2006 NORAD Renweal Agreement

The United States and Canada have agreed to renew the North American Aerospace Defense Agreement. That Agreement provides for binational air defense control and space warning for Canada and the United States through the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD.

Reacting to the threat to presented to North America by Soviet bombers armed with nuclear weapons, NORAD was created in 1958 to cooperatively monitor and defend North American airspace. The speed with which these Soviet weapons could be delivered, and their lethality, demanded increased levels of defense response, integration, and cooperation between the United States and Canada.

Thus, NORAD integrated air and space elements of both countries’ armed forces into a single, operational structure under a system of shared funding, responsibilities and leadership. For example, the Director of NORAD’s Combat Operations on September 11, 2001 was a Canadian. The Commander of NORAD reports to both governments – this ­position is presently held by Admiral  Timothy J.Keating, an American officer, and the Deputy Commander, Lieutenant-General Eric (Rick) Findley, is Canadian.

This latest renewal adds an important new feature: NORAD’s mission will be expanded beyond air and space to now include maritime warning. Both Canada and the United States will now have ­better information about activities in the maritime approaches to North America as well as about internal waters such as the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. This new additional source of intelligence will enable both countries to act together or separately in managing the defense of North American waters in a timely and efficient manner.

This is a good but less than ideal outcome. Both governments should have gone further, in my view. They could have extended the NORAD’s mission of surveillance, warning and control to land and maritime domains as the October 2004 Interim Report of the Bi-National Planning Group recommended. The Planning Group initially (but not finally) recommended that the United States and Canada create a unified and seamless system for North American defense. They wrote in the Interim Report, “It is now recognized that the end state for the future is a command that can address all domains. The NORAD concept can be expanded to integrate all domains in a coherent military strategy….”

This recommendation was similar to an informal suggestion of the United States Section of the Permanent Joint Board (PJBD) on Defense in 2002. U.S. members thought that, in the light of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States and Canada must be concerned with the possibility of very rapidly occurring incidents on land and off shore. Weapons of mass destruction could be concealed aboard a ship, enter a port, and be detonated with little if any warning time. Similarly, on land we might not become aware of an incident until after it had happened. These same members thought that this compressed warning ­situation resembled that which had first inspired the creation of NORAD. That is why they suggested, informally, that the two countries consider building on NORAD’s success in dealing with such issues, by expanding its mission to all domains.

While there was some interest from Canada, the idea was not adopted. I can only speculate on the reasons for this outcome, but there are a few clues: the attitude of the Chrétien government and elements of the Liberal caucus toward the United States, and in particular toward the Bush Administration; successive elections and minority governments in Canada; the question of missile defense of North America; the decline in Canadian military resources; a lack of top level political interest in the subject from either country; and the bureaucratic tensions and uncertainties feeding on these factors (particularly about the roles, missions and relationships of U.S. Northern Command, Canada Command, and NORAD).   

Of these factors, missile defense may prove to have been the most important. The Canadian decision to allow NORAD to provide missile warning information to the U.S. missile defense system but not to participate in the full program diminished the role of NORAD. NORAD now looks more like a warning system and less like an operational command. The renewed NORAD Agreement reinforces this analysis since it limits NORAD’s new mission to maritime warning.

Indeed, the decision not to extend NORAD’s control mission to the maritime domain may prove to be the most significant long-term effect of the negotiations. I can now foresee a NORAD with only warning responsibilities with each country managing control operations separately but cooperatively. Such a system cannot be seamless and will produce lags. This is unfortunate in view of the probable time compression of warning and therefore reaction that we now face and which was the genesis for this role expansion in the first place. It would also be a serious departure from our traditional binational and institutionalized style of defense cooperation that is the essence of the U.S. – Canadian special defense relationship.

Dwight Mason is a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and was formerly Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, and was U.S. Chairman of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence, Canada - United States.
© FrontLine Defence 2006