Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Anita Anand got a first-hand look Tuesday at North America’s first line of continental defence, a system experts and political leaders agree is badly in need of an upgrade.
But as they wrapped up their visit, neither Trudeau nor Anand were able to offer any specifics about when details about the plans would be forthcoming.
“We have a number of initiatives on the table right now with the United States and we will be coming forward shortly with a plan to modernize Norad,” Anand said. “I will leave it at that.”
Trudeau and Anand, flanked by the U.S. and Canadian commanders of Norad, exchanged pleasantries with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as their visit got underway in a boardroom festooned with images of fighter jets and military insignia.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, the current joint commander of Norad and U.S. Northern Command, opened the meeting by professing the importance of his mission.
“I get up every single day, as do all of our other members, knowing that we have the most noble mission on the planet, and that’s defending our homeland,” VanHerck said.
“We need to talk a little bit about the challenges we face in the homeland. We’ll talk about our strategy to address those challenges. And then we’ll talk about some of the capabilities that we’re pursuing.”
The Canadian delegation later decamped to Cheyenne Mountain, the towering home of a concrete-walled Norad command fortress embedded deep in the rough-hewn granite of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
VanHerck presented Trudeau with a hunk of the very rock that encases the base, mounted on a platform and adorned with two of the commander’s challenge coins.
“Very impressive,” Trudeau marvelled as officials demonstrated the facility’s imposing blast door, a metre-thick, 20-tonne hydraulic behemoth fortified with 22 thick steel rods that slide shut to ensure an impermeable seal.
Afterward, the prime minister held up the shared responsibilities of Norad — the only binational joint-command early warning system in the world — as a perfect illustration of the unique Canada-U.S. relationship.
“We’re seeing a time where the world is shifting rapidly,” Trudeau said — a reference to Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, as well as the prospect of hypersonic long-range weapons being developed in Russia and China.
“Whether it’s new threats, new technologies, or shifting geopolitical realities, it becomes all the more important for friends and allies like Canada and the United States to continue working so closely together.”
Like so many of the federal government’s recent pronouncements on Norad, however, Tuesday’s visit was short on details.
Anand did mention that the discussions lingered on the threat of long-range missiles and the importance of four key principles: situational awareness, command and control, research and development and an understanding of the potential threats North America could face.
“Those four principles,” she said, “will continue to form the foundation of our discussions and plans relating to NORAD modernization.”
Shortly after arriving in Colorado, Trudeau, Anand and Austin walked into Norad HQ through an honour guard flying Canadian and U.S. colours, pausing for the two national anthems.
Trudeau, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will spend the rest of the week in Los Angeles, where President Joe Biden is hosting leaders from across the Western Hemisphere for the Summit of the Americas.
On Monday, Trudeau wouldn’t say explicitly whether he supports Biden’s decision to exclude Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba from the summit, owing to their disdain for democratic values and dubious human rights records.
The decision generated protests from other quarters of Latin America, as well as a prominent no-show from one of the endeavour’s most important partners: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Some of the hemisphere’s countries are “less like-minded” than others, Trudeau acknowledged, but they all share a number of serious challenges, including migration pressures, climate change and recovering fully from the COVID-19 pandemic.
All three will be on the agenda at the weeklong summit, the leader-level portion of which is to get underway Wednesday.
Guilbeault is expected to take part in discussions about climate change, while Joly meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mexican counterpart Marcelo Ebrard.
Trudeau was guarded when asked Monday about the exclusion of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba from the summit.
“It’s extremely important that we have an opportunity to engage with our fellow hemispheric partners — some like-minded, some less like-minded,” he said, stopping short of passing judgment on the decision.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, however, said the three countries should not be barred from having their voices heard at the summit simply because Biden has “different political views.”
“Concerns raised around human rights are always important to consider, but that is no grounds to deny these countries participation in a Summit of the Americas. I think that was the wrong decision,” Singh said in Ottawa.
“Canada should also make it clear that we support the participation of these three countries.”
Other summit priorities will include helping countries bring COVID-19 under control, forging new ties on climate and energy initiatives, confronting food insecurity and leveraging existing trade agreements to better ensure more people are able to reap the benefits.
—James McCarten, The Canadian Press