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Paper Sokolsky

Guarding the Northern  'Approaches'
Canada and U.S. Homeland Security and Defence After 9/11

Joel J. Sokolsky, Royal Military College of Canada

The U.S. Department of Defense's National Defense Strategy and Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support calls for an "active, layered defense" of the American homeland in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). As seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first layer is global. The approaches to the American homeland form the second set of layers. Counted among the approaches are the homelands of American allies, and the countries and waters that border the United States. Guarding the approaches involves negotiating security and defence agreements with allies and neighbouring states. The American homeland is the third layer. Here the terrorist threat is combated using homeland and border security policies, surveillance and law enforcement measures, and prosecutions and incarcerations.

For Washington, therefore, Canada is part of the second layer and the U.S. expects that Ottawa will take the steps necessary to guard the northern approaches to the American homeland.  In its Country Report on Terrorism for 2005, the State Department acknowledged that the United States and Canada "had collaborated on a broad array of initiatives, exercises, and joint operations that spanned virtually all agencies and every level of government." Yet it also noted, that "at the political level ... tensions over Iraq and U.S. actions against Canadian citizen terror suspects threatened to disrupt valuable information sharing between the two nations." And the report charged that, "Terrorists have capitalized on liberal Canadian immigration and asylum policies to enjoy safe haven, raise funds, arrange logistic support and plan terrorist attacks." Regardless of bold pronouncements about the Mexico-U.S.-Canada Security and Prosperity Partnership, Washington, makes a clear distinction between the second and third layers of security in the GWOT and is determined to reinforce security measures along the Canada-US border.

Yet Ottawa too, remains uneasy with the notion of a continental security perimeter, thus the same combination of bilateral cooperation and unilateral action can be found in the defence area, where Washington established United States Northern Command, (USNROTHCOM) and Canada stood up Canada Command. At ultimate issue is how much of the command and control of homeland defence in the terrorist era both the U.S. and Canada will want to keep in national structures and how much they will wish to continue to entrust to the bi-national North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). Ottawa's decision to eschew a direct role in Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) raised new questions in Washington about the future of NORAD. But indications are that despite its renewal in 2006, support for NORAD, on both sides of the border, seems to have been diminished precisely  (and ironically) because homeland security has become more important for both countries.

In the GWOT, the Canadian nightmare is not so much a terrorist attack on Canada, although one is entirely possible, given Ottawa's active part in the war on terror. Rather, the nightmare is what would happen to the bilateral relationship, and the Canada-US border, if a terrorist strike against America emanates from Canada. Because of this fear the two countries continue to find common cause in bilateral and unilateral efforts to guard the northern approaches, although their motives differ. 

Yet the significant efforts to secure the northern approaches provide no automatic guarantee of American confidence in the Canadian commitment to the GWOT. In the first place, even as Canada increases its military and non-military efforts internally and along the border, it is seems that Washington judges Ottawa's contribution to the GWOT primarily by what Canada does in the first, overseas, layer. To this extent, the Canadian Forces (CF) operations in Afghanistan, may well have done more to assure the United States about Canada's commitment to American homeland security than the myriad of efforts taken to secure the northern approaches.

Secondly, and most important, is what Frank Harvey has termed to the "homeland security dilemma," as it applies to the Canada-U.S. relationship. The measures Canada is taking to secure the northern approaches only increase U.S. expectations that such measures will be successful and will only exacerbate American adverse reaction if they are not.

In its contributions to the Global War on Terrorism and especially with regard to the measures taken to assure the United States about the security of the northern approaches to the American homeland, Canada has done more than its traditional "just enough."  But even these efforts on Ottawa's part may not be sufficient to fully satisfy Washington where the answer to the question "How much is enough" when it comes to security and defence in a post 9/11 world seems to be "never can never be enough."