Notes for an address by former prime minister Brian Mulroney to the NATO Association of Canada on July 20, 2016:
I appreciate the honour you are giving me today and welcome the opportunity to share some views on the challenges facing NATO and on defence issues more specifically for Canada.
Predictions about the demise of NATO seem to sprout every Spring, like the tulips gifted to Canada by the Netherlands following the liberation of Holland by Canadian troops in 1945. That metaphor is vivid in many ways because it demonstrates poignantly the power and continuing relevance of the trans-Atlantic bridge and the significant role played by Canada and, of course, the U.S. in evicting the Nazi menace from Europe during World War II.
NATO was designed primarily to maintain stability in Europe following that war. The fact that the next NATO Summit will be held in Warsaw in July dramatically illustrates the change in the Institution since it began 67 years ago. It puts in sharp relief the most immediate challenge facing the organization.
In my view, there should be no difficulty answering the question “Does NATO have a future?” at that Summit. Nor about what Canada’s role in NATO should be.
Efforts to engage Russia as a security partner in Europe were dashed in the sands of Crimea and South Ossetia. The primary challenge now is how to thwart further expansion by Russia and to ensure that those NATO members that border Russia, especially Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, remain secure and firmly under NATO’s wing.
President Putin clearly wants to restore Russia’s great power status by forging, by force if necessary, a new Eurasian union dependent on Russia for its economy and security; adapting Lenin’s phrase of “pushing the knife in until it hits NATO bone”; and sharpening that knife with a 40% increase in military spending since 2013, far and above anything committed by the West.
Hostilities have broken out again in Eastern Ukraine and the Minsk Accord lies in tatters. Besides flexing its military muscle persistently in Syria to prop up Bashir al Assad, Russia is now sending warplanes and naval ships to patrol the seas around the Baltic states and elsewhere.
NATO is scrambling to counter the threat by stationing forces in the Baltic nations, – four battalions of 1,000 troops in each; 2 from the U.S., one from Britain and one from Germany. Canada is being invited to contribute troops in some way and, in my view, we should respond positively. NATO is also deploying an ABM system to Romania and eventually to Poland as well. The mood is decidedly brittle.
There is no way of knowing whether any of this will serve to check Mr. Putin’s ambitions or exacerbate tensions further but that will be at the core of deliberations when the Leaders meet in Warsaw.
He is relying on divisions within the alliance and most notably, on what he perceives as waning U.S. resolve.
Syria is a case in point. Unquestionably, Putin’s tactics and his commitments in support of Bashar al-Assad have been much more effective than the sporadic, inconclusive response of the U.S. led coalition. It has not only given Russia greater influence in the region but also what Putin craves most – global respect.
Addressing complex threats as in Iraq and Syria through the consensus-bound structures of NATO has seemed too difficult.
The real test will come at the end of this month when the economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its illegal seizure of Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine are due to expire. Some European allies are more keen to sustain these sanctions than others.
Nothing speaks more powerfully to the value of NATO than the indisputable fact that it has preserved peace in Europe for more than six decades since the end of World War II.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern and Central Europe in the early 1990s brought the fundamental purpose of NATO into question. Some even suggested it was time for NATO to call it a day.
But suspicions lingered, particularly among former Warsaw Pact members who wondered whether the Soviet Union had been permanently dismantled.
The focus of NATO shifted to expanded membership and “out of theatre operations” in Afghanistan and Libya. Expanding the membership of NATO to include many countries that were once part of the Warsaw Pact has been commendable in and of itself. But it has also proved to be a distraction at times, drawing the focus of NATO more to membership than mission and making the consensus decision-making structure more challenging.
To paraphrase Churchill, NATO may be the ‘worst kind of military alliance, except for all the others.’ Consider the alternatives. Efforts to develop a European Security and Defense policy have been persistently stymied by disagreements among the members.
“Coalitions of the Willing” have had spotty success in dealing with global conflict. They have the same problems as NATO in terms of uneven burden-sharing but few of the advantages, notably legitimacy, except when authorized by the U.N. as in the case of the first Gulf War.
The inconclusive engagement in Afghanistan and NATO’s reluctance to engage in Syria – the scene today of a catastrophic human tragedy – feeds fears about the alliance’s future.
The mood within the alliance is restless. Europeans are preoccupied with slow economic growth and the social upheaval spawned by the massive influx of refugees on the one hand and sporadic terrorist attacks in places like Paris and Brussels.
