New NORAD agreement will include maritime surveillance

Control over military won't be compromised, O'Connor says
Feb. 21, 2006. 01:00 AM

HALIFAX—A new North American defence treaty with the United States will not compromise Canada's control over its own military, nor will it mean automatic adoption of American plans for a ballistic missile defence system, newly appointed Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said yesterday.

The existing binational agreement on continental air defence, the North American Aerospace Defence Command or NORAD, will be expanded to include maritime surveillance, the minister said following a tour of the sprawling navy dockyard in Halifax.

But O'Connor, in his first public statement since being appointed to the defence portfolio, downplayed the significance of the new treaty, dismissing the suggestion that it could lead to U.S. warships patrolling Canadian waters.

The agreement will mean "merely a transfer of information," he told reporters in the hangar deck of the Canadian frigate HMCS Halifax.

"It doesn't change our responsibility as a country.

"We have to look after our own sovereignty. We have to deal with any threats coming from the sea."

Once ratified, the new treaty would allow for intelligence on shipping data and threats to the sea lanes to be piped directly into NORAD headquarters, which is jointly staffed by the Canadian and U.S. military at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The expanded pact is expected to be ready for signing in May, when the existing treaty expires, O'Connor said.

NORAD was founded in 1958, at the height of the Cold War, to counter the threat of Soviet nuclear bombers and missiles. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there has been increasing pressure to modernize the organization's role in order to monitor all external threats.

Critics have said an expanded air defence treaty could inadvertently sweep Canada into the U.S. government's controversial and largely unproven ballistic missile defence program.

The U.S. proposal envisions a series of bases across the continent, where small missiles could be launched to shoot down ballistic missiles fired at North America by so-called rogue nations.

O'Connor said the Conservative government's position on missile defence has not changed since the federal election campaign.

"If the Americans approach us to negotiate ballistic missile defence, we would enter into negotiations," he said.

"If we perceive this to be in our national interest, we would bring this to Parliament and Parliament must approve our participation."

A year ago, the former Liberal government turned down Washington's formal request to be part of the program, but changes made to the NORAD pact last summer allow its radar to track incoming missiles.