Canada's Outgoing Defence Attaché: U.S. and Canada Still Have Each Other's Back


Image credit: Lookout Navy News


by Rear-Admiral William Truelove

Wilson Center
August 15, 2018

On July 19, Rear-Admiral William Truelove departed as defence attaché at the Embassy of Canada in the United States and also retired from more than 37 years of distinguished military service. As one of his last duties before leaving Washington, Admiral Truelove addressed the Canada Institute Advisory Board. Following is an edited version of his remarks reflecting on the state of the Canada-U.S. military and defence relationship.


In this current climate of economic and political uncertainty, people often ask me what I think about the state of the Canada-US military-to-military relationship. It’s always a loaded question. Often, I’m asked on the heels of a controversial Tweet, the announcement of a trade war, or some other event that appears to threaten continental stability. But I take a longer view.

My personal perspective comes from having had the pleasure and privilege of working alongside my US military colleagues both at home and abroad throughout my 37-year career. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever deployed on any operation where Canadians weren’t working in close partnership with our US shipmates. My three-year tenure as Canadian Defence Attaché to the United States has only confirmed what I’ve always known to be true:  

Canada and the United States continue to have an incredible defence relationship anchored in a long history of serving, shoulder to shoulder, in operations in defence of our shared values and freedoms, for over 100 years.

Don’t get me wrong, my positivity is not meant to suggest that there aren’t points of pressure or friction; of course there are, and that’s normal in any relationship. Subjects such as burden sharing, NATO 2% defence spending, and future global engagement are all areas of ongoing discussion and debate.

I’m also very sensitive to the reality that Canada pays much more attention to the US than the US to Canada. I think that this is a reflection of obvious factors including the reality that the US military is being pulled in many directions and is facing its own set of challenges, be they personnel, readiness or structural - all against a global demand signal for US engagement that is only increasing.

But I think it’s important to remember that we have fought and died together – something that I have been reminded of here in DC each year on Remembrance Day while visiting Arlington Cemetery and laying a wreath at the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice in memory of US citizens who served and died alongside their Canadian brothers and sisters since the First World War.

I was also reminded of this when I rededicated a Medal of Honour grave site in honour of Captain of the Hold Joseph Noil – a young Canadian sailor who served in the USS Powhatan in 1872 and who saved his shipmate, Boatswain J.C. Walton, who had fallen overboard. Captain of the Hold Noil was from my home town of Liverpool, Nova Scotia. 

So, my belief is that our Canada-US defence relationship is exceptional and must continue to be so in the future.  It’s in both our nations’ national interests and it is expected, I think, by citizens on both sides of the border.

We are blessed to be neighbours and to enjoy such a close and integrated relationship. But, as I’ve said every year at our annual Canada-US “Partners in Defence” reception, this relationship is a lot like marriage; we too often take each other for granted and don’t always give our partnership the attention and recognition it deserves. 

As we move through the current ‘moment’ in our nation-to-nation relationship, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are to enjoy such a fantastic defence partnership. After all, our two nations enjoy an unparalleled level of defence cooperation and interoperability. This is the result of a long-term, strategic realization that our geography, our history and our futures depend on the mutual assurance of a safe and secure continent that enables both of our nations to thrive economically, socially and culturally.

It goes without saying that Canada has no more important defence relationship than that with the United States. Our strategic interests demand that we be a full and reliable partner. Our continental defence is indivisible.

It also demands that the defence relationship between our two countries extends across all levels –from President to Prime Minister, Secretary of Defense to Minister of National Defence, Chief of the Defence Staff to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, through to the regular interactions between officers and non-commissioned officers serving in each other’s nations. Including the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) community, Canada has nearly 1,000 military and civilian defence officials working across the US – from Hawaii all the way to Florida. The vast majority are living with their families in US communities, and the same is true for the many US military members serving in Canada.

By way of examples, Canada has General Officers serving in Central Command and Indo-Pacific Command CENTCOM and PACOM. The CDS has a General embedded with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a General embedded with US Cyber Command, and there are three Canadian Generals serving as Deputy Commanding General for Operations – in 1 Corps, and 18 Airborne Corps and, as of this summer, with US Army Alaska. We have two Generals and a Commodore serving within NORAD HQ, one being the Deputy Commander, and also have two Generals serving as Deputy Commanders of the Alaska and Continental NORAD Regions. The US also has senior officers serving in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Halifax and Victoria to name only a few.

In addition to these permanent assignments, the level of interaction on a daily basis between our militaries is immense. I don’t even try to keep track of the ongoing cross border visits, training exercises, meetings and other events that occur on a routine basis. Canadian and US military leadership have come to accept this as normal, but it is certainly not ‘normal’ in the eyes of our international colleagues.

From a Canadian perspective, our recently released Defence Policy, Strong, Secure and Engaged, promises a notable 70% increase in defence spending (32.7 billion by 2027) and commitments to recapitalization. It highlights that Canada will remain “Secure in North America, active in a renewed defence partnership in NORAD and with the United States.” This commitment is more important than ever as we see technological advancements in weapons and sensors and the associated increased capability and intent of potential adversaries to directly impact Canadian and US territory. 

For generations we have rested on the comfort of having two great oceans and a frozen tundra to provide for our natural defence. This is no longer the case and thus, our two nations must continue to work closely together to ensure our continental defence and security. We do this through a range of dedicated Canada-US Defence governance dialogues such as the Permanent Joint Board of Defence (PJBD) and the Military Cooperation Committee (MCC), along with the many other international defence and security fora attended by our nation’s leaders. 

