Nuclear Attack Submarines For Canada?

Recent public debate in Canada has focussed almost exclusively on the Meech Lake accord and the Mulroney trade deal. Yet the proposed purchase of 10 or 12 nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN’s in military designation) announced in June 1987 in the Defence White Paper represents no less of a threat to traditional Canadian policies and values.

The White Paper argues that these submarines are necessary to counter the Soviet submarine threat to our Atlantic sea lanes, a Soviet naval buildup in the North Pacific, and the threat posed to Canadian sovereignty by both Soviet and American submarines operating in Canadian Arctic waters. In each case, the reasoning is specious.

They Are Useless In The Arctic

In the Arctic, initial plans call for the deployment of only a single Canadian SSN to patrol over 100,000 square kilometers of ocean. Moreover both Soviet and American submarine navies have superior technology arid well-practiced under-ice tactics that will easily defeat the detection capabilities of either British- or French-built subs.

They Are Offensive, Not Defensive Weapons

In the Pacific, the threat to peace comes from the Americans, not the Soviets. Since 1985 the Soviet navy has decreased its long-range activity in this area, while the American “Maritime Strategy” announced in 1982 has lead to ever more aggressive American naval manoeuvres against Soviet ships and bases in the North Pacific American strategy calls for co-ordinated, pre-emptive attacks to begin against Soviet naval forces and shore installations even before a major Soviet attack in Europe or elsewhere. Canadian defence spokesmen have stated that the participation of a Canadian submarine fleet in these aggressive acts is “an option”.

Nor are Soviet submarines a significant danger to Atlantic shipping. Almost all Soviet SSN’s must be deployed in the far north to protect their ballistic missile submarines (SSBN’s) in their Barents Sea sanctuary. Only if the burgeoning American naval challenge goads them into building many new modern, quiet SSN’s will the Atlantic lanes be at risk. For this reason, many American arms control experts have called for strict limits or even an outright ban on SSN’s.

How ironic that Canadian defence policy now reflects discredited Reaganite doctrines just as the more sophisticated American strategists are moving in precisely the opposite direction! Will Canada acquire its attack subs only to find the superpowers have agreed to do away with theirs?

They Are Dangerous

A Canadian SSN programme may encourage the nuclear recklessness of others as well. The highly — enriched uranium fuel necessary to power the submarine reactors will have to be exempted from the control and inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency as mandated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Canada has never before exempted any of its nuclear materials from these controls. At a time when so many smaller nations are poised on the nuclear threshold, Canada should be reinforcing rather than weakening its commitments to the NPI.

There are even more direct nuclear dangers from an SSN fleet. Submarine reactors use bomb-grade enriched uranium that would for the first time expose Canada to the risk of nuclear terrorism. That being so, we might expect as well that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) would expand its operations against “suspect” peace and anti-nuclear groups.

The spent fuel produced by the submarine reactors creates another hazard The new bases built for the submarines will require facilities to remove, store, and transport what is undoubtedly some of the most lethal radioactive waste on the planet. Where on the B.C. coast will such an installation be welcomed?

The operation of the submarines themselves represents a radiological hazard of tmknown dimensions. No nation operating nuclear submarines has ever made public any data about the radiation they release. But some Japanese scientists have detected significant releases from transiting American subs, and only this summer a fire aboard a British submarine (the type being considered by Canada) released radiation and almost caused a core meltdown.

They Are Incredibly Expensive

But for many, the most salient argument against the SSN programme is that it involves a huge diversion of federal funds from civilian to military purposes. The official cost estimate of $8 billion is simply fanciful, as it does not include the costs of training or shore facilities. It costs a million dollars just to train one nuclear submarine captain! New submarine bases will be very expensive, all the more so as they must provide for the safety and security of nuclear materials. Even the special radio communications system submarines require will cost several hundreds of millions of dollars. Cost overruns will multiply the price still further. The final purchase price of 138 CF-18A fighters was almost triple the initial estimate. According to a new report released by the French Senate, the Rubis-class subs Canada is considering are already experiencing cost overruns!

Given our large federal deficit, SSN’s for the Navy will mean fewer daycare spaces, hospital beds, and university places for Canadians. It will mean more crowded classrooms and longer waits for surgery It will mean less money for research and development to keep our scientists productive and our economy competitive. And it will mean fewer jobs as well, since many studies have shown that money spent in the military sector generates only about half the employment produced by non military government expenditures.

They Can Be Stopped

Fortunately, it is not to late to prevent this costly and wrongheaded purchase. There is opposition to the submarines within Tory ranks, and even within the military itself, chiefly for fiscal reasons. There is now an unprecedented opportunity for peace organizations to mobilize broad community support to change government policy We must lose no opportunity to publicize the risks and ccsts of a nuclear submarine programme, and to debunk the myth that they are needed for “defence”.