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Friday, October 08, 2004

Bobbing around in the North Atlantic - Clauswitz and H.M.C.S. Chicoutimi

War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.
Karl von Clauswitz, On War, 1832

One couldn't blame the Canadian sailors bobbing around on a fast-corroding rust bucket submarine in the stormy North Atlantic, with no power and next-to-no radio contact, for wondering what Canadian military policy they were carrying out.

18 years ago the British discarded the Chicoutimi and three other diesel powered subs. The subs corroded in salt water for 12 years. For 12 years, the British searched around for a sucker to buy the subs. Even the Portuguese didn't take the hook. Then the Brits found Canada's over officered, desk-bound admirals and generals.

15 years ago then Deputy Defense Minister Robert Fowler replaced fighting admirals and generals with politicians and bureaucrats. And there are too many staff officers ( to see what ails our military click here). The submarine scandal has shown the military putty-heads up for what they are. On two occasions the staff admirals tried to, but couldn't, talk the Chretien government into buying the subs for $800 million. Finally, by reducing the price to $750,000 six years ago, the admirals got their way. The admirals soon discovered that the subs leaked and dents the size of basketballs ruined their hulls for deep dives. Crewmembers often plugged leaks with duct tape and sleeping bags. Canadian taxpayers paid and paid and paid for repair after repair after repair.

Last Saturday a Canadian crew took possession of the HMCS Chicoutimi in Scotland, headed out into the North Atlantic. Only three days out an electrical panel, corroded by salty air, shorted and started a fire close to Lieutenant Chris Saunders, Master Seaman Archie McMaster and Petty Officer Denis Lafleur. The fire spread, filled the sub with smoke. Unchecked the fire would have quickly destroyed Chicoutimi. Saunders, McMaster and Lafleur attacked the fire with extinguishers and blankets. They breathed in clouds of toxic smoke - smoke is what kills most fire victims. Chicoutimi's crew finally beat out and smothered the fire but Chicoutimi had lost its electrical power. Its radios had never worked properly - a 23 foot Zodiac which broke up in an Atlantic storm a few months ago had better shore contact. It took British helicopters two days to reach Chicoutimi. One of the helicopters flew Saunders, McMaster and Lafleur to Ireland. Saunders died in flight. An Irish hospital lists McMaster in "critical" condition; Lafleur in "serious" condition.

What military policy should Canada's sailors, soldiers and airmen be carrying out? The fact is that submarines cannot carry out any real policy at all. Canadian policy hasn't changed since 1970 when Pierre Trudeau told an American audience:

Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
Trudeau later explained to a Canadian audience:
The goals of this Liberal government have been stated many times, and are best described in terms of an ongoing process: To preserve our sovereignty and independence; to work for peace and security; to promote social justice; to enrich the quality of life; to maintain a harmonious natural environment; and to encourage a prosperous economy. The pursuit of these goals is not an end in itself; it develops and strengthens the fibre of the Canadian fabric; it contributes to national unity; it makes Canada a better place in which to live.
When Canada's policy is ignored Canadians suffer - witness Canada's limp-wristed response to the U.S. shutting its border to Canadian Beef and Canadian lumber - in both cases the U.S. has welched on its promises under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Get after them, stop supplying them with oil and gas." say beef and lumber producers.

Reply the striped-pant boys in Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, "Can't do it, they'll just invade us. They've got ten times our population and the most sophisticated army in the world."

Well, the Vietnamese and the Iraqis have done it. And the Americans will think twice before going into Vietnam or Iraq again. And, for 500 years, the Germans and the French and the Italians have not invaded Switzerland. It's too expensive. The Swiss believe that a powerful citizen army is the best way to preserve Switzerland's neutrality and keep neighboring countries from invading Swiss territory. (for details click here). The Swiss don't use accident-prone high-tech tanks or obsolete submarines - they train Swiss soldiers to fight as guerillas. No country has invaded Switzerland for 500 years. When the Swiss sit down to bargain on Swiss electricity or Swiss water, the Germans or the French know they can't invade Switzerland to seize them - and if the Germans and the French and the Italians ever think of playing dirty with Switzerland in international trade they risk the Swiss cutting off their electricity - invasion of Switzerland is too expensive a counter to that.

The admirals who talked the Chretien government into buying Britain's discarded submarines often claim the submarines will protect Canadian sovereignty. Get serious - citizen soldiers, not submarines are what we need. Then when we go to Washington about soft wood lumber or border closures, the Americans will know we carry a big stick.

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