Canada-US troop deal 'close'

BBC 08/29/02: Lee Carter

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The Canadian defence minister says Canada and the United States are close to an agreement that would allow American and Canadian soldiers to cross each other's borders in the event of a terrorist attack.

The minister, John McCallum, says the proposed agreement would also allow both countries' ground troops to serve under each other's command, for the first time.

But news of the pending agreement has provoked a debate about national sovereignty in Canada.

There had been speculation for some time that the cross-border military plan was in the works.

Mr McCallum says that the proposed agreement is in the final stages of negotiation.

The proposal is just part of an ambitious planned overhaul of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

Attack threat

The Americans feel the post-Cold War agreement does not fully address the security threats posed by the 11 September attacks on the US.

And since last year's attacks Canada has signed a number of agreements with its neighbour in an effort to harmonise security.

But the prospect of US troops marching over the border is upsetting some Canadians.

Lloyd Axworthy is Canada's respected former foreign affairs minister. He says, in his experience, such agreements can be difficult to maintain.

"They're given all kinds of assurances that there's nothing untoward, that they won't impair sovereignty," Mr Axworthy said.

"But when you start looking at the fine print you realise that you've got yourself embroiled in some pretty complicated arrangements that tie your hands."


There has been some tension between Canada's liberal government and the Republican Bush administration in Washington over cross-border issues.

Washington has, for instance, been critical of Canada's asylum policies, fearing that they are too relaxed.

The Canadian Government has expressed its dismay at the US detaining terror suspects without charging them - including a Canadian citizen.

The proposed agreement will have to pass by both countries' lawmakers and politicians.

Canada's official opposition party says it will support it. But elsewhere in the country the fierce debate over sovereignty is likely to continue.