UP FOR DEBATE: Arguing the Affirmative

Is it Time for a Canadian as NATO SecGen? Yes

TIM DUNNE  –  Apr 25, 2018

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is due to appoint its 14th secretary general by 2020 and it appears that Canada, a founding member of NATO and one of the principal architects of the alliance, is not even being considered for the job. NATO’s roots were planted by Canada, working with the member nations of the Brussels Treaty: Belgium, France, Luxem­bourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In the face of post-war Soviet expansionism, then-Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent proposed a single mutual defence pact to the Canadian Parliament on 28 April 1948. This sparked a resolution by Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenburg to join NATO.

Together with the other signatories to the Brussels Treaty, Canada and the United States officially invited Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway and Portugal to accede to the North Atlantic Treaty on 15 March 1949.

Canada bore the operational and financial costs of maintaining forces in Europe, defending our own vast territory, and participation in the UN operation in Korea. However, Canada was not part of the inner sanctum of large countries that plotted NATO policy. Canadian disillusionment with the NATO alliance was the bastard child of European gluttony for Canadian and American defence bounty.

Current memories are dim regarding Canada’s part in the creation of NATO and the military contribution to European security during the early years of the Alliance. Emerging from the Second World War economically and militarily strong, Canada accepted an obligation to the defence of Western Europe that surpassed even the European obligation. Warfare had economically devastated Europe, leaving them destitute in their own house. American largesse came in the form of the Marshall Plan, and Canadian benevolence as the Mutual Aid Program.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg received a warm welcome from Prime Minister Trudeau during his April 2018 visit to Canada. (NATO PHOTO)

In the 1950s, during NATO’s infancy, Canada was one of the largest military spenders in the alliance, allocating more than 8% of its GDP to defence spending. Not only was Canada one of the very few nations not receiving direct aid from the United States, Canada operated a Mutual Aid Program for Europe, which gave Britain top-of-the-line F-86 Sabre jet fighters.

Beginning in 1951, Canada deployed a well-equipped brigade group and an even more well-equipped air division, whose strength would eventually reach 12 squadrons, and totaling 240 aircraft. For a time, during the later phases of the Korean conflict, the RCAF was flying more advanced fighters in the European theatre than the US Air Force. According to University of Calgary historian David J. Bercuson, “Canada [was] responsible for the biggest contribution […] to the expansion of West European air defence.”

In return, European NATO partners increased the vitriol. In 1955, Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Herbert Siegfried, said Canada’s European policy was “remarkably naïve.” Adding to the insult, NATO Secretary-General Paul-Henri Spaak, a Belgian, said during a 1958 visit to Ottawa that Canada had become “the Yugoslavs of NATO.”

Canada and the United States became producers of security; and the Europeans, its consumers. Canadian generosity took the form of involvement in European exercises in Norway and Germany. It should be noted that the two military bases in Germany, at Lahr and Baden-Soellingen, were costing the Canadian taxpayer $1 billion annually.

In NATO’s 70 years Canada has made significant contributions to collective defence. A brief summary follows.

From 1957 to 1993, Canada was one of only two non-European nations to have military forces permanently deployed to Europe (Lahr and Baden-Soellingen) at a cost to the Canadian taxpayer of $1 billion annually. During this 35-year period Canada and the U.S. were net producers of security, and the Europeans were net consumers of that security. We finally left because (1) we felt it was time for Europe to make more of a contribution to its own security and (2) the Soviet Union had folded and the Warsaw Pact had dissolved four years earlier.

Canada routinely assigned warships to NATO’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL) beginning in 1968. This practice continued when Standing Naval Force Atlantic 1 replaced SNFL in 2005.

Initially proposed in July 1955, President George H. W. Bush reintroduced the Open Skies concept in 1989 to foster confidence and security between all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact countries. In February 1990, an international Open Skies Conference involving all NATO and Warsaw Pact countries opened in Ottawa.

Canada quickly deployed into Yugoslavia in 1992 when Europe was incapable of looking after a conflict on its own continent and within its own jurisdiction. Canada sent troops into that region under the UN flag until December 17, 1995. In December 1995, NATO assumed responsibility for operations in the former Yugoslavia and Canada simply replaced the blue berets with the army green berets/RCAF blue wedgies/RCN white lids. Twenty-three Canadian soldiers lost their lives defending and promoting peace in the Balkans.

