The Right, NATO and the Cold War

Having lived in the US for eight years, I became accustomed to hearing right wingers trashing NATO allies for not doing their best to defend themselves without American assistance. As a Canadian whose late father was a major in the Royal Canadian Air Force, this type of criticism was often directed at my country, and to an extent I agree with it. The Canadian GOVERNMENT certainly does not spend enough on national defense, and this has been the case for decades. But that is not to say that the Canadian military doesn’t have a strong warrior ethos. I served as a soldier in the West Nova Scotia Regiment, a reserve infantry regiment, and I can personally vouch for the professionalism of Canadian service members, regular and reserve in all branches.

The reason I bring this up is because I just read a 2020 book by a retired USAF F-16 pilot named Colonel P.K. White who served in Europe during the Cold War and said: “… I participated in TAC-EVALs for Torrejon Air Base, conducted at Incirlik in Turkey, Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands, and Bierset Air Base in Belgium. It was a good experience, as it provided a first-hand view of how different wings from different nations conducted their combat operations. As we all suspected, the non-US NATO wings were definitely held to a different standard (lower) than the US wings. To be fair, U.S. fighter wings like Torrejon, Hahn, and a few other US bases had nuclear commitments, so obviously, the standards had to be extremely high; however, one got the distinct impression that the non-US NATO bases just didn’t take their combat roles quite as seriously as the US bases.” (p. 230)

I can assure the good colonel that when Canada had air bases in Europe they were very highly regarded and considered among the very best in NATO, and garnered praise from USAF senior officers. And up until the early 1970s, the Canadians had a nuclear strike role in NATO, just like the USAF. The RAF is also highly professional, as I have mentioned in previous articles for CounterPunch.  The Canadians and British took the Cold War just as seriously as the Americans, and probably more so when the US had conscription. Tom Clancy was flat out wrong when he claimed the RAF cannot “can’t begin to match” the “professionalism of today’s USAF”. (p. 194)

It took a tremendous effort from ALL NATO nations, not just the USA, to bring the Soviet Union to its knees and end the Cold War. That obviously includes The Netherlands, a country that Colonel White criticized when he saw a couple of very young Dutch airmen goofing off during an exercise, as if this never happened in the USAF. I would remind him, will great respect, that goofing off, even desertion, drug use, and people joining up only to avoid getting drafted into the Army certainly did happen in the USAF, especially during the Vietnam era and the 1970s.

Finally, I would politely ask Colonel White and others who hold his views to read a wonderful book by an RAF fighter pilot who served on exchange in the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) and LOVED it. The book is called Flying Freestyle: An RAF Fast Jet Pilot’s Story and the author is Squadron Leader Jerry Pook, MBE DFC. He said: “One of the excellent things about RNLAF bases was the way that base operations worked. They actually controlled flying operations, instead of just monitoring (and sometimes hindering) them as in the RAF.” (p.330) The Dutch air force compared favorably to the RAF in other ways as well. As Pook tells it: “The Dutch took instrument flying much more seriously than the RAF. For them it was the vital component of AWX, or all-weather operations. The squadrons at Volkel had a wartime IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) capability, (i.e. we could carry out our missions in cloud) – in war we were expected to launch regardless of the weather at base or en route to the target. This demanded a lot of peacetime training at low-level instrument flying, both day and night.” (Ibid.)

There you have it: praise for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. That’s something that won’t be found in many books published by American conservatives. NATO was and still is a team, and trashing allies doesn’t promote unity, which is really needed now.


PK White. INSIDE THE TURN CIRCLE: Earning My Wings in the F-16 1979-1988. UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

Tom Clancy; Gresham, John. Fighter Wing (Tom Clancy’s Military Reference). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Jerry Pook. Flying Freestyle: An RAF Fast Jet Pilot’s Story. Pen & Sword Books. Kindle Edition.

Roger Thompson is a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development, the author of Lessons Not Learned: The US Navy’s Status Quo Culture, a former researcher at Canada’s National Defence Headquarters and Korea’s first Star Trek professor.