NORAD: Renewing a unique partnership
For almost 50 years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has served as a unique bi-national partnership. No such agreement exists anywhere in the world. Though there have been contentious debates from time to time, especially around the topic of missile defence, the agreement has functioned as intended with minimal fanfare. Following the renewal of NORAD by Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor and US Ambassador David Wilkins, Paul Chapin, Director General, International Security Bureau at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, spoke about the agreement and the relationship. (Chapin recently joined the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Ottawa as its senior counsellor.)
What is the significance of the NORAD relationship? How has Canada benefited?
NORAD reflects the essence of the unique defence relationship between Canada and the US. For nearly five decades, NORAD has been a key element in Canada’s defence partnership with the United States. While NATO provides the framework for our bi-national agreement, NORAD acknowledges the vastness of our countries and the realization that defence must be shared. It provides both countries with an enhanced capacity to respond to the evolving threats of a new security environment. The benefit for Canada is an effective defence of the continent without incurring extraordinary costs, and allows Canada to assert its sovereignty over Canadian territory.
This renewal marks only the fourth time since 1958 that the text of the NORAD agreement has changed substantially. What were the most significant challenges in renegotiating? What are the notable changes in the agreement?
Negotiations between Canada and the US highlighted the genuine interest of both sides in making meaningful enhancements to NORAD and the defence relationship. The resulting agreement enhances the bi-national command in a number of respects. Notably, the agreement:
· creates a permanent NORAD agreement, subject to review at least every four years or at the request of either of the parties, with provisions for withdrawal by either party with one year’s notice. This arrangement underscores the commitment by both nations to an organization that has been a key element of Canada-US defence cooperation for decades. While there is no longer a requirement for formal renewal, Canada and the US agreed to continue reviewing the roles and responsibilities of the bi-national command, including the relationship between NORAD and the two national commands (Canada Command and US Northern Command). These ongoing talks will help ensure that our two countries undertake continental defence responsibilities that complement and reinforce one another; and
· expands NORAD’s mission to include maritime warning. The agreement makes clear that NORAD will have a comprehensive maritime warning role, but will not exercise operational control over maritime assets. While NORAD will warn of potential maritime threats, respective national authorities, principally US Northern Command and Canada Command, will be responsible for assigning forces to respond.
How has NORAD’s role altered given the changing nature of threats? Is there potential to expand the agreement into areas beyond maritime warning?
Prior to 9/11, NORAD was still focused primarily on the Cold War threat, but with regular exercises to counter asymmetrical threats to both our countries. The events of September 11, 2001, underscored NORAD’s relevance in today’s security environment. NORAD has since made important changes to adapt to the new threat environment by increasing its operational readiness and its ability to respond to threats from both outside and inside North America’s airspace. In August 2004, Canada and the US also reinforced their commitment to the bi-national command’s existing functions by amending the NORAD agreement to allow its missile warning function, which it has carried out for nearly 30 years, to be made available to US commands responsible for missile defence. NORAD is not, however, involved in the US missile defence system. US Northern Command is charged with the ballistic missile defence mission for the continental US and Alaska. While NORAD shares its missile warning function with the US commands, it has neither the authority nor the capability to act on the information.
How has Canada’s position on the missile defence shield affected the NORAD relationship?
The previous Liberal government made the decision not to participate in missile defence. This decision was not revisited in Canada-US discussions on NORAD renewal. While NORAD shares its missile warning function with the US commands responsible for missile defence, NORAD is not involved in the US missile defence system. The new NORAD agreement does not change this relationship in any way.
The principal recommendation of the Bi-National Planning Group is a comprehensive defence and security agreement, and a background DND document on NORAD notes that “exploring ways to strengthen defence and security arrangements with the US, including an enhanced role for NORAD, is in Canada’s security interest.” What could this entail with respect to NORAD?
It is interesting to note that fifty years of intense, practical cooperation between Canada and the US resulted in a defence relationship that has worked both in theory and in practice. This relationship existed without a foundation document. However, given the new defence challenges, the time may have come to consider a comprehensive agreement in order to provide guidance to institutions, including NORAD, that face a broader range of threats than in the past.
NORAD has been able to fly under the radar, so to speak, in terms of Canada-US relations; it hasn’t had the stormy negotiations and public profile of other bi-national or international arrangements. What are you doing right to manage this relationship? What lessons have we learned that might be applied elsewhere in Canada-US relations?
For almost five decades, Canadian Forces personnel have worked side-by-side with their US colleagues to defend the North American airspace. Through NORAD, Canada and the US are full partners in continental air defence. Its unique command structure allows both governments to exercise control over their respective territories and command over their national forces, while cooperating to provide a level of security for North America that neither country could achieve alone. We are respectful of this relationship and will always act in the best interest of Canada.
How do you see NORAD evolving?
The relationship between US Northcom and Canada Command remains to be worked out. It is not out of the question that a new framework involving these three bodies could develop. NORAD will continue to provide Canada with the ability to exercise effective surveillance and control over Canadian airspace as well as maritime areas – a basic requirement for asserting national sovereignty – in a cost-effective manner. The renewal of NORAD further strengthens the Canada-US relationship and the culture of cooperation between our two countries.