Why MPs shouldn't vote for this NORAD deal

May 8, 2006

Special to Globe and Mail Update http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060508.wcomment0508/BNStory/Front/home

Today, members of Parliament will vote on a new NORAD agreement. The government is laudably putting the agreement to a vote, but it's "take it or leave it" - MPs aren't allowed to make amendments.

Without improvements, MPs should just leave it. Here's why.

This new NORAD agreement makes two significant changes: Maritime warning for North America is added to NORAD's missions, and the agreement is no longer renewed every five years (but can be amended at any time upon agreement of both governments).

Any change to NORAD should not be taken lightly, especially if it may be difficult to fix later. NORAD has an impact on Canadian sovereignty as well as on continental military arrangements, and it implicates Canada in missile defence and possibly space weapons.

Established in 1958 during the Cold War, the bi-national North American Aerospace Defence Command has a U.S. commander and a Canadian deputy commander. NORAD uses radars and satellites to warn of threats to North America in the form of aircraft or missiles.

For suspicious aircraft, NORAD exercises control over the airspace and can dispatch dedicated Canadian and U.S. military jets to intercept them and potentially shoot them down.

If NORAD thinks someone has launched an intercontinental ballistic missile at the continent, it warns U.S. commanders who can decide to launch a nuclear counterattack - or maybe, some day, launch missile interceptors or use space weapons to try to destroy the incoming enemy missile.

But now the governments want NORAD to warn of possible threats from ships along coastlines, in the Arctic or on internal waters such as the Great Lakes. National commands, such our new Canada Command, retain control of sovereign waters and can then decide to intercept and board the suspicious ships.

It may sound reasonable enough to add maritime warning to NORAD, but what are the implications? Parliamentarians have plenty to be concerned about. Most important, adding maritime responsibilities does nothing to resolve, and could only complicate, sovereignty and territorial disputes between Canada and the United States, especially in the Arctic, where the U.S. considers the thawing Northwest Passage to be international waters, not Canadian.

When the NDP's Dawn Black asked during last weeks debate whether the agreement included the sharing of maritime surveillance in the Northwest Passage, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, alarmingly, didn't know the answer. "If there were vessels going through the Northwest Passage, I am not certain we would report that to the United States. That is up for question," he admitted. Clearly, our sovereignty must be assured before any deal is approved.

Second, this NORAD deal ignores another major security and sovereignty concern for Canada: nuclear submarines. Why should NORAD's maritime role stop at the water's surface? Why not continue underwater?

During the election, Stephen Harper pledged to stop foreign submarines from venturing into Canadian waters without Ottawa's permission. That included U.S. submarines, and he promised to set up a new Arctic national sensor system to track them. This surveillance could be delivered to NORAD if the Americans agreed to disclose their submarine movements.

Third, providing missile warning information to U.S. commands responsible for missile defence, agreed to in the August, 2004, NORAD amendment, leaves a back door open for further Canadian involvement in missile defence, and even space weapons.

For instance, the government could try to argue that the establishment in Canada of a missile defence X-band radar, used for targeting, is consistent with the NORAD agreement. In fact, the Americans have already scouted a location in Goose Bay, Labrador, for a radar site, despite the Canadian government's policy of not participating in ballistic missile defence.

The agreement should explicitly prohibit the use of NORAD for the aiming of missile defence, anti-satellite or space-based weapons, as a condition of Canadian participation in NORAD.

The current NORAD agreement expires on Friday May 12, but the government should not use this looming deadline to try to strong-arm Members of Parliament.

Instead, Stephen Harper should adopt a more reasonable approach and seek Parliament's approval to extend the current NORAD agreement by another two years, so that outstanding concerns can be examined and addressed. If not, Members of Parliament cannot be faulted for rejecting such a flawed deal.

Steven Staples is the director of security programs for the Polaris Institute and author of the forthcoming book, Missile Defence: Round One.

Steven Staples Director of Security Programs
* New address * Polaris Institute
180 Metcalfe Street, Suite 500 Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1P5 CANADA t. 613 237-1717 x107 c. 613 290-2695 f. 613 237-3359 e. sstaples@polarisinstitute.org

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