Published in the Globe and Mail, March 31, 2003, page A15.


Who says we're not at war?

By Richard Sanders


Isn't it amazing how Canada can contribute so much to a war without being involved?


Last week, in the midst of his rebuke for our "non-involvement," U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci admitted: "Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us." In fact, Canada's military contribution puts us right after Britain and Australia in the "coalition of the willing." In some important ways we contribute more than Australia.


Yet the lie that Canada isn't involved has spread like wildfire through Canada and the United States (at least, as much as any information about Canada can permeate American consciousness). It is yet another example of a successful campaign conducted by the Canadian government to promote the myth of Canada as a world-class peacemaker. Behind the scenes, Ottawa is doing all it can to aid and abet the war.


Providing war planners: For months, Canadian military planners have been working with U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), which is masterminding the Iraq war. USCENTCOM used to be located at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. On Feb. 11, Canada disclosed that it had transferred 25 military planners from MacDill to the U.S. military's forward command post in Qatar in the Persian Gulf -- the new command-and-control headquarters. The role they play is far more significant than having a few soldiers fighting on the ground; Canadians have helped to determine the war's strategy and are now helping to run it, from the inside -- unlike many members of the "coalition of the willing."


Naval protection: Canada is part of a multinational naval task force in the Persian Gulf -- about 1,300 personnel on three frigates. Our ships, as well as a multinational fleet of about a dozen other warships, are under the command of Canada's Commodore Roger Girouard, who reports to U.S. Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating. The fleet protects U.S. aircraft carriers, which serve as "platforms" for the air war against Iraq. We're there as part of Operation Apollo, in terms of our contribution to the war in Afghanistan, but Vice-Admiral Keating is the top naval officer in the war on terrorism, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, and the head of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is very much at war with Iraq.


Exchange troops: There are the 31 "exchange troops" -- Canadians on loan to British and U.S. forces. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has denied that any are engaged in fighting on the ground in Iraq. But newspaper reporters, including The Globe and Mail's Daniel Leblanc, say that at least six Canadians are in battle zones. And one Canadian is with the British 7th Armoured Brigade, which has engaged in heavy fighting near Basra.


AWACS: Canadian Forces members are also part of crews on Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. These state-of-the-art aircraft are the nerve centres that guide fighter jets and bombers so that they can deliver their payloads. Mr. Chrétien explains this away with a statement that the Canadians on AWACS oversee flights bound for various destinations: "They are covering many countries in their surveillance, not only one," the PM says.


Troops in Afghanistan: By contributing between 1,000 and 2,000 troops to Afghanistan, Canada has freed up key U.S. logistical and military assets, which can be redeployed to Iraq.


Equipment: The United States is Canada's biggest military customer; Canadian military production is thoroughly integrated into the U.S. military machine, and last year we sold them $247-million worth of military goods. Many major components, such as aircraft engines for warplanes, are made in Canada. Although Canada claims to have one of the world's strictest sets of guidelines to stop the export of our military goods, none are set on military exports to the United States and no Canadian government permits are required.


Air space: The use of Canadian air space by U.S. warplanes may not seem significant -- but it is one form of support that Washington has specifically requested from other countries if they wish to be counted among the "coalition of the willing." U.S. aircraft carrying troops bound for Iraq regularly stop to refuel and change crews in Newfoundland. "We've been getting two or three flights a day, with probably 1,000 troops coming through each day," Gary Vey, chief executive officer of the Gander Airport Authority, told the Ottawa Citizen.


So how long can Ottawa get away with saying that Canada is not involved in this war?


The misrepresentation has been easy to perpetuate, because it feeds into the long-standing, widely held image the world has of Canada as peacemaker. This image is rooted deeply in our own self-image, too -- so much so that although we take a leading role in the international weapons trade, and in supporting the Americans, we even seem to be fooling ourselves.


Richard Sanders is the editor of Press for Conversion! magazine, and a member of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT).





* Note: Globe and Mail editors added this phrase to the above article: "last year we [Canada] sold them [the US] $247-million worth of military goods."  This is a gross underestimate of the actual amount of military goods exported annually to the US.  For example, we know that between 2005 and 2009, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries consistently reported that Canada's military/"security" exports totalled about $5 billion per year, and that the US accounted for 80% of those exports.  The author tried to get the Globe and Mail to print a correction, but to no avail.