Armed Forces and Détente
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Nov 1976, p. 110-120
Dextraze, General J.A., Speaker
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Item Type
The defence of the western way of life with détente in perspective. The requirement to defend democratic institutions in the world today. Why the Western world needs to maintain large, professional Armed Forces. The necessity to spend billions of dollars annually on military personnel and equipment. The need to maintain the strategic balance of power. The illusion of "safety under the nuclear umbrella." The fact of military powers in Central Europe and their strength compared to NATO. The need for assessment of the intentions of potential enemies. The use of nuclear weapons. The justification and need for the western democracies to maintain their conventional military strength.
Date of Original
24 Nov 1976
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Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
NOVEMBER 24, 1976
Armed Forces and Detente in Perspective
CHAIRMAN The President, William M. Karn


Your Excellency, Your Honour, Reverend Sir, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: I am particularly pleased to welcome our guest of honour today because he was the first of our list of distinguished speakers for this club year to accept our invitation and confirm a date to visit with us.

However, as with some military plans conceived six months before the event, a last-minute change of date became necessary, and it is rather significant to note that in this hotel, there are being featured simultaneously two activities which contribute greatly to the unification of Canada. Both events happen to involve organizations which although largely related to Ottawa, draw for their support from the entire country.

The other event to which I refer is the Grey Cup luncheon which is bringing together for tumultuous revelry Canadians from coast to coast, while in this hall we host our Queen's representative for Ontario and those responsible for Canada's armed forces--a team of champions by any international standards.

We view with pride the role our armed forces are playing in defending Canadian security and sovereignty, and their contribution to international stability, by maintaining many operational and training missions in Canada and throughout the world.

Our co-operative NORAD agreement with the United States, our support of the NATO alliance, and provision of forces for United Nations peacekeeping activities are well known. Less familiar to us is the concern of our military authorities with detente, a situation which has arisen because of a change in the overall balance of forces economic, political, social, and military--in favour of the Soviet Union.

No one is better qualified to acquaint us with this subject than our speaker today, a dynamic battle-seasoned soldier.

General Dextraze prepared himself academically prewar and postwar by studying Business Administration both at MacDonald Business College and Columbia University. In 1975 he received the degree of Doctor, Honoris Causa, of Administration from the University of Sherbrooke.

Although he joined Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal in 1939 as a private, he was commissioned within two years and served in this battalion in U.K. and Northwest Europe until 1944, when he was appointed its commanding officer. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order that year and the Bar to the D.S.O. in 1945.

In June 1945 he was named commanding officer of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment for service in the Orient, but hostilities ceased shortly thereafter and he accepted his release from the army.

After a short period with the Singer Manufacturing Company he was recalled, when the Korean conflict began in 1950, to command the 2nd Battalion, le Regiment Royale Vingt-Deuxieme. In 1952, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Upon his return to Canada in 1954, each step up the military ladder was merely preparation for the next. The rank of Brigadier was his by 1962 and he was off to the Congo in December, 1963 as Chief of Staff Headquarters, United Nations Operations. For his gallantry in that theatre he was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Back in Canada in 1966 he was received into the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

Through the ranks of Major General, and LieutenantGeneral he hurried on to "four star general", becoming Chief of the Defence Staff and of the Canadian Forces (Land, Sea, and Air) September 1972. A month later the Governor General made him Commander of the Canadian Order of Military Merit.

I am assured by my military friends that he is a soldier's soldier.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed an honour for me to give you General J. A. Dextraze, C.B.E., C.M.M., D.S.O., C.D., to speak to you on the subject "Armed Forces and Detente in Perspective".


Your Honour, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: thank you for such a warm welcome. Before I begin, I wish to express my appreciation for having been invited to speak to your club today. I consider it a great honour.

My subject is "The Armed Forces--Detente in Perspective". In other words I will be speaking to you about the defence of the "western way of life"--our way of life.

As both the Chief of Canada's Armed Forces, and President this year of the NATO Military Committee, I consider it my duty to speak out on the requirement to defend our democratic institutions in the world today. To me, this means much more than simply maintaining an adequate and credible military establishment. It means that we must have the self-discipline to voluntarily undertake those actions, and to make those sacrifices, which in a totalitarian state can be, and are, directed from on high.

My credentials to speak on this aspect of defence are those of a Canadian citizen who has in his lifetime been through war three times as a front-line soldier, and who has had a son killed on the battlefield in the defence of democracy. As a result, it is my sincere conviction that I have the right, indeed the duty, to seek to influence the course of the society in which I am privileged to live and am dedicated to defend.

First then--the military defence. Why does the Western World need to maintain large, professional Armed Forces? Why do we need to spend billions of dollars annually on military personnel and equipment when there are so many other things we could do with such a large proportion of the nation's wealth?

You all know the answer, but it is worth restating: we live in a far from perfect world.

There are two nuclear superpowers--one our neighbour to the south, the other across our Arctic frontier. There is the vast difference in living standards between the rich and poor nations of the world--and Canada is one of the richest. There are the intractable local conflicts of which the Middle East is the classic example--caused by differences of race, colour, language, religion, or political belief.

