Big news

This, from Murray Brewster on CBC News, is big news … maybe.

It is big because of the potential costs. I was in and around the procurement world when pugedited2the current North Warning System was approved and built. I can assure readers that the $1+ Billion price tag was a big deal in the 1980s and inflation and R&D costs will mean that the $11 Billion mentioned by Mr Brewster as the cost for a replacement system is a highly believable number. I expect that cost guesstimate includes the capital costs of all the new equipment, construction, life-cycle operating and maintenance costs and the costs of ‘decommissioning’ the old sites.

Despite my advocacy for a Canadian owned and operated space-based surveillance and warning system for Canada, it can only be effective, given the current state-of-the-art, when it operates in conjunction with a land-based radar chain. Canada needs both.

Back in the 1980s, I heard from others who were more closely involved that the aboriginal peoples did not negotiate hard enough. They got what some senior people in Ottawa thought was a very good deal, but many others thought that they should have negotiated for broader, longer-lasting benefits in areas like education and training. Times have changed and I expect that they will do better this time around.

The environment and the clean up of the old DEW Line and Pinetree Line sites (that’s when I first learned about the issue of disposing of PCBs found in electrical transformers) was also a big ~ and expensive ~ issue and it will be taken even more seriously now.

Murray Brewster hits on what I believe is the really BIG issue: “Military officials would not say precisely what capabilities they are proposing,” he writes, “but among the biggest open question is whether a re-equipped Norad will mean an end to Canada’s height.576.no_border.width.1024long-standing prohibition on participating in ballistic missile defence. Gen. John Hyten, who has been nominated to be vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told his confirmation hearing on July 30 that U.S. cannot do missile defence alone anywhere in the world … [Hyten testified that ] … “Missile defence needs to be an international capability” … [and, he added] … “We need to be able to partner with our allies in terms of how we defend ourselves, too” … [but] … The Liberal government’s defence policy was explicit, saying Canada would not change course on missile defence, but dramatic nuclear and rocket tests by the rogue regime in North Korea have prompted both the House of Commons and the Senate defence committees to Lieutenant-General_Pierre_St-Amandrecommend a change of heart.” I have also explained that a Canadian general (Lieutenant General Pierre St-Amand, then Deputy Commander of NORAD, told parliament that NORAD does not include ballistic missile defence; if Canada wants that protection, and I still say we want and need it ~ it is still a “no brainer,” then we must step up, join the programme and pay a share. Canadians were, in the early 1980s, frightened away from the idea of ballistic missile defence by a brilliant Soviet/Russian propaganda campaign. The Russian lies were cheerfully propagated by a Canadian media that took great delight in telling Canadians that President Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative was impossible … it wasn’t, the key elements all work, but most Canadians journalists were (many still are) abysmally ignorant about science, technology and weapons systems and they were equally opposed to Ronald Reagan on almost every issue. Canadians are, I guess, still opposed to strategic missile defence, and still for the same bad reasons.

Ever since the nuclear era began, in the 1950s, the security of the American “strategic deterrent” has been of paramount importance. The long-range nuclear bomber and then the intercontinental ballistic missile made Canada’s airspace, the main approach to the United States’ strategic bomber bases and nuclear missile launch sites, “key terrain” for American defence planners. In the mid-1950s, while Louis St Laurent was Canada’s prime minister, the arrangements for NORAD were made, by diplomats, officials and generals and air marshals in Ottawa and Washington. The agreement was signed, by the new Diefenbaker government for Canada, in the late summer of 1957. The agreement has been revised and renewed several times since then. It helped to win Cold War 1.0. Just days ago the Department of National Defence in Ottawa said that “Canada’s new defence policy presented a new vision and approach to defence by the Government of Canada, while offering clear direction on Canadian defence priorities over a 20-year horizon … [and] … This commitment affirmed Canada’s unwavering commitment to its long-standing alliances and partnerships. As stated in Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada will continue to cooperate with the United States to examine what is needed to meet all threats and perils to the continent through NORAD modernization efforts … [but] … While we continue to work with the United States on challenges to continental defence, we have not entered into formal bilateral discussions or negotiations on specific requirements, nor have we established any agreements on the way forward … [and] … NORAD has served the citizens of Canada and the U.S. as the first line of defence against an air attack on their homelands since 1958.  It has served us well for generations … [and further] … Through outstanding cooperation and cohesiveness between the two countries, we will ensure that NORAD will continue to play an important role in our collective safety and security.” When you strip away all the bureaucratic gobbledegook it really says: ‘Yep, we’re working on a revised NORAD agreement but there’s an election campaign going on and we can’t tell you anything because it’s nowhere near the sitting government’s agenda, much less anywhere near the top of it.’

