknowledging the commitment-capability gap, for proceeding with commitment rationalization (when it would have been very easy, politically and diplomatically, to acquiesce with the status quo) and for offering a long-term approach to the modernization and restructuring of Canada's armed forces. Although a 15-year plan is necessarily hostage to the vagaries of future elections and changes in the international environment, it offers at least a modicum of continuity and a useful benchmark or baseline for Canadian defence planners.

Also generally well-received has been the white paper's explicit recognition that Canadian security does not start and end on the Central Front or in the mid-Atlantic -- that legitimate security concerns also exist in our territorial waters, in the Arctic, on the North American continent, and in the north east Pacific. The result -- for the first time in many years -- should be a better balance between our NATO commitments in Europe and our NATO, NORAD 'defence of Canada' concerns on this side of the North Atlantic.

In terms of the specific strategies or policies outlined by the white paper, the decision to shift the CAST commitment to the Central Front has naturally drawn disappointment from those who argued -- in some cases quite eloquently -- for a 'northern' approach to Canadian defence policy. In the face of Norway's (understandable) reluctance to sanction the permanent deployment on its soil of foreign troops, most observers have expressed support for the Canadian government's choice of land force consolidation options. Although one could in theory have earmarked a significant Canada-based contingent for north flank reinforcement (i.e. a two-brigade division, replete with additional airlift support and maximum pre-positioning), its 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' existence, and doubts over whether Canada would really deploy it in time of crisis, could have fostered the impression in Europe that Canada had opted for 'fortress North America' -- with all that might imply in terms of Canadian linkages with the United States or weakened cohesion within the North Atlantic Alliance.

Also drawing support from most observers were the decisions to create a balanced Canadian navy (although support for more submarines did not necessarily mean support for SSN's), to expand the reserves and implement a true Total Force strategy, and to place renewed emphasis on Defence Industrial Preparedness and defence-related research and development. The decision to create a balanced fleet (i.e. one that has more to offer than ASW frigates) reflects the belated recognition that a single-role, single-type-of-ship navy cannot possibly be responsive to all of Canada's maritime sovereignty and security concerns.

Go Back To Page Index At Top Of This PageShortcomings?

On the down side, one fairly common complaint was that the white paper spent too little time articulating an identifiably Canadian perspective on some of the major issues of Western security. Consider, for example, the assessment of John Halsted -- a former Canadian ambassador to NATO -- in the July-August issue of Aerospace Canada International (the predecessor to Aerospace and Defence Technology): "It is true that [the white paper] deals briefly with the international environment in terms of East-West rivalry, and with the military threat to Canadian security in North America and Europe. But it does not really come to grips with such important questions as the compatibility between NATO strategy and arms control objectives, the impact on NATO doctrine of the U.S. shift from reliance on MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) to a countervailing nuclear strategy, and the implications of SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) for Canada's defence posture and priorities."

Another frequently-heard observation is that the white paper's rhetoric is, in some cases, too harsh and too 'Cold War'-like, that its 'military threat' section too closely resembles a Canadian version of the Pentagon's Soviet Military Power. Some may reject such assessments as the misguided musings of the peace movement, but it should be noted that similar concerns have been voiced by more moderate, highly-respected Canadian defence commentators. In a collection of white paper reviews published by the non-partisan Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIIA), for example, Professor R.B. Byers suggests that "while the 1971 defence white paper presented too benign an assessment of East-West relations, it may well be that that the 1987 white paper has erred in the opposite direction. This could have the effect of unnecessarily calling into question subsequent sections [of the 1987 white paper] which address changes in defence commitments and future requirements."

A thought-provoking critique of the white paper has also been provided by Brigadier-General (Ret'd) George C. Bell -- the president of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS) -- in a recent appearance before the Special Committee of the Senate on National Defence. Although Dr. Bell commended the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence for providing Canadians with "a reasonably comprehensive framework of defence policy," he expressed concern over a "number of specific deficiencies in the areas of naval forces, air forces and military space policy." The white paper's "most serious omissions," however, were to be found "in the areas of Regular Force manpower, military modernization for periods beyond 30 days and the scope of emergency legislation." Bell noted that: "Nowhere in the white paper is the size of the Regular Force mentioned. Although informal soundings indicate that the Regular Force might grow from its present ceiling of approximately 84,700 to 90,000 within the 15-year planning period, informed commentators must be concerned about the apparent insufficiency of the Regular Force. Even if it reaches 90,000, it is likely to be unable to provide the training and support infrastructure and integrated personnel in Reserve units which are essential to achieve major growth in the Reserves from current levels of 90,000 (65,000 Primary Reserve and 25,000 Supplementary Reserve)." Bell suggested that "if the increase in the Regular Force is not increased well beyond the 90,000 indicated, the net benefit in increased overall force capabilities is likely to be far less than a surface look at the white paper would suggest."

