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72nd Annual Summer Conference, August 7–10, 2003

From Norad to Northcom: Who takes orders from whom?

L–R: Stephen Handelman, Ambassador Thomas Graham, Lloyd Axworthy

Summary by Paul Dhillon

Stephen Handelman

Stephen Handelman spoke eloquently about his experiences investigating the integration aspects of the North American continent. He brought up the interesting point that he and Anthony DePalma were the only two journalists that were currently looking at North America as a concept in itself instead of tri-laterally or singularly by nation. He spoke briefly about his time overseas in Latin America and also as a member of the Peace Corps. Handelman believes that there is a “North American mentality” and that perhaps people can hold more than one “identity” at a time and that there is no inherent contradiction in this idea.

Mr. Handelman then went on to talk about what he felt was an important undercurrent that was occurring during the Y2K crisis planning between the countries of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. He explained how tri-country planning groups were formed that met quite regularly to discuss issues related to the interconnected nature of the North American Continent. For example, the increase in the telephone communications increased between the US and Canada from 2 billion minutes pre-NAFTA to 6 billion minutes per year post-NAFTA. He theorizes that the North American integration that matters is going to be built on these “new threads.” His main point was that these new threads were blurring the distinction between what was military and what was in the economic and social realms. He stated “The wall between the security and civilian agenda’s was breaking down.” Y2K established in people’s minds that there was a “North American space” that needed protection due to its technological advancement, and this concept has been reinforced over the years.

Stephen went on to talk about some of the historical context behind the US-Canada Security relationship and quoted the Roosevelt-King axiom that “no country would do anything that would harm the security of the other. 9/11 changed the shape of the North American area and the “Zone of Confidence” = Continental Security Area was now spoken of. However what is inside the zone and what is outside the zone is still to be determined.

He then proceeded to illustrate how attacks on the US are linked as attacks on Canada and Mexico due to the interconnected nature of our North American infrastructure. He questioned, “what if Ahmed Ressam had not been caught at the US border with the bomb in the trunk of his car. Imagine what would have happened if he had been able to bomb Los Angeles Airport? The walls would have gone up extremely fast and more so than they already have.” Mr. Handelman then concluded with a question “what exactly does security mean for North America.”

Ambassador Thomas Graham

Mr. Graham presented an articulate American vision of the nuclear missile defense area in his talk. He began by detailing the articulation of the threat of offensive missile attacks on the US in the early 1950’s with the advent of Intercontinental missiles that could reach the US in 30 minutes from the Soviet Union. This new development in missile technology left the United States unprotected by the two oceans it had traditionally relied on. He went on to elucidate that some within the beltway saw the pursuit of Missile Defense as a religious effort, others saw it as destabilizing creating the need to attack first eliciting the axioms of arms race stability and crisis stability.

NORAD was the next topic that was covered and he spoke about the changing mission directives of NORAD in history. Then in the late 1990s a better defense security for the US emerged for defense against rouge states, people began to believe that the threat of missiles hitting the US had been underestimated and that “odious regimes, such as North Korea and Iraq seemed especially threatening.” Then after 9/11, some believe that the case had been proven for missile defense. Mid-Sept 2001 a senior US administration official said that “these people had jet plane pilots, if they had access to missiles wouldn’t they use them.”

His discussion then turned to the outer space issues regarding nuclear arms. Ambassador Graham made the distinction that outer space was to be “non-weaponised but not necessarily a non-militarized realm” However he did state that sea or space deployal of missile defense is the most feasible but that this move will engender a major debate in the polity.

Graham then moved on to making the assertion that Canada and Russia made the right move to not get involved in space based defense. But he does believe that Canada should join the Washington battle in a major way by lobbying, and putting pressure on through political and commercial channels. He concluded by asking the audience “if Canada won’t speak clearly to the US then who will?”

Lloyd Axworthy

Lloyd Axworthy presented an invigorating and enlightening talk that covered many interesting areas. He declared that many other countries around the world look to us to see how we are working with the US in our bi-lateral relations. Those eyes are still clearly focused on us and wondering how Canada is going to proceed. He sees the US coming out of the “deep-freeze” and seeing that there are other options for the US, in contrast to their current policy directions. Axworthy believes that Canadians have not been given all the choices of what we should be doing in the new security environment and that political and economic elites have not fully engaged the Canadian polity.

He then proceeded on to the international scene and discussed the fact that conflict and war fundamentally changes the countries in which they occur and that we cannot look at events singularly and must look at the larger long-term calculations, not the short term. The Hon. Lloyd Axworthy supposes that the recent invitation to Canada to participate in the missile defense program was an invitation to participate in the new general direction of the US foreign policy and is not inline with Canadian values. In fact, we should begin to look inward at Canada and it’s global issues, joining with US security strategy “will entangle us with the US.” Axworthy believe that there are a number of issues such as immigration that are occurring under the covers and that we are just accepting ipso facto the US security concerns.

Lloyd also believes that the human security agenda is vital and that energy and climate change will be the huge issues in the upcoming global discussions. Mr. Axworthy believes that if we turn over sovereign command of our forces to a North American command structure we will not be able to concern ourselves with threats that we would like to be involved with. He sees Canada taking the role of navigator in the future, not as a follower to the current US foreign policy direction.

There were a number of incisive and enlightening questions that were asked to the panel members, which elicited a number of eclectic and thought-provoking responses. A number of the most relevant questions are included below.

QUESTION 1: What effect does foreign policy have?

Axworthy: “Dilemma of intervention is the 21st Century’s question” The US’s new security doctrine is changing the rules of the game. “We have to change the notion of sovereignty” Intervention must be rule based. Primary part of intervention is PREVENTATIVE.

Handelman: “Negate the idea that a good foreign policy will stop the seeds of terrorism” Have to look at the physical needs of security. Geography determines how vulnerable you are.

Graham: Hopes rules will be implemented by the UN Security Council but is concerned about veto powers


Axworthy: Bush jr. doesn’t believe in consultation. “The US believes that they should be able to decide when, if, and how through military intervention they should intervene.”

“North American Community approach instead of North American Fortress approach.”

Locus of political power in the US is shifting to the south and the west from the north-east

Handelman: Hypothesizes that the problems between Canada and the US did not begin with the current Bush Administration, they started when the US began to rethink their external relationships after the Cold War. “Canada wanted to get into the game but didn’t know how.”

“Hungary as the example of Canada.”

Graham: “Play the game the way Israel and Greece do it, inside the beltway.”

QUESTION 4: Canada’s Credibility has declined. The political reality is that the value of lives in Africa vs. the West is different. How do we manage both these threats to human security, the domestic and the international

Axworthy: “You can’t be credible on the cheap.”

Handelman: “On a lower level Canada’s credibility is quite high.”

Graham: Inside the beltway comment “view of Canada is divided” there are some who regard Canada as a thorn in the side of the US and there are others that see Canada as heroic.