- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

TORONTO The Canadian government is under fire from conservatives who fear the nation's sovereignty is threatened by Washington's latest effort to wage war on terrorism in North America.

The Pentagon announced this week a new Northern Command to begin operating Oct. 1 that will be responsible for defending the U.S. homeland, including the waters off the East and West coasts.

The problem is that the command, run by U.S. generals, also plans to defend Canada even though Canadian armed forces won't be a part of it.

"It's almost like Canada is a protectorate, that we're depending on the United States," said Leon Benoit, a member of Parliament with the conservative Canadian Alliance. "Pretty soon the country protecting you becomes more and more involved in domestic affairs."

The new command will be responsible for a security zone stretching from Alaska's northernmost tip to Mexico's southern border with Guatemala.

"We now have a command assigned to defend the American people where they live and work," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters Wednesday. "The highest priority of our military is to defend the United States."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the command will essentially mirror NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command, and also take over responsibility to aid civil authorities in a terrorist attack.

In fact, NORAD's commander will head the Northern Command and that alone has Canadian critics wondering why Canada isn't included in the new structure.

"The reason Canada doesn't have a part is our military has been allowed to deteriorate under this government," Mr. Benoit said, referring to the Liberal Party administration of Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

"We simply don't have a strong enough military to be involved in the way we should be," Mr. Benoit said.

Canada's army has too many cooks and not enough soldiers, according to a report this week by the nation's auditor-general.

The report also said the military wasted $174 million on a satellite communications project that was never used, and that aging military helicopters literally fall out of the sky because plans to replace them have been put off.

Mr. Chretien says the new Northern Command won't affect Canada's autonomy or its relationship with the United States.

"This decision by the American administration about their own defense, it is their own business," he said. "The defense of Canada will be assured by the Canadian government."

Criticism of the new command is also coming from Canada's left. The socialist New Democratic Party has called on Mr. Chretien to let Parliament debate whether Canada should forge closer military ties with the United States.

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