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MacKay, Gates agree to “deepen the unique partnership on defence issues”

Today’s North American defence ministers meeting in Ottawa went ahead without Mexico’s Guillermo Galván (who was sick), which may have given Peter MacKay and Robert Gates more time to discuss some of the bilateral (Canada-U.S.) military integration proposals I wrote about yesterday, and which were apparently also part of the discussion at last week’s Canada-U.S. Permanent Joint Board on Defence meeting. As of 4 p.m. EST, you could see the news conference on the CTV website.

Online articles so far have focused on setbacks in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter procurement in the U.S., Liberal threats to pull out of the program, and the NATO mission in Afghanistan. But hints of the Tri Command Vision, Civil Assistance Plan, and new cooperation initiatives on cyber-security, arctic security, and maritime patrol (now part of NORAD) were mentioned today by Gates and MacKay. (The Council of Canadians broke the story about the Civil Assistance Plan in 2008.)

Plans to “deepen the unique partnership between our countries on defence” are needed because terrorism, crime and natural disasters (and sometimes Canadian defence ministers?) do not respect national borders, said MacKay. Gates added there “remains a need to strengthen the bilateral relationship,” highlighting expanded cooperation in the arctic, coordinated military assistance to Caribbean allies of Canada and the U.S., and military support to civilian authorities in responding to security threats. He offered the Vancouver Olympics as a good example of that cooperation, and pointed to a Public Safety-Homeland Security joint cyber-security exercise in October as a precedent for future cooperation on critical infrastructure protection.

[ASIDE: The idea of “critical infrastructure” dates to the dawn of the Internet age when U.S. defence types started to worry (as they do about most things) that a highly networked society is highly vulnerable to failure of information technology systems. The concept has been expanded over the years to encompass any system, natural or artificial, that our economy relies on to keep doing what it does. From water sources to power lines to uranium mines to communications satellites to major trade corridors… anything that contributes evenly remotely to U.S. GDP is considered critical infrastructure. Being the good neighbours we are, Canada has adopted the U.S. view and copied U.S. policy with a newish National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure.]

Once again, we’ll follow this where we can and report back when more information is available.