On Canadian Sovereignty. For a country with the longest coastline in the world and a relatively small population, a self-sufficient maritime defense is largely problematic. Despite the odds, the Canadian government announced a three ocean concept of maritime defense in its 1987 White Paper. The key to this defense was to be a Canadian nuclear attack submarine program. The program was small — ten to twelve submarines. However, as in air defense, Canada has a trump to get the attention and maybe the cooperation of the United States: sovereignty in the Arctic.
The Beginnings or a Canadian Defence Policy: The 1964 White Paper. Canada’s defense had always been subsumed in British defense, or North American defense, or NATO defense. In 1964 the Canadian government issued White Paper on Defence, an attempt to focus on Canadian defense needs. The 1964 White Paper set out to define “defence of Canada.” Notably, points in the 1964 White Paper’s definition of”defence of Canada” required a maritime strategy to support the Canadian defense establishment’s new role of sovereignty protection — e.g., surveillance of territorial waters and the ability to deal with incidents there. The Soviet submarine threat was still growing; by 1964 Soviet ballistic missile submarines could launch their missiles submerged. United States submarines were operating freely in the Arctic. The USS SEADRAGON had made the first submerged transit of the Northwest Passage in 1960; A Canadian observer was onboard.
Despite the growing Soviet submarine threat and Canada’s NATO commitments, the paper was not successful in establishing a need for a strong Canadian maritime presence. No Canadian strategy to counter the increased maritime threat appeared. By 1968 the Navy had shrunk to 28 warships, althougli four new helicopter destroyers for ASW were proposed. Of course, the maritime threat was submerged and therefore not publicly visible. Canada’s inability to control waters she claimed did not become visible until the voyage of the experimental tanker MANHA TI AN through the Northwest Passage.
The MANHATTAN Crisis. When the MANHATTAN set sail from Chester, Pennsylvania, on 24 August 1969, the passage had been completed by only eight surface vessels, the GJOA, the ST. ROCH, two Canadian and four American icebreakers. Completely submerged transits had been made by the United States nuclear attack submarines SEADRAGON and SKATE. The MANHATTAN was the first merchant ship to complete the Northwest Passage.
Humble Oil and lesser partners, British Petroleum and Atlantic Richfield, sponsored the tanker’s experimental voyage but sought governmental assistance. The Canadian government cooperated from the outset. The Canadian icebreaker JOHN A MACDONALD accompanied the MANHATTAN, although the United States government had not made an official request for an escort. The American icebreaker NORTHWIND also escorted the MANHATTAN, but the smaller American icebreaker was underpowered and fell behind. On the return trip the USCGC STATEN ISLAND joined the party, and the new CCGS L.S. ST. LAURENT, then the world’s biggest and newest icebreaker, interrupted sea trials to meet the party in the Prince of Wales Strait. Bad weather prevented scheduled, token participation by a Soviet icebreaker. The JOHN A MACDONALD was the workhorse of the party, several times breaking the tanker free from ice. Usually, though, even the JOHN A MACDONALD traveUed in the tanker’s wake, since at full speed the tanker could easily burst through ice that would have trapped the Canadian icebreaker.
The political fallout from the voyage was significant. The high level of public concern can be attributed not to a perceived violation of territorial sovereignty but to the less direct sovereignty erosion caused by American capital. Already American companies owned almost all of Canada’s producing natural resources. Now Americans were trying to open up the far North, the treasure house of mineral riches.
When MANHATTAN transited the Northwest Passage, Canada still recognized a three-mile territorial sea. Thus the passage could be navigated in international waters. In December 1970, however, Canada decided on a twelve-mile territorial sea. That meant some small islands in the Parry Channel could conceivably extend territorial waters across the channel. However, the territorial sea is generally measured from the larger land mass, not minuscule islands lying off the coast.
For a merchant ship, whether the Northwest Passage is territorial waters, an international strait, or high seas is a moot point, since the right of innocent passage applies. It is customary for warships to notify the affected country of their intent to cross territorial waters. To consider American icebreakers as warships would be to stretch the point, and in any event notification of transit is only a formality not required by international law. So, whether considered as territorial waters or high seas the voyage of the MANHA TI’ AN and her escorts did not violate international Jaw of the sea. From the Canadian perspective, however, the waters of the Arctic archipelago are not international and are not territorial – they are Canadian.
The MANHATTAN crisis spurred the Canadians to pass the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act of June 1970. This law proclaimed Canadian jurisdiction over pollution control out to 100 miles from land in the region above 60 degrees north. That allowed Canada to claim some legal jurisdiction over all vessels operating in the Arctic archipelago, and it particularly discouraged tanker transits. The only country to recognize Canadian jurisdiction over pollution control in the Arctic archipelago was the Soviet Union which had long maintained effective control over the Northeast Passage. The United States and some of the Western European countries openly disputed Canadian jurisdiction over Arctic waters. They wanted an international or regional solution to the problems of Arctic pollution and navigation.
