The latest renewal of the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Agreement took place on May 12, 2006. It was a landmark event in that the US and Canada agreed this renewal, rather than being valid for the standard five years, would be valid in perpetuity, with a provision for review every four years.

Although the renewal was touted as an important com- ponent of North American security and an enduring symbol of the long-term quality and strength of the Canada-United States security partnership, noticeably absent from the announcement was any specific detail or commitment to the place of NORAD in the overall continental security framework of the future. Indeed, the NORAD leadership itself admitted that how NORAD would accomplish its new mission and/or work with its partner commands (CANADA- COM, NORTHCOM and US STRATCOM, among others) had yet to be determined, negotiated or agreed upon.

With the renewal of the agreement in perpetuity but with the provision for a four-year review scheduled for 2010, it would seem in this case, as Joel Sokolsky observed, that ”œin perpetuity” clearly does not mean forever. If this is true, then, what rationale would validate the use of this curious and apparently contradictory phraseology?

Desire for renewal in perpetuity came primarily from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the US Department of State. Their objective may well have been to avoid the exposure to political risk every five years, where issues that could be central to national security are subjected to the whims of short-term public sen- timents and political power struggles. But what of the other major players in this scenario? What were and are their moti- vations for participating in and supporting this curious evo- lution in the NORAD saga? To answer these questions I will address each of the Canadian and American political/mili- detail. I will begin with an analysis of the American position, as a clear understanding of the Canadian strate- gy hinges upon a number of factors embedded in the American one.

Although the final structure of the evolving Canada-US defence rela- tionship is still undetermined and the rhetoric on both sides of the border is supportive of continuing an ”œimportant,” ”œkey” or ”œcentral” role for NORAD, there are a number of actions and events that can serve as bench- mark indicators of the American strat- egy and objectives for shaping the future of the relationship.

These indicators include but are not restricted to the nature of organi- zational changes, the selection of offi- cers for key leadership positions and the nature of the responsibilities assigned to those positions, and the rhetoric and behaviour of senior lead- ers who are ”œtwo-hatted” and have responsibilities in both NORAD and USNORTHCOM.

Since it was established on October 1, 2002, as a combatant command under the unified command plan, the USNORTHCOM mission has been to defend the American homeland, and in doing so protect the American people, their national power and their freedom of action. If the last two objectives are taken literally, and there are no quali- fiers to these objectives made any- where in the mission statement, one of the purposes of USNORTHCOM is thus to reduce and thereafter minimize the extent to which NORAD, as a bination- al command, influences or limits American options in the defence of the homeland. By extension, therefore, one of the ”œimplied” tasks of the USNORTHCOM mission is the reduction of NORAD’s influence as a tool of continental and US national security.

It is clear that from the American operational perspective, USNORTH- COM is intended to be the linchpin of the contribution to homeland security made by the US military, with NORAD at best acting as a subset of that equa- tion ”” possibly as the air force compo- nent of that command.

This conclusion is supported by a number of statements that are used to amplify the USNORTHCOM role and mission. One example is the statement delineating the USNORTHCOM area of responsibility (AOR), which includes the NORAD AOR, as but a subset of the larger USNORTHCOM AOR.

Another example is the assign- ment to the commander of USNORTH- COM (and to all other commanders of combatant commands) of responsibili- ty for theatre security cooperation (TSC) with the nations within his AOR. In the USNORTHCOM case, these nations are Mexico and Canada. The TSC relationships between combatant commanders and the nations within their geographic areas of responsibility are bilateral or multilateral ones, and are not at the binational or nation-to- nation level with all of the strategic relationship implications that such agreements carry. Thus, with the estab- lishment of USNORTHCOM and its apparent dominance in American oper- ational thought, Canada is faced with a degradation of the strategic relation- ship with the United States that had previously existed and that had been epitomized by the NORAD Agreement.

Yet a third indicator of American intentions to establish USNORTH- COM as the dominant Canada-US defence relationship mechanism is the mention of the command of NORAD as a subtask in the list of responsibili- ties for the commander of USNORTH- COM in addition to his primary one of commander of a combatant com- mand. Taken together, these subtle indicators present a perspective and a frame of the American mind that clear- ly places NORAD as a subordinate of USNORTHCOM in the homeland secu- rity infrastructure and therefore in the continental one as well.

Not nearly as subtle was the appointment in November 2004 of US Navy Admiral Timothy J. Keating. As a naval aviator, Admiral Keating was well acquaint- ed with the aerospace envi- ronment as a battle space, yet the absence of any experience with continental aerospace secu- rity in general or with NORAD operations in particular effectively removes any possible bias or strategic understanding that would favour or support a preference toward the use of NORAD as a model for continental defence and security.

