- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Canada’s commitment to the binational defense of North America has been an article of faith for more than 60 years. This has remained true, whoever was the enemy of the day. It was true in 1940, when submarines from Nazi Germany plied the Gulf of St. Lawrence and our two countries endorsed the Ogdensburg Agreement. It was true throughout the Cold War under the North American Aerospace Defense agreement. It remains true in the post-September 11 world of today.

The attacks of September 11 did nothing to change the fundamental principle of binational continental defense. In fact, on that fateful morning, a Canadian general coordinated the air response from the NORAD command center in Colorado Springs.

September 11 did, however, force a rethinking of the requirements of binational continental defense. First, the defense of the continent shifted overseas. Second, there has been a rethinking of military structures and priorities, notably the establishment of a joint Canada-U.S. planning group in Colorado Springs, which augments our ability to respond jointly to outside threats, and Canada’s recent decision to enter into discussions with the United States on missile defense. Our two governments are also working together as never before in non-military areas related to security, including customs and immigration, intelligence, policing and homeland defense.

Canada was among the first countries to join the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. Several thousand Canadian forces personnel have served in the Arabian Gulf area over the past 18 months. Four made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

This spring, Canada commanded a multi-national naval task force in the Arabian Gulf, including ships from the United States and five other nations. Our transport planes moved thousands of coalition people and tens of millions of pounds of freight into and out of Afghanistan. Canada’s small but elite special forces were deployed to Afghanistan early on to work alongside their U.S. counterparts. Our infantry battle group operated seamlessly with units of the 101st Airborne Division in crucial stages of the war.

While obviously far smaller than the U.S. military, the Canadian Forces rank high in terms of quality and seamless joint operations with the United States. Moreover, the decision in the last budget to increase defense spending by 7 percent underlines Canada’s commitment to the military.

Canada is in the process of returning to Afghanistan to serve with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. Over the next year, around 4,000 Canadian Forces personnel will serve with the ISAF. In early 2004, Canada will field the largest ISAF contingent and may have overall command of the mission. Canada is also the first country to commit to ISAF for a full year, as compared with the previous practice of six-month commitments.

The ISAF mission is fundamental to North American security. Absent that mission, Afghanistan could return to the failed state status that allowed Al Qaeda to plan the September 11 attacks from that country.

When I met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul last month, I was struck by his leadership and infectious optimism. Admittedly, it is easy to become overwhelmed when one contemplates the enormity of the challenges facing his country. For me, however, the bottom line is simple: Afghanistan cannot be allowed to slip back to the conditions that gave rise to September 11. The militaries of the world as a whole have no choice but to stay there for some time to come.

When some Canadians tell me that the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon were directed against the United States and not Canada, I remind them that Canada is one of the countries on Osama Bin Laden’s “hit list.” Our two countries are truly in this together.

The ISAF mission is not only essential for continental security. It is also consistent with Canadians’ longstanding commitment to peacekeeping and to providing security for people in distress. Absent the ISAF, there would undoubtedly be widespread killing in Kabul.

Afghanistan is a dangerous and volatile part of the world. Casualties cannot be ruled out. If anyone doubted this before the tragic deaths of four German soldiers at the hands of a suicide bomber, they can doubt it no longer.

I believe, however, that Canadians will accept this risk, given the importance of the mission to North American security and to the very survival of countless people in a troubled nation. Canada has been described as a “peaceable kingdom,” never as a “pacifist kingdom.” Certainly the government has spared neither effort nor money to ensure that our army has everything it needs for this mission in terms of equipment, training, leadership and robust rules of engagement.

Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan are multi-pronged. In addition to our military commitment, we are opening an embassy and contributing a quarter of a billion dollars to reconstruction and development. Indeed, the Canadian government will contribute more in combined military, diplomatic and development assistance to Afghanistan in the next year than to any other country in the world.

The war against terrorism must be fought on many fronts, and a military force of Canada’s size will be effective only if it focuses on just one or two. Canada’s focus is Afghanistan.

John McCallum is Canada’s minister of National Defense.

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