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Security and Sovereignty: Renewing NORAD

March 07, 2005 // 8:00am11:00pm
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The Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a conference in conjunction with the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University, and the Centre for the Study of the United States at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies to launch Security and Sovereignty: Renewing NORAD, the third issue of the Canada Institute's One Issue, Two Voices publication series.

Authors Dwight Mason and James Fergusson presented their papers and panelists David Rudd, Victoria Samson, George MacDonald, and Douglas Murray offered their perspectives on the renewal of the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) agreement. The ensuing discussion provided a focused and relevant analysis of the current issues surrounding NORAD renewal, the recent events in the ballistic missile defense (BMD) debate, and U.S.-Canadian defense relations generally. Linked by videoconference, observers in Washington, D.C., Toronto, and Colorado Springs (at the Bi-National Planning Group) were able to watch and participate in the proceedings of this conference.

All of the speakers expressed their agreement that Canada and the United States should continue to work together in the defense of North America, arguing that such cooperation was both necessary and in the interests of both countries; however, they offered differing degrees of optimism for the future of Canada-U.S. relations, at least in the short term.

Dwight Mason, former chairman of the U.S. section of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, argued that the expansion of NORAD should include land and maritime domains, which would provide for the "seamless" and efficient defense of North America. Noting that it would be highly inefficient to negotiate a new agreement every time there was a land or sea-based threat to North America, he suggested that the expansion of NORAD was both logical and reasonable. He argued that although old threats have diminished, they still remain, while other, newer threats, such as terrorism, have come to the fore. The creation of the Bi-National Planning Group (BPG) in 2002 and its renewal in November 2004 provides a basis for cooperation in the land, sea, and air domains. Given that the leadership of the BPG is the same as the NORAD leadership, Mason advocated the BPG's inclusion under NORAD's umbrella.

While strongly in favor of NORAD expansion, Mason nonetheless identified several potential obstacles to successful negotiations on the issue. He noted that both the Canadian and U.S. navies may be hesitant to support an initiative that would potentially alter their roles. The Canadian Navy is particularly concerned with the possible expansion of its functions into brown-water missions and coastal defense under an expanded NORAD, which could significantly constrain its traditional blue-water functions.

Furthermore, Mason highlighted on several occasions throughout the discussion that the Canadian prime minister's recent decision not to participate in BMD, and the manner in which he communicated the decision to the United States, would diminish U.S. confidence in Canada's reliability as an ally. The immediate result could be a marked reluctance on the part of the United States to renegotiate NORAD with a view to broadening this bilateral defense agreement. Instead, the U.S. government could well opt for a simple rollover of the existing agreement in 2006. He emphasized that such a result would be detrimental to both countries.

James Fergusson of the University of Manitoba agreed with Mason's assessment of the need for an expanded mandate for NORAD. He underscored additional obstacles to agreement: Canadian concerns regarding the command structures in an expanded NORAD. He noted that Canadians would object to a permanent status of "deputy" commander because of the perception of subordination this arrangement implies. A new form of joint command may therefore need to be negotiated in the event of expansion.

Lamenting the BMD decision made by the Canadian prime minister, Fergusson expressed his worry that Canada has given up its access to "need to know" information in decisions related to BMD and to NORAD's early warning function, with unfortunate consequences for Canadian security and sovereignty. Nevertheless, the fact that the Canadian government finally took a decision on the issue at least allows Canada and the United States to begin moving past the debate on BMD and start working to resolve outstanding issues in the bilateral defense relationship, including the expansion of NORAD.

The respondents, David Rudd, Victoria Samson, Lieutenant-General George MacDonald, and Colonel Douglas Murray largely echoed variations of the same themes. Several expressed concern with the Canadian decision-making process in the BMD debate. David Rudd took issue with the Canadian government's tendency to allow the political expediency to guide policy decisions on issues like BMD, at the expense of long-term strategic objectives reflecting the country's interests. He acknowledged the gap between Canadian policymakers and the Canadian public and argued for an open-ended and public review of Canadian defense and foreign policy. He remarked too that the Canadian government appeared unreasonably hesitant to communicate with Canadians on security issues, avoiding unpleasant debates on issues such as BMD at the expense of genuine public debate on Canadian interests and security priorities. Furthermore, he suggested that the current minority government situation in Canada was no excuse for the Canadian government's failure to engage in a genuine debate on the issue, as many commentators have suggested. On the contrary, if anything, a minority government situation provides a unique opportunity for dialogue with opposition forces, with the potential for multi-party cooperation and compromise that would otherwise not be characteristic of the Canadian government.