As one senior Canadian officer explained, with Admiral Keating you have a USNORTHCOM commander wondering what to do with NORAD. If tradition in the appointment of NORAD commanders had been fol- lowed and a United States Air Force NORAD veteran had been assigned the command, you would have had a NORAD commander wondering what to do with USNORTHCOM.

One of several indicators of Admiral Keating’s position on the NORAD issue, which occurred shortly after his appoint- ment to USNORTHCOM, was that he openly questioned the value of a NORAD binational structure when the issue of Mexican participation in continental security must ultimately be addressed. This and several other examples con- tained in congressional testimony clearly indicate the low esteem in which a num- ber of the key strategic thinkers in the American security infrastructure hold the utility of NORAD. By appointing Admiral Keating to command both USNORTH- COM and NORAD, former secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld clearly wanted the focus on the maximization of American flexibility to address the most vital of American interests, the security of their homeland.

Yet another fact supporting the con- tention that USNORTHCOM is intended to be the defence centrepiece of the US military homeland security effort is the use of the unified command plan (UCP) template for the combatant command to define the structure and responsibilities of USNORTHCOM. As mentioned previ- ously, the UCP ”œcookie- cutter” template for combatant commands places interac- tion with the nations included in a par- ticular command’s AOR as a task subordinate to the main mission of that command under the heading of ”œtheatre security cooperation.” There is no men- tion of partnership or sharing of respon- sibilities in the execution of the USNORTHCOM mission; rather it is a case of the USNORTHCOM commander shaping relationships with the nations included in the geographical area of the particular command to enable the achievement of the command’s mission. The application of the cookie-cutter tem- plate to the North American case denies any special relationship or recognition of a unique security case for America in the resolution of homeland security threats involving Canada.

There is thus the inescapable con- clusion that the American strategic intent is to reshape the Canada-US security relationship from a bination- al one epitomized by NORAD into a bi-lateral one that maximizes the free- dom and scope of action for the achievement of American security objectives, unfettered by restrictive commitments or obligations. This trend is clearly away from a partnership approach to continental security and toward a unilateral one, or a lop- sided partnership with Canada assuming a subordinate position on par with any other country in the world that has an influence on American security concerns, instead of the special one shaped by our geog- raphy and the terms of the NORAD Agreement. This trend appears to ignore the fact that, uniquely, the security relationship with the partner nation, Canada, directly influences the most vital of the American securi- ty interests, the security of the American homeland. Thus the tem- plate for the Canada-US defence and security relationship under the UCP will be the same as that used to man- age the one for New Zealand, Thailand or Morocco.

Some have argued that while the application of the UCP architecture as the device to address the military aspects of American homeland security might fail to capture the subtleties and history of the Canada-US security relationship, the structure was probably selected in haste to establish some framework around which to quickly begin address- ing the issues of military homeland secu- rity. While this may be true, it is also true that USNORTHCOM was not established until more than a year after 9/11, thus providing the military planners with more than a year in which to consider the optimal military structure for the task. Those in the senior American lead- ership who were involved in the decision may or may not have been aware of or even interested in the specifics of the Canada-US relationship, but in any case they clearly believed that the UCP tem- plate was the best alternative for the attainment of American military homeland security objectives. This decision may have been made all the easier by Canada’s rebuff of American overtures shortly after 9/11 for a closer military-to- military relationship to protect the North American continent.

Even if the UCP structure was selected in haste, however, the American leadership showed no inclination to alter the structure in the years that followed, or to tailor it to address any of the unique security charac- teristics of a relationship with a country with which they share their longest border. It is thus more like- ly that the structure was specifically selected with the intention of moving away from a bi-national approach with an ally whose reliability they had been questioning (as they were questioning the reliability of all of their friends and allies at the time), toward a more flexible bi-lateral relationship. Notwithstanding the weight of evidence supporting an American emphasis to date on the development of the bilateral versus the binational aspects of the relationship, is this emphasis likely to change with the new appointees to the positions of sec- retary of defence and commander of USNORTHCOM?

A change of this nature is unlikely, given the backgrounds and experiences of both individuals. The replacement for Admiral Keating as USNORTHCOM commander is Air Force General Victor E. Renuart Jr. General Renuart has no NORAD experience and in fact is steeped in both the UCP cookie-cutter and the bilateral approaches to defence relations, having been the joint force air component commander for US Pacific Command and a senior military adviser to the secretary of defence and the joint chiefs of staff in previous assignments.

Nor is it likely that the new defence secretary, Robert M. Gates, will change the emphasis on the development of the bilateral rather than the binational aspects of the defence relationship. As a career intel- ligence officer with the CIA, rising from entry-level employee to director, Gates is a Bush appointee, having served George W. Bush’s father, the first President Bush, as CIA director. If there is to be a change at all, it is like- ly to be in how the American bilateral agenda is pursued.

