The Hamilton Spectator

We don’t need nuclear subs


In the midst of a worsening affordabil­ity crisis and the climate emergency that’s driving it, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently believes the clear and present danger to Canadians’ lives is the possibilit­y of enemy submarines operating in the High Arctic.

While I recognize Trudeau’s recent noncommitt­al musings about acquiring nuclear submarines are intended to make him seem tough on defence, it concerns me anyone might genuinely think this is a good idea.

To begin with, nuclear submarines are not defensive weapons. They are the literal definition of an offensive weapon: as they are nuclear-powered, they don’t have to resurface or refuel for extended periods of time, allowing them to lay in wait to attack.

During the Cold War — when the threat from Soviet submarines was its greatest — Canada didn’t buy nuclear subs to counter them. The reason was simple: submarines are not a deterrent in and of themselves and they’re neither an effective nor efficient way of fighting other subs. Canada opted instead for destroyers and aircraft specifical­ly designed to hunt and destroy submarines, a far better use of our resources. Throughout the Cold War, Canada led NATO in anti-submarine warfare technology and tactics. Unless we want to initiate a surprise attack against a foreign nation, we have no need for nuclear submarines.

These matters notwithsta­nding, the bigger issue is that buying more offensive weapons isn’t going to make the world a safer place. Instead, it will provoke an arms race, which is exactly what happened after the Americans deployed the first atomic weapons. Having more nuclear weapons hasn’t made the world any safer. Similarly, buying nuclear subs to “protect” the Arctic isn’t going to cool tensions with Russia.

Even just talking about acquiring nuclear submarines is needlessly provocativ­e, and, I dare say it, a sign of Trudeau’s immaturity on the foreign affairs file. This isn’t making us look strong, it’s making us look foolish. Are Canada’s strategic goals defined by Canadian values and desires or the military industrial complex’s desire to increase shareholde­r value?

The last time a suggestion for nuclear subs was seriously floated was back in the 1987 defence white paper “Challenge and Commitment,” ironically subtitled “A Defence Policy for Canada.”

The document argued almost exclusivel­y in favour of expanding the military to meet internatio­nal obligation­s, particular­ly NATO and Norad.

The paper’s purpose fell apart with the literal tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Were we to develop a defence policy intended to defend from real (not imagined) threats, we wouldn’t risk wasting money on nuclear submarines. The likelihood of Russia or China starting a conflict with Canada, the U.S., and/or NATO is extremely unlikely because the end result is mutually assured destructio­n and an inhospitab­le planet.

It won’t matter if we have nuclear subs if leaders in Moscow, Beijing or Washington have a death wish. What’s most likely to kill Canadians and ruin the economy in the coming decades? Climate change.

A “Canada First” defence policy with this in mind should therefore prioritize water bombers to fight forest fires and engineerin­g equipment to protect against flooding. And if we want to defend the Arctic, keeping it frozen is the best defence against incursions: it has been our great northern shield.

Rather than buying nuclear submarines, we’d be much wiser to spend that money decarboniz­ing our grid and phasing out the hydrocarbo­ns whose continued use is literally melting the Arctic ice that protected us for so long.

I like 1980s nostalgia as much as the next gen-Xer, but someone needs to tell Trudeau “The Hunt for Red October” isn’t a franchise in need of a realworld reboot.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada