Wednesday, February 22, 2006

NORAD or NORTHCOM? O'Connor needs to be clear.

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor was being a little cagey when he announced that Canada would be signing a new North American defence treaty with the United States. Most people could be excused for misinterpreting O'Connor's statement to mean that it was a simple renewal of the long-standing Canada/USA treaty which provides for the co-manning and and operation of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) with a maritime surveillance component somehow added in.

That cannot be and is not, however, the truth.

In 2002 the US placed NORAD under the command of a newly formed US military function known as Northern Command, now led by USN Admiral Timothy J. Keating. NORTHCOM sprung out of the need for a unifying command to create fortress America and encompasses military functions which extend to homeland security, homeland defence, force protection and anti-terrorism. It's area of responsibility includes air, land and sea approaches and encompasses the continental United States, Alaska and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles. NORAD provides the air surveillance and interdiction capability and constitutes one of the Joint Force Component Commanders which answer to the Commander of NORTHCOM. Of note is that NORTHCOM has no authority outside US territory but is responsible for security cooperation with defence operations by both immediate neighbours, namely Canada and Mexico. For now.

The US Navy has struggled with its contribution to NORTHCOM. The US Coast Guard, an armed safety agency, is the maritime homeland security arm and falls under the US Department of Homeland Security. The USN is not really intended for operations in home waters although the US fleet has many capabilities which are easily adaptable to homeland defence. In this light, the USN assigned the Commander Fleet Forces Command the role of Joint Maritime Force Component Commander responsible to the Commander of NORTHCOM. They also entered into an agreement with the US Coast Guard which would allow a rapid transfer of combat and support assets to the Coast Guard should the need arise.

O'Connor, in announcing this new treaty did not clarify the extent to which Canadian Forces will become involved. In fact, his announcement did not say much at all. Just that a maritime surveillance component was being added. And NORAD isn't organized for that.

What it looks like is that Canada will be joining NORTHCOM. I say "joining" with some hesitation. The subordination of NORAD by NORTHCOM effectively folded the Canadian Air Defence Sector into an exclusive US command. O'Connor's announcement indicates that we will be doing the same thing with the Canadian navy's areas of operations in the northwest Atlantic and northeast Pacific.

I have no real problem with a joint North American command structure which extends beyond air defence. I have no problem with such a command having a US commander. The US can commit greater assets and resources to the overall mission and realistically, the US should hold lead chair.

However, if NORTHCOM is to become a North American continental defence organization which provides the commander with Canadian Forces assets, then Canada should be assuming a role as the deputy commander and not a liaison officer in the form of a brigadier-general. For O'Connor to suggest that the exchange of maritime domain awareness information is something new is disingenuous. We have been doing that for some time and since 2002 it has been formalized.

So, whatever O'Connor was talking about needs to be clearly explained. It isn't NORAD extended and it isn't a naval version of NORAD. Whatever it is, O'Connor was too quick to downplay the effect on Canadian operations and that indicates that he is hiding something of consequence that Canadians will find offensive.

The Conservatives had better learn that they are required to explain everything they do. Most people don't trust them. Announcing major treaties without providing a full description of the purpose, management and execution because they believe the average Canadian is not sophisticated enough to comprehend the details is unacceptably arrogant.

So, Mr. O'Connor, get on with it. We're waiting.

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