June 2016 saw former British prime minister David Cameron launch the now infamous Brexit referendum about membership in the European Union. Subsequently, amid questions about his wisdom, his political acuity, and even his usefulness as a politician, he resigned as prime minister – leaving the clean up of what some describe as the worst political disaster for post-war Britain to his successor, Theresa May.
|NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg|
On December 29, London’s daily newspaper, The Telegraph, floated a novel idea as a reward for Cameron’s dubious achievement: appoint him NATO’s Secretary General. Perhaps it was their wish to exile Cameron to Brussels for a few years while Britain re-establishes itself.
The Telegraph is correct in one regard: it is time for a dramatic change in who sits at the top of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – but, it should not be David Cameron, nor should it be any other Brit, or Italian, German, or any representative coming from a European ally.
The politico-military alliance, originally envisaged by the United States, Britain and Canada in 1947, has grown into today’s soon-to-be 29-nation defence bloc.
Looking at the birth of the alliance, we see that Canada had emerged from the Second World War economically and militarily strong and, with the United States, shouldered much of Western Europe’s defence burden as it recovered from wartime devastation. The U.S. Marshall Plan provided billions of dollars for European economic recovery, and Canada operated a Mutual Aid Program for Europe (such as giving Great Britain top-of-the-line Canadian F-86 Sabre jet fighters).
In those early years, Canada deployed a well-equipped army brigade group and an air division, eventually to total 240 aircraft. During the later phases of the Korean conflict, the RCAF was flying more advanced fighters in the European theatre than even the U.S. Air Force, and was responsible for the biggest contribution to the expansion of West European air defence.
By 1953, Canada was allocating more than 8% of its GDP to defence spending – a massive increase from 1947’s 1.4%.
Canada eventually cut back a significant portion of its contributions to West European defence for two reasons:
The massive expenses to sustain a robust military contribution on the European continent as we undertook shared responsibilities for North American air defence with the U.S. were too costly;
Canada believed it was time for Western European countries to do more for their own defence. Europe and its defence requirements were depriving Canada of its ability to focus limited resources on parts of the world where need was even greater and the entitlement more justified.
In the end, Canada withdrew its forces from Germany in 1993, saving some $1 billion annually. However, continued to deploy forces to massive NATO exercises in Germany and Norway, and maintained an active engagement in the Alliance. Canadian troops were involved in NATO-led operations in the Balkans when NATO accepted responsibility for peacekeeping operations from the United Nations (1996-2004), the Kosovo air campaign (1999), Afghanistan (2003-2014), and Libya (2011).
The Royal Canadian Navy has deployed ships with NATO’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic since its inauguration in 1968, and with its successor, Standing NATO Maritime Group One, since its establishment in January 2005.
Operation Unified Protector
More recently, on assignment to NATO’s southern European headquarters in Naples, Italy, LGen Charles Bouchard was appointed commander of the alliance’s Operation Unified Protector (March 2011 to October 2011). This operation established and enforced a no-fly zone over Libya in response to United Nations Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 concerning the Libyan Civil War.
As Russia began to cut away parts of Ukraine, beginning with Crimea in late 2013 and spreading to the Donetsk region, Canada deployed seven CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft; three transport aircraft configured as tankers to conduct in-flight refueling: two CC-150 Polaris tankers; a CC-130J Hercules airlifter from 436 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, and two CP-140 Aurora aircraft.
By mid-May 2014, Canada had deployed a platoon-sized Land Task Force to Eastern and Central Europe; HMCS Regina to the Mediterranean Sea; and the RCAF had established Air Task Force (ATF) Romania, consisting of six CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft and 200 personnel to provide training to the Romanian Air Force in of air defence, air superiority, aerospace testing and evaluation, and tactical support. The ATF moved to Šiauliai, Lithuania, with four CF-188 aircraft and 135 personnel to provide enhanced air protection to Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian allies. Canada’s air mission in the Baltics ended on December 31, 2014.
On 11 January 2017, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) St. John’s joined Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various Allied countries. St. John’s worked and trained in the Black Sea with vessels from several allied and partner nations, including participating in a four-day multi-nation NATO exercise led by the Romanian navy, before returning to regular SNMG 2 responsibilities on 20 February 2017.
Beginning in August 2015, Canada launched Operation Unifier, a two-year army training operation in which 185 Canadian troops deployed to Ukraine. During the initial two-year mandate, the Canadians taught essential military skills to soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The training is conducted under the Multinational Joint Commission, comprising Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Canada joined the MJC in January 2015, and co-chairs the Sub-Committee on Military Policing with Ukraine.
On 6 March 2017, the Canadian government announced that Operation Unifier was extended until the end of March 2019.
Canada is one of only two non-European nations to be a consistent contributor to European security with little return for our investment.
In the 68 years since NATO’s establishment, there have been 12 secretaries general. Denmark, Germany, Italy and Norway held the position once each, Belgium twice, and the Netherlands and United Kingdom three times each.
The current Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway, began his four-year term in October 2014. In a process that involves informal diplomatic channels, members of the alliance choose the next Secretary General through a consensus, or they may decide to extend the term. The last two Secretaries General each served for more than five years.
Despite Canada’s leadership role in the establishment of the Alliance and our continuing (and expensive) involvement in, and leadership of, NATO operations, a Canadian has yet to occupy that office. We are past due.