The 1971 White Paper. In the 1971 White Paper Defence in the 70s the government of Pierre Trudeau stated that its first national concern was the:
“re-examination (of defense responsibilities) as a result of Government decisions to regulate the development of the North in a manner compatible with environmental preservation, and with legislation enacted to prevent pollution in the Arctic and Northern inland waters.” Evidently, Canada planned to defend the waters of the Arctic archipelago as inland waters.
The 1971 White Paper assigned the armed forces to defend the “sovereignty and independence” of Canada from “external challenges,” which were defined as “actions by foreign agencies or their nationals involving territorial violations or infringements of Canadian laws governing access to and activity within these areas.” The paper mentioned the potential of oil spills and challenges to Canadian control of resources on the seabed of the continental shelf. Apparently, “external challenges” was a euphemism for the United States.
The 1987 White Paper. Towards the end of the Trudeau government it became apparent that the maritime defenses of Canada had been seriously neglected. The Canadian Senate Sub-committee on National Defence, in its 1983 report Canada’s Maritime Defence concluded: “By running down its forces, as it did in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, Canada contributed not to raising but to lowering the nuclear threshold.” A Special Joint Committee on Canada’s International Relations in June of 1986 found “that there is a requirement for Canada’s maritime forces to be equipped to perform a seadenial role in waters over which Canada claims jurisdiction.” It was pointed out that MARCOM had not been given the tools to do the job despite “enormous additions to Canada’s maritime jurisdictional claims:” the twelve mile territorial sea (1970), the two hundred mile economic exclusion zone (1982), and continuing historical claims to sovereignty in the waters of the Arctic archipelago.
To arrest the decline of the Navy, the committee recommended a maritime defence policy that built up to “a balanced fleet within twelve years.” The proposed force included sixteen frigates (twelve new frigates plus four of the Tribal class) and twenty diesel-electric submarines.
The Conservative government of Brian Mulroney came to power in 1984 with the belief that it had a mandate to upgrade the Canadian Forces. The Mulroney government intended to issue a preliminary paper on defense shortly after coming to power but then decided to wait for the completion of air defense negotiations with the United States. Meanwhile, the government was able to stop the downward spiral of the Canadian Forces by getting real increases in defense spending of over 2 percent a year. However, without a review of defense commitments the money was spread thin through all areas and was barely enough to maintain the status quo.
The White Paper which bad been promised for 1986 was not issued until June 1987. By that time the only unanswered question was what was the government going to do about MARCOM. The frigate program had already been extended to a proposed twelve new frigates above the six already under contract. In May 1987 the government had put forth a tentative proposal for a nuclear submarine program, but it had not been approved by the cabinet. The Canadian Submarine Acquisition Program (CASAP) had been underway for some time and had already ruled out nuclear submarines. Although nuclear submarines bad been proposed in 1964, and considered again in 1983, they were rejected by CASAP as too expensive. Despite the initial cabinet resistance the government announced in the White Paper that it would acquire a force of ten to twelve nuclear powered attack submarines. The program was estimated to cost C$8 billion.
The Nuclear Submarine Decision. When the results of the CASAP review of conventional submarines were presented to Defence Minister Perrin Beatty in late 1986, he directed MARCOM to consider the nuclear option before the White Paper was published. Beatty apparently remembered th9t a review of Canada’s ability to construct, operate, and support nuclear submarines had been ordered in 1985 by his predecessor. That review was not concerned with a detailed analysis of costs and effectiveness. With information gleaned from the United States Navy, some information obtained from French and British parties vying to supply the submarines, and from its own review of Canadian capabilities, MARCOM was able to give Beatty what he concluded was a well-founded analysis favoring a Canadian nuclear submarine program.
The nuclear submarine proposal ran into opposition in the cabinet even before the White Paper’s release. However, C:idLLY :menceo some ot tne cnucs by pointing out that only nuclear submarines could patrol the Arctic. The United States would have to acknowledge Canadian effective control of the Northwest Passage and the rest of the waters of the Arctic archipelago when planning Arctic operations.
Nuclear attack submarines are one way that would make the three ocean concept announced in the White Paper work. The White Paper noted a lesson from the Falklands war: “‘Through their mere presence, nuclear submarines can deny an opponent the use of sea areas.” Prime Minister Mulroney went further to claim in an interview with Macleans that Soviet submarines were in the Canadian Arctic on a “regular basis.” Importantly, the White Paper’s three ocean concept would link Canada’s maritime interest to NATO security. Nuclear submarines could be used for surveillance and control in the Arctic and also to help keep open sea lanes to resupply Western Europe or to protect shipping in the northeast Pacific.
