SPP is built around secrecy and US military command

Michael Byers

SPP is built around secrecy and US military command

By Michael Byers

OTTAWA, August 20, 2007: The agreement’s title is classic framing: “Security and Prosperity Partnership” (SPP) conjures up comfortable images. Michael Byers says the agreement under discussion this week by Canadian, US and Mexican leaders Harper, Bush and Calderon should more properly be framed as a secret agreement to hand sweeping military, immigration and border control of all three countries over to the US. On Sunday, Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia told a standing-room-only forum in Ottawa about the politics and persuasion connected with the agreement under discussion behind the barricades this week at Montebello, Quebec.  – Murray Dobbin

I want to begin by welcoming the civil servants who have been sent to keep track of what’s going on here. Like you, we love our country; unlike the people who are gathering in Montebello this week, we have nothing to hide.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership did not begin as a phenomenon after September 11, 2001. It was part of a trend that predates that time. But the proponents of North American integration seized upon 9/11 as an opportunity to advance their cause. And some of those proponents in Canada were very overt about their aspirations in the weeks and months after the terrorist atrocities in New York City and Washington, DC.

David O’Brien, the CEO of Canadian Pacific and now Chairman of the Board of Royal Bank of Canada, argued Canada would have to adopt US-style immigration policies to keep the border open. He said that we have to make North Americans secure from the outside. ‘We’re going to lose increasingly our sovereignty but it’s necessarily so.’ Mr. O’Brien is an influential man. Within months, the Canadian government had signed the Safe Third Country agreement with the United States whereby Canadian refugee policy was essentially assimilated into the refugee policy of the United States. The rights of human beings to asylum when they’re being persecuted for their religious or political opinions or ethnic identities is one of the most fundamental rights of all.

Then there was Nancy Hughes Anthony, the President of the Canadian Chambers of Commerce who said that we’re not going to get anywhere with our American friends unless we can show we have good strong anti-terrorist legislation and we intend to enforce it. The result was the 2001 Anti- terrorism Act, which, of course was modelled on the [US] Patriot Act.

And then there was Patrick E. Daniels, the President of Enbridge, the big energy company based in Calgary, who complained that Canada pushed its sovereignty ‘a little too far.’ He said it would be realistic for Canada to either get onside with US foreign policy or ‘accept some change in our relationship.’

I was asked to speak about one aspect of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, namely security, or more specifically, the military. In the immediate aftermath of September 2001, plans were devised within the American and Canadian governments to put the entire Canadian Forces under the umbrella of the US Northern Command. To put all our soldiers, sailors and pilots and all their equipment under the operational control of the United States, in a much- expanded version of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). Fortunately some sunshine was let in upon that thinking before it could be taken too far. Some serious credit needs to be given here to a former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, who took advantage of being out of Cabinet to let the rest of us know what his former colleagues were up to.

So those who wanted to pursue the efforts of further integration of the Canadian and US military decided to take their efforts underground in arrangements that bear striking similarity to the SPP. And the SPP is part of a larger process. The Bi-National Planning Group was the military sister or brother of the SPP. Essentially it was a transborder committee of unelected bureaucrats, military officers and consultants who were given task of studying and then reporting on the options for improving the efficacy of the North American defensive system. The goal was simply to allow us to respond faster and better to the various kinds of threats that might arise.

The military officers worked away quietly in Colorado Springs, Colorado, headquarters of NORAD, as well as the US space command…. Canadian military leaders quite liked playing with the big boys and using the best military equipment in the world…

The proponents of closer military integration could not believe their luck when Stephen Harper was elected. And very shortly after Mr. Harper came to power, they released their final report… which sets out four different options for the closer integration of the Canadian and US military. Most of the report is concerned with public relations, noting that Canadians are particularly attached to sovereignty.

Imagine how you might actually explain that closer military cooperation enhances sovereignty because giving up sovereignty is an exercise in sovereignty! You actually affirm your sovereignty by giving some of it away..

The report was very very clear that its preferred option was full integration, the option that had been floated internally in 2002, the assignment of Canadian Forces to what looked like an expanded NORAD, to an umbrella command where operational control would ultimately rest with the US military.

Some steps have been taken in that direction, including, last year, the NORAD agreement to expand the sharing of maritime surveillance including within the Northwest Passage. It wasn’t much noticed at the time. Only one party opposed it in Parliament, the New Democratic Party of Canada.

When the report actually came out and was put up on the website of the Bi-National Planning Group, some smart people, including possibly the Prime Minister of Canada, decided that you were not yet ready for this. That somehow it wasn’t the time to make the public case for the full integration of Canadian and US forces because Mr. Harper didn’t get that majority he so desperately desired. And so it was shuffled away once again, it disappeared off the website, and the Bi-National Planning Group was shut down, and who knows what they’re talking about in Montebello.

But something did happen, and I’m talking about Afghanistan…. We are seeing the implementation in theatre of precisely the kind of planning that was going into the Bi-National Planning Group. We are seeing the Canadian Forces being given more and more equipment. We’re even buying new tanks. We’re seeing the integration of attitudes and rules of engagement with respect to issues like the treatment of detainees. Why did we not adopt the Western European approach to detainee transfer rights, following models that were provided to us by the British, the Dutch and the Danish? Because Washington wanted to do it another way. And why should we volunteer for the most dangerous mission in Afghanistan, a forward-leaning, war- fighting search and kill mission supported by US airstrikes and working in tandem with a US-led and -commanded mission that is not part of the NATO command?

Why have 67 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan? Why did Private Simon Longtin die today? The simple explanation, and it’s only a partial explanation, is that there are people who want to transform the Canadian Forces into a miniature version of the US Marine Corps and want Canada to only choose missions that involve fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States; that want us to acquire equipment that integrates seamlessly with the US military, including in the relatively near future new F35 fighters. The same people who will tell you that peace-keeping is dead, that we really don’t need new search-and-rescue aircraft in the second largest country on Earth, and who will tell you that those who stand up for the rights of detainees are expressing disrespect and a lack of support for the brave young Canadian men and women who serve this country in whatever mission they’re given because they love this country just as much as you and I.

The integration of the Canadian and US military is not officially part of the SPP, but the SPP and the integration of the Canadian and US military are part of a larger project, and we need to address that larger project, and understand that what we’re up against here does not involve the existence of an independent Canada. But as we saw with the Bi-National Planning Group, a little bit of sunshine can chase these plans away. When I look at this room I see a whole lot of sunshine.

Tags: Defence policy