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NATO: Cutting Canada's commitment

Its goals were lofty and practical: to protect the free world and each other. Attacking one member of NATO meant you had attacked them all. At first, Canada played an important role as a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during the Cold War. But when the Communist threat died, some Canadians wondered why we were still part of the alliance. As NATO continues to redefine its mandate, Canada struggles to determine its own role.

Canada's new prime minister says nuclear warfare and Canada are simply not compatible. Pierre Trudeau is cutting Canada's military contribution in half. He is removing the RCAF from its nuclear strike role and by 1972 all Canadian troops will be back on native soil. Officially, NATO's response is one of disappointment, but rumours of anger circulate This CBC Radio report chronicles the details of and reaction to Trudeau's defence plan. 
• According to Tom Keating and Larry Pratt in their account Canada, NATO and the Bomb (1988), Trudeau's controversial decision reverberated in the international community. Germany questioned Canada's commitment to the alliance. Britain reportedly expressed concern that it would be asked to replace the extracted Canadians and British Defence Secretary Denis Healy said that Canada is "passing the buck to the rest of us."

• While Canada's NATO forces were indeed halved in 1969, Canadian troops in fact remained in Western Europe until 1994.
• Robert Stanfield's Conservatives called the 1969 cut in defence spending an ineffective compromise. The NDP supported Trudeau's plan but argued that it didn't go far enough. Once a supporter of the alliance, the NDP became increasingly disenchanted with the nuclear means with which NATO intended to fight.

• "The time has come, in my view, when Canada should use its resources in this way rather than wasting them on military commitments of doubtful value. The time, in my view, has come for a small country like Canada to join with other smaller countries in a relentless attack on the insanity of the nuclear terror and on the international military-industrial complex which feeds it. Both in foreign aid and in a political assault on the policies of the nuclear terror, Canada can become a leader, indeed a hero, among the struggling, frightened and frustrated smaller and middle nations of the world.  If we have the courage to cease to be a satellite, we may become free to speak out with clear and firm voice. And we may even be listened to, although no one can guarantee rational behaviour in this irrational world." - NDP deputy leader David Lewis, "NATO in the Balance", speech delivered March 27, 1969.
Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Sept. 19, 1969
Guest(s): Andrew Brewin, Léo Cadieux, Robert Stanfield
Host: John O'Leary
Reporter: Tom Earle
Duration: 4:40

Last updated: July 18, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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