Opposition to the Harper government's proposal to purchase 65 F-35 fighter jets has been consistent and growing. Most of it is focused on the related issues of costs and corruption that are associated with the procurement. This is critically important – military spending should always be conducted in an open and transparent manner, and it must be justified in the context of broader public spending. In an era of high unemployment, deep cuts to social programs and harsh austerity programs that target working people, Harper's intention of spending billions of dollars on fighter jets is thoroughly offensive, and it needs to be confronted and opposed by the largest possible mobilization of people.
The F-35 program is driven by the United States military and its NATO allies. In 1997, Canada signed onto the Joint Strike Fighter program, which was developed as a vehicle for the United States to capture international funding for a replacement jet fighter. Canada's initial investment in 1997 was $10 million. In 2001 the JSF contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin, who developed what is now known as the F-35. By 2010, the international procurement process was underway and Stephen Harper announced that Canada would purchase 65 fighter jets, through an untendered purchase.
Prior to this announcement by the Harper government, the issue of the F-35 had been discussed at NATO's Parliamentary Assembly (PA), a body that provides an ongoing political exchange between NATO and legislators from its member states. The PA is explicitly oriented toward government policy, working to ensure that legislation and programs of member states are consistent with, and facilitate the implementation of, NATO's priorities. The reports from PA meetings in 2010 suggest some concern that international orders for the F-35 and, by extension, funding for the project, were below expectation. This is significant, as the United States has been trying, since the economic crisis of 2008, to reduce its financial support to NATO and to offset that by increasing financial support from other members. Harper's purchase announcement is yet another obedient response to NATO and US prodding, this time guaranteed through an undemocratic process.
There is, however, another aspect to the F-35 program that has not received much public attention, and this is its link with renewed nuclear weapons development. This connection emerged around the same time as Harper's announcement of the Canadian purchase. In early 2010 the US government, as part of its Nuclear Posture Review, announced that the F-35 program would involve redesigning the B61 bomb. The B61 is a nuclear bomb. While the F-35 was not initially intended to be nuclear capable, the US announcement clearly indicates that F-35 jet will carry and deliver this nuclear weapon. The rollout of the F-35 is planned to coincide with the rollout of the redesigned B61 nuclear bomb.
There has been no statement from the Canadian government opposing the use of the F-35 program to develop the B61 nuclear bomb. Nor has there been any indication that F-35's coveted by Harper and Canada's military will be exempt from carrying nuclear weaponry.
Most people in Canada understand that this country is a non-nuclear weapons state. Public opinion overwhelmingly (almost 90%) favours nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. However, the current reality is that through a non-tendered process, meaning in secret, the Canadian government has committed to purchase 65 military aircraft , and in the process, also fund the upgrade and proliferation of nuclear weaponry.
This one more reason to scrap the proposed purchase of the F-35, and it points to the urgent need to re-orient Canada's foreign policy to one that is based on peace, sovereignty and international solidarity.
President, Canadian Peace Congress