Talks with the United States on the issue of the Northwest Passage had begun shortly after the disputed transit of the USCGC POLAR SEA through Canadian claimed waters in 1985 and concluded on 11 January 1988 with an agreement to develop cooperative procedures to facilitate icebreaker navigation. Without recognizing any Canadian claim to jurisdiction over the waters of the Arctic archipelago, the United States would request permission for marine research and the transit of American icebreakers. Notably, the agreement did not apply to submarine operations in the Arctic.
A Change of Ministers. Prime Minister Mulroney’s government was re-elected on 21 November 1988. The elections were primarily a referendum on the free trade pact, but the submarine program was hanging in the balance, too. The White Paper had been under attack for over a year before the elections with the nuclear submarines as the primary target of the attacks. In January 1989 Douglas L. Bland, a defense analyst at the Centre for International Relations in Kingston, Ontario, pointed out several factors which could disrupt the consensus that held together the White Paper: a shift of senior government officials or Canadian Forces officers, a breakdown of the defense funding formula, or the departure of Beatty as Minister of Defence.
After the elections the government was faced by a fiscalcnsJS. Signals of a struggle within the cabinet tor control ot scarce resources began to appear immediately after the elections. At the end of January, Perrin Beatty, the Minister of National Defence and prime driver behind the nuclear submarine program, became the victim of a cabinet reshuffie which made him Minister of Health, and William McKnight, Minister of Defence. With Beatty removed from the Ministry of Defence the consensus that had held the White Paper together was gone. Both the 1964 and 1971 White Papers had fallen apart shortly after the minister had left office.
Minister of Finance, Michael Wilson, released his fifth budget on 27 April 1989. The previous day leaks of huge cuts in defense spending had been made to the press. Due to the tremendous secrecy that surrounds budget preparation in the parliamentary system, an uproar in the Commons ensued which called for Wilson’s resignation. The budget included direct program cuts of C$3.6 billion dollars over two years, one third of which came from defense. The biggest savings came from scrapping the proposed nuclear submarines.
Douglas Bland’s list of ingredients for failure of the White Paper became complete in the summer of 1989 with a shuffie of naval officers that replaced Admiral Charles Thomas with Admiral Robert George as chief of the Maritime Command. The only senior officer who knew the status of the SSN program, Rear Admiral John Anderson, has been removed as Nuclear Program Manager and sent back to operational programs in Ottawa.
Canada’s turnaround on the nuclear submarine program following the 1987 decision to abandon conventional submarine plans leaves Canadian maritime defense policy disjointed. Minister of Defence McKnight claimed that government defense policy will still be based on the 1987 White Paper. However, without a means to patrol Arctic waters the three ocean concept is hollow. For the foreseeable future McKnight has admitted that Canada will have to rely on its allies to patrol the Arctic.
Conclusion. The 1964 White Paper recognized the necessity of sovereignty protection as a function of defense policy and proposed that Canada should provide for as much of its own defense as possible. In that regard the paper proposed to buy two or three nuclear submarines for ASW. However, American ana unusn restncuons on access to nuclear propulsion technology made the proposal dependent on Canada’s development of an independent naval nuclear program, a prohibitively expensive proposition.
Canada’s lack of maritime capability in its own Arctic was invisible to the public eye as long as the challenger was a submarine. The MANHATIAN’s voyage in 1969 unmasked Canada’s inability to control the waters of the Arctic archipelago. In 1985 the United States icebreaker POLAR SEA transited the Northwest Passage without specific, official Canadian consent, although there was a Canadian government representative on board. The transit exposed Canada’s failure to establish effective control of Arctic waters that it claimed. The new Conservative government determined to take actions that would ensure Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic archipelago.
The strategic significance of access to the Arctic for submarines is readily apparent. The Arctic is where the globe narrows down like the hub of a wheel. A submarine entering the hub has access to any of the world’s oceans. Anyone who has ever worked in the E-ring of the Pentagon is familiar with the fact that it is usually quicker to walk into the inner ring of the Pentagon and back to the outer ring than to walk from one point to another in the outer ring. This focal nature of the Arctic is made more significant by the number of high value bases and early warning sites on its littoral.
What has survived from the 1987 White Paper is that Canadians need a defense policy that they can recognize as their own. The three ocean concept provides a Canadian perspective of maritime defense, but its implementation costs more than· Canada is willing to pay. The three ocean concept designed to complement Canada’s assertion of sovereignty over the Northwest Passage with NATO’s now-defunct maritime strategy could still act as leverage to put a Canadian voice in any multilateral Arctic maritime defense relationship that may develop. However, the potential now for Soviet or Russian participation in such a relationship adds more uncertainty for a Canada that plays only a minimal role in the security of the waters it claims as its own. Maritime defense proposals announced in September 1991 call for three new replacement submarines but offer nothing to provide a continuous Canadian defense capability in Arctic waters.