An ominous Arctic shield

Marci McDonald March 4 1985

An ominous Arctic shield

Marci McDonald March 4 1985

An ominous Arctic shield



Marci McDonald

The scenario is a recurring nightmare to military planners. Soviet Bear-H intercontinental bombers take off from their bases in Siberia, armed with AS-X-15 nuclear cruise missiles. They fly north over the polar cap toward the Canadian High Arctic. With ease they skirt detection by the threedecades-old installations of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. Slipping through the gaps in its radar over Labrador, they release their deadly low-flying missiles, aimed at striking deep into the heart of the continent, crippling military installations and entire cities.

That possibility—already graphically depicted in a Senate defence committee report released in Ottawa early this year—is the main reason for a new $1.2billion Canada-U.S. cost-sharing agreement to refurbish the antiquated DEW Line. President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney will sign the agreement as the centrepiece of their “shamrock summit” in Quebec City on March 17. Under that accord, Maclean's has learned, the Canadian government will pay 40 per cent of the installation and building costs of the modernized North Warning System, as

it will be called—approximately $700 million to $800 million. In return, Canada will retrieve the same amount in industrial defence contracts from its construction.

But under a wider understanding about eventual additions to the system between defence officials of both countries—and based on already-existing contingency agreements —the pact opens the possibility for the eventual deployment of U.S. F-15 fighter-interceptors on Canadian territory in times of crisis.

Specifically, the agreement promises to give Canadian defence firms control over the tenders and building of the entire short-range radar phase of the project—39 unmanned microwave radar units—as well as its communications system. Those automated short -range radar stations will fill the gaps between 13 long-range radar installations which the United States Air Force has already ordered from General Electric. Altogether, the 52 radar posts will be strung out across nearly 5,000 km of Arctic coastline from Alaska to the eastern coast of Labrador by 1992. Work is scheduled to begin this summer on the first installations, which will be built on some of the 31 existing DEW Line sites and some former DEW Line sites which

have been dismantled, as well as on entirely new locations. In addition, Canada will foot the bill for half of the system’s annual operating budget and for nearly 50 per cent of the cost of scrapping most of the 24 remaining stations of CADIN-Pinetree radar line which currently dot the midpoint of most provinces from coast to coast.

After 30 years of allowing the United States to pick up the DEW Line’s total costs, external affairs department officials hail the agreement as a major step toward regaining sovereignty over airspace in the Canadian North. But already critics charge that, in its haste to produce a public relations flourish at the Quebec summit, the government has rushed into a deal that could ultimately prove extremely costly to the country’s long-term military independence.

‘Offensive’: Under what one Pentagon official called an “envelope of understanding” attached to the accord, provisions exist for the future upgrading of a dozen landing strips across the Far North by the end of the decade which could accommodate eight AWAC planes. Those airstrips would be used to service the North Warning System —and to accommodate squadrons of American fighter-interceptor F-15s in international emergencies. Said NDP de-

fence critic Derek BlackWÈÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÈÊÊÊÈÊÊÊËË burn: “Once we start accepting AWACs and interceptor bombers across the North, we are participating politically in an American offensive strategy. I’m very fearful we are allowing ourselves to get taken in.”

Charge: Indeed, other critics declared that the North Warning System is a Trojan horse that opens the door to the eventual stationing of U.S. antiballistic missiles on Canadian soil.

And some of them charge that the accord will ultimately lead Canada to participate in Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative—the space-based, antimissile program known as “Star Wars.”

Said Liberal arms control critic Lloyd Axworthy, who was briefed on the North Warning System at a closed meeting of the Commons standing committee on external affairs and defence: “We’re heading into some new alleyways that carry a potential for a major militarization of the North. The idea that this is simply a defensive radar system is absolutely nonsense.”

The $1.2-billion update on the DEW Line represents only the northern tier of a $7-billion U.S. master plan to ring the continent with a new radar grid. By the end of next year, installation will begin on four over-the-horizon, back-scatter (OTH-B) radar systems which will each provide a 3,000-km surveillance range along the east, west and southern borders of the United States. Components for that sophisticated system—which can “see” farther along the curve of the horizon than conventional linear radar by bouncing its beams off the ionosphere—are currently being manufactured in a Maine town with the unlikely name of Moscow. But over-thehorizon radar cannot scan the North because of interference from the northern lights.

In fact, the DEW Line negotiations have been under way for more than a decade. Ottawa and Washington began their periodic talks on upgrading the system in the early 1970s. But it was only when the Reagan administration began a reassessment of defence strategy which places new emphasis on the threat from Soviet bombers and cruise missiles that the current round of negotiations began in earnest two years ago. Indeed, even the severest critics of the plan concede that the DEW Line has

become utterly inadequate, weakened by outmoded equipment, disrepair and an inability to detect low-flying missiles such as the cruise. Admitted Blackburn: “There’s no doubt the DEW Line has run down technically. If we’re talking simply about upgrading the DEW Line, that’s fair ball.” In fact, an Ottawa report by the Senate committee on national defence released in January warned that the radar network was so riddled with gaps that “at present hostile bombers could fly undetected into the heart of North America and attack U.S. deterrent forces without _

warning.” As Maj.-Gen.

