Editorial

The dilemma of our defense policy

March 28 1959
Editorial

The dilemma of our defense policy

March 28 1959

The dilemma of our defense policy

Editorial

BEFORE IT DECIDES what weapon, if any, shall replace the Arrow, the government must face a decision of much deeper gravity.

The big question in our defense policy has very little to do with the choice of weapons. It is only of secondary importance whether the Arrow is obsolete, whether the DEWline is obsolete, whether our NATO air squadrons and ground battalions are obsolete. It is of comparatively small consequence whether we decide that BOMARC and SAGE, which we haven’t yet got, are already obsolete too.

We have a much tougher question before us than any of these.

Is Canada itself obsolete as a military nation?

We believe the answer is yes. It is an admission that fills us with the deepest dismay and apprehension. Yet we can see no reason for postponing it. Within the simple, predictable strategic patterns of 1914-18 and again of 1939-45 it w'as possible for a nation of relatively small size and wealth to build, arm and man a war machine of impressive strength. But the conditions that allowed Canada to rank as an autonomous and important military force during almost half a century began to disappear with the atomic bomb. With the ICBM the disappearance became complete. In the military sense the world has ceased to consist of Big Powers, Middle Pow'ers and Small Powers. It consists only of Pow'ers and non-Powers. To be a Pow'er it is necessary to possess and control nuclear warheads and long-range missiles capable of landing them almost anywhere on earth. Canada possesses and controls neither. We are a non-Power and we would still be a non-Power if we owned a thousand Arrows and were about to own ten thousand Bomarcs. We might well quadruple our defense forces and our rate of defense spending in the next five years, and if a world war should come in that time it — and perhaps the world as well — could very easily be over before a single Canadian fired a single shot. We must do what we can to prevent the war and there may be much that we can do; but once the war begins we cannot count on having any more influence on its outcome than the State of Monaco.

There are a number of ways in which our country might strive to change or live w'ith these unhappy truths. Three obvious ones occur at once:

1. Continue to follow the fundamental lines of our postwar defense policy: i.e. accept our status as a military satellite of the United States but pretend we don’t notice it. Buy or build BOMARCS, SAGE installations or anything else the United States is willing to let us have. This would show the rest of the world that we recognize our responsibilities and it would remind our immediate neighbors that we have no intention of deserting them. In short, it would accomplish exactly what the DEWline and Arrow programs accomplished — no less, no more.

2. Try to raise ourselves to the status of a Power by building our own nuclear warheads and long-range missiles. We would then possess our own deterrent and the means to decide for ourselves how it should be used. This, Maclean’s believes, would have strong theoretical advantages over the existing policy, but only theoretical ones.

3. Make an open announcement that Canada has discovered itself to be obsolete as a military nation, and intends therefore to strive for peace mainly as an economic and political nation. Honor our existing military commitments until they run out, but make it clear that our ultimate establishment will consist only of modest, modestly armed mobile units available for United Nations police duty. And commit ourselves firmly to spend every last dollar thus pared from our defense budget in aid to less favored countries.

This, we know, is a variation of the easy pacifism that has so often been discredited in the past. But today there are important differences. Economic aid has been proved to be a far more useful—and a far less expensive—weapon in the struggle for men’s minds than anyone realized even so recently as a decade ago. The need of some check on armament is clearly visible to the Pentagon and to the Kremlin alike as the only alternative to race suicide. In spite of its past failures, disarmament remains our last and only ultimate hope of survival. What country is in a better position to set an example in disarmament than Canada, which after trying to arm for ten years on the most costly scale in its history is still, for all practical purposes, as defenseless as the Canada of 1913 or the Canada of 1938.