Go Back To Page Index At Top Of This PageAnother recurring theme, inevitably, has been the white paper's adoption of a two percent-plus funding formula (i.e. "a base rate of annual real growth in the defence budget of two percent per year after inflation," plus occasional extra infusions as major capital programs are introduced). Although this approach could be made to work -- assuming that the two percent figure is a floor and not a ceiling, and that the extra infusions beyond the two percent will amount to more than $1.98 -- it was not as generous as the Department of National Defence had hoped. In the current fiscal environment, however, it is difficult to see how the Department could have done any better.

The major controversy unleashed by the white paper has, of course, centred on the proposed acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines. This is potentially the most significant procurement decision in the history of Canadian defence policy -- and one which should be rightly subjected to the most rigorous and penetrating analysis. One barrier to meaningful discussion of the SSN option, however, is the mistaken impression in some editorial, foreign policy analysis, and U.S. Navy circles that the raison d'etre of a Canadian SSN fleet would the checking of passports at the entrance of the Northwest Passage.

While SSN's would indeed bring an important new dimension to Arctic sovereignty, they cannot and should not be assessed on that basis alone. Rather, the SSN proposal must be evaluated in the context of what it would bring to the entire spectrum of Canadian (and Alliance) maritime missions. This means looking at both sovereignty and security, and the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. It also means looking at the other equipment options for a late 20th-early 21st century navy. One must also give the utmost consideration to the possible arms control and other implications of an SSN acquisition program. Although some of the arms control and other criticisms (such as fear of linkage, however indirect, with the U.S. Navy's controversial Maritime Strategy) which have been directed at the proposed SSN program may appear exaggerated to some SSN proponents, they must be clearly and satisfactorily addressed if the program is to garner the support of Canadians.

That still leaves, of course, the question of cost -- or, more accurately, cost-effectiveness. Given the military attributes of SSN's (i.e. speed, endurance and the unparalleled ability to shift Canadian naval resources around the three coasts without using the Panama Canal) and the costs of possible alternatives, an SSN fleet for $8 billion or so would be very cost-effective. It would still be cost effective at a cost in excess of $8 billion. If, however, an SSN program threatens to approach the truly frightening worst case scenarios postulated by some observers, it would be difficult to support. It is conceivable that the currently projected overall defence budget might still be able to cope, but the risk would be a seriously distorted defence establishment (i.e. one with too little money for the other branches of the navy, not to mention the army and the air force). In 1988, consequently, one can expect SSN cost-estimating to be a continuing national pastime.

Also at issue, although something of a 'sleeper' at this point, is the continuing tasking of both of the CF-18 Rapid Reinforcement squadrons in the flyover role (albeit to Germany rather than to Norway). More than a few observers had hoped that the government would use at least one of the CF-18 Rapid Reinforcement squadrons to bolster the modest, two-squadron force dedicated to home defence (plus, in crisis, the CF-18 operational training squadron). The rationale for an increase in the dedicated home defence fleet was not predicated on a desire to recreate the massive RAF interceptor force of the 1950's. It did, however, rest on four basic assumptions: (a) that the peacetime interceptor mission of providing "unambiguous confirmation" of radar data was becoming more important in an age of cruise missiles; (b) that two dedicated squadrons seemed a rather modest force for a country the size of Canada; (c) that additional CF-18's could be multi-tasked to perform such missions as sea denial (i.e., with Harpoon) and reconnaissance; and (d) that using additional Canada- (and Iceland-?) based CF-18's to help extend land-based air cover out over the North Atlantic could conceivably be of more use to NATO than two more fighter squadrons in southern Germany. Another irony of the continued tasking of both CF-18 squadrons in the flyover role was that it would mean sending Canadian fighter reinforcements to Europe at the very time -- during a crisis -- when the United States would be seeking to deploy USAF fighter reinforcements in Canada.

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The NDP Position Paper

On 30 July, the New Democratic Party unveiled its conception of a viable Canadian defence policy. Entitled Canadian Sovereignty, Security and Defence: A New Democratic Response to the White Paper, it reaffirmed the long-standing NDP desire to withdraw Canada from NORAD and NATO but, ironically, it outlined a force structure which could conceivably be very useful in a NORAD or NATO context. Thus, although it would repatriate the Canadian contingents in Germany, it offered an impressive shopping list. For the navy, it would provide up to 18 patrol frigates, up to 12 conventionally-powered submarines, an unstated number of mine counter-measures and coastal patrol vessels, and an under-ice surveillance system in the Arctic. For the air force, the NDP position paper envisaged the acquisition of a New Shipboard Aircraft, additional airlift capacity, an expanded fleet of patrol aircraft and 'Canadian-controlled' AWACS aircraft. At the close of 1987, there were indications that the New Democratic Party was reassessing -- although not necessarily changing -- its position on withdrawal from NORAD and NATO. If it does modify its stance on this issue -- and if it retains the shopping list outlined in its position paper -- the New Democratic Party's defence policy would be eminently more marketable to mainstream Canadian public opinion.