Lawrence Ashley told the Commons defence and external affairs committee two weeks ago,

“Gentlemen, we really do have a very porous system.”

Planning: But so determined was Washington to push ahead that some strategic analysts said they feared that the administration might not wait for Canada to take part unless Ottawa quickly demonstrated its willingness to participate in the project. Indeed, the U.S. Air Force had already bought the first 10 of its 13 longrange radar installations from General Electric out of its 1983-84 military budget when the

new accord was drawn up—an action that indicates that the order was in the planning stages at least two years earlier.

That head start could pose serious problems for the $700-million Canadian share of the contract which government officials regard as a major negotiating coup. Despite assurances that Canadian firms will supply the 39 short-range radar units (three of which will be stationed in Alaska), the U.S. Air Force already has signed a contract with Sperry Rand Corp. of New York to produce

_ two short-range radar

prototypes. Said one Canadian official: “When somebody goes ahead and lets out a contract on a part of the project they will not control, it’s a problem. But our position is that it is the Americans’ problem.” Declared a Pentagon official: “That doesn’t mean the contract can’t be changed. By the time March 17 rolls around, this will no longer be a stumbling block.”

‘Scream’: Ottawa so far has not announced the dismantling of the obsolescent Pinetree line, an operation which Liberal defence critic Len Hopkins, for one, ^ said will cost “a lot of

1 money and a lot of ago2 ny.” Added Hopkins, MP

for an Ottawa Valley riding, which contained a Pinetree site until it was phased out 10 years ago in an area 80 km northwest of Ottawa: “It’s not going to be that simple. Some of those communities are going to scream blue murder.”

But the most serious objection to the agreement—which will go before cabinet for approval within the next two weeks—arises from its implications for deeper Canadian involvement in American offensive military strategy. Blackburn said that a provision to deploy at least eight of the U.S. contingent of 34 AWACS on Canadian territory in an emergency is not merely a passive, defensive contingency arrangement. “AWACS have a central command panel that can give directions for missile deployment and direct an entire war,” he said. “Once we start accepting AWACS, we’re bridging the gap between defence and offence.”

Wartime: As well, Pentagon officials acknowledged to Maclean's that “in a time of contingency and if our two governments agreed,” they could not rule out the possibility that NORAD’S 17 squadrons of American F-4s, F-106s and the new F-15 fighter-interceptors would be based on Canadian soil to supplement Canada’s own three squadrons of CF-18 interceptor jets. Indeed, Maclean's has learned that 12 secret “arrangements” exist between Canada and the United States, dating from 1964, to provide Canadian landing facilities for the dispersal and recovery of American interceptor aircraft during a crisis or wartime.

The possibility of Canada’s North being used by U.S. warplanes seems likely to raise at least as many concerns as those posed last month by the revelation that U.S. contingency plans call for the deployment of nuclear depth charges in an international emergency. Said Dr. Lawrence Hagen, research director for the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, a nonpartisan Ottawa-based education and research organization: “Obviously if there is a crisis situation and the Canadian government is hesitant to allow the forward deployment of F-15s onto Canadian territory, the United States would be entirely capable of just moving them up anyway. The American government is not going to wait for the Canadian cabinet to meet and decide something that is crucial to its survival.”

Activist: At the same time, Hagen and other defence critics contend that the North Warning System is the first step toward inducing Canadians to accept antiballistic missiles (currently banned by a 1972 treaty with Moscow) on their soil as part of the larger Star Wars defensive strategy. Indeed, they point out that when the NORAD agree-

ment came up for renewal in 1981, the Canadian government quietly—and perhaps inadvertently —dropped a clause that stipulated that Canadian participation in NORAD did not oblige the country to take part in active ballistic missile defence. Defence officials did not inform the Commons’ defence committee of the deletion. Said Bill Robinson of Operation Dismantle, a moderately activist peace organization which is one of the country’s largest: “We gave

a very strong message that the decision had been made to open up the option for Canadian participation in ballistic missile defence.”

In fact, the Pentagon considers landbased installations an essential part of the eventual space-based Star Wars antimissile strategy. And, when briefing a Commons committee two weeks ago, even acting Defence Minister Joe Clark acknowledged that Canada could “inadvertently” find itself linked to the defence initiative. Canada accepted Bomarc nuclear missiles in the 1960s—since dismantled—after agreeing in 1957 to the present radar warning

system. Still, Clark argued that “there is nothing hidden” in the current proposal to modernize the radar system. But, added Blackburn: “Innocently or not so innocently, we’re getting sucked into the Strategic Defense Initiative.” Burden: For his part, Axworthy predicted that the new agreement challenges the country’s entire foreign policy stance as an honest broker between the superpowers. As a result, he has asked the government to wait until cur-

rent reviews of external affairs and defence policy are completed before signing the North Warning system agreement. Said Axworthy: “At least we should know what we’re getting into.” But there appears to be little prospect of Ottawa abandoning a key opportunity to signify its willingness to shoulder a larger part of the North American defence burden with the United States. The pact is due to be sealed against the historic backdrop of the Plains of Abraham—a reminder of a simpler time when the threat to North America came in a less complex and contentious form. With Michael Clugston in Ottawa

Michael Clugston