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Tim Dunne is the former chief of media relations with NATO’s southern European headquarters in Naples, Italy. He later served as military relations adviser for the Nova Scotia government and the chair of the Security Affairs Committee of the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia.

An article in the July 26 edition of the London Telegraph suggested that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “tipped to become next secretary-general of NATO.”

The Brits have provided some impressive representatives in that chair, such as Peter Carington (1984-88) and Lord George Robertson (1999-2003). But to propose that Mr. Johnson lead NATO is utter insanity. During a crisis, a serious leader must adopt a number of profiles. Leadership by example and clear-headed decision-making that benefits the nation are essential attributes – and ones that are beyond Mr. Johnson’s reach.

If not Mr. Johnson, then who should head the organization? Why not a Canadian?

It’s time for a change in Canada’s role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Canada is one of the founding nations of NATO and one of the first countries to suggest a transatlantic defensive alliance when Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent proposed a “single mutual defence system.” From the beginning, Canada has been an active supporter of NATO policies, operations and exercises, with distance making our involvement significantly more expensive than it is for our European allies.

It’s time for NATO to acknowledge that recognition for our contributions and participation over the past seven decades is overdue. We have been punching above our weight pretty much since the beginning, but never has a Canadian sat as secretary-general.

In November, 1947, the Soviet Union surfaced from the Second World War with formidable territorial ambitions. Canada and the United States recognized the new geopolitical realities and that our security was inseparable from that of Western Europe. The U.S., Britain and Canada began secret exploratory talks about alternative security arrangements in addition to the United Nations. France, the Benelux countries and Norway joined and signed the Washington Treaty on April 4, 1949, establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Denmark, Iceland, Portugal and Italy immediately followed.

In those early days, Canada and the United States provided security – which the Europeans eagerly consumed.

In 1951, Canada deployed a well-equipped army brigade group and an air division, whose strength would eventually reach 12 squadrons totalling 240 aircraft. In the later phases of the Korean conflict, the Royal Canadian Air Force was flying more advanced fighters in the European theatre than even the U.S. Air Force, and provided the biggest contribution to the expansion of West European air defence.

By 1953, more than 8 per cent of Canada’s GDP went to defence spending, a massive increase from 1947′s 1.4 per cent. As the Korean War drew to a close, Canada’s defence/GDP ratio was the fourth highest in NATO. Its defence budget of nearly $2-billion accounted for 45 per cent of all federal spending.

In time, Canada cut back a significant portion of its contributions to Western European defence. It was becoming a massive expense to sustain a robust military contribution in Europe as we undertook shared responsibilities for North American air defence with the U.S. and participated in UN-mandated peacekeeping operations.

Canada also believed that Western European countries could do more on their own as they recovered from the war. Europe’s defence requirements were depriving Canada of its ability to focus limited resources on parts of the world where the need was even greater and the entitlement more justified.

Canada closed its military bases in Germany in 1993, saving $1-billion annually. However, Canada still deployed its forces to NATO exercises in Germany and Norway, and maintained an active engagement in the alliance.

Canadian troops were involved in NATO-led operations in the Balkans (1996-2004) when the alliance accepted responsibility for peace-support operations from the United Nations. They were also active in NATO-led operations in Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2003-14) and Libya (2011).

The Royal Canadian Navy has deployed ships with the Standing NATO Maritime Group One since its establishment in January, 2005 (as it did with its predecessor, NATO’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic, starting with its inauguration in 1968).

It is true that Canada does not spend NATO’s recommended defence expenditure of 2 per cent of GDP; it is currently 1.27 per cent. But Canada is not alone. Member nations that have led the alliance and don’t meet the benchmark include Belgium (1.18 per cent), Denmark (1.39 per cent), Germany (1.44 per cent), Italy (1.54 per cent), Norway (1.55 per cent) and the Netherlands (1.65 per cent).

There have been 12 secretary-generals in NATO’s 73 years, with Denmark, Germany, Italy and Norway having the position once each, Belgium twice, and the Netherlands and Britain three times each. Despite Canada’s leadership role in the establishment of the alliance and our continuing (and expensive) involvement in operations, Canada has yet to occupy that office.

Canada is one of only two non-European nations to be a consistent contributor to European security, yet we see little return for our investment. A Canadian secretary-general can bring a North American perspective to NATO deliberations – something that has been needed for quite some time.

Several retired senior officers have bluntly told me that there is no way that Canada will ever lead NATO, because our proximity to the United States makes us appear to be the 51st U.S. state. Those who hold that opinion are wrong. Canada is independent of both Britain and the United States. To think otherwise is an insult to Canada, our history, our culture and our people.

The 1931 Statute of Westminster gave Canada sovereignty over its own domestic and foreign affairs and we have forged our own way in the world. The cost has been high, and our soldiers have paid it in blood.

Canada is overdue to take its place as NATO’s secretary-general.

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