Staples on Canada and NATO

staples22mar10Rideau Institute president Steven Staples discusses the future of NATO, interview published in the Globe and Mail, Monday, March 22, 2010, p. A4 (no online version):

Leaving Afghanistan is the right move for Canada, says the president of the Rideau Institute, as he envisions what NATO’s future should be

On Thursday in Ottawa, two of Canada’s leading defence lobby groups, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, will unveil their vision of NATO’s future and Canada’s role in it. [The report is briefly discussed near the end of this blog post.]

Steven Staples is president of the Rideau Institute, an independent defence and foreign policy research and advocacy group based in Ottawa. He is author of Missile Defence: Round One and co-editor of Afghanistan and Canada: Is there an Alternative to War?

Q. NATO, the Cold War military alliance that successfully confronted the Soviet threat in Europe for decades, is reinventing itself again, calling for a new 2010 NATO strategic concept. Is there a place for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the 21st century or is it a relic that needs to be retired or replaced?

A. NATO made several mistakes as it struggled to find a new mission with the end of the Cold War. The alliance does not have a global mandate and is ill- suited for one. NATO should restrict its role to the mission, the defence of its members’ territory. Given that Europe and North America face very little military threat now, or for the foreseeable future, NATO should be put on “cold standby,” shutting down its operational military headquarters and command arrangements and using the alliance primarily as a consultation forum.

Q. Nuclear weapons, coupled with a doctrine of first-use and flexible response, were central to NATO’s strategy during the Cold War. If NATO is to be transformed, or replaced with another successor democratic military alliance, should nuclear weapons be retained in the arsenal?

A. Even in the U.S., many former military leaders and statesmen have concluded that nuclear weapons create greater insecurity and are calling for them ultimately to be abolished. President Barack Obama has called for a world free of nuclear weapons, has scaled back former president George W. Bush’s destabilizing missile shield plans, and has engaged Russia in renewed disarmament talks. And at least five European NATO members have called for the withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from bases in Europe.

NATO doctrine should abandon the claim that nuclear weapons are “essential” to alliance security and all NATO members should pledge to work for their further reduction and elimination.

Q. Canada has fought two hot conflicts now under NATO auspices. The first in Kosovo in 1999 crushed the Serb military. The second, in Afghanistan, is now longer than any previous war involving Canadians.

If Canada was right to fight alongside the U.S. and other NATO allies in Afghanistan, is it justified to leave before the war is won or lost?

A. In an effort to prove its relevance in the post-Cold War world, NATO has focused its attention on out-of-area operations such as Afghanistan. Instead of strengthening the alliance, the war has weakened it, creating tensions among its members, as some accuse others of not contributing enough troops to fight the now-failing mission, while others point a finger at the U.S.’s ill- considered decision to invade Iraq.

The Canadian military leadership and the Conservative government have contributed to the discord, demanding NATO reinforcements after finding themselves caught in a quagmire in Kandahar after 2006.

Canada is right to end its military mission in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has no military solution. It is not a question of abandoning allies – Canada has sacrificed far more than most of its allies – it is a question of applying our efforts where they can do the most good.

NATO was intended to fight a mechanized war in Europe between nations.

The lesson of Afghanistan is that modern, complex conflicts require political solutions, not just military ones. This is better suited for the United Nations, which, while not perfect, has greater legitimacy than NATO. This is where Canada should refocus its efforts.

Q. The United States has always dominated NATO, while Canada’s role has become smaller since the standoff in Europe ended decades ago. Yet Canada and the U.S. also have separate bilateral military pacts, notably NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) for continental defence.

Would it hurt Canada to opt out of NATO and/or its successor and maintain military alliances bilaterally with the U.S.?

A. Our military co-operation agreements with the U.S. to monitor and control continental airspace and sea approaches could be said to be a fact of life of sharing North America with the United States.

But we must guard against that co-operation slipping into an integration of our defence forces. Canada’s decision to stay out of the Bush administration’s ballistic missile defence system exercised our sovereignty and independence, while not harming the ability of NORAD to fulfill its role.

Canada-U.S. defence co-operation does not provide for overseas military intervention outside the NATO structure, and it would be a big mistake for Canada to make such arrangements with the United States. Canadian military operations outside of North America should be focused on those conducted under UN auspices.

Tags: Afghanistan, Defence policy, NATO, NATO Strategic Concept, NORAD, Nuclear weapons, Steven Staples, United Nations