It is arguably the most important issue facing Canada, but it was notdiscussed 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 UNpeacekeeping force into a U.S. war-fighting force.
The Canadian government has been rapidly building up the military andforging new Canada-U.S. agreements to help fight the U.S.-led war onterrorism and build a virtual Fortress North America.
Pressure to fall in line behind U.S. military and security prioritiesincreased dramatically after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.Shortly after that, President Bush declared, “Either you are with us, or youare with the terrorists.” Analysts in our Department of National Defenceconcluded that “Traditional U.S. allies will find that calls for military,diplomatic and other support from Washington will be regarded as a test oftheir loyalty.”
As an expression of that loyalty, the Canadian military's goal is to achievecomplete “interoperability” between the Canadian and American forces, sothat on land, at sea, and in the air, Canada's forces can easily integratewith U.S. forces for all missions, be they exercises, patrols or heavycombat.
Already, Canadian frigates regularly deploy with U.S. carrier battlegroups — small armadas of warships and submarines led by a U.S.nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Canadian warplanes are being fitted withsmart bombs to better join “shock and awe” bombing campaigns, and thebillion-dollar leaky submarines are needed because “the Americans like us tohave them,” as the Defence Minister once admitted.
But keeping up to the U.S. is so expensive, substantial increases inmilitary spending are required to fuel military integration. The Liberalsand NDP agreed that defence should receive an extra $12.8 billion over fiveyears in Budget 2005, the largest increase in a generation. Canadian defencespending will soon reach $20 billion, its highest level since the SecondWorld 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 recentlyexpressed concern about the “warlike” nature of Canada's upcomingredeployment of troops to Afghanistan, and called for a public debate.
Afghanistan will be the proving ground for Canada-U.S. military integration.Our secret commandos are conducting combat operations with U.S. SpecialForces 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 than2,000 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 — 16 timesthe budget of Environment Canada. Last year's trumpeted new $5 billion childcare program was less than half of the increase the government gave to themilitary. Two thousand new family doctors could have been attracted toCanada for the cost of just one of the 28 new helicopters Canadapurchased.
UN peacekeeping has been virtually abandoned. With so many troops committedto the U.S. war on terrorism, Canada has dropped to 36th place ascontributor of troops to UN-led peacekeeping missions. Only a few hundredsoldiers wear Blue Helmets today.
The move to more aggressive combat missions to support U.S. militaryobjectives will also cost Canadian lives. Eight soldiers have been killed inAfghanistan since 2001, and most recently a diplomat died in an Iraq-stylesuicide car bomb attack. The Taliban has said that they will not distinguishbetween Canadian troops and their U.S. counterparts, viewing them equally asenemies.
Even more worrisome, will our role increase the likelihood of a terroristattack in Canada? Of course it will. The more closely we wage war with theUnited States, the more their enemies will become our enemies.
Canadians strongly opposed joining the invasion of Iraq and the missileshield. The government cannot keep the steady transformation of the CanadianForces from a UN Peacekeeper to a U.S. war fighter secret from the Canadianpublic any longer. There is no issue more fundamental to a democracy thanwhether a nation should or should not go to war. We may have missed theopportunity in this election, but it is never too late to engage Canadiansin such an important debate.
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