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Interview with Brig. Gen. Alexander Meinzinger
By Interview conducted by Richard de Silva, Defence IQ
May 2, 2013 —
Sir, what is the focus for Arctic security from NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s perspective? Are there any immediate priorities for renewed focus or improvement?
I would say first that there's a great focus on the Arctic here from a NORAD/USNORTHCOM perspective. When I first arrived at this headquarters about four years ago, I think we had maybe one or two individuals that were delving into Arctic issues and today we have a many-fold increase and a great deal of attention across all the NORAD and USNORTHCOM directorates.
Our vision is that NORAD and USNORTHCOM, with our trusted partners, will defend North America by outpacing all threats and maintaining faith with our people and supporting them in their time of greatest need. And, obviously, we believe that this particular vision applies to our interests in the Arctic. The Arctic region is within the AOR – the area of responsibility – for USNORTHCOM and is very much in the area of interest for NORAD. One of the directed end states that we have from Washington on the USNORTHCOM side is, as an asppirational end state, all of our activities are to contribute to the peaceful opening of the Arctic in a manner that serves to strengthen international cooperation. So we keep that in the forefront of our minds in all of the activities that we undertake here within both Commands.
The way that we have decided to look at the Arctic in a structured sense is along the safety, security and defence lines of effort. So allow me to just expand a little bit on that. In the area of safety, USNORTHCOM potentially could come to the assistance of another lead agency, for example The U.S. Coast Guard, to provide DoD specific resources. Of course, DoD has very skilled and, in some cases, very unique capabilities. So USNORTHCOM could potentially come to the aid of an authority, perhaps in Alaska, to assist in an event such as a search and rescue or a natural disaster such as an earthquake. So we certainly think about that as a challenge in the future and we consider our potential operations in the safety domain to be very real and very present.
The security domain is quite similar. USNORTHCOM has a responsibility, again, to support civil authorities in issues that may relate to illegal or hostile activities in the Arctic; perhaps illegal fishing, perhaps an oil spill, or the sorts of activities that breach international regulations and codes. So in the same way, USNORTHCOM could be called to assist another agency in that regard.
And then lastly, defence is obviously job number one for the DoD and we relish the demand to defend our national interests in the Arctic region, if necessary. But certainly we don't consider that to be a priority in the sense that that's a real concern. We're very much fixed on the safety and security aspects. We've undertaken a whole host of exercises with many of our partners in the area of responsibility to go through scenarios that would see us potentially assisting another agency.
In fact, I would point to the most recent example. As you may know, Shell Oil conducted a fair bit of drilling activity in the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas this past summer. It gained a lot of attention in the press. It was very much what we view to be the start of probably a non-linear level of activity that will occur moving out over the next ten to fifteen years, given the abundance of resources in the Arctic. Well, Shell completed their drilling season. They were intending to go back up next year. I understand that might be delayed until 2014… But as a prelude to that particular effort, we got together, not only with Shell Oil and other related industry experts, but a whole host of other interagency partners and we battle-drilled contingency plans such as an oil spill. We worked with our private industry and interagency partners we would be supporting just to make sure that if we were called upon to assist, we would have a full and granular understanding of what would be the sorts of requirements and capabilities we would need to bring to assist them. I think that's a key point.
Lastly, I would say the thrust for USNORTHCOM and, to a certain degree, NORAD, is that we're very much focused on cooperative partnership. As I mentioned in my opening, the end state that we have from Washington – that which we always think about – is this notion that we're going to contribute to the peaceful opening of the Arctic in a manner which strengthens international and domestic partnerships.
We work very intimately with the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), and we call the relationship the Tri-Command relationship; NORAD, USNORTHCOM and CJOC. We cooperate continuously and get the Commanders’ together two to three times a year. We're regularly on VTC with the CJOC and we look at it as really our principal ally in the Arctic, while both nations view each other as their principal partner. We look to collaborate and cooperate as best we can. Most notably in December of this past year, we signed the Tri-Command Arctic Cooperation Framework document, which really was a pledge – a manifesto if you will – that binds the three Commands to work together in a whole host of areas to include training, operations, domain awareness, capability development and science and technology, to name a few. So this is a key relationship for both USNORTHCOM and NORAD. And we'll look to further that as we move forward to find more intimate ways that we can collaborate across all of those activities.
I’m curious as to what has facilitated this sturdy cooperation of the U.S. and Canada, and how does the framework allow for such close integration? Surely there is a demand for your technology to be interoperable…
Yes, I think there are a number of answers to that question, Richard. I think the first part of your question; the approach that we've taken; the safety, security and defence paradigm, which is very much linked with the Canadian approach… I would tell you that last May  – up in Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada – Canada hosted the first ever meeting of the Arctic Eight Chiefs of Defence. We had all eight nations represented with four stars at the table to include General Makarov from Russia. The objective of that gathering was really just to kind of get a common understanding and to share that understanding from an individual nation's perspective as to what they see in the immediate timeframe and into the future.
One of the key takeaways from that gathering was this notion that all nations viewed safety and security as really being the priority. I would say I would believe that all of those particular nations have a very common interest in a very safe, secure, and stable Arctic environment. As I understand, that was one of the key outcomes of that deliberation.
