By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA-Believing he lacked the “backbone” for the job, the British government opposed the nomination of Canada’s former top soldier Gen. Ray Henault to head NATO’s key military committee, according to a U.S. embassy cable obtained by APTN National News.
The Canadian government, which was led by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin at the time, was also prepared to pull Henault’s nomination if the U.S. didn’t back the former chief of defence staff, the “confidential” cable said.
APTN National News has obtained hundreds of confidential and secret U.S. diplomatic cables from whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
CBC-Radio Canada have also obtained the same batch of cables.
The cable, from Nov. 2, 2004, offers a peek into NATO’s backroom machinations with a major vote looming.
Henault was eventually voted in as chairman of NATO’s military committee and officially took over the role in the summer of 2005 until 2008.
His only competition was Danish General Hans Jesper Helsoe.
Henault was the Canadian military’s chief of defence staff from the summer of 2001 to the spring of 2005.
The British, however, weren’t keen on Henault and didn’t think he had the mettle to take on the job. It appears a blunt meeting between Henault and the Britain’s former chief of defence staff Gen. Sir Michael Walker left a bad impression.
“In the last meeting between Henault and UK CHOD General Sir Michael Walker, Walker was reportedly very direct in a no-nonsense request for Canadian contributions to ongoing NATO, UN and coalition missions,” said the diplomatic cable, sent from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa. “Henault was apparently flustered in that meeting and responded that he could only work with resources provided by the government of Canada.”
As a result, the British concluded that Henault was not up to the task.
“Henault is seen by many UK observers as perhaps too politically sensitive and as not being vocal enough in calling for more resources for Canadian Forces,” said the cable. “Source B believes Henault lacks the backbone for tough engagement on issues facing the alliance, such as training and equipping the new Iraqi army.”
“Source B” was a British military official, according to the cable.
The Liberal government at the time was also ready to pull Henault’s nomination if he didn’t get U.S. support, but the Americans smelled a ruse.
“Some Canadian sources have communicated that Canada would withdraw Henault’s nomination if he is not supported by the U.S.,” the cable said. “This is unlikely and a hollow means of attempting to force support since there is secret balloting involved.”
Henault did have the strong backing of the Dutch who made their preference known. Henault was seen as the best candidate to promote “transatlanticism,” the cable said.
More importantly, it seems, the U.S. saw Henault as the best man for the job as a result of his “very pro-U.S.” slant, the cable said.
“While Canada may not be leading in NATO contributions…it would be prudent for the U.S. to support Henault’s candidacy for the post,” the cable said. “Henault is very pro-U.S., and is very politically savvy. He is also solidly behind efforts to transform NATO’s military forces into an effective expeditionary force. Henault could be relied upon to advance U.S. military and political agendas within NATO.”
The cable said Henault had been “quietly but continuously” lobbying for the position.