Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Price of Sovereignty

The Globe and Mail defends the Canadian decision to move forward on buying 65 F-35s, which will be one of the largest (NOTE: This is a correction, I originally wrote that it was the largest) Canadian defense purchase ever:

Fighter jets do not come cheap. On Friday, Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay announced that Canada plans to spend $9-billion on 65 Joint Strike Fighter F-35s to replace our current fleet of aging CF-18s. Add in maintenance costs, and the total sum will likely rise to $16-billion. And yet we must remember that sovereignty does not come cheap either.

With the world's second-largest land mass and longest coast line – much of it forbiddingly remote – Canada is a very difficult country to patrol, whether by land, sea or air. It is therefore vital that our Armed Forces be given the most modern means available to protect our territory. When the CF-18 was originally selected in 1980, it represented the cutting edge of fighter jet technology. It makes sense to replace it with equivalent 21st-century capabilities.

Canadian critics who blast the purchase as just creating the ability to fight alongside America in our wars are living in the past. Sure, during the Cold War, Canada was part of the alliance rear area. To fight, Canada had to deploy aircraft and troops to West Germany to fight. Ships and planes would also help defend the sea line of communication between Europe and North America, but Canada would be safely in the rear for the most part, as long as a war did not escalate to nuclear exchanges.
One, I don't see how it is bad to fight alongside America in wars that we share interests in winning. It is distressing that so many Canadians think they have no interest in defeating jihadis. I never held it against Canada that they did not help us in Iraq. They are sovereign and had the right to check out of that war even though I think it was as much a shared interest to win there as in Afghanistan. But Canada has enough alliance credit in my mind to let it go, thank them for what help they give us and be grateful for past help. I'm sure we'll get more help in the future, even if the Canadians check out of the Afghan campaign early.
The second reason Canadian critics are wrong is that this is not about fighting alongside America. That mention in the editorial of forbiddenly remote borders clearly refers to the Arctic frontier. The Arctic is the new frontline for Canada and Russia has already probed that line.
Nor does Canada have the option of assuming America will defend them. We have very different views about what Canada owns up north. Sure, we would defend Canada if attacked, but short of that will we really defend Canada's interpretaton of international law over what is international waters and what is national territory? Not even the Obama administration will be that helpful--unless Canada threatens to go nuclear and threatens us, of course.
It is comforting for critics of the F-35 purchase to think that wars are always far away, always nothing to do with Canadian interests, and always the responsibility of America. They are wrong. Canada itself is under threat, not only from terrorists who'd behead and blow up stuff, but from old fashioned territorial integrity threats.