NATO: The Continuing Challenge
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Nov 1980, p. 88-101

Falls, Admiral R.H., Speaker
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The difficulty of measuring success of NATO. A brief review of how NATO has fulfilled its mandate over the last 30 years and some historical events and how NATO has dealt with them. An explication of various strategies including "massive retaliation," "flexible response," "equivalent response." Détente. The Mutual Balanced Force Reduction talks. SALT talks. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) and the roles NATO plays in each. The challenges facing NATO.
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6 Nov 1980
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NOVEMBER 6, 1980
NATO: The Continuing Challenge
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald Stackhouse


Ladies and gentlemen: In his study, Canadian Military Independence in the Age of the Superpowers, Dr. Brian Cuthbertson writes:

Canadians consider themselves an unmilitary people. For over 150 years they have not had to face an invasion or the imposition of peacetime conscription. But they do have a military history: even at the time of Confederation they were called upon to defend themselves against the Fenians; since then Canadians have fought in two rebellions in the northwest, the Boer War, two world wars including an expeditionary force to Russia, and the Korean War. In this century Canadians have engaged in overseas military operations on a scale and with a moral commitment that few in peacetime imagined possible.

Those words are a timely reminder--especially in the week before Remembrance Day--of the easily forgotten but nonetheless important part in our national life played by our armed forces. It is therefore appropriate that we should be addressed by a distinguished military leader, Admiral Robert H. Falls, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee and immediate past chief of the defence staff, Canadian Armed Forces.

The defence of Canada has been Admiral Falls' single minded dedication, his entire professional life having been spent in the Armed Forces. His military career began in 1942 when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the war he transferred to the Navy and has been on active duty with the Armed Forces ever since, rising through the ranks from Aircraftman Second Class to Admiral, and receiving many honours.

In 1972 he joined the headquarters staff in Ottawa, becoming vice-chief of defence staff in 1974 and chief in 1977. In July of this year, he became chairman of the NATO Military Committee at Brussels, the first Canadian to hold this senior and strategic position. The committee's function is to advise the NATO Council.

In this role, Admiral Falls is in the centre of what Henry Kissinger has called "an uneasy alliance," but which all Canadians know is a vital part of our country's policy on external affairs and national defence. Concerning this, Dr. Kissinger writes:

Canada's relations with NATO have always had a special character. Unlike the European countries, it was not directly threatened; unlike the United States it could not be decisive in the common defense ... Canada's somewhat aloof position combined with the high quality of its leadership gave it an influence out of proportion to its military contribution.

The Empire Club of Canada is honoured to have a representative of that leadership at NATO speak to us today, and it gives me great pleasure to present Admiral Robert H. Falls.


Ladies and gentlemen, it was with very great pleasure that I accepted Dr. Stackhouse's invitation to speak to you today. My subject, as you know, is NATO, and although this is an old subject--thirty-one years old this year--it is also a new subject in the sense that without constant attention and care NATO, like every other large organization, would atrophy; and so I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this subject before some of the leading citizens of Canada.

As I said, any large organization needs attention if it is to avoid atrophy: if it is to avoid confusing aims with means; if it is to avoid seeing bureaucratic papershuffling as actual achievement; and most important, if it is to avoid the rigidity and inflexibility which place too great a value on old and cherished ideas and which tend therefore to automatically reject new approaches as being too difficult or too expensive, or both.

Now, even aside from government, there are many examples to illustrate my point. The automotive and steel industries in many parts of the world come to mind, as indeed do many other aspects of the world's heavy engineering industry.

For most of you in private enterprise the objective is to make a profit, and the amount of profit is usually also the measure of effectiveness of the organization. The year end balance sheet measures how well you are doing. In NATO, success is more difficult to measure because performance cannot be related so directly and easily to objectives.

Nevertheless, today I would like to give you a brief balance sheet of the Alliance as I see it, and to mention some of the challenges it faces. You will be in a better position then, I hope, to judge whether this large organization now approaching middle-age could benefit from some new ideas.

The Alliance is in the first instance a political organization of fifteen like-minded sovereign democracies. Unlike the European Community, NATO is in no sense a supra-national organization; it is strictly the sum of its members.

It is first and foremost an Alliance dedicated to promoting the security of its member states: the charter is an agreement that an armed attack against one or more member states in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. At the same time, the charter provides for continuous co-operation and consultation in the political, economic and scientific fields, an addition for which we can thank a great Canadian, Lester B. Pearson.

It is important to remember that the Alliance was founded in a bi-polar situation. There was a clearcut East/West confrontation and NATO was designed as our response to that challenge from the East.

