Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Canada's Military-Corporate Complex and Its Services Rendered to G.W. Bush

In this letter sent to the Ottawa Xpress last week,'s Steven Staples gives an excellent overview of the Canadian military-corporate complex and its relationship with the U.S.

April 18, 2006

Q. Did you watch or read about Parliament's debate on Afghanistan last Monday night? (12 Apr 06)

Here is an article we contributed to Ottawa Xpress last week "Ready when you are, sir."

And I'm sure you might want to know that we posted some related on-line videos on


Ready when you are, sir.

Canada's military-corporate complex and its services rendered to George W. Bush

Ottawa Xpress
April 13th, 2006
Steven Staples

In Why We Fight, documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki reminds us of Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous 1961 farewell address to the American people - a warning really - when he added a new concept into our vocabulary: the military-industrial complex.

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," said the former U.S. president.

"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Jarecki tests American politics to see if that warning was heeded and his conclusion is alarming. The powerful and profitable military industry and its allies in the Pentagon, combined with an American belief in moral and political superiority, have led the nation into conflicts that threaten to destroy the very values and security they are meant to defend and expand.

But what about Canada? Do we have a military-industrial complex, and is it exerting influence over our government?

Like Eisenhower, former prime minister Jean Chrétien may have been trying to send a warning in the last days of his tenure. In October 2003, he told reporters, "It's never enough. I have never seen an army anywhere in the world who returned a government money -- anywhere. They all need more and they all have plans for more."

A few weeks later at the Liberal Party convention that declared Paul Martin the new leader, perhaps looking directly at his successor, Chrétien said, "Beware of those on the right who put the narrow bottom line ahead of everything else."

In the early days of the nation, a British declaration of war was automatically a declaration of war for Canada, and our sons were sent to defend the motherland. After the Second World War and demise of the British Empire, Canada fell under American leadership. This was codified through North American defence arrangements like NORAD, and through the NATO alliance.

As a result, Canada's "military-industrial complex" is tied to our southern neighbour as we seek safety under the military and economic umbrella of the United States. While the intensity of this relationship varies, pressure to fall in line behind U.S. leadership has been particularly strong since September 11, 2001. Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush declared, "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Without question, the Canadian government fell in line behind the United States and dispatched hundreds of troops, planes and warships to aid the American-led invasion of Afghanistan. It was never about self-defence, but a desire to support the United States in a war to achieve their security interests.

Still, Eisenhower's military-industrial complex, which comprises a powerful military establishment working with arms-producing industries, does not translate perfectly to the Canadian experience. Here we have what you would more appropriately call a military-corporate complex - an alliance between organizations seeking more spending and a larger force closely integrated with the U.S. military, and private enterprise groups seeking government deregulation, privatization and an economy just as integrated as our two military forces.

Ideology and economic interests bond these lobbies together. For a retired general or conservative academic, it may be a belief in a strong military; for a CEO, it's the prospect of contracts. The result is that each demands the government spend billions more on the military.

Such was the case when CEOs and retired generals supported Canadian involvement in missile defence, not to defend Canada, but to build closer ties with the Bush administration and the Pentagon.

The Corporate Lobby

In Canada, the most powerful influence comes from corporations engaged primarily in finance, energy, manufacturing and natural resources, with military industries making up only a small part. Canada's corporate lobby is not driven by a demand for more military contracts (though it won't object), but by greater integration with the U.S. market as a whole.

Organizations such as the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) have in the past promoted deregulation, privatization, and especially free trade.

Its greatest achievement was the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which was later expanded to NAFTA in 1994.

More recently, the BCNI, renamed the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), was alarmed by the closing of the Canada-U.S. border after 9/11. As the U.S. ambassador to Canada at the time explained to an audience of CEOs in Toronto, "Security will trump trade."

In response, the CCCE launched a campaign to support the Bush administration's security and military agenda - be it the invasion of Iraq or help building "Star Wars" - under the assumption that U.S. security measures won't impact Canadian trade because we will be inside their "security perimeter," and that the ensuing goodwill with the President would help end U.S. protectionist measures such as softwood lumber tariffs (despite the fact these are determined by the U.S. Congress).