It is an uncertain world, where conflict can break out overnight, and where there is one superpower that is the focus of an international expansionistic ideology, and that openly, even proudly, proclaims its goal of world domination. Its party congresses, held every five years, proudly acclaim their progress in this regard. No method is ruled out by them in achieving their aim--be it economic, political, military, or social. Like the good chess players they are, they use each piece to its best advantage, sacrificing some on occasion to win over other pieces or to gain a strategic advantage.

We cannot insulate ourselves from this world. We must help to maintain the strategic balance of power. Otherwise we may be forced to accept the possibility of fortress North America facing an authoritarian continent of Europe. If this should ever occur, our way of life would be seriously threatened or, at best, severely altered. Our consequent defence costs would unquestionably be far greater than they are today under our present mutual defence arrangements.

As you know, we have reached the point where if either the United States or Russia resorted to nuclear war the result would be massive destruction for both countries, and for most of the rest of the world. This fact leads many people to believe that war is now out-of-date, that neither superpower would dare to take aggressive action against the other. This same reasoning also leads some to a belief that the Russian leaders truly want detente, truly want peace: to a belief that the "spirit of Helsinki" is the spirit of the times and that military forces need to be big enough to act only as trip wires, not as a defence in depth.

I want to make the point very strongly, that this feeling of "safety under the nuclear umbrella" is illusory. It is, indeed, a very dangerous illusion, because our only potential enemies do not think that way at all. However, let us ignore what their intentions are for a moment. Let me ask some questions about their capabilities:

Why does the Warsaw Pact maintain over 26,000 modern tanks in Europe, or three times as many as NATO--with thousands more in reserve west of the Urals?

Why do they maintain over 4,200 modern tactical aircraft in Central Europe or better than twice as many as NATO?

Why do they maintain over twice as many men under arms, with three times the heavy artillery fire power; why have they increased their deployment in Central Europe by five additional divisions?

Why are they expanding their navy at such a pace that they will soon possess a superiority of naval power in every sea and ocean in the world?

Why are they, in a period of supposed detente, as officially reported last week, spending billions of dollars annually to ensure that their industrial facilities can return to full production within three days after a retaliatory attack. Although this may at first glance appear to be a defensive measure, it must in a period of detente be considered as a major destabilizing factor and thus offensive in nature.

Finally, why are they continuing to replace, modernize, and increase their military equipment at such enormous cost to their civilian economies?

The answers to these questions can be known only to the leaders of the Warsaw Pact, but we must answer two other questions. What could they do with this enormous military power, if they choose to exercise it? In other words, what is their capabality? And what do they intend to do with it?

Military men must deal with the first question--their capability. The Alliance must have forces which the opponent sees as being sufficient to leave him in doubt as to the success of any military action he may contemplate. That is deterrence in its simplest most direct form. My colleagues and I in NATO's Military Committee seek to maintain forces which demonstrate that the opponent will be met and checked on any venture he may contemplate. We must base the size and strength of those defensive forces upon the strength of the Warsaw Pact's forces. There is no other choice.

We must also, of course, make some assessment of the intentions of our potential enemy. We know that the eastern economies are relatively weak. Their agriculture and consumer-oriented industries cannot provide a comparable standard of living to that prevailing in the west. They need massive investment in agriculture, industry, infrastructure, natural resources, and in particular, in technology. In a nutshell, they need a massive redirection of manpower and money from military production to civilian production. They already have an enormous military establishment, yet instead of diverting resources from swords to ploughshares, they are increasing their military might. In my opinion this is a conscious political decision.

Let me quote Mr. Gromyko:

The actions of the Warsaw Pact are having a major influence in shaping the situation not only in Europe but far beyond Europe . . . the Forces of Peace and Progress (the Warsaw Pact Forces) now have a visibly increased preponderance and may be in a position to lay down the direction of international politics.

There we have a clear statement of their intentions. Notice that he said "may be able to . . . ." Clearly their steadily increasing power is designed to put them in a position where they "will" rather than "may be able to" lay down the direction of international affairs.

So, we have their already massive and increasing military strength combined with their stated intention to "direct the course of international affairs."

That is their interpretation of "detente", their interpretation of the "spirit of Helsinki". Upon this evidence we can reasonably ask: Who is threatened and who is threatening?

Now we come to perhaps more subtle considerations. If the leaders of the Warsaw Pact are rational men, if nuclear war is unthinkable to rational men, how can they plan the use of this power?

First, if we maintain our complacent illusions and allow the Warsaw Pact to become much more powerful than we are, they can, and will continue to exert unbearable influence upon their neighbours, and upon weaker states throughout the world, without ever having to file their power in open conflict. Such can only be obviated or countered by having sufficient forces in the west to truly deter the U.S.S.R. from embarking on military ventures which affect the world balance of power.

