114. Memorandum For the Record Prepared by the Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Wickham)1


  • Highlights of Discussions Between Secretary Schlesinger and Canadian Officials During Visit to Ottawa, 15–16 September

1. During 15–16 September, Secretary Schlesinger visited Ottawa for the purpose of discussing with Canadian officials the issues of mutual defense interest to include the ongoing Canadian Defense Review, the level of Canadian defense spending, the Canadian commitment to NATO, and the Canadian commitment to North American defense. The Secretary had extensive discussions with MOD Richardson, his staff principals, key members of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. Highlights of these discussions are covered in the following paragraphs.

2. Discussion with MOD Richardson and Key Members of the House of Commons

a. MOD Richardson indicated that Canada wanted to maintain its NATO commitment in terms of what Canada determined to be the best and most appropriate role. He said that Canada wants to make a commitment to deterrence but that the current Review would seek to determine what weight should be placed on such functional areas as the land force commitment to NATO, ASW, and North American air defense.

b. JRS pointed out the importance of Canada’s commitment to NATO. He said that the line for freedom is on the Elbe and that withdrawal from that area could lead to incalculable consequences for the West as we know it today. The military balance which exists between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces is an essential element in the world[Page 418]wide equilibrium of forces. However, Soviets continue to build forces and to increase defense spending, while the defense spending trend of NATO countries continues to be down. Therefore, we must resist efforts to reduce defense spending and to reduce the conventional component which is where the problem lies in the military balance in Europe. The Soviet buildup in strategic forces means that NATO cannot rely solely on the threat of a nuclear deterrent but must increase conventional capabilities. While it is true that the US provides the adhesive for the Alliance, any reduction by Canada in its NATO commitment would have a far-reaching psychological effect—greater than any military effect. Because the Canadians are considering elimination of their armor component in NATO, JRS pointed out the significance of the tank to the military balance. He said that an effective ground defense is the greatest weakness of Central Europe. We must have the capability for such a defense and, therefore, the ground component must have the highest priority for Canada. He concluded by noting the paradox by which Europeans find themselves reducing their own defense expenditures but at the same time not wanting the FRG to become the dominant military power. JRS also underscored the importance of Canadian ASW capability because of Canada’s dependence on the SLOC. Our concern for ASW is far greater than 20 years ago. On the subject of North American air defense, JRS said that the whole concept is undergoing change. Canada’s commitment in this area should be of a lower priority than ASW and the ground commitment to NATO.

c. In response to a question about differences in judgment as to the nature of the threat in NATO, JRS pointed out that the Canadian defense effort was very thin. Two percent of the GNP is decidedly inferior for a country of Canada’s capacity. One can always find reasons for doing less. Canada had reduced its military personnel to the lowest percentage in the Alliance and its equipment needs replacement.

d. In response to a question as to marginal significance of Canadian armor improvement, JRS reiterated that the greatest weakness in NATO is with ground forces. NATO has the edge in tactical air and therefore any improvement in that area would be marginal. Canada should maintain and improve its armor capability rather than substitute a tactical air capability. He said that the most cost effective effort for Canada would be to upgrade its tank force in NATO. It would make a far greater impact on Europeans than anything else Canada could do now.

3. Discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau and Cabinet Members

a. The Prime Minister initiated the discussion by pointing out that Canada wanted to rationalize its NATO commitment while maintaining an appropriate and effective level of forces.

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b. JRS noted the difficulties of gaining public acceptance of the peacetime functions of military forces. He underscored that the concept of mobilizing reserves to fight a war is not wholly compatible with maintenance of an equilibrium of force. The greatest contribution the US and Canada can make would be to increase the capabilities in NATO. The aggregate Soviet defense budget and its real increase underscores the Soviet view of détente which means an adjustment in the correlation of forces in the favor of the USSR. This emphasizes Canada’s role in maintaining defense capabilities of free nations. He said that the issue of air defense is of lesser priority in North America than the NATO commitment of Canada. ASW is of higher priority than air defense due to the perceived concern by Europeans that without ASW capabilities the SLOC to the resource base of North America would be threatened. He went on to emphasize again that the greatest weakness in NATO is the ground forces capability in Central Europe, and the gradual erosion of the USN vis-à-vis the USSR Navy. He emphasized not only the importance of a credible deployed ground force capability in Central Europe but also of an adequate logistics base to sustain fighting beyond a minimal period. In response to Canadian concern about the utility of opening up the SLOC if the war in Europe were to be short, JRS suggested that the outbreak of hostilities in all likelihood would be preceded by a deterioration in the political environment. This deterioration would constitute sufficient warning so that mobilization and deployment actions could begin.

c. Minister McDonald suggested that Canada might be better off to withdraw totally from NATO and put its resources into ASW since even if Canada quadrupled its NATO capability, it would not weigh very much in the total balance. He said that the Alliance is basically a bilateral one between the US and Europe and that Canada did not have much influence. JRS said that the political effect of a Canadian pullout of NATO would lead to a progressive erosion of capabilities with Denmark, Holland, and other countries. The Alliance would disintegrate as a result of this erosion and compensatory growth in FRG military capabilities. He said that the politics of the situation preclude Canadian reduction in its NATO ground component. If Canada went back to its prior level of forces, it would have a dramatic effect on the Alliance—and perhaps stimulate Soviet response to MBFR.

d. The Prime Minister pointed out that it was more urgent to convince the Europeans than Canadians of the threat. He did not believe that Europeans had the same perception of danger as did the US, otherwise they would be doing more. As to the relationship between MBFR and increasing the Canadian commitment, he said that nations cannot increase their commitment just to show they are serious about MBFR. Even if Canada quadrupled its commitment, it wouldn’t necessarily [Page 420] impress the Soviets. Finally, the Prime Minister asked some specific questions concerning ASW capabilities such as SOSUS and P–3 aircraft. JRS pointed out that SOSUS was not a substitute but rather complemented ASW capabilities and that the P–3 is the cheapest way to cover ASW requirements except possibly for long-range distances.

4. In summary, JRS emphasized that:

a. Canada’s defense spending level was thin—3% of the GNP would be a more appropriate level;

b. Canada should not reduce its ground commitment to NATO but rather should seriously consider increasing it to the former level;

c. Canada’s defense priorities should be in the order of NATO ground forces, ASW, air defense;

d. Canada’s equipment and logistics resources should be upgraded and manpower should not be further reduced; and

e. Canada should not reduce one component of its structure and defense spending, such as the NATO component, in order to finance improvements in another component, such as ASW or air defense.

John A. Wickham, Jr. Major General, USA
Military Assistant
  1. Summary: Wickham summarized the September 15 and 16 discussions among Schlesinger and Canadian officials in Ottawa.

    Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0058, 333 Canada 17 Sep 75. Secret. Prepared by Wickham. On September 10, Scowcroft sent Wickham a list of questions received from Trudeau for Schlesinger. The preface to Trudeau’s list reads: “Canada is now engaged in a review of its defence activities—not with any intention of reducing effort or expenditures but with the aim of improving effectiveness. An important criterion in forming a judgment of effectiveness will be the attitude of our allies. We would value your views on the priority of the tasks assigned to the Canadian Armed Forces, and on the need for their discharge. In formulating your answers we hope you will reflect political, as well as military, considerations.” (Ibid., 333 Canada 10 Sep 75) Proposed answers to Trudeau’s questions are ibid., 333 Canada 11 Sep 75.