Even more ominous is Donald Trump’s declaration that NATO is “obsolete” and that the U.S. is no longer capable of carrying an unequal share of the Alliance’s expense to preserve peace in Europe. This, too, is a frequent American lament.
America is wary and frustrated in its role as the leader of the free world. Donald Trump simply put in neon lights what many Americans are thinking. The U.S. is carrying a vastly disproportionate share of western defence, notably in NATO. Other members, including Canada, are not doing nearly enough.
Even President Obama has complained openly about European “free riders” on Libya. NATO à la carte is not an option but nor is it an option for America to “lead from behind.”
This is the twin dilemma facing NATO today — inadequate commitments from Europe and Canada and an increasingly reluctant alliance leader.
Only four of the NATO’s European members (Britain, Estonia, France and Greece) come even close to meeting the 2006 commitment to spend at least 2 per cent on defence and only five have met the other commitment to spend 20 per cent on modern equipment. Canada is woefully behind on both.
Mr. Trump has, of course, said many worrisome things during his run for the Republican nomination but his musings about NATO should not be dismissed lightly. Without persistent and tangible U.S. leadership the alliance will wither and die.
NATO’s ability to adapt to profound changes in post-cold war Europe and to counter the spreading of extremist Islamic terror will, I suspect, determine whether it will continue as a vital security shield. The horrid massacre in Orlando underscores what has become the most pernicious threat to global stability.
I suspect as well that America’s attention on security will inevitably shift more to Asia and the long term threat from China. NATO will continue as the bulwark for security in Europe but not the exclusive priority for America. More will be expected from Europe, no matter who wins in November.
Václav Havel highlighted the importance of the values shared by NATO allies – freedom, democracy and the market economy that underpin the common cultural and civilization heritage of North America and Europe. Values that are under severe stress today – beset by nationalism, protectionism and even isolationism. There is also the real threat from more authoritarian models of government that are gaining favour and are seen to offer greater certainty and stability to their societies.
It is important to understand that concepts of freedom and liberty — the unique relationship between individuals and states — are ideals we who have experienced no other type of political system tend to take for granted. But, for someone like Havel and others in Central and Eastern Europe who were released from the yoke of Soviet imperialism and are experiencing political freedom for the first time, they have genuine meaning.
We need to remember Albert Einstein’s observation, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
That is the continuing raison d’etre for NATO.
It is also why I believe firmly that the values that unite us in NATO remain vivid and merit constant nurturing. But Canada cannot just be a spectator. That would not be consistent with our proud history in safe-guarding freedom and liberty in Europe.
We should never forget the substantial sacrifice Canadians made to ensure victory in World War II – the largest combined, national effort in our history. From a population of just eleven million, more than one million Canadians – mostly volunteers – served in uniform and two years before America joined the fight.
Canada fielded the fourth largest air force and the fifth largest naval fleet in the world.
Canadian service men and women from all parts of Canada and from all walks of life served with distinction. Their valour and their sacrifices paid dividends in the Battle of Britain, the Atlantic convoys, the invasion of Italy, the D-Day landings in Normandy and in the liberation of France, Belgium and Holland.
We fought for the noblest call of all — Freedom — and our contribution and our steadfast commitment to NATO since Day One gives us an impressive credential — a calling card of sorts — to offer views about NATO’s future. The cemeteries in Europe should leave little doubt on that point.
Despite this major sacrifice and action in Korea, Canadians today have a somewhat mythical obsession with the notion of peacekeeping and to the noble values enshrined in the United Nations Charter, as if that were the exclusive answer to security concerns. During my tenure as Prime Minister, Canadian military forces participated in all 16 United Nations peacekeeping operations. Canada, with only one half of one percent of the world’s population, provided more than 10% of all UN peacekeeping forces deployed throughout the world. More recently that number has declined to less than 0.1%. Perhaps because peacekeeping only works where there is a peace to keep.
In any event, as Anthony Banbury, a retired UN Assistant Secretary General wrote recently in the New York Times, the nostalgic image of the UN does not always conform with present-day reality.
More in sorrow than anger, Banbury dissected a litany of incompetence, malfeasance and gross misconduct ranging from peace-keeping fiascos in Mali and the Central African Republic, earthquake relief in Haiti and the Ebola Crisis. He lamented that “thanks to colossal mismanagement, the UN is failing.” Banbury urged UN reform across the Board.
