Thursday, 30 March 2017


Canadian Defence Matters finds itself in receipt of the latest newsletter from Randall Garrison, Member of Parliament for Esquimalt - Saanich – Sooke, entitled “Spring 2017 Update”.

Under the heading The Role of NATO in Promoting Stability” he writes; “As defence critic for the NDP, monitoring and working with NATO is an important part of my job.

I believe that Canada needs to be a force for stability in this increasingly unstable international climate. This role is especially important for Canada and NATO as a counterweight to the erratic nature of the Trump administration’s policies.
In order to achieve stability, we must protect the commitment to the defense (sic) of all NATO allies.

Stability also requires action to deter proliferation of weapons and weapon systems. Nuclear proliferation poses grave threats to us all. Canada should not join the US ballistic missile program. We should also be working towards de-escalation of increasingly hazardous weapons and weapon systems like depleted uranium.

New Democrats believe that Canada needs to put forward adequate investments in National Defence, ensuring that we can meet our international obligations and that the Canadian Forces have the support, training and equipment they need.”

It is a short, seemingly innocuous, statement but one that raises a number of questions.

For many years NDP was a consistent critic of Canada’s involvement with NATO. In 1987 the NDP released a white paper on defence. Entitled Canadian Sovereignty, Security and Defence, it they confirmed the NDP's long standing intention to pull Canada out of NATO. Although that declaration has disappeared from NDP position papers in the intervening years this may be the first time that a member of the party has moved all the way towards favouring the multi-national military organization.

These revelations of an apparently new NDP policy lead inevitably to a search of the national party’s current position on defence which in turn leads to section 4.6 of the Policy of the New Democratic Party of Canada Effective April2016 which is found on their web site.

Section 4.6, entitled Defence and sovereignty starts off with the phrase “New Democrats believe in:” and then runs to some thirty points from “a” through to “z” and on to “dd”.

One of the reasons that the NDP needs thirty points to outline their defence policy is that at least twenty one of them deal with military and RCMP veteran’s benefits. Another would be that at least some of the points are simply repeated. It would seem that nobody on the committee that prepared these talking points, for that is what this list appears to be rather than a policy statement, even noticed that “responding to the concerns” and “call for public inquiry” is essentially the same thing.

It is equally possible that no one has ever penetrated as far as points “w” and “x” of Section 4.6 of the “Policy of the New Democratic Party” or at least not read far enough to notice the typos. Unless of course “atomic trials” and “atomic trails” really are two different things, in which case both ‘responding to concerns’ and calls for ‘public inquiries’ are really quite restrained responses.

This same paper, in point’s c, “Affirming that the primary purpose of the Canadian Forces is peace-keeping, defence and support during emergencies” and f “Prioritizing peace operations for each of our armed forces” would not seem to completely embrace NATO’s commitment to collective security through military strength. 

However, within the context of MP Garrison’s comments on the importance of NATO in light of “erratic nature of the Trump administration’s policies”, it is possible that the NDP’s new found enthusiasm for NATO is based on a doctrine of automatically opposing anything Donald Trump says. Given some of his musings on the efficacy of the organization the NDP may have simply decided that if President Trump is against NATO then, ipso facto, they must be for it.

The problem with using an anti-Trump stance as a rule of thumb is that given what the party itself refers to as the administrations “erratic nature” it is quite possible that after a night of binge viewing vintage CBC documentaries President Trump is quite capable of tweeting out “greatest politician of all time!! #TommyDouglas”.  Where would that leave the party?

It might be pedantic to comment, upon reading Garrison’s comments that “We should also be working towards de-escalation of increasingly hazardous weapons and weapon systems like depleted uranium.” that he probably means to say something like “weapons and weapons systems that use materials like depleted uranium" as there is no such thing as a depleted uranium weapons system.

One takeaway from the Spring 2017 update is the continued belief that Canada “should not join the US ballistic missile program”. This is certainly in accord with point ‘e’ of the policy paper “Standing against nuclear arms build-up and rejecting any ballistic missile defence program”. Unfortunately it is in stark contrast to NATO’s declared policy which is “Nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence alongside conventional and missile defence forces.”

The divide between “rejecting any missile defence program” and reality has always been a difficult one for its proponents to explain. Currently, because of Canada’s refusal to join the U.S. program through NORAD or any other mechanism, we have no way of being even consulted on, let alone having any control over, U.S. use of their anti-missile defences.

Even if there were some way for Canadian authorities to be appraised of U.S. intentions the reaction times involve minutes, sometimes seconds, and there would be little point in contacting Canada to tell them about battles taking place above Canadian territory that were already over.

For an anti anti-missile policy to be effective it would have to be made clear, ahead of time, that under no circumstances will we permit the U.S. to use its defences to even try to shoot down nuclear armed missiles aimed at Canada. Should a rogue state, such as North Korea, launch atomic weapons which threaten Canada then it will have to be clear in advance that parties such as the NDP would not countenance the use of American missiles in our defence.

I am sure that NDP and the majority of Canadians who oppose participation in the U.S. missile defence program would agree that it would be hypocritical to suggest that these dangerous U.S. weapons should be used in any circumstances. It is up to the NDP to articulate the concerns of these citizens and urge the Federal Government to clearly state that there are no circumstances imaginable in which we will permit ourselves not to be nuked if it means the use of these destabilizing and dangerous defensive weapons.

In fact, given the danger that the U.S. might be tempted try to shoot down incoming missiles over Canada without Canada’s permission it might be necessary to add another point to section 4.6 (that would be “ee”) which would urge that Canada immediately fund research and development of anti anti-missile missiles.

Perhaps, in his capacity as defence critic for the NDP, Randall Garrison, Member of Parliament for Esquimalt - Saanich – Sooke, could work towards such an amendment.

Randall Garrison, Member of Parliament for Esquimalt - Saanich - Sooke

Policy of the New Democratic Party of Canada Effective April 2016

NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy and forces