The Bilateral Security Relationship: Will "National" Missile Defense Involve Canada?

By Sokolsky, Joel J. | American Review of Canadian Studies, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Bilateral Security Relationship: Will "National" Missile Defense Involve Canada?


Sokolsky, Joel J., American Review of Canadian Studies


Introduction: Beyond the "End"

Four years ago, Joseph Jockel and I proclaimed the "end" of the Canada-U.S. defense relationship. (1) With the passing of the Cold War, its two central elements--collaboration in the aerospace defense of North America through the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and cooperation in European security under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)--were fading into geostrategic obscurity. Rather than regret the fraying of security ties built up over half a century, the two countries should welcome the process, for now residual and waning defense ties would be free of the frictions that had arisen in the always-unequal partnership of a small-to-middle power and a superpower, frictions that were mainly the result of Canadian sovereignty concerns. We suggested, however, that such frictions could arise again if "Ottawa itself chooses to become more heavily involved in American-led activities, whether in North America though an accelerated NORAD BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) role" or "in Europe though NATO actions in the East." (2)

In a certain sense, both these eventualities have now come to pass and, thus, the bilateral defense relationship has moved beyond the "end" and, in so doing, now finds itself beset with frictions, some familiar and some unprecedented. In Europe, Canada has indeed become heavily involved with the United States in the "new" NATO, including going to war alongside the Americans and a host of other allies in the Kosovo campaign. While they made a respectable showing, the campaign has raised questions about the capabilities of the Canadian Forces (CF) and rekindled the old burden-sharing debate.

But the major issue concerns BMD and the future of NORAD in light of Washington's National Missile Defense (NMD), endorsed by the United States Congress and awaiting a presidential decision following the Deployment Readiness Review expected by the fall of 2000. Although the two governments have renewed the NORAD agreement for another five years, the question of Canadian involvement in NMD remains open. Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre has said that Washington would like Canada to participate once the technology has been proved to work and a decision to deploy has been taken. This means that several years from now it might be a Canadian general who is asked to give the order authorizing the interception of a North Korean missile headed for Los Angeles or another American city. No other U.S. ally would ever be entrusted with such a responsibility.

Since 1957 the two countries have maintained the joint North American Aerospace Defense Command, whose operations center--shared with the U.S. Space Command-is located deep under Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and whose central functions are to warn of and assess an attack. A fanciful version of NORAD was featured in the popular 1983 movie, War Games. No Canadian air force uniforms are to be seen in the movie version, unlike the real thing, where numerous posts, including NORAD's deputy commander-in-chief, are held by Canadians. During the Cold War it could well have been a Canadian on duty at NORAD who would have alerted U.S. authorities that a Soviet nuclear attack on this continent was underway.

The U.S. is poised to place the National Missile Defense under NORAD's authority. But the U.S. does not need Canadian cooperation or support to deploy the system, for neither Canadian territory nor airspace would be involved in its operation. Canadian officials are quite aware of what may happen if Canada declines the invitation. The U.S. could very well move to dissolve NORAD, give its warning and assessment functions, along with responsibility for the National Missile Defense, to an all-U.S. command, and place the U.S. Canadian defense relationship on a much looser footing.

Leaving Cheyenne Mountain would be costly for Canada. It would mean the end of Canada's uniquely privileged military relationship with the United States in North American defense.

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