Continental Integration by Stealth


(28 Apeil 2006) -- As Ottawa prepares to renew NORAD agreement, a bi-national panel suggests nothing less than the complete integration of Canada's military, security and foreign policy into the decision-making and operating systems of the U.S., writes Michael Byers.

They seem harmless enough at first: two mid-level Canadian Forces officers and a mild-mannered bespectacled American consultant explaining the work of their 48-member Bi-National Planning Group to audiences across Canada. Their professed goal is to improve co-operation between the Canadian and U.S. militaries, the better to defend both countries.

Yet a close reading of their final report released last month, reveals that their actual intent - or at least the intent of the politicians who set their mandate - is far from benign. They seek nothing less than the complete integration of Canada's military, security and foreign policy into the decision-making and operating systems of the U.S.

In 2002, it was revealed that Ottawa and Washington were contemplating a "combined defence plan" that would have placed our forces under the umbrella of the U.S.'s new Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

Opposition to the plan quickly led to its being shunted out of view and into the newly created Bi-National Planning Group (BPG). Based at the headquarters of NORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, the planning group was intended to devise counterpoints to critics' concerns, while postponing formal decision-making until a more politically opportune moment.

Today, two Canadian elections later, the authors of the BPG report can hardly believe their luck. Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have only a minority government, but there is little doubt he desires closer ties with Washington.

The BPG recommendations are far-reaching. They aim at "enhanced co-ordination and co-operation among our foreign policy, defence and security organizations" at "the level (although not necessarily the form) of co-operation that now exists in NORAD."

In NORAD, the defence of Canadian and U.S. airspace is assigned to a single command which, while supposedly based on the equality of the two countries, is always headed by a senior U.S. officer.

The BPG is, in actuality, advocating co-operation at the level of a single, U.S.-dominated command for all of Canada's territory and our surrounding seas. Under this plan, the entire Canadian Forces, unless deployed overseas in operations not led by the U.S., could find themselves under American "operational control" with Americans making all key day-to-day decisions.

Not to worry, the BPG assures us calmly: "Command" will remain in Canadian hands. And that's true, insofar as Canadians would retain responsibility for administrative tasks such as hiring, promotion and pensions.

The BPG also recommends closer co-operation in security and foreign policy: "Canada and the U.S. must continue to act as partners; indeed ... the partnership must be expanded, to shape the future of North American defence and security, using all of the instruments of diplomatic, economic, informational and military power."

It is in the context of information-sharing that the BPG recommends the immediate extension of NORAD into the maritime domain as part of next month's renewal of the NORAD agreement.

Ottawa intends to follow this recommendation when it brings the new NORAD agreement, complete with a provision on maritime surveillance sharing, before Parliament in one or two weeks.

In normal circumstances, the instantaneous sharing of information on ships approaching North America might make sense.

In an age of sea-launched cruise missiles, approaching vessels could pose security threats on timelines that are too short for conventional communication protocols.

But the BPG changes the circumstances by indicating that maritime surveillance sharing is intended as a forerunner for much closer co-operation:

It calls the upcoming NORAD agreement renewal "an important step toward enhancing the defence and security of our continent. To continue this momentum a `Comprehensive Defence and Security Agreement' is the logical next step ... "

The BPG presents four alternatives for the new agreement. The first is an expanded NORAD responsible for "all-domain warning" - in the air, at sea, on land and in cyberspace - but with its response capability limited to the air. This new, surveillance-focused NORAD would exist in parallel with Northern Command and the recently established Canadian-run Canada Command.

The second alternative involves a NORAD command that would provide both "all-domain warning and response to asymmetric threats and attacks." Under this approach, NORTHCOM and Canada Command would continue to exist separately with "the capability to respond unilaterally to threats against their respective countries."

However, in reality, the single command would prevail in most defence matters on the North American continent, including armed responses at sea and on land. It would also, inevitably, be dominated by the U.S., a fact which the BPG admits would generate "concerns over sovereignty."

The third alternative gives primacy to NORTHCOM and Canada Command and demotes NORAD to a "Standing Combined Task Force" responsible for providing "bi-national, all-domain awareness and warning" to each national command and, "where appropriate, a combined and co-ordinated response to threats and attacks against Canada and the United States."

As the BPG explains, this alternative "relies upon the ... commitment of those commands toward a continental approach to defence and security." But don't be misled: It still envisages a comprehensive system for surveillance sharing as well as "combined" responses.

The fourth, most ambitious alternative involves "a truly integrated approach to continental defence and security through a deliberate melding of defence and security functions." This would be achieved by "establishing a single organization responsible for all-domain, bi-national warning and execution in the realms of defence and security."

This fourth alternative - full integration - is presented as the ultimate goal of improved co-operation."

The BPG report thus reveals that expanding NORAD to include maritime surveillance sharing is intended to create momentum toward complete military, security and foreign policy integration.

It is part of a deliberately fostered trend that includes Canada's involvement in the U.S.-led counterinsurgency in southern Afghanistan, the instantaneous sharing of NORAD aerospace surveillance for U.S. missile defence, and the Harper government's support for Bush administration foreign policies on climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the Middle East.

We are being subjected to continental integration by stealth. Indeed, the BPG report warns of a "small but vocal minority" concerned about Canadian sovereignty and recommends the use of an "incremental" approach.

Beware the gentle proponents of closer military co-operation. Canada, once proudly independent, is in danger of allowing itself to be suffocated in America's embrace.

* Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. This article first appeared in the Toronto Star.

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