One of the most important military commitments that Canada has ~ that any country can have, actually ~ is the defence of its own homeland.
Canada’s homeland is vast; we are the 2nd largest country in the world in area ~ at just under 10 million square kilometres we are second only to Russia (17+ million square kilometres) in area, and we have the longest shoreline in the world.
But we have only 37.5 million people, that means we are very sparsely populated. I have used this image before, but fully ½ of all Canadians live in a tiny sliver of land that hugs the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario and the St Lawrence River. With apologies to the millions of people who live in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax and St John’s, most of Canada is empty. How to defend such a place?
Defend against what? Against whom?
Only one country in the world shares a physical land border with Canada: the mighty United States of America, with over 2 million men and women in its armed forces (1.3 million on active, full time, duty and 800+ thousand on part-time, reserve service) and a defence budget of over $(CA)975 Billion which is about three times Canada’s total federal expenditures, for everything. The United States could defeat Canada, militarily, in days, if not hours, but it has not thought about doing so for nearly 150 years. In fact, for the past 80+ years, the United States has made Canada’s sovereignty and security one of its own national vital interests. It began when America worried that Nazi Germany might defeat Britain (and its Commonwealth and Empire) and secure naval and military bases very near America (in Newfoundland, Bermuda and the Caribbean and even in Canada, itself). The problem ~ the vital interest for the USA ~ became even more vital when a hostile USSR stole nuclear secrets and built its own strategic nuclear bomber and missile force. There was, then, a pressing need to defend the ‘approaches‘ to the American heartland, especially to America’s strategic bomber bases and missile silos. The most direct (the only really practical) approach for Russian bombers was over Canada.
In 1957 Canada and the USA agreed to create the North American Air Defense Command. It is a ‘combined’ command, American and Canadian people, civilian and military, work together, in combined headquarters, to conduct an active aerospace defence effort over the continent we share. Americans and Canadians work side-by-side managing the airspace, detecting intruders and identifying and intercepting them and so on.
NORAD, I would argue, is more important than NATO.
First, it is about defending our own homeland.
Second, it is about defending the US strategic deterrent, which has, arguably, done more to keep global peace than all the efforts of the United Nations, combined.
NORAD modernization and expansion should be at the top of Canada’s defence policy agenda. Specifically:
- First, billions of dollars, likely tens of billions of dollars are going to be needed to upgrade the surveillance and warning system. We need new radars, terrestrial and space-based, and upgraded control systems to do the job properly;
- Second, Canada needs to buy enough (85+ is just the very barest of bare minimums) of the right new fighter jet; and
- Third, Canada needs to join the American ballistic missile defence system.
I believe that this issue: the shared defence of our, shared, continent and, therefore, the defence of the American heartland and of America’s strategic deterrent is a key, perhaps even the key element in our most important foreign relationship. (See yesterdays comments, too, please.) The knowledge that Canada is doing a full and fair share of defending our shared continent, of defending America, is not lost on admirals and generals, diplomats and senior civil servants, representatives and senators in the US Congress, pundits and political leaders in waiting in the think-tanks and senior staff in the White House, even if Donald J Trump is not impressed … IF we are doing a full and fair share.
Right now, we are not.
The Americans have been telling us, formally, through diplomatic and defence channels and publicly, too, that they want NORAD upgraded, now. Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland and Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s own Three Stooges, are not listening. In fact, they have their fingers in their ears and are shouting “la, la, la … not listening … climate change” to try to make the unwelcome pleading go away. White House insiders, senators, representatives, officials and generals who are friends of Canada ~ and there are plenty of them ~ are, I believe, losing patience with Canada. Donald Trump’s message that the whole world is “freeloading” on Amerca’s military might is looking more and more like the truth.
The big fear in some well-informed circles in Ottawa is not that America will ever attack Canada. Rather it is that America will lose patience and decide to “help” us. For decades the essence of our defence policy has been to do just enough to “defend against help” from our good friends, neighbours and guarantors of our independence. If the USA ever gets frustrated enough, and President Trump is notoriously short-tempered, then they may decide that their own strategic vital interests trump Canadian sovereignty and there will be US radar stations on Canadian soil, with US flags flying over them and armed US soldiers at the gates denying entrance to anyone who is not a US citizen, and US aircraft will be based in Cold Lake, AB, Yellowknife, NWT and Bagotvill, QC. I am not fear-mongering; America has a force majeure situation with regard to the protection of its continental-US-based strategic deterrent force; the overarching need to defend it may overwhelm anyone’s concerns about Canada’s sovereignty.
I believe that the issue of continental defence, NORAD and ballistic missile defence is too important to be left to Harjit Sajjan and General Jonathan Vance and their replacements. I think that the government should strike a cabinet committee ~ let’s call it the Priority 1 Committee ~ to deal with the United States and, especially with continental security matters. The committee will intrude into the domains of several other departments including Defence, Procurement, Foreign Affairs, Finance and the Treasury Board. The committee would be headed by a senior minister ~ in the case of this government I think Marc Garneau would be the only obvious choice ~ and, unlike other committees, it would have a small “department” at its disposal: a senior official, a deputy minister, and a team which would include civil servants and a few military officers, too, to coordinate its directions. The deputy minister would be a very senior official, someone who knows her or his way around the corridors of power and someone who actually enjoys bending others to her or his will.
The Priority 1 Committee would have two major goals:
- To pull Canadians on board with the ideas of increased defence spending, closer cooperation with the USA and ballistic missile defence, none of which are very popular; and
- To push government departments to make the right decisions, including ~
- To find the money for bigger and better ~ better equipped, better organized and better trained ~ armed forces,
- To choose the ‘right’ equipment, including new jet fighters,
- To negotiate a missile defence agreement, and
- To update, upgrade and enhance NORAD and other combined Canada-USA projects that have a security element to them.
America is, I fear, losing patience with Canada. Canada needs to step up and do a few things that will reassure our best friend and good neighbour that we can be trusted to do our share to defend our continent, our common homelands. Rebuilding NORAD is, I am certain, a guaranteed good way to do that.