The PJBD was established in 1940 and is the longest standing defence arrangement. The two civilian co-chairs, one Canadian (Member of Parliament, John McKay) and one American (Lt Gen (ret’d) Chris Miller), are appointed by the Prime Minister and President, and report directly to them on all matters related to continental defence and security. The PJBD also includes Department of Homeland Security and Public Safety Canada representatives to address the critical public security, border security and disaster response issues that would also involve military cooperation.

The MCC was established after the Second World War and meets bi-annually. It is the primary strategic link between the Canadian and US Joint Military Staffs and reports to the PJBD.  The MCC recently met in DC and discussed a range of topics including the important subject of NORAD modernization.

Of course, no discussion on the Canada-US defence relationship would be complete without a few words on the NORAD partnership (including the critical work they do in ensuring that Santa safely arrives every Christmas!). The North American Aerospace Defence Command, or NORAD, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. NORAD is a Canadian and U.S. bi-national Command tasked with aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America.

By agreement, the Deputy Commander of NORAD is a senior Canadian Armed Forces officer. The Commander, USAF Gen O’Shaunessy, is appointed by and reports to both the US President and the Canadian Prime Minister. This arrangement speaks to the essence of the close defence relationship that our nations have enjoyed for decades. The very fact that Presidents and Prime Ministers have endorsed this shared partnership in our continental defence and have empowered military leadership to work seamlessly together to defend the citizens of both nations speaks volumes. 

When NORAD was renewed in 2006, it not only added the maritime warning mission, it also made the NORAD Agreement permanent. While it is still subject to review every 4 years, it no longer requires formal renewal. These periodic reviews not only allow for a reminder of the overall roles and responsibilities, but also provide a regular forum for ensuring an effective relationship between NORAD, US NORTHERN COMMAND and the Canadian Joint Operational Command.

The Canadian defence policy notes that Canada will, “work with the United States to ensure that NORAD is modernized to meet existing and future challenges.” The policy directs Canadian officials to advance discussions with our US colleagues on what a modernized NORAD must look like and what that will cost. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the threats to the continent are evolving and - as our CDS has stated on numerous occasions - we must consider what a framework for defence against all perils might look like in the future.

Let me highlight a few other points to further illustrate the depth and breadth of our defence relationship.

  • First – the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is responsible for all air and maritime search and rescue operations within Canada.  In my previous appointment as Canada’s Pacific Commander, I was also the Victoria Region Search and Rescue Commander and witnessed first-hand the incredible coordination of Search and Rescue operations on both sides of the border. US and Canadian Search and Rescue professionals work hard to save lives every day. Much of it goes unnoticed, but its value cannot be overstated.
  • Second – our shared Civil Assistance Plan facilitates the movement of resources across borders in response to natural disasters such as forest fires, floods and earthquakes or a terrorist attack.  Again, as Canada’s Pacific Commander, I worked very closely with US regional officials to coordinate and practice responses to these scenarios.
  • Third – we enjoy an incredible defence cooperation relationship and a rapidly expanding partnership in defence research, development and innovation. Canada was (until very recently) the only nation recognized in the US National Technology and Industrial Base. This partnership reflects the reality that Canada has always been a trusted national security partner to the US and that our defence industries are highly integrated.
  • Fourth – our two nations enjoy a very close military relationship in the domains of cyber and space. Canada is a net contributor to the space relationship through our network of satellites as well as ongoing research in space. A recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral also reminded me of the critical role that Canada has played in space through the design and deployment of the Canadarm.

And finally; there are the many other areas of cooperation that we are engaged in today through operations in NATO, the UN or bilaterally. A small sampling includes:

  • Our shared efforts in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean to interdict the flow of narcotics and to keep the proceeds out of the hands of transnational criminal organizations. The Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force continue to work with US Coast Guard and US Navy to execute many successful interdiction operations in the region. Working together to keep drugs off our streets and the profits out of the hands of Transnational Crime organizations.
  • Our deployments in Ukraine, in Latvia and in Iraq further illustrate our shared global leadership and engagement. We are also operating with the Standing NATO Maritime Group, currently with a frigate, HMCS St. John’s, deployed off the coast of Syria;
  • We have sustained frigate deployments into the important pacific region. I am also proud to note that the Deputy Commander of the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) - the largest US led international military exercise in the world - is a Canadian; and,
  • Finally, I would note Canada’s recent decision to assign a Canadian Lieutenant General as the first non-US Deputy Commander for the United Nations Command in the Republic of Korea, our commitment to lead the newly established NATO training mission in Iraq as well as the recent announcement by Canada to deploy aviation resources to the UN mission in Mali.

These are all strong examples of Canada being engaged in the world, while also reinforcing the shared commitment to the Canada-US military-to-military partnership and burden sharing. Canada represents a solid, dependable and trusted military partner which has always responded when called upon and never shied away from engaging in the tough fight at the cost of human sacrifice. We are a good neighbour, good friend and a military ally that always has the US’s back – as I know the US military has for Canada.

It has been an incredible privilege for me to have served my nation for 37 years and to have spent much of that time working closely with our US friends. I’m an optimist and am confident that our two nations will continue to enjoy a strong and mutually beneficial defence relationship.

The defence of our shared North American continent is indivisible; our mutual trust and cooperation will ensure that our true partnership remains so.


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