In 1999, Canada was a participant in Operation Allied Force, the allied bombing of Belgrade to address Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

In October 2001, Canada joined Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea to prevent the movement of WMDs. In November 2016 it was replaced by the non-Article-5 Operation Sea Guardian.

From March to October 2011, Canada led a multi-state NATO coalition to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, to have “an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute crimes against humanity [...] imposing a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace – a no-fly zone – and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters.” Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard was appointed commander.

Beginning in 2014, Canada initiated Operation Reassurance in which the Canadian army is conducting training with the Ukrainian army, deployed RCAF assets in the Baltics and Poland, and frigates in the Black Sea and the Atlantic to demonstrate NATO solidarity – seven CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft; three transport aircraft configured as in-flight refueling tankers, two CC-150 Polaris aircraft; a CC-130J Hercules aircraft; and two CP-140 Aurora aircraft.

Canada is leading NATO's six-nation deployment in Latvia with the contribution of approximately 450 troops to the mission through Operation Reassurance. Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain are partnered with Canada in this operation.

NATO’s European members benefit from infrastructure built with the help of Canadian funding. Canada has paid into that, but there are only trivial traces of NATO infrastructure in Canada – the synchro-lift in Halifax and a few communication nodes sprinkled parsimoniously about Canada.

Canada deployed 40,000 soldiers into Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, with 158 killed and 1,800 visibly injured. NATO assumed the lead of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on 11 August 2003.

By mid-May 2014, Canada had deployed a platoon-sized Land Task Force to Eastern and Central Europe; Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Regina to the Mediterranean Sea; and the RCAF had established Air Task Force (ATF) Romania, consisting of six CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft and 200 personnel to provide training to the Romanian Air Force in air defence, air superiority, aerospace testing and evaluation, and tactical support. The ATF moved to Šiauliai, Lithuania, with four CF-188 aircraft and 135 personnel to provide enhanced air protection to Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian allies. Canada’s air mission in the Baltics ended on December 31, 2014.

On 11 January 2017, HMCS St. John’s joined Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various Allied countries. St. John’s worked and trained in the Black Sea with vessels from several allied and partner nations, including participating in a four-day multi-nation NATO exercise led by the Romanian navy, before returning to regular SNMG 2 responsibilities on 20 February 2017.

Beginning in August 2015, Canada launched Operation Unifier, a two-year army training operation in which 185 Canadian troops deployed to Ukraine. During the initial two-year mandate, the Canadians taught essential military skills to soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The training is conducted under the Multinational Joint Commission, comprising Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Canada joined the MJC in January 2015, and co-chairs the Sub-Committee on Military Policing with Ukraine. On 6 March 2017, the Canadian government announced that Operation Unifier was extended until the end of March 2019.

Canada has participated in NATO operations more than many other nations, and an actuarial audit would show that Canada wasn’t the only nation contributing less than 2% of its GDP to defence.

A comment could be made that Canada’s contribution to NATO is small, but according to online sources many of our NATO colleagues are in no better position. Canada’s military is very robust, with a regular force of 68,000 and a reserve force of 27,000. Contrast that with:

Norway: 26,500 regular force and 46,000 reservists
Denmark: 19,000 regular force and 6,500 reservists
Belgium: 30,000 regular force and 1,600 reservists
Netherlands: 59,000 all up

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, from Norway, recently visited Canada. The news media interviewers missed an opportunity to ask why Canada, one of the founding nations of the NATO alliance, has never provided a secretary general to NATO, while other nations have occupied that seat, some more than once. For instance:

Norway: currently filling the position
Denmark: once
Spain: once
Belgium: twice
Netherlands: three times
Great Britain: three times
Italy: once

I submit that Stoltenberg’s successor must be a Canadian. It is time for Canada, one of the founding nations of the NATO alliance, to be recognized for its longtime commitment and many contributions.

Tim Dunne is FrontLine’s Atlantic Canada correspondent. From 2000 to 2004 he was the Chief of Media Operations at NATO’s Southern European HQ in Naples, Italy.