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Canadian Sees GIs Marching on Quebec

January 08, 1991|MARY WILLIAMS WALSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unbeknown to most Canadians--or Americans, for that matter--$1 billion in barracks, classrooms, recreation halls and other facilities have just been completed 80 miles south of Ottawa.

Could the military buildup at Ft. Drum, N.Y., be a harbinger of a U.S. attack on Canada?

That's the theory of Floyd Rudmin, an assistant professor of law and business at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario province, who has been watching the fort closely.

If things should turn nasty in Quebec, Rudmin says, the United States now has the capacity to seize the terrain between Montreal and the federal capital of Ottawa, paralyze Canada's government, disrupt its military communications--centered at a base in southern Ontario--and split the nation along its key French-English fault line, the Quebec-Ontario border.

"Not bad for a day's work by a single division," says Rudmin, who has published his analysis and conclusions in the Queen's Quarterly, a scholarly journal.

But in Washington, Rudmin's speculations are met with merriment.

"Canada has been our friend for many, many generations," says a senior State Department official. "We want a strong and united Canada, but we will not intervene overtly, and we are not going to do anything covertly."

Rudmin disagrees. History is littered with soured alliances and military surprises, he says. Besides, he says, the "anomalies" surrounding Ft. Drum suggest a hidden U.S. agenda.

First, there is the puzzle of the mission of the soldiers billeted there. Ft. Drum is home to the army's 10th Mountain Division, a special "light infantry" force, a hybrid between elite commandos and conventional infantry. Light infantry operates in small units without tanks, armored personnel carriers or heavy artillery. Its specialty is lightning attacks on unsuspecting targets. The light infantry at Ft. Drum, by dint of its location, is well-versed in winter warfare.

The Army has argued that it needs light infantry divisions to cope with low-intensity conflicts in the Third World. In current army doctrine, light infantry is best suited for brush-fire duty in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

If so, says Rudmin, then why train so many GIs in the snows of Upstate New York? He points out that the village of Barnes Corner, just 20 miles from Ft. Drum, set the seasonal New York state record for snow 14 years ago, with 466.9 inches. Hardly proper conditions to train troops destined for the dry wastes and steaming mangrove swamps of the world's death-and-revolution belt.

Suspicions also swirl around countries where the Ft. Drum troops are said to be ready to fight. What Rudmin cites as the most recent analysis of light infantry, Stephen D. Goose's "Low-Intensity Warfare: The Warriors and Their Weapons," concluded that the 10th Division would be just the ticket for upheavals in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Yet all of those countries have "substantial and heavily armored forces of the very type that light infantry are ill-designed to fight," Rudmin says.

Ft. Drum's runways are a further tip-off to a Canadian Paul Revere. Since light infantry divisions are formed with rapid deployment in mind, needing one-third the usual number of airlifts to be put into the field, one would expect them to be based at a heavy-duty airfield. But not the 10th Division. Ft. Drum's runways are so short that large transport planes normally used in divisional airlifts can't take off from them fully loaded, Rudmin says.

True, there are a couple of Air Force bases an hour's drive away. Couldn't Ft. Drum truck the 10th Division to them in an emergency? No, says Rudmin. Ft. Drum has only enough vehicles to transport a battalion. The rest would have to set out on their lightning raid ignominiously, by bus.

All these quirks might make an American throw up his hands at the seeming recklessness of the military planning and congressional appropriations behind Ft. Drum.

But Canadians don't always see things the way Americans do. They haven't forgotten that America landed troops off Vancouver in 1859, or that in the War of 1812, Americans sacked Toronto. That year, Americans also tried to capture Kingston, Rudmin's modern-day home.

No wonder that, when Rudmin considers all the troubles the 10th Division could have fulfilling its stated mission, he concludes that another, secret mission in undefended Ottawa is likelier.

"He's entitled to draw whatever conclusions he wants, but his conclusions are erroneous," says Col. Joseph Allred, an army spokesman in Washington.

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