Negotiating the 1983 Canada-United States Agreement for the Test and Evaluation of US Defence Systems in Canada

By Kirkey, Christopher | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Negotiating the 1983 Canada-United States Agreement for the Test and Evaluation of US Defence Systems in Canada


Kirkey, Christopher, Journal of Canadian Studies


The 10 February 1983 Canada-United States Test and Evaluation Program (CANUSTEP) Agreement, designed to permit American authorities to test and evaluate a broad range of new and emerging weapons systems in Canada, was the subject of intensive bilateral negotiations in 1982. Ottawa sought to conclude an overarching umbrella pact that would safeguard or promote a myriad of national interests, while the United States focussed on its need for guaranteed access to Canadian territory and airspace. The negotiations, shaped by American dependence on Canadian co-operation, shared alliance membership, and the longstanding co-operative relationship between the Canadian Department of National Defence and the US Department of Defense, resulted in a mutually satisfactory outcome for both parties.

L'entente portant sur le programme d'evaluation et de test canado-americain du 10 fevrier 1983 (CANUSTEP) fut etablie afin de permettre aux autorites americaines de tester et d'evaluer un large even-tail de nouvel armement au Canada. Elle fut le sujet d'intenses negociations bilaterales au cours de l'annee 1982. Ottawa cherchait a conclure un pacte lui permettant de sauvegarder et/ou de promouvoir une myriade d'interets nationaux, tandis que les Etats-unis cherchaient a mettre l'accent sur l'acces garanti au territoire et a l'espace aerien canadien. Les negociations, influencees par le besoin americain de cooperation canadienne, une longue histoire de participation au sein d'one alliance mutuelle, et d'anciennes relations de cooperation entre le departement canadien de la defense nationale et du departement americain de la defense, donnerent lieu a un accord satisfaisant les deux parties en presence.

The Canada-United States Test and Evaluation Program (CANUSTEP) Agreement signed on 10 February 1983 represents one of the most significant bilateral security arrangements ever undertaken by Canada and the United States. The framework accord, which governs the testing and evaluation (T&E) of US defense systems -- including the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) -- in Canada, was reached after several months of intensive negotiations between Ottawa and Washington. To understand the February 1983 agreement, it is necessary to answer several questions concerning the negotiations leading up to it. What were the national interests and negotiating preferences of the parties? Were these fulfilled? How did the negotiation process evolve? What factors account for the final, mutually satisfactory outcome? Prior to reviewing these issues, the forces that prompted Canada and the United States to enter into negotiations in 1982 must be examined.

A Need to Test Outside the US

The origins of the CANUSTEP agreement firmly rest with the American Department of Defense. By early 1978 it had become clear to Pentagon planners that while a number of new and emerging technologies would soon require operational testing and evaluation, there existed an acute shortage of large, sparsely populated areas available in the United States for such purposes. Locations such as Fort Lewis in Washington and Fort Drum in New York were ultimately dismissed based on territorial requirement considerations.(f.1) The operational testing of the air-launched cruise missile, posed a vexing dilemma for American military planners. Much to the disappointment of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) unarmed flight tests conducted off the American West Coast -- in which ALCMs were launched over the Pacific Ocean and scheduled to fly over sections of California and land in Nevada -- had met with a low rate of success.(f.2) The tests also involved the distasteful reality of overflying high concentrations of population (in some instances, northern Los Angeles) utilizing a narrow flight corridor of only five miles. The Defense Department required a long, wide flight path for the ALCM, preferably in a largely uninhabited region. To this end, Canadian territory and airspace came to be viewed as the most promising prospect. …

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