Victoria Samson viewed the Canadian refusal to participate in BMD as a setback for the United States, casting further doubt on the BMD system, which has already experienced a number of well publicized failures during several trial runs. Taking a different perspective than the other panelists, she expressed her support for the Canadian decision. She argued that the "weaponization of space" was in fact the underlying, if not explicit goal of the U.S. Department of Defense, making the Canadian decision a "responsible" one. Furthermore, according to Samson, participating in BMD would not have given Canada its coveted "seat at the table," since decision-making regarding interceptors would remain exclusively with U.S. Northern Command. Samson also dismissed the notion that Canadian defense contractors would have benefited from Canada's participation in BMD, as some have suggested, arguing that the decision would not have substantially increased the number of new defense contracts Canadian firms could bid on.

George MacDonald emphasized the need for Canadian decision-makers to take U.S. national security priorities into account when formulating Canada's defense and security policies. Regardless of whether Canada shares the United States' assessment of security threats, the Canadian government ought at least to understand its neighbor's priorities, and develop Canada's defense policy accordingly. Canada's active engagement in NORAD and the possible expansion of bilateral defense cooperation have gained particular importance in light of the Canadian decision not to take part in BMD. MacDonald suggested that Canada needed to reiterate its commitment to the defense of North America, and that supporting an expanded NORAD would be the ideal form of renewed cooperation. He also urged Canadians to consider significantly expanding defense relations with the United States to include, among others, cooperation on intelligence gathering, cyber-security, and training for first responders.

Douglas Murray shared the view of other panelists that Canada-U.S. defense cooperation continued to be beneficial, but acknowledged that significant doubts remain on the potential for NORAD expansion. Nevertheless, he argued that the continued existence, and indeed the expansion of NORAD, served the interests of both Canada and the United States from the perspective of border security, combating drug trafficking, and illegal immigration. Yet there remains a chasm between the United States and Canada in terms of a common understanding of some of these threats, particularly in relation to the debate on BMD; he commended the Canada Institute's the One Issue, Two Voices publication for shedding light on some of these differences.

In the ensuing discussion, several participants questioned the emphasis the United States places on terrorist threats as well as ballistic missile threats from rogue states. Arguing that Canada did not share the same perception of security threats, they queried the panelists on the validity of strictly aligning Canadian defense policy toward that of the United States. Taking this argument further, others questioned the overall direction of U.S. foreign policy, suggesting that the Bush administration's "hegemonic," if not outright "imperialistic" approach to foreign policy was disruptive to the international community; in this context, Canada should not be party to U.S. policies, including on missile defense.

Dwight Mason dismissed the notion that the United States considered itself an empire, noting that such a debate was irrelevant to policymaking circles in Washington. Rather, U.S. foreign policy is dictated by the country's interests abroad, which indeed imply a worldwide scope of activities. He and other panelists reiterated their firm belief in the mutually beneficial bilateral defense cooperation that exists between Canada and the United States, but also sounded a cautionary note that Canada's decision to remain outside BMD may lead the U.S. government to advocate pursuing continental defense policies unilaterally, no longer seeking Canadian input or opinions.

In this regard, reactions to the panel also focused attention on Canada's trend of decreasing military spending and the resulting implications for Canada-U.S. relations. The panelists generally welcomed the increase in military expenditures in Canada's 2005 budget, though Fergusson and others expressed doubt whether it would help arrest the decline of Canada's ageing military capabilities.

Drafted by Ambra Dickie
M.A. Candidate, Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, Dalhousie University

David N. Biette
Director, Canada Institute
(202) 691-4133

 

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