I think that even the Trudeau regime, carelessly ignorant as it is about Canada’s security and defence, will want to have NORAD continue and will want to agree to the existing, traditional, 60/40 funding model. What Donald Trump thinks (isn’t is strange to use “Trump” and “thinks” in the same sentence?) is anyone’s guess. He is very possibly going to want to use the negotiations as a channel for punishing Canada for some sins, real or imagined, related to defence burden-sharing. But it’s not just a Trump thing … most Americans, including most American politicians of all stripes, know that Canada, and others, have been “freeloading” for generations. No one, anywhere, looks forward to negotiating anything of importance with the mercurial and ill-informed and increasingly ill-advised US president.

But while I think that even Trudeau and Trump, two intellectual featherweights, can manage to renegotiate a useful NORAD agreement, I suspect that the big issue will, the one about which no one dares speak, is strategic ballistic missile defence. At the risk of offending some: only terminally bloody stupid people do not want Canada to join the US in a continental ballistic missile defence scheme. I appreciate that I just called a substantial majority of my fellow citizens stupid … well if the shoe fits, and so on.

There is still a very real missile attack threat to North America. It is, in fact, growing. When NORAD was agreed, in the 1950s, only Russia could attack North American targets with inter-continental ballistic missiles and their primary targets were US missile silos and vital strategic hubs like Washington, DC, Boston, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. Now China, Iran, North Korea and Russia can all strike at North America and the target list is less obvious. The possibility of Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax being on one list or another is very real.

NORAD still matters, 60+ years after it was developed. It’s still here, looking a lot like the 1956 original because it still works. It works for Canada and for the USA. The cost-sharing arrangement is fair. Canada’s active contribution, a couple of first-rate fighter squadrons, a radar chain, a region HQ and some people in the combined (Canada-USA) HQ Colorado Springs, is big enough to be our fair share and small enough to be affordable.

But NORAD is incomplete. It defends our shared continent from bombers and provides warning about attacks from missiles. But NORAD does not have an anti-ballistic missile capability. Canadians cities will be protected from enemy bombers by American and Canadian fighter jets but only American cities will be protected from ballistic missiles because, government-after-government, Conservative and Liberal alike, Canada has said “No” to ballistic missile defence. There is no strategic or operational basis for Canada’s position. It is 100% political and it is based, solely, on ignorance which was and is, still, fuelled by Russian propaganda (lies) and the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the Canadian media. That needs to change.

No one is going to discuss ballistic missile defence in the next 2½ months because no one, not Conservatives, not Liberals, wants to raise questions for which they have no answers. That’s fine, I understand that, but if, as I sincerely hope they do, the Conservatives dump the Trudeau Liberals on to the trash heap of political history, where they belong, I hope that a cabinet that actually cares about Canada’s security and defence will ignore the public’s misplaced fears and move forward on ballistic missile defence by joining a continental missile shield arrangement.




Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

3 thoughts on “Big news

  1. I also personally believe that Canada should join the US ballistic missile defence program for a number of the reasons you list above. Not the least for the political optics to our most important partner of sharing in their defence.

    However I do have a couple of reservations. Firstly, I do think the risk of any nation conducting a limited nuclear strike on any North American target (and in particular a Canadian target) is quite low. The massive retaliation they would suffer would make such an attack virtual suicide.

    I seriously doubt that the US would ignore the explicit challenge to their power that an attack on a Canadian target would signify. North America is their continent. I honestly can’t see any US administration ignoring such an attack and not attempting to block it if they could. Just as I can’t see any US administration not retaliating in a very serious way against such an attack.

    That fact to me is actually what makes it imperative that Canada sign on for continental Anti-Ballistic Missile defence. What kind of friend, neighbour and ally would knowingly take advantage of such defence by their neighbour (out of self-interest or not) and not contribute to that defence?

    I do however feel that it would be much easier to defend to the Canadian public our participation in a missile defence system if the United States were to issue a clear No First Strike policy. That would make an ABM system much more clearly a defensive system rather than being potentially seen as a shield from under which the US could launch a nuclear first strike against another nation.

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