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NORAD Renewal Good News For US

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) May 11, 2006
To zero coverage in the U.S. media, the Canadian parliament renewed its venerable NORAD treaty with the United States Monday. But Conventional Wisdom as usual was wrong: The implications of the vote may be immense, and wholly positive for U.S. national security.

First the overwhelming nature of the vote was a personal triumph for hard-charging new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. There are many critics in Canada of the old North American Aerospace Defense Command treaty that was first signed in 1958 and that has been regularly updated ever since. They have been particularly outspoken in the opposition National Democratic Party.

However, the NDP was the only party to seriously oppose renewal of the pact. The House of Commons, the main chamber of the Canadian Parliament, overwhelmingly passed ratification on Monday by 257 votes to 30 in the 308-seat parliament.

This was especially remarkable as Harper, Canada's first Conservative Party prime minister in more than a decade and a half, does not command a majority in the Commons. The Canadian general election earlier this year brought his party back from the political wilderness but only with a plurality of seats. And all the other four major parties -- the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois and the Greens -- are to the left of the Conservatives.

The Conventional Wisdom was that Harper would therefore be constrained from taking bold initiatives, especially on expanding security cooperation with the United States, that might isolate his Conservatives and provoke opposition parties to band together and vote him out of office.

Instead, Harper took a leaf out of the playbook of his friend, President George W. Bush, after Bush first won election in November 2000 with fewer votes than his main opponent, then-Vice President Al Gore. He's pushing ahead, showing bold leadership in the policies he is committed to.

This high risk strategy flies in the face of Canada's famous "middle of the road" consensus political tradition. But it paid off for Harper in the election when he emphasized his wish to bring Canada into ballistic missile defense cooperation with the United States. And it paid off again Monday night when the main opposition Liberal Party followed Harper's lead and also backed NORAD ratification.

Second, the NORAD pact that Harper won approval for is not the old Cold War version of the treaty but one that has been significantly updated to handle the new security threats of the 21st century.

NORAD was previously renewed every five years, but the new agreement eliminates this requirement by making it a permanent alliance. However, both countries still retain the right of periodic review and can drop out with a year's notice.

Third, the huge majority Harper won in the Commons vote frees his hands to push ahead with taking further administrative decisions to increase military cooperation with the United States that will not require piloting new legislation through the House of Commons.

Fourth, renewing NORAD with such strong parliamentary support frees Harper to boost security cooperation with U.S agencies such as the FBI, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security in monitoring and fighting networks of Islamist extremists in Canada. They are believed to be especially concentrated and well-organized in Montreal and may even spread to British Columbia and Vancouver, some U.S. security sources believe.

Three-times-elected Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien did not take the growth of Islamist networks in Canada seriously. But several of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers flew in from Canada. Many U.S. security analysts believe that in some respects, the U.S. border with Canada has been more porous and more open to infiltration by Islamists than the U.S. border with Mexico. Mexican federal police and security forces are energetic, tough and operate under far fewer civil liberties constraints than their Canadian counterparts.

Fifth, renewing NORAD opens the way for initial cooperation between Canada and the United States ballistic missile defense. President Bush offered such cooperation in February 2005 to Harper's predecessor as prime minister, Liberal party leader Paul Martin under terms that would not have cost the Canadian taxpayer a cent

However, Martin first accepted Bush's offer, then under pressure from critics within and outside his own Liberal Party, he changed his mind. That quieted his party critics but left him looking foolish and indecisive on major national security issue before the Canadian people. By sticking to his guns and pushing ahead rapidly with BMD cooperation now, Harper cemented his own leadership credentials in the following election campaign.

Expanding NORAD and backing BMD cooperation with the United States have proven political winners for Harper: They have divided his opposition and left them trailing in his wake while he providing decisive leadership that played well with the Canadian people. His success in pushing these security policies so boldly suggests he will continue to move ahead aggressively on them.

Source: United Press International

Related Links

Missile Threat To Europe Warrants Shield Says NATO Official
Brussels (AFP) May 11, 2006
Europe faces an increasing threat from attacks with long-range missiles and could help avert the danger by building a missile defence network, a senior NATO official warned on Wednesday.

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