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Life Beyond the White Paper

Although Perrin Beatty's white paper and the issues it raised almost completely dominated the defence agenda during 1987, there were a host of lesser -- but still significant -- developments. For Canada's air force, the year was marked by the handover of the first CC-142 Dash 8 by de Havilland Canada, by the award of the CF-5 update contract to Bristol Aerospace (although it was no doubt a bittersweet experience to the latter), by the selection -- in principle -- of the EH Industries EH 101 for the crucial New Shipborne Aircraft (NSA) requirement, and by a well-publicized CF-18 engine problem (i.e., uncontained engine compressor failures with a potential for engine or engine compartment fires). The difficulty resulted in a temporary suspension of CF-18 deliveries in early November. CF-18 deliveries were resumed on 17 November following discussions between the Canadian government, McDonnell Douglas and General Electric, and the identification of an acceptable modification package. In other equipment developments during 1987, Innotech Aviation was awarded a contract for the modification of three Canadair CE-144 Challengers to an interim electronic warfare standard, and Kelowna Flight Group Limited was awarded a $10.9-million contract for the CC-109 Cosmopolitan avionics update.

For Canada's air force, 1987 also saw the activation of two more CF-18 squadrons (No. 441 at Cold Lake and No. 433 at Bagotville), the awarding of the operations and maintenance contract for the North Warning System (to Frontec Logistics Corporation of Edmonton), the activation of the North Warning System's first AN/FPS-117 long-range radars, the closure of the bulk of the remaining CADIN-Pinetree Line radar stations in the interior of Canada, and the selection of the five CF-18 Forward Operating Locations (i.e., Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet, Iqualuit [Frobisher Bay] and Kuujjuag [Fort Chimo]). Not co-incidentally, Canadian and American fighter squadrons also did land office business intercepting an inordinate number of Soviet Bear aircraft.

For the navy, 1987 saw the handover to MIL Davie of HMCS Algonquin, the first of the four DDH-280 Tribal-class destroyers to undergo conversion to the ambitious TRUMP (Tribal-class Update and Modernization Project) configuration. Although the destroyers modified under TRUMP would retain a secondary ASW (anti-submarine) capability, their primary role would become anti-air warfare (AAW). Also noteworthy were the official 'placing in dock' ceremony (i.e., the modular equivalent of 'laying the keel') for the first of the City-class patrol frigates (HMCS Halifax) and, of course, the decision to award the contract for all six of the follow-on batch (HMC Ships Montreal, Fredericton, Winnipeg, Charlottetown, St. John's and Ottawa) to Saint John Shipbuilding Limited. In organizational terms, 1987 brought the commissioning of two more Naval Reserve units in Quebec (HMCS Radisson in Trois Riviere and HMCS D'Iberville in Rimouski), the formal activation of the new Maritime Coastal Defence Organization in Halifax (although it was an organization with something less than an abundance of physical assets) and, most important, the first substantial augmentation of Canada's Pacific fleet in almost two decades. The upgrading of the Pacific fleet -- which unlike its east coast counterpart did not have any helicopters or air-capable frigates or destroyers -- reflected the decision to transfer HMCS Huron, a Tribal-class destroyer, to Esquimalt in return for the transfer to Halifax of the Improved Restigouche-class frigate HMCS Gatineau. Also transferred to the west coast were four Sea King helicopters from HS 443 Squadron. The Sea Kings would operate from HMCS Huron and from HMCS Provider, the Pacific fleet's veteran operational support ship.

A year of less obvious change for Canada's land forces, 1987 was marked by the award of a $19.2-million contract to Invar Manufacturing to produce TOW turrets (for the M113) under license from Thune-Eureka of Norway, and by on-going negotiations with France for the co-production of the advanced Eryx anti-armor weapon. Both moves promised to fill major gaps in Canada's anti-armor inventory. In organizational moves, the Royal Canadian Dragoons -- the armored regiment attached to 4CMBG in Germany -- returned to Canada for the first time in 17 years. Taking its place in Germany -- and its Leopard C1 main battle tanks -- were the 8th Canadian Hussars from CFB Petawawa. Also announced was the decision to increase the size of the Canadian contingent serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus. Reservists, the 60 additional soldiers would help to compensate for the withdrawal of the Swedish contingent. The increase would bring the number of Canadian military personnel on active peacekeeping duty -- in Cyprus and elsewhere in the Middle East -- to almost 1,000.

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