Gates is expected to adopt a more pragmatic and realistic approach that focuses on stability and making rela- tionships work rather than the idealis- tic neocon one of reshaping the world in America’s image. Thus, to para- phrase Joel Sokolsky, the new approach may be a case of bilateralism ”œwith a smile” instead of ”œwith an atti- tude” as has been seen in the past.

The Functionary

Our newsletter about the public service.
Nominated for a Digital Publishing Award. 

The writing thus appears to be on the American wall for NORAD to gradu- ally assume a less prominent role in the Canada-US defence relationship, with the distinct probability that it will be subordinated to USNORTHCOM in the future. The time frame for this process may be relatively short, notwithstanding the direction of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Peter Pace, to ”œdo no harm” to NORAD for the time being. The period involved with ”œthe time being” may well be as little as three years, as 2010 appears to be the critical date that will serve as the nexus for sev- eral key events.

First the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, arguably the most crit- ical test of the Canada-US security rela- tionship since 9/11, will be over. Next, 2010 will mark the four-year review date for the agreement, thus bench- marking an ideal time for a change in the NORAD relationship. Last, 2010 marks the date by which all of the ITWAA (integrated tactical warning and attack assessment) systems and capabilities resident in NORAD will have been duplicated either in USNORTHCOM or USSTRATCOM.

But what of the Canadian strate- gy? Is it running parallel and/or in concert with the American one? Is it diametrically opposed to it? Is there a bump in the defence relationship road that we must be prepared to con- tend with?

Although open sources are silent on the specific reasons for Canadian agreement to a four-year review period, there are a number of issues and concerns that indicate clear Canadian support for this review time frame, as opposed to the two-year peri- od initially proposed by some American military strategists.

Exactly what are these issues and concerns? First there is the attitude of the Canadian public toward the current US administration. This attitude is one of distrust and in some cases animosity, as a result of confrontational rhetoric from both sides of the border as well as a num- ber of events that have served to inflame Canadian nationalist sentiments and provide grist for the sovereignist mill. In 2010, when the first review is scheduled to take place, there will be a new admin- istration in the US that is, if not actively supported and favoured by the Canadian public, at the very least not saddled with the negative political and emotional bag- gage of the current one.

Second, the review four years in 2010, will take place in an entirely different domestic political environment. The present Conservative minority govern- ment, the author of the ”œin per- petuity for four years” agreement, is working toward achieving a stable and powerful majority gov- ernment by the time the renegotiation takes place in 2010. This situation, if it comes to pass, will provide with a broader range and scope of action to negotiate a security arrangement of the greatest possible benefit to Canada, without having to dilute it with concessions to a number of other politi- cal constituencies ”” as is the case in the current minority House ”” which might reduce its strength and effectiveness.

Next, in keeping with what many consider to be a Canadian politi- cal tradition, the provision for renewal in perpetuity with a four-year review provides the appearance to the Canadian public and our American allies of progress without actually hav- ing to make a decision or a commit- ment. Decisive action would be safely pushed to a future time and the credit for those yet-to-be-made decisions could be reaped in the present. An attendant benefit is that in the inter- im, the global strategic political and security situation could change such that a major renegotiation of the rela- tionship and commitment of funding would no longer be deemed essential to the national interest. This is the quintessential case of having your cake and eating it too. This situation could also turn out to be a perfect proof of the axiom that the Americans solve problems, the British finesse them and the Canadians outlive them.

The last and possibly the most crit- ical of the advantages to Canada of the four-year waiting period is that it would give the Conservatives time to craft their own detailed Canadian secu- rity strategy, one with specific long- term policies, goals and objectives at every level of political, civil and mili- tary activity. Whether the strategy dif- fers significantly from the broad and general statements that constitute our present policy or simply provides some much-needed detail and specifics, this waiting period would be in the best interests of all Canadians and arguably is a prerequisite to dealing/negotiating effectively with our American allies.

At present the Americans have the negotiating advantage, with their extensive and detailed security agenda supported by their overwhelmingly greater physical and financial contri- bution to continental security. It is only with a well-developed and defined national security strategy of our own, supported by the power and authority of a strong national govern- ment, that Canada will be in a position to negotiate the best security deal pos- sible in the circumstances.

With a clear vision of our own needs and interests, we can hope to influence the American agenda to our advantage. Without such a vision, however, and without a well-developed strategy and a strong government to renegotiate the relationship, the nego- tiations will be totally driven by the American agenda and little attention will be paid to Canadian interests.