Second, the Warsaw Pact could actually take aggressive conventional military action in Europe and put the leaders of the west in the position of having to surrender or use nuclear weapons. We must avoid either alternative. Remember, Hitler occupied the Rhineland with little more than one division, for he knew that his opponents were too weak to respond individually and lacked the resolve to respond collectively.

We must maintain conventional forces wherever they are needed and in such strength as to at least deter any attack. Having the confidence that we have the conventional capability to place in question the outcome of any action by any opponent will give us the confidence to resist any other pressure to which we may be subjected.

Experience in war and peace, and particularly during these last four years as Chief of the Defence Staff, leads me to the strong conviction that the only sensible course for the '" western democracies is to maintain their conventional military strength at a level which will allow them to know' that any non-nuclear military attack on their vital interests anywhere in the world, but most particularly in Europe, cannot be undertaken with any prospect of success by the Warsaw Pact nations.

You will note that I have very carefully been using words and phraseology directed not at war, but at preventing or deterring war. Although preparedness for war and for deterring war both require strong military forces, there is a tremendous difference in the philosophical concepts involved. Being prepared to deter war requires forces here and now, not the capability to marshal forces after war starts. It requires continual expenditure on military equipment which, if bought in time and in adequate numbers, will never have to be used in war. Those costs of peace, of deterrence, although reluctantly made, are much less than the costs and suffering caused by war. To lose the battle of deterrence is to lose the first major campaign of a war, if not the war itself. In fact to be unable to deter potential aggression is to invite war.

What sort of forces would we need to assure members of NATO of this confident security? Let us consider Europe. If we have sufficient forces on the ground to resist aggression for two weeks, we could fight for two weeks before again being faced with the choice of surrender or nuclear holocaust. Would this short delay be worth the expenditure necessary to achieve it? Perhaps it would, but merely delaying the inevitable is not a satisfactory result. We should be in a position to defend the European frontier for as long as is necessary without being forced to use nuclear weapons. This could be achieved only by increasing NATO's present strength, but the increase would not need to be drastic. What is necessary is well within the capacity of the west. The defence does still have an inherent advantage, and NATO must have sufficient men and sufficient modern equipment and stocks in Europe to demonstrate its willingness to fight until reinforcements and supplies start arriving from North America. Of course, we must also make it abundantly clear that we have the resolve and the means to control the North Atlantic and the air above it to ensure the protection of the homeland and the fulfillment of the concept of reinforcing Europe. Given this situation, the Alliance would be in a position to maintain peace, and to do so without having to threaten the use of nuclear weapons. That is, we could maintain peace, maintain our society, and, at the same time, raise the nuclear threshold. We would have peace--but not peace at any price.

The cost to the western democracies would be well within their capacity. The industrial potential of the NATO Alliance is enormous. I cannot say that to increase Allied Forces would not increase what is already seen as the heavy burden of defence expenditure, but I can clearly say that no other aims of our society are achievable if we fail to maintain the security of the territory and the resources of ourselves and of our friends. Bluntly put: it is a burden that we members of NATO cannot afford to lay down.

I think you will have noticed from what I have said so far today that military strategy is not fixed and immutable. You will remember Mr. Dulles and the doctrine of massive retaliation followed by the doctrine of flexible response, and you will have realized that I have spoken today of a significant refinement to the doctrine of flexible response. I could call it the doctrine of sustained conventional response.

Of course, the nuclear option is always there, in the background, as the final sanction. But we should be in a position to protect ourselves more sensibly than by having to initiate the use of nuclear weapons. We simply must have the capacity for sustained conventional response. The alternative is unacceptable, we need to have the choice in order to choose.

I have already said that the west can afford to maintain the necessary military forces. We can in fact afford them more easily than can the Warsaw Pact. If we decide to do so, we can be militarily strong enough to live in peace and security, and perhaps, eventually, the eastern countries may wish to ease their own burden. In these circumstances it is a futile burden because we do not wish to attack them. Then the world may witness the first true great power disarmament in modern history.

But first we must arrest the trend toward declining military strength in the west. We must change what The Economist calls the "desarmement de l'esprit" into a "rearmement de l'esprit", literally translated, we must change a disarmament of the spirit into a rearmament of the spirit. All of us concerned with our collective security must have the will and the foresight to protect what we have, by not asking for too much. In other words, we must devote a sufficient amount of our resources--of our brains, of our men, and of our wealth--to provide the military capacity which we need to deter aggression. After all, the liberty and freedom which we enjoy today have been dearly paid for in lives, unhappiness and money. Our way of life deserves to be protected for our children.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Major General Bruce J. Legge, C.St.J., E.D., C.D., Q.C., a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Armed Forces and Détente

The defence of the western way of life with détente in perspective. The requirement to defend democratic institutions in the world today. Why the Western world needs to maintain large, professional Armed Forces. The necessity to spend billions of dollars annually on military personnel and equipment. The need to maintain the strategic balance of power. The illusion of "safety under the nuclear umbrella." The fact of military powers in Central Europe and their strength compared to NATO. The need for assessment of the intentions of potential enemies. The use of nuclear weapons. The justification and need for the western democracies to maintain their conventional military strength.