When in office, I instructed our Ambassador to the U.N. to pre-pay our dues and obligations on January 1 each year to counter U.S. Government foot-dragging in this regard, led by Senator Jesse Helms, and to show Canada’s tangible support for the U.N. I would now suggest that, since Canada remains the 7th largest contributor of funds to the UN and its agencies, we should move beyond fuzzy sentiments and position ourselves in the vanguard of those seeking genuine reform at the UN.
A complete overhaul of personnel policies and practices, along with much tighter accountability, should be a top level priority.
A substantial reconstruction of the Security Council to counter the drift back into Cold War paralysis is also in order.
That being said, the dismal track record of the UN in recent years on peacekeeping and conflict resolution is not an excuse to walk away. It is a major reason why Canada should redouble our constructive efforts there. It is also why our commitments to NATO need to be rejuvenated. We also need NATO because the brief “holiday from history” that came after the end of the Cold War is truly over. Geopolitical rivalries have returned and the West faces major new threats.
Canada is indulging in yet another defence review, one intended presumably in part to camouflage the fact that defence-spending has fallen below 1 per cent of GDP, well short of the 2 per cent NATO pledge. This is not a criticism of the current government. They have been in office less than 8 months. Canada’s problem has been years — if not decades — in the making and there is a lot of blame to go around.
The simple reality is that, if Canada expects NATO to do more on global security, we must decide to do more for NATO. That should be a top defence priority. What we cannot do is talk about Canada “being back” in the world without making tangible commitments that will anchor our aspirations.
The Honorable Tyrus W. Cobb was a distinguished West Point officer who served as an influential Special Assistant to President Reagan, with national security responsibility for Canada.
A few years ago, Mr. Cobb, now retired and living in Nevada, wrote an op-ed piece in the Nevada Appeal, in which he mentioned a personal experience in the White House to illustrate a point: “When one gets his rear end chewed out by those he respects, it tends to make an indelible imprint.
I recall one time when President Ronald Reagan was very upset with a memorandum I had written. He had developed a very close relationship with Brian Mulroney, the new prime minister of Canada, also of Irish descent. Within the administration, we had all come to love Mulroney, but most felt that Canadian efforts in the defense area and in support for us on foreign issues was less than what we had hoped for. Thus, Secretaries Caspar Weinberger and George Schultz, as well as the national security adviser, agreed that the president needed to be somewhat more demanding in the upcoming summit meeting with Mulroney.
The day before the meeting, we gathered as usual in the Cabinet Room for the “pre-brief.” Normally the president would come in from the Oval Office carrying a jar of jellybeans and wearing a big smile. After a long delay, he came into the Cabinet Room with a big frown on his face and threw down his briefing paper. Looking directly at me, he said, “I want you to know that I don’t talk to Brian Mulroney this way.”
While I was mentally preparing for my anticipated move back to West Point, the president kicked off the meeting, turning to the defense secretary, by saying “Well, Cap, what have you got?”
Weinberger, looking at his somewhat hardline notes, thought for a minute, then said, “Well, Mr. President, the good news is that in terms of defense spending, Canada has just surged ahead of Luxembourg!” [We were actually much better than that!]
“That took the tension out of the room and the president laughed. Job saved, the summit went off well, and the world didn’t end.”
This is the type of private conversation that went on in the White House at the highest level, at a time when Canada’s contribution to NATO and the U.N. was significantly higher than it is today. Just imagine therefore what is being said in private about Canada’s defence efforts in the corridors of power in Washington and other major capitals these days? And, given our track record, who can blame them?
If we truly expect to rejuvenate NATO’s role and relevance, our deeds will need to match our words. We need forces that can engage in tasking by NATO and we need new, interoperable equipment for our troops to engage swiftly and effectively along with our allies.
Defence may indeed be the easiest target for budget cuts but we cannot expect to be influential in NATO or in the defence of our own continent if we persist at the puny level of less than 1 per cent. That represents approximately $20 billion this year, the sixth lowest of all our major allies. Canada’s contribution was approximately 2 per cent per year during my tenure. We were less bellicose than some succeeding governments and talked less harshly about some situations but obviously our contribution was more beneficial to our collective defence and international obligations than it was in later years.
When it comes to defence procurement, it would be an understatement to suggest that we need a complete overhaul. Too many programs have been delayed generating more and more expenditures with less results. The system for equipment selection and the decision-making process for procurement is gravely wasteful and inadequate and needs to be urgently revamped and streamlined.
For example, In 1993, my government announced the purchase of EH 101 helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings. The initial purchase price was $4.4 billion. The Chretien government cancelled this order later the same year and paid almost half a billion dollars in penalties. Then, they split the order in two, adding half billion dollars in extra expense. Twenty three years later the second half of the order has yet to be delivered and the cost for that half alone is already more than $7.6 billion.
Meanwhile, to keep the venerable Sea Kings flying, it takes 30 hours of maintenance for one hour of operation.
We need new fighter aircraft but most of all we need a decision on what we will buy to serve our strategic needs, not an “interim” purchase driven by political considerations that risks repeating the helicopter fiasco. To lead is to choose. To choose is to decide.
We need new ships, too, not more studies.
And surely, the lesson from the ongoing submarine saga is that when you buy cheaply, you get what you pay for.
I would simply suggest today that some serious consideration should be given to “piggy-backing” where possible with strong allies like Australia for major equipment purchases, e.g. for submarines and aircraft, so that we can benefit from complementary analyses and larger scale economies. We should also carefully examine the Australian system of de-politicizing defense procurement through an arm’s length system with an independent body.
Governments are elected to lead, not to embark on time-consuming policy reviews in search of answers.
If we do not know what we are trying to achieve in terms of defence policy or why, no amount of study will provide the answer.
A commitment to promote innovation in Canada’s industrial and technological sectors should also be at the forefront of defense procurement policy. It is no accident that countries that are global technological and innovation leaders, like Israel and Sweden, also have a strong, defence industrial base.
The parallel level of security for Canada is here on our own continent and I have three suggestions to share with you on this aspect:
1. NORAD is showing its age. The threat from Soviet bombers is no longer the major challenge to North American security – as the realignment of many functional responsibilities to the U.S.’ Northern Command aptly demonstrates. To guard against more contemporary threats, we need to give serious consideration to a joint role in the U.S.’ Anti-Ballistic Missile defence system that will protect us from countries like North Korea, which are investing heavily in developing a long range nuclear missile capability. It would also rejuvenate NORAD and our defence partnership with the United States.
We cannot subcontract our responsibility for national security to our southern neighbour no matter how secure we may believe ourselves to be relying exclusively on America for continental security. It is fundamentally a matter of self-respect. Canada needs to contribute more than rhetoric to a genuinely shared security partnership.
2. Secondly, we should make a concerted effort with the U.S. to bolster our common interests and common concerns about the Arctic territory we also share. There are new threats in this region and not just from Russia. There are also exciting new opportunities which we can harness together beyond the security realm. Taking the initiative on enhanced cooperation with the U.S. in this vital region would be a pragmatic example of self-interest based on common values. But the basic point is to find constructive, common ground on which to engage the Americans.
3. The same is true of cyber-security. What many see as the most serious new threat to global prosperity as well as to global security comes from the cyber realm. The Internet is the hidden wiring of the global economy and the Canadian economy. As McKinsey and Company pointed out recently, the Internet contributed US $6.3 trillion or eight percent of global GDP in both direct value and productivity as of 2014. But this reliance has created its own vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks from criminals and others who operate in the dark recesses of the Internet.
We need a more enlightened approach to intelligence sharing and we need to invest more to ensure that we can thwart cyber attacks that threaten not only the intellectual property that underpins our economy but also the critical infrastructure on which so much of our economy depends.
We also need a new kind of partnership between government and the private sector to strengthen the resilience of our institutions and critical infrastructure to cyber-attacks so that when are attacked we can bounce back quickly. With much of that critical infrastructure in private hands, we should not underestimate the challenges of developing such a partnership.
So my message to you is somber but sanguine. The Doomsday Clock has moved to three minutes to midnight – the highest alert since 1984 – with growing asymmetric threats and access to advanced technologies at the top of the list.
Institutions that have ensured a welcome degree of stability in global affairs are showing their age and many, like NATO, are due for rejuvenation and a more sharply defined sense of purpose.
Canada has the proper credentials to play a significant role in redefining the mission of NATO and safe-guarding our own security. But we cannot meet that objective by offering to hold the coats of those more willing to invest. We need to be equipped and ready, as necessary, to fight to preserve our values. If we expect to be taken seriously by our allies at the meeting in Warsaw, our commitment to security will need to offer more than the prospect of further study about what we aspire to do in the name of defence. The lessons of history are clear. Naiveté or isolationism never lead to peace.
They simply become invitations to the forces of darkness. Modesty in defence of global peace and stability is no virtue. Vigilance, commitment and burden sharing are essential to the defence of our fundamental freedoms and the core values of our democracy.