You talked about interoperability and I would agree absolutely. That is a fundamental principle when alliances come together. NATO is an example. It's absolutely critical that we have an ability to work intimately together and I think we're exercising that in a number of ways. There's been a number of search and rescue exercises held. Denmark, in fact, held one quite recently in which Canada and the United States participated alongside other nations. Really, that's the time where you want to assure yourself that, hey, if something truly was to go wrong and there was a request for assistance or a need to execute a particular safety or security operation that the nations that are pulling together are able to communicate, and understand one another, and are able to operate with unity of that particular focus.
Are there any other recent key successes that NORAD and USNORTHCOM have accomplished individually or in partnership as it pertains to the Arctic region?
As you know, USNORTHCOM was set up in 2002. NORAD, as I'm sure you also know, will be celebrating its 55th birthday here very shortly. NORAD, certainly, has a very impressive history of operational excellence in operating in the Arctic region, executing its aerospace warning and aerospace control mission. In 2006, NORAD was given the maritime warning mission that is embedded within the agreement between Canada and the United States. So as we look to the opening of the Arctic and the additional traffic that we anticipate, be it maritime shipping, or ecotourism, or oil and gas drilling; the requirements for domain awareness in the north will be growing and will certainly be a critical aspect for us to be able to do our maritime warning mission. So we are moving out on a number of domain awareness activities and initiatives and I would look forward to speaking to those in Copenhagen when we're there in May.
From a USNORTHCOM perspective, the Unified Command Plan, which is the strategic document assigns responsibilities to Combatant Commanders (CCDR) says a number of things, but one of the important things it does is it draws the particular combatant command boundaries for coordination between CCDRs. In 2011 there was a subtle change to the coordination boundaries in the Arctic region. The Bering Strait, as an example, is now squarely within the USNORTHCOM area of responsibity (AOR) and, clearly, that's a very strategic key part of the Arctic. It's the door, if you will, from the west to enter the Arctic, and that has certainly fundamentally shaped some of our thinking.
In that 2011 Unified Command Plan, one of the things that was declared was that the commander of NORAD/USNORTHCOM – but principally wearing his USNORTHCOM hat – was declared the DoD capability advocate for the Arctic. What that essentially means is that General Jacoby has a responsibility to advocate requirements not just within his particular combatant command , but rather he can also advocate and endorse requirements that may come from another combatant command, another service, that are in support or could be used to facilitate activities and operations in the Arctic. We've had some very good successes recently, in terms of advocating and gaining support for a number of communications capabilities, as an example. So I think that declaration or authority that's been vested in the Commander provides a degree of coherence in ensuring that we can invest in the right capabilities today so that we're poised and positioned to execute on the Arctic operations of tomorrow.
You mentioned earlier, sir, that you're obviously very keen to retain and look for new partnerships worldwide wherever you can find them. How else are the commands hoping to work with industry in the years ahead? Are there any gaps that you're looking to be filled or, indeed, are you able to sufficiently gather industry feedback or understand what potential technologies are emerging? And how well does that all feed back into your overall strategic outlook?
Great question. I believe industry is one of our absolute key partners. I talked previously about working very closely with Shell Oil prior to their expedition up into the Arctic waters, and I think that's a great example of two groups understanding that there's a common interest in coming together, sharing information and working through contingencies. As we look to invest in the Arctic in a prudent way, unquestionably we'll be relying on private industry in some measure to provide capabilities or, in fact, given the shortage of resources, if we can find ways to leverage to a private industry capability in a dual-use way, that would be a wonderful win-win for us. That is very much part of our psyche. So we do engage in that particular arena with private industry.
One of the most recent examples is in USNORTHCOM’s principal lead agency for the Arctic; Joint Task Force-Alaska up in Anchorage. Very recently they signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and at the University of Alaska Fairbanks they do an incredible amount of Arctic research and , Science &Technology work. They're very much connected with academia and private industry. So this MOU is going to serve to provide information back and forth at an appropriate level which perhaps will allow us to tap-in and leverage some of the activity that's going on in the private industry. So we're very, very excited about that new relationship and we're looking forward to it to bear fruit in the very near future.
You said at the start that one of the priorities is less about defence and more about safety and security in the region. Now I'm speaking to you at what is quite a busy time in terms of the discussion taking place on Canada's efforts within the Arctic at the moment. There’s the exciting news about the Canadian Coast Guard's Diefenbaker-class vessel coming into service within the next ten years or so. There's been some discussion on new satellite projects. Obviously, some major investment as well with incoming arctic offshore patrol vessels. What is your opinion on the perspective of how much focus Canada should be placing on Arctic security today?
I would say, very briefly, that the Arctic is a key priority for the Government of Canada. There is a strategy that's been elaborated by our government and as a military, you know, we're working to support that, and in that is clearly enhancing our capability. You highlighted some of the key ones – obviously, with the investment in the arctic offshore patrol ship – and there are a number of investments that fall within the strategy for the Arctic. So I would just want to reinforce that it clearly is a priority.
You know, we're very proud, from a Canadian perspective, of the fact that we'll be chairing the Arctic Council here; we’re taking the chairmanship next month and we'll hold that for two years and then pass it off to our great American colleagues. But we really view this leadership opportunity as a wonderful thing and we'll look to reinforce and support that in any way we can. But, absolutely, it is a key priority. I would say the investments that you've cited are a reflection of the fact that it is a key priority for Canada. Let me close with the intent of the Commander which is that we don’t want to be late to need for our citizens in this austere and formidable environment. Any natural or manmade disaster in this region is magnified by the difficulty of the environment and tyranny of distance.