Rethinking NORAD

By Bill Robinson

NORAD, Canada's air defence agreement, is being increasingly tied in with Star Wars. Although the government denies there's any relationship between the two, the upcoming renewal of the NORAD agreement could be the last chance to keep Canada out of Star Wars, if Star Wars goes ahead.

What is NORAD?

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, is a joint Canada/U.S. military command established in 1957 (by treaty in 1958) for the operation of Canadian and American early warning and air defence systems. The Commander-in-Chief of NORAD is an American officer and his Deputy Commander-in-Chief, who commands NORAD when the Commander-in-Chief is absent, is a Canadian. NORAD operates out of an underground headquarters built deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.

What is NORAD's Role?

NORAD's mission includes:

It is NORAD that would detect signs of a Soviet bomber, cruise missile, or ballistic missile attack on North America and, without making a mistake we hope, verify whether the attack is real. The small force of fighter aircraft assigned to NORAD would attempt to destroy attacking Soviet bombers and cruise missiles, but it is not capable of significantly reducing damage to North America during a nuclear war. The fighters' primary role, according to the Commander of the Canadian Forces Air Command, is to be "part of the identification system that would provide warning of a bomber attack against North America."

What is Canada's Part?

In addition to providing the Deputy Commander-in-Chief and other personnel at NORAD headquarters, Canada participates in NORAD in several ways:

In all, about 6000 military and 2000 civilian personnel from the Canadian Forces Air Command are assigned to NORAD. These forces are primarily assigned to air defence roles: Currently, Canada plays almost no part in the space warning and ballistic missile early warning elements of NORAD.

How Does Star Wars Relate to NORAD?

Star Wars, or the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), is President Reagan's plan to research and possibly deploy defences against Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at North America.

It is widely recognized that a defence against ballistic missiles is essentially worthless unless you also have defences against bombers and cruise missiles. Either method of attack is capable of devastating North America, and both would have to be defended against to create any hope of survival after a war. As a senior U.S. Air Force official has said, "If you're going to fix the roof, you don't want to leave the doors and windows open." That's where NORAD comes in.

To close the "doors and windows," the air defence system would have to be made far more effective than it is now. NORAD's air defence would have to change from a "Coast Guard of the Air" limited defence to a comprehensive air defence system capable of intercepting virtually every attacking bomber and cruise missile.

Secondly, to make the Star Wars defence and the air defence work together, the two systems would have to be closely integrated with each other. According to the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence for Command, Control, and Communications, Donald Latham, "We are taking air defence against conventional air breathing threats, bombers and cruise missiles, space defence, ballistic missile defence, and putting it together in one package called Strategic Defence."

NORAD would almost certainly have operational control over both. According to Canadian defence official Dr. George Lindsay, "should ballistic missile defence be deployed, it would be operationally desirable to place it under the operational control of NORAD."

How Does NORAD Relate to Nuclear War-fighting?

Nuclear "war-fighting" is the doctrine of being prepared to fight and "prevail" in or win a nuclear war. Believers in warfighting, like the current U.S. administration, point to the crucial need in this doctrine for a command system that can survive the rigors of a nuclear conflict and continue to provide coherent attack warnings, damage assessments, defence against attacks, and control of offensive nuclear forces. This would require that the defence and attack assessment missions of NORAD be tied in tightly with U.S. offensive forces. According to the U.S. Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Fred C. Ikle, the Pentagon "has been examining for some time how strategic defensive systems could ...be integrated into our overall deterrent posture." The shift toward a warfighting command structure means that NORAD is slowly changing from an organization primarily directed at early warning to an important element of U.S. efforts to create a warfighting capability.

How Much Would a Comprehensive Air Defence System Cost?

Former U.S. Secretary of Defence James Schlesinger has estimated that a comprehensive air defence system for North America would cost about $50 billion (plus operating costs). Such an air defence would require hundreds of new fighters, dozens of new AWACS command aircraft, perhaps thousands of ground-based anti-aircraft (and anti-cruise missile) missiles, and other forces and installations. If Canada went along with such a defence, we would be expected to contribute a substantial share of this build-up.

In addition, a big portion of these forces would probably have to be based in Canada, where they would dominate the political and economic shape of the North and endanger our sovereignty. The direction of Canadian defence policy would be distorted and controlled by the NORAD contribution. In effect, our defence policy would be made in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado.

Are Star Wars Air Defence Plans Being Made?

Yes. The first phase of the joint Canadian-American "Strategic Defence Architecture 2000" study has recommended a number of upgrades to the North American air defence system. The second phase, which is still in progress, is examining how air defences will interact with missile defences, what forces of each type will be required, and what arrangements will be made to command them, looking ahead to the year 2000 and beyond. Conducted by NORAD, SDA 2000 is described by Canadian defence officials as "contingency planning," for the event that the United States decides to deploy Star Wars defences.

Have Any Changes Already Been Made?

There have been some. Minor upgrades are being made to the air defence system. The North Warning System is among several improvements in defence capability being made as a result of the recommendations of the first phase of the SDA 2000 study (and the earlier Air Defence Master Plan).

The United States has set up a unified Space Command to control all U.S. military space activities, including anti-satellite missions and, eventually, Star Wars defences. Space Command shares some facilities within the NORAD underground headquarters, including a Space Defence Operations Centre, and its Commander-in-Chief doubles as Commander-in-Chief of NORAD. Two squadrons of American fighters are being equipped to conduct anti-satellite attacks. These fighters are under the operational control of NORAD.

NORAD is already in the process of changing its approach to attack warning and assessment to accommodate missile defences. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, "The U.S. Air Force is merging its missile, air, and space warning roles into a new model that will change fundamentally the way the nation is guarded against Soviet attack long before any new systems from the Strategic Defence Initiative are deployed."

If Star Wars Goes Ahead, Will There Be Star Wars Weapons in Canada?

Probably. Canada lies directly along the path of ballistic missiles flying between the United States and the Soviet Union. Canadian official George Lindsay has publicly stated that "for mid-course interception (of ballistic missiles) it is possible that it would be desirable, perhaps even essential, to locate certain sensors read-out stations in Canada."

Some of these weapons or sensor systems may have to be based in Canada to work. The United States is doing research on at least one type of anti-missile, codenamed "Braduskill," that would have to be launched from sites hundreds of kilometres to the north of the United States--in other words, from Greenland, Alaska, or the Canadian North. The Airborne Optical Adjunct, an aircraft-based ballistic missile detection and tracking system, is another Star Wars system that would probably have to operate out of bases in the far North.

As James Pike, the Associate Director of Space Research for the Federation of American Scientists, has commented, "the main question here is the extent to which Canada is going to be, several years from now, presented with the accomplished fact of an American anti-missile system deployment that is predicated on Canadian participation."

What is Canada's Position on Star Wars and NORAD?

What Can Canada Do?

Whether we like it or not, the government will renew the NORAD agreement, probably in March. Currently, Members of Parliament and the government are examining this agreement and how it will affect future Canadian defence policy. If enough pressure is applied, it may be possible to forestall the integration of NORAD and Star Wars, at least for the time being. The next time NORAD is up for renewal (probably in 1991--in fifteen years) will almost certainly be too late.

To prevent the integration of NORAD and Star Wars the government should:

It should be made clear to the United States that Canada does nott support the development and deployment of Star Wars systems and that it will not participate in them.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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