Monday, April 06, 2009

The red menace talk still on and still raising questions

Mr. Harper at the NATO summit this weekend:
"In other news from the summit, the alliance announced plans to improve NATO-Russia relations, which sunk to a post-Cold War low after the invasion of Georgia last summer.

But Harper, sounding more hawkish on Russia than some of his NATO colleagues, said there wouldn't be a true 'reconciliation' between Canada and Russia unless Canada saw clear positive steps from Moscow to meet the federal government's recent concerns.

Among them are Russian long-range aircraft skirting Canadian airspace in the Arctic, including an incident with two Russian aircraft the day before Obama's visit to Canada in February.

While he said Canada and Russia share vital interests and common threats, 'that should not blind us ... to some of the behaviour of the Russians that is seriously disconcerting.'
Once again, it must be pointed out that Mr. Harper's posturing is not ringing true. It was pointed out by both the Russians and the Americans that the Russians have not entered Canadian airspace whatsoever, despite Mr. Harper's misleading statement ("...Russian intrusions into our airspace.").

Now there's an additional Canadian military official that also gives us reason to doubt Harper's antagonistic positioning, Maj.-Gen. Marcel Duval, in charge of NORAD’s Canadian region who appeared before the Defence Committee last week:
During his appearance at the committee Maj.-Gen. Duval said the flights were no different than what has been going on since 2007….and he considered it good practice for his crews. “It was in line with the level of activity and the type of activity that we have seen since August 07,” the general noted.

Here are some excerpts from what he had to say:

“It is not unexpected for foreign militaries to conduct flight operations outside their sovereign airspace in the pursuit of training and execution of assigned missions,” said Maj.-Gen. Duval. “Canada also conducts flights in the international airspace beyond our 12-nautical-mile limit in support of operations in the high seas, transit to overseas theatres, and in the conduct of training.”

Once the Russian aircraft were identified, Maj.-Gen. Duval said, “it was clear that these aircraft did not pose a military threat to North America. They're closest approach to the Canadian land mass was 41 nautical miles, or approximately 76 kilometres. Their conduct and airmanship of the air crew was very, very professional.”
...
Maj.-Gen. Duval also noted that intercepting the aircraft provides excellent training for both the Russians and Canadian aircrews. “It's training that doesn't compare to anything else that you can simulate,” he add. “It is the real stuff although there is no ill intent in the conclusion. It is certainly motivating and exciting for our young folks who train for this. Now they can apply and confirm their training. It is a golden opportunity and the Russians are probably thinking the same way.” (emphasis added)
This high ranking Canadian NORAD commander did not seem alarmed in the least by what he's seen from the Russians. In fact, he seems to think it's quite a routine bit of flying that's going on. The tenor of his remarks is markedly different from Mr. Harper's.

Questions about subverting the national interest for partisan gain with the Conservative base or for perhaps Mr. MacKay's NATO leadership aspirations are being asked. Some military officials are puzzled at the talk. If it was a ploy for MacKay's now failed bid, it's quite the thing they've been playing with, Canada's ties with Russia. And judging by Harper's remarks this weekend, even after MacKay's loss, he's continuing to drum up tension that clearly doesn't need to be there. It is difficult to see just what constructive purpose the Prime Minister is attempting to serve.