BMD, NORAD and Canada-US Security Relations

Tasneem Jamal

Briefing 04-4

Ernie Regehr

Ever since the Government announced that it was pursuing ballistic missile defence (BMD) discussions with the United States , the Department of National Defence has made it clear that it wants the US to place responsibility for command and control of the BMD interceptors with NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

That would make it a joint Canada-US operation, and would mean changing the NORAD agreement.

Currently, NORAD has two primary missions: aerospace warning and control for North America. Warning includes the detection and assessment of aircraft or missile attacks on North America, while control, which includes the capacity to engage intruders in combat, is confined by the NORAD agreement to air defence, specifically excluding missile defence.

So far the Americans have not agreed to expand the NORAD mandate to make it the ballistic missile defence command and control facility. In its overview of the 2005 Budget request, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) describes a “new Unified Command Plan” that assigns “the role of global integrated planning for missile defense to the US Strategic Command.” STRATCOM in turn works with Combatant Commanders, such as US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), to develop operational concepts and to carry out testing and operational exercises. There is no reference to NORAD in the MDA (2004) document, even in the section, “International Participation.”

During the Cold War, NORAD’s early warning and assessment information was (and still is) handed off to STRATCOM as the manager of American nuclear retaliatory forces. STRATCOM then had the responsibility (and still does) to launch the retaliatory strikes when given a presidential command to do so. The retaliation targets, in the Soviet Union, for example, were predetermined and preprogrammed and thus data on the trajectory of the incoming missiles was not needed for the counterattack to be carried out. The only purpose of NORAD’s Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment (ITWAA) function was to confirm that an attack was in fact underway. Hence, the early warning and retaliatory tasks were functionally separate.

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