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U.S. General Charles Jacoby photographed at the Westin, Nova Scotia on Nov. 21. (Scott Munn)
U.S. General Charles Jacoby photographed at the Westin, Nova Scotia on Nov. 21. (Scott Munn)

Russian military activity around North America increasing, says NORAD commander Add to ...

The U.S. General commanding NORAD says there has been a marked increase in Russian military activity in and around North America since the crisis in Crimea.

“The Russian narrative has picked up in volume and stridency since Ukraine and Crimea,” General Charles Jacoby said in an interview with The Globe and Mail at the Halifax International Security Forum (HISF). “I think that we have clearly seen that threats now go beyond the extremist threat and we see Russia emerge as a problem for us security-wise.”

This is the fourth time the General has attended the Halifax forum. Not someone to seek the spotlight, General Jacoby agreed to an interview as he is leaving his post as commander of North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) in two weeks.

And this is the sixth year for the HISF - a three-day event bringing together about 300 security experts, senior politicians and military officials from around the world.

General Jacoby is one of seven four-star generals to attend the Halifax meeting. He has served in the military for 37 years, including stints in Afghanistan, Iraq and as chief of strategy at the Pentagon, and took over the NORAD command in August 2011. Its headquarters are in Colorado - 200 Canadians work there among 1,500 Americans; no surprise there is a hockey league and French immersion is offered in the school.

It is his job to defend Canadian and American air space - one of his bosses is federal Defence Minister Rob Nicholson.

“I know that Canadians are well aware of the challenges of unwanted and unannounced Russian strategic systems operating in the American defence identification zone and Canadian air defence … zones,” he said.

The General was referring to the flights by the Russians over the Arctic.

In fact, in September a patrol of Russian bombers flew within 40 nautical miles of Canada’s northern land mass, the Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase reported then. It occurred “the day after Ukraine’s President received a