Wednesday, 4 May 2016


The Department of National Defence has announced that it is launching public consultations in the development of a new defence policy for Canada. This includes a Defence Policy Review public consultation paper, a website and even an e-workbook to be filled in.

Canadian Defence Matters is attempting to come up with some answers to the ten questions contained in the public consultation paper. 

The third question asked in the public consultation paper is: How should Canada-United States cooperation on defence of North America evolve in the coming years?

Canadian defence policy has always encompassed the understanding that the defence of Canada inherently included the defence of North America in co-operation with the United States.  It is difficult to imagine any scenario in which we would have to defend Canada without the United States having an interest or participating.

Post 9/11 Mackenzie King’s dictum that “we cannot permit Canadian territory to be used as an avenue of attack on the United States” has taken on new relevance.  There is no question that Canada must work with the United States to protect North America from dangerous elements and the asymmetric means they may employ.

Since its inception in 1957, NORAD has been the cornerstone of Canadian-US cooperation in continental defence. In recent years, however, the United States has changed its concept of continental defence and Canada of necessity must evolve to accommodate those changes.

USNORTHCOM, a US unified command given responsibility specifically for North America as an “area of operational responsibility”, was established by the U.S. on 25 April 2002. NORAD was subsumed by USNORTHCOM which also counts missile defence as part of its mandate.

Canada chose not to participate with the United States in Ballistic Missile Defence, BMD, and thus loosened its ties to, and influence on, NORAD. If Canada were to participate directly in BMD we would reinforce the status of NORAD, strengthen the Canada-US defence relationship, and ensure an element of protection against ballistic missile threats.

There are those who worry that closer cooperation with USNORTHCOM in continental defence will negatively influence Canadian sovereignty and there is no doubt that alliances and defence pacts will always have some effect on national independence. At the same time NORAD experience shows us that national differences can be accommodated within even the closest of alliances.

As David S McDonough has pointed out in his book Canada's National Security in thePost-9/11 WorldThe post 9/11 arrangements for destruction of high jacked aircraft, whereby Canadian military did not receive the same authority to act in an emergency that the US military had, underlined this. The difference in delegated authority did not itself call NORAD into question. On the contrary, it showed how national sovereignty and air defence could be reconciled within NORAD. The same can be said about the difference in authority the two governments had given CINCNORAD in 1965 to order the engagement with nuclear air defence weapons of single aircraft. Then, too, Ottawa had reserved the authority to itself. In fact, the NORAD arrangements had always involved the two governments giving the CINC different levels and kinds of authority, beginning right with the distinction between operational control and command.”

In 1957 Canadian General Charles Foulkes, one of the founding fathers of NORAD maintained that “NORAD is very efficient for processing of intelligence information regarding the aerospace threat from all sources and operational control of the forces for anti-bomber defence and has also proven a most useful for technical information and planning between Canada and the United States”. There is no reason to believe that this has changed or that we would wish it to.

If we want NORAD to continue as a cornerstone for Canada’s participation in continental defence then we need to learn how to work with USNORTHCOM in a manner that satisfies both countries. That may well include participating with the US in Ballistic Missile Defence.

Defence Policy Review Public Consultation Paper

Defence Policy Review

Have your say: Defence Policy Review 2016

Canada's National Security in the Post-9/11 World: Strategy