01 March 2005

Goose Bay and BMD

There's a story by defence writer David Pugliese in the Ottawa Citizen today concerning the impact the Prime Minister's decision not to participate in active ballistic missile defence might have on Goose Bay. The story is also carried in The Telegram, but it isn't on their website.

Here is some additional information and some observations.

Background information on X band radar systems can be found here at the Federation of American Scientists site.

The official Missile Defence Agency website is here. This is an awesome site which gives basic information on a technical subject in a language any twit like me can understand.

While you are there, click on the BMD basics button on the top menu, then on the sensors button on the left menu. Then scroll down to the file on a floating X band radar system being developed for deployment off Alaska.

This takes the radar system and mounts it on a modified semi-submersible drill rig. It is scheduled to be deployed off Alaska.

This started me thinking. Is it possible this same system could be deployed on the east coast? In some respects, it would depend on how important the Americans viewed having their sensors covering the northeast of North America. Were they to consider it vital to their national security, I suspect they'd play relatively hard and float the rig out there.

Legally, the Canadian territorial sea extends 12 nautical miles: that's it. After that it is an exclusive economic zone. Foreign vessels have a right of innocent passage under international law and it becomes a bit of a question as to whether or not the Canadians could legally force an American defence system like this to deploy outside the 200 mile exclusive economic zone.

Under the Law of the Sea Convention, the rights conferred on a coastal state for an exclusive economic zone apply explicitly to economic rights, not ones for national defence. The economic rights cannot interfere with other well-established international rights like, say,m self-defence. In some respects it becomes an issue of how far would Ottawa be prepared to push this issue since the structure would be miles out at sea and therefore invisible.

The system would be totally under American control and with the exception of some rights to use nearby port facilities for service and support, it doesn't impact on the coastal state. If the Americans haven't completely abandoned their Atlantic Charter rights to bases in Newfoundland and Labrador (lawyers start your searching), then they might just be able to do something without Canada's active support. At the very least, the Americans can resupply from bases in Maine and simply use Canadian ports like St. John's as they currently do.

All that said, I did make a distinction earlier that Canada is not participating in active defence, that is shooting down missiles. However, we are staying in NORAD which has a huge passive component, namely radars, to detect attacks.

Generally, I would agree with those who argue that the Prime Minister is trying to have his cake and eat it too, when he argues that the Americans would have to ask before shooting down a missile in our airspace despite our rejecting active participation in ballistic missile defence (BMD).

But on the other hand, I just don't think that we can get past NORAD and the integrated nature of North American defence; that's why I think the feds are walking a fine line here trying to find a balance between national security interests and the public attitude in Canada against BMD.

The X band radar Pugliese is talking about could still come to Goose Bay under the guise of NORAD as a passive sensor. The fact that its data might be used to target missiles physically located in Maine or offshore on ships is the head of a pin on which federal mandarins can dance. We already play these sort of clever games now in NORAD when it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons release. I seriously doubt that the Canadian NORAD deputy commander has actual authority in the American National Command Authority chain in the event of hostilities; but it looks good on paper and we have been looking good on that point since 1957.

Then again, the radar might just wind up floating offshore.

Any chance we could get a repair and refit contract for Bull Arm or Marystown in the meantime?