As CCCE president Tom d'Aquino exhorted a 2003 meeting of mandarins in Ottawa, "Now we must integrate our plans for achieving economic advantage within North America with a strategy for assuring the security both of our own borders and of the continent as a whole."

The Military Lobby

While much smaller but no less successful than the corporate lobby, the military lobby comprises corporations seeking contracts and hawkish policy groups, or "think tanks."

Organizations such as the Conference of Defence Associations and DND-funded academics produce a steady stream of hawkish reports and analysis for the media and politicians.

On the industry side, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries reports that in 2000 (the latest figures available) there were more than 1,500 firms with significant defence interests (i.e. more than $100,000 in defence revenues) comprising an industry worth roughly $7 billion per year.

A third of the industry's revenues are derived from arms exports, half of that to the United States. As a result, both the Washington-based Congressional Research Service and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranked Canada as the sixth largest global arms exporter in 2004.

These companies build everything from wheeled tanks to tactical helicopters.

But most Canadian defence companies are branch plants or subcontractors, building components for U.S. systems, such as gearboxes for the Apache helicopter.

According to Project Ploughshares, the industry is dominated by a handful of companies who typically win the lion's share of Canadian military contracts:

CAE Inc., General Dynamics Canada and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, SNC-Lavalin Group, Bell Helicopter Textron, and Bombardier. Half of the top 10 companies are foreign owned or controlled, and only six of the top 10 companies actually rely on military contracts for more than 20 per cent of their revenue.

Finally, one cannot exclude the Department of National Defence itself from the military lobby. It spends millions of dollars a year on public relations, including public opinion polling, cultivating favourable coverage from journalists, in addition to funding conservative think tanks and university research institutes.

Successes of the Complex

Studies on the difference between Canadian and American values frequently conclude that Canada has a much less militaristic political culture than its American neighbour. Canadians consistently put health care, the environment and the economy at the top of priority lists and defence at the bottom. Even more, Canadians are much more likely to support the United Nations, international law and diplomacy over military solutions to international conflict.

Public opinion, and its impact on Canada's political system, is therefore the main obstacle to the military-corporate complex in Canada. Chief amongst the lobby's goals is to convince Canadians to give up the notion of peacekeeping and accept the U.S.-led "war on terrorism" as a Canadian priority, whether through a stronger defence of the homeland (immigration) or military interventions abroad (Afghanistan).

It has achieved many victories:

  • Dollar for dollar, the military's $15-billion spending is the seventh highest among the 26-member NATO alliance, and 15th highest in the world.
  • The 2005 federal budget added $12.8 billion over five years to the military, and the Conservatries will top that by $5.3 billion, putting spending much higher than at any time during the Cold War.
  • In the last election, all of the national political parties supported these massive increases to military spending, including the NDP.
  • The media's support for joining the U.S. missile defence program was near total, despite widespread public skepticism and opposition.
  • Once a top 10 contributor of soldiers to UN peacekeeping, today we can fit all our Blue Helmets onto a single school bus - less than 60, out of more than 60,000 UN peacekeepers worldwide.
  • Our 2,300-troop-strong effort in Afghanistan, a counterterrorism mission currently under U.S. command, is a proving ground for the adoption of U.S. war-fighting doctrine and a symbolic end to Canadian/UN peacekeeping.

The military-corporate complex does not win every time, as proven when tens of thousands of Canadians who opposed the invasion of Iraq neutralized the lobbying effort to join the "Coalition of the Willing." And again, taking advantage of the minority government and public distrust of the Bush administration, peace groups prevented the Martin government from joining the U.S. missile defence shield.

When sufficiently aroused or organized, Canadian public opinion can prevent the government from adopting the military-corporate complex's agenda. Its lobby can always be rebuffed when Canadians become informed and act upon their values.

Steven Staples is Director of Security Programs for the Polaris Institute, based in Ottawa.

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