Notwithstanding the many advan- tages to Canada of the four-year wait in negotiations, it has one major disadvantage that may well cost Canada dearly in terms of negotiating advantage and position. The disadvantage is that the American security juggernaut will continue to develop with little or no Canadian influence and there- fore little or no Canadian advan- tage other than that which would accrue naturally by virtue of our geography. These benefits (accruing through geography) are in themselves quite signifi- cant, but they are still smaller than would have accrued if we had undertaken a Canadian fine-tuning of the continental security strategy from active negotiation at an earlier point than the targeted four-year time frame. The result is that the US will continue to develop its security infrastructure without significant com- mitment to Canadian interests through negotiations. Such negotiations can only be in Canadians’ interest, as the Americans are clearly capable of accom- plishing the task of continental security on their own without any Canadian assistance or contribution.

The consequence for Canada of this situation is that when the negotiations take place four years hence, the American security behemoth will be just that much more developed and entrenched along an American-centric path from which it will be unwilling to deviate. The result for Canada will be a loss of opportunity to influence the fol- lowing four years of security develop- ment to the extent it might have otherwise. Thus, as time goes on, the cost to Canada of fuller participation in continental security will increase. This is analogous to a business deal where the longer a potential investor waits to com- mit funding to a project, the more the investment will ultimately cost, the less control she or he has over its develop- ment and the smaller the relative profit.

From the Canadian perspective, therefore, the latest NORAD agree- ment should be considered a military stopgap. The four-year review provision of the agreement will provide the Canadian defence community with a period of restructuring and rejuvenation to be conducted in concert with the overall government security organiza- tion, before it is committed to what, arguably, is one of the most fundamen- tal renegotiations of the binational secu- rity relationship since its inception in the early 1930s. The negotiating cam- paign over the next four years will estab- lish the future of NORAD, the future of the binational security relationship and the extent to which Canada will be in a position to influence its own homeland security for the foreseeable future.

Make no mistake, there is no real choice for Canada in this process ”” there will be no going back to the halcy- on days of the Cold War when NORAD was pre-eminent and the binational defence relationship was apparently sacrosanct. Those days are gone forever and will not return. The issue now is to maximize Canadian influence in a secu- rity infrastructure that has already begun to depart from the binational forum and will not go back.

USNORTHCOM will not go away any time soon, nor will American efforts to maximize American freedom of action through an agenda whose objective is deconstruction of the bina- tional agreement and implementation of a cooperative bilateral security sys- tem. The Canadian mission is not to try to turn back the clock but to get out in front of the American negotiat- ing strategy and steer it such that the end state is a strong Canadian pres- ence in the security relationship ”” physically, politically and in terms of policy and strategy ”” that overarches the bilateral mechanisms that are already in place and/or will be put into place in the future. The struggle over the next four years until the NORAD review is for nothing less than our nation’s future role in the security of our own homeland.

So what is the most likely future for NORAD? Absent any substantive oppo- sition from Canada, and possibly even in spite of it, the place of NORAD in the Canada-US security infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. It is likely that the primary defence and security mech- anism at the operational (continental) level will be between CANADACOM and USNORTHCOM. At this level, both commands would be in continuous communication through a web of tech- nological means and an extensive pro- gram of exchange and liaison officers. They would deal with the combined (bilateral state to state) and joint (intra- service; navy, army and air force) securi- ty issues of the continent.

Subordinate to the CANADA- COM-USNORTHCOM relationship at the combined military level, NORAD would function in the air defence role. The aerospace warning role that used to be resident in NORAD as the ITWAA will have been completed at that point and will have migrated to purely US commands such as USNORTHCOM or USSTRATCOM. Canada would have a presence and influence within these commands based on its ultimate contribution to the issues involved. It may well be on a par with that of Australia and the UK, and may even be at a lower level of participation.

The remaining role for NORAD, that of air defence, will remain a binational one by virtue of the nature of the threat and the short timelines required to react effectively to it. But it will essentially be a combined air component of the bilateral NORTHCOM and CANADACOM struc- tures, along the lines of a joint force air component in the existing UCP structure.

The future of NORAD is not a rosy one. It is likely that these realities will unfold without fanfare or formal announcement. There will be no declaration by governments or military leaders. NORAD will never be formally dis- solved or publicly eviscerated. It will simply morph into a lesser being to fulfill its limited operational function and to be trotted out periodically by one or another nation as a symbol of the enduring strength and quality of our military security relationship.

The reality is, however, that NORAD is dying. The disease is termi- nal and cannot be reversed or cured. The only remaining task is to salvage in the coming years what we can of those functions that still have utility to the Canada-US security relationship. At this point in time those appear to be the air defence role and its stellar repu- tation as a model of binational cooper- ation. The rest appears destined for a quiet demise, out of the public eye.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License