NATO has fulfilled its mandate for over thirty years; in my view very successfully. And, in one sense, there has been very little fundamental change during that time. We have had periods of crisis and long periods of calm. NATo's military strength has always been enough to deter aggression and so we have successfully avoided war, but I can detect no basic change in Soviet policies. Their approach remains aggressively competitive, and it is characterized by an incessant search for targets of opportunity, and a willingness to exploit any Western weakness. Recent events vividly illustrate their approach.

I honestly believe that it is the West that has consistently shown a more convincing willingness to reduce tensions and so to reduce armaments. Twelve years ago the Alliance formally dedicated itself to the simultaneous pursuit of two objectives: détente and deterrence: to lessen tensions and arms levels, but, at the same time, to maintain a defensive strength that would deter any military adventure. These are still complementary and equally important objectives, and both are being pursued with determination.

Philosophically, I suppose, both goals are equally difficult of achievement. But practically, it is the maintenance of a credible military deterrent which poses the most difficulties, because a steady stream of Soviet assertions that the Kremlin seeks only détente, disarmament, and peace have not prevented the Soviet Union and its allies from undertaking a dramatic and alarming increase in their military strength.

The military effort of the Soviet Union is truly remarkable and represents an enormous burden on what is still in many ways a developing economy.

With such a high level of expenditures it is hardly surprising that over the years the Soviets have achieved equality or superiority in all branches of their military establishment and in nearly all categories of weapons systems; including the achievement of a rough parity with the United States in nuclear weapons.

In the not so distant past the numerical imbalance in favour of the Warsaw Pact in men, tanks, guns, aircraft, weapons of all sorts, and the advantages they have by reason of geography and therefore of internal lines of communication, could all be accepted because the West's technological ability could be relied upon to produce qualitively superior equipment. And that can be, of course, an overriding advantage. But the West's lead in this area is now marginal at best.

Russia certainly devotes an impressive proportion of her military budget to research and development; she has done so for decades. But the results are now there for all to see. Indeed the rate of improvement in Soviet tank and anti-tank forces is an object lesson in how quickly a good research and development effort can be given practical application.

From now on we can expect a constant qualitative improvement in Soviet equipment. Weapon delivery techniques and accuracy are already improving at a rapid pace, and despite the great cost to their economy, the Soviet leadership seems to be ready to spend as much as they think necessary to improve every facet of their ability to wage war. As a result, we can no longer rely upon our historic, almost taken-for-granted ability to remain qualitatively ahead of a numerically superior opponent.

As you can see, the West faces a major challenge. It would be so helpful if we knew the Kremlin's intentions. Unfortunately, we can only surmise.

Certainly it seems to me that the Russian national memory of even the two most recent world wars has led to a determination to never again be subject to Western aggression. The feeling of impotency in the late forties in the face of America's sole possession of nuclear weapons must have added an element of desperation to that national determination. Finally, China's becoming a powerful enemy instead of a powerful friend must have given yet another impetus to military spending.

So, let us admit a Russian fear verging on phobia of yet another attack from the West; let us admit the fact of a perceived danger of huge proportions on the Eastern frontier. Let us admit the necessity for rather large armed forces just to maintain the integrity of Russia's buffer zone in Eastern Europe--the unhappy satellites of the Warsaw Pact. Admitting all that in full measure, the Soviet defence effort is still much too large to be a reasonable response to fears of outside threats. Still less does it explain why the trend is still up, why each year a larger proportion of real GNP is devoted to the military. And it is this large gap between what would be reasonable and what, in fact, is being done, which causes us such grave concern, which makes us wonder about the intentions behind Soviet military policy.

We can draw several possible conclusions. Either the military /industrial complex in the Soviet Union is out of control and Russia's leaders cannot slow down the massive momentum of research, development and production which has built up over the years; or, the Soviets see the maintenance of massive military forces as the most efficient way to influence world events by the projection of power; or, Russia's leaders have always been and still are determined to build a military machine capable of crushing any opposition to the furtherance of Russian policies.

Actually, even if we knew all the answers it wouldn't help us a great deal because Russia's leadership must soon change, and the new leaders--whoever they may be--will find that they control an awe-inspiring military machine. Who can tell what use they may wish to make of it? It is surely only prudent to maintain our defences at such a level that any leader would flinch at the possible consequences of attacking us.

That is exactly what NATO is designed to do, and that is what we are trying to do. Of course, the appropriate level of defence and the appropriate strategy to maintain a credible deterrent depends to a great extent on the possible threat, the potential enemy and the forces he has at his disposal. I have given you a brief look at those capabilities. Now, what are we doing?

NATO's first true strategy was "massive retaliation." This required conventional forces capable only of acting as a trip-wire followed by massive nuclear retaliation against the attacker. In the early sixties NATO changed its strategy to "flexible response." There was a good reason for this because by that time Russia's intercontinental nuclear forces were such as to make "massive retaliation" something approaching "mutual suicide." De Gaulle first, and then others, thought that the threat of massive retaliation was, therefore, becoming less and less credible; thus making deterrence against conventional attack in Europe less and less effective.

"Flexible response" required an increase in NATO's conventional warfare capability because the new strategy was based upon the triad of conventional forces, tactical nuclear forces and strategic nuclear forces. The deterrent rests upon our stated intention to respond to aggression at whatever level is appropriate. Thus, if our conventional forces were strong enough to stop a conventional attack, we would go no further. However, if the West were unable to stop the attack, the agreed strategy is to use low-yield nuclear weapons on the battlefield. And, of course, the third leg of the triad, strategic nuclear weapons, would be used only in response to a Russian strategic attack.

Now, if we are to avoid war, our forces must be adequate to our strategy, and our strategy for the use of our forces must be credible--not just to us--but to any potential enemy.

But is this the case? Let us look briefly at these two fundamentals.

First of all, our forces. The trend was and is towards greater imbalance, and so Western nations agreed in Washington in 1978 to increase defence spending by three per cent annually in real terms.

With this modest increase in resources significant improvements can be made in areas of special weakness. All nations are also making a greater effort towards achieving either standardization or interoperability of equipment so that we can get more value for the money we spend. The problem is that many nations are not fulfilling their obligations, but more of that later.

It is paradoxical that one has to re-arm to promote disarmament. But with the Russians on the other side of the bargaining table, there seems to be no reasonable alternative to doing exactly that.

.' Now, our strategy. As I said, our response to aggression, the response which should preserve peace by making aggression too dangerous, is flexible. It is to defend ourselves first with our conventional forces, then, if our conventional forces are too weak to stop the attack, we would respond with our small tactical nuclear weapons. This is a horrifying prospect, and it would make a victory by the Warsaw Pact hollow indeed; even if "victory" could be imagined in those circumstances. Therefore, we should reasonably expect our strategy of "flexible response" to deter aggression i f--and this is very important--i f the opponent believes that we will really do what we say we will do. But do they believe it?

After all, "massive retaliation" was and still would be a pretty impressive threat, but we abandoned that idea because we thought that, since it was the equivalent of mutual suicide it was no longer a believable, a credible threat in the then prevailing balance of power.

Do they believe our present (now eighteen years old) strategy? If they truly believe it, presumably they would either attack all-out using nuclear weapons in an initial blitzkrieg in an attempt to capture a Europe virtually destroyed in the process, or they wouldn't attack at all--the latter I sincerely hope. In any event, if they honestly believe that we mean what we say, they would be very stupid indeed to mount a conventional attack.

But if they conclude--as perhaps they could -that their tactical nuclear forces were now so imposing that we would not in the final analysis dare to use our tactical nuclear weapons to stop a conventional attack--just as we would no longer perhaps resort to massive retaliation--then their massive arms build-up may be explicable. They may believe that sometime in the future they could take part of Europe with powerful conventional forces backed by their threat to destroy Europe with nuclear weapons if we responded with our nuclear weapons against their conventional attack.

I don't offer this as a thesis, but as something that we should all think about. Indeed, we should think about whether there would be a point at which the balance of nuclear forces in Europe would be such as to make our political leaders, who are, after all, the decision-makers in nuclear affairs, hesitate to use our tactical nuclear weapons even in the fact of a successful conventional attack.

Because, if we conclude that there are such circumstances in which we might not want to use nuclear weapons, then perhaps we should start considering the options open to us while we still have time.

As I see it, the options are first, to stick to our strategy of flexible response in the quite reasonable expectation that the Warsaw Pact would not risk an attack because they could never be certain about what our reaction might be; second, to revert to the strategy of "massive retaliation"; third, to decide to build up our conventional forces to a level which would ensure our ability to defend ourselves without having to use nuclear weapons.

I think that it should be obvious to everyone that the third option is worth serious consideration. Should we in the West, in the light of these changing circumstances, strive to improve our conventional forces to a point (whatever that may be) where we would have the ability to stop an aggressor dead in his tracks, without resorting to nuclear weapons?

If we were to decide to do so, then we would no longer have a strategy of "flexible response," we would have instead a strategy of "equivalent response" A conventional attack would be repelled by conventional forces, and a nuclear attack would be repelled by nuclear forces. If a conventional attack were to include chemical warfare, a highly lethal and indiscriminate form of weaponry, the nearest equivalent response is nuclear weapons. This would obviously require some new thinking by our political and military leaders.

Would a strategy of "equivalent response" make conventional war in Europe more or less likely? Would it make nuclear war in Europe more or less likely? Would it make progress towards peace and disarmament more or less likely? These are difficult and complex questions. They are questions, however, that should be discussed fully and openly in our democratic societies. They are questions which affect the future of every citizen in the North Atlantic Alliance, and it should be a matter of course that such subjects are openly discussed by the most intelligent men available in our community of nations, military and civilian, so that our publics and governments make the best possible decisions in this awesomely dangerous world. This discussion would not be complete without a few words on détente.

I believe that the Alliance as a whole, all its member states, remains committed to detente. But the word has given rise to a great deal of misunderstanding. NATO is committed to détente but we have never been under any illusion that we had achieved a genuine relaxation of tensions. Afghanistan merely confirmed that view.

Friendly relations, even relaxed relations, between East and West remain a distant goal rather than an established fact. And I cannot see true détente as being anything other than indivisible--it should apply to all areas of the world.

We all agree, I think, that we must break down the walls of suspicion and hostility that divide East and West if we are not to face an arms race which lasts for decades into the future, and lays a heavier and heavier burden on both sides.

The Mutual Balanced Force Reduction talks in Vienna, the SALT talks, and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (cscE) resuming next week in Madrid, are all efforts to this end. The NATO Alliance plays a different role in each, but, whatever the role, having representatives of fifteen nations always in close contact in Brussels makes consultation and the consideration of others' points of view infinitely easier.

This does not always lead to a unanimity of view, but unanimity is rarely necessary. It does lead to a tendency to see the world a little more through collective eyes, a little less selfishly.

NATO and its structures are, as I said at the beginning, nothing more than the states which are members. Factually correct, but perhaps there is something more. At Brussels certainly there is a NATO attitude of mind. This is reflected back to capitals by national delegations and military representatives and it leads I think to NATO being something more than just the sum of its parts. I am proud to have been asked to be Chairman of its Military Committee, and proud to have an opportunity to play however small a part in making the system work and progress.

Finally, I cannot be expected to have such an important audience and yet resist the temptation to say just a few words of exhortation!

The NATO Alliance is spending a great deal on armaments and it looks as if we may have to spend even more. It is frustrating and irritating because we have no desire for territorial aggrandizement; no wish other than to live in peace and friendship with the rest of the world. When the choice always seems to be between defence and foreign aid, or renewal of industry, or improved social programs, it is difficult and annoying to have to choose defence.

But in the Western world, we live, as a community more than 300 million strong, in the most democratic, the richest group of countries the world has ever known. We enjoy a higher standard of living, a better quality of life, greater freedom of expression, and greater personal liberty than man could have imagined possible even fifty years ago.

We have something worth defending and we have the means to do it. It seems to me that it would be criminally short-sighted to risk the survival of the Western world for the relatively marginal cost of the defence insurance premium.

Conventional war in Europe with modern weapons would be incredibly destructive; a nightmare. A war waged even with tactical nuclear weapons on that crowded continent would cause destruction beyond comprehension.

In the Western world, we have the wealth, but we also have the unemployed; we have a very high standard of living, but we also have under-used production facilities. We have enormous numbers of well-educated energetic people. Surely we should not hesitate to devote as much of all this wealth as is necessary to ensure a prudent and reasonable defence.

Surely we would be criminal indeed to put the heritage of generations of Europeans and North Americans in danger of destruction because we don't like the thought of war, or because nuclear weapons frighten us, or purely and simply because we want to gamble the pleasures of current consumption against the risk of war.

Together, we can afford the intellectual and material resources necessary to ensure our survival, to the extent that man has it in his power to do that. No group of nations in history has ever been more capable of ensuring its own security. We can do that, and we can also if we have the will, help preserve peace in the rest of the world by aiding the developing nations in their fight to eradicate poverty, disease and hunger.

The challenge is there before us. I believe that we can and must rise to that challenge, we must fulfill our responsibility to the generations who will follow us and to the rest of the world.

The Roman Empire and civilization collapsed in an excess of hedonism and self-indulgence while the energetic enemy was already at the gate. The result was war. Today that would be catastrophic. Let us learn from history.

The thanks of the club were expressed to Admiral Falls by Brigadier General Reginald W. Lewis, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada and Treasurer of the Empire Club Foundation.

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NATO: The Continuing Challenge

The difficulty of measuring success of NATO. A brief review of how NATO has fulfilled its mandate over the last 30 years and some historical events and how NATO has dealt with them. An explication of various strategies including "massive retaliation," "flexible response," "equivalent response." Détente. The Mutual Balanced Force Reduction talks. SALT talks. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) and the roles NATO plays in each. The challenges facing NATO.