Canada, Russia, U.S. overcome ‘suspicions’, language barrier

It took a major Arctic military exercise to help thaw old Cold War suspicions between Canada, the U.S. and Russia, according to a Canadian Forces report.

OTTAWA — It took a major Arctic military exercise to help thaw old Cold War suspicions between Canada, the U.S. and Russia, according to a Canadian Forces report.

And despite an “immense” language barrier, the Department of National Defence heralded the success of last summer’s groundbreaking joint exercise with its former Cold War adversary.

The report offers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes tensions that led up to the historic attempt at military co-operation, dubbed Exercise Vigilant Eagle. It comes as the second version of Vigilant Eagle took place this week in Alaskan airspace.

The exercise was originally set for 2008 but had to be cancelled when relations between Russia and the West plummeted after Moscow’s invasion of neighbouring Georgia.

“Accordingly, a measure of uncertainty and a perceptible note of suspicion were evident to military planners as the exercise was resurrected,” Canadian Col. Todd Balfe, the deputy commander of Norad’s Alaskan region, wrote in his report on the 2010 exercise.

Norad is the joint Canada-U.S. command that defends against threats to North American airspace.

Many Canadian officers in Norad found it “challenging, for example, to explain to Russian officers the bi-national nature of this organization and to fully convince them that air defence was indeed a shared U.S.-Canadian responsibility,” Balfe wrote.

He noted planners had to overcome the “memory of decades of antagonism and confrontation during the Cold War” to build new co-operation and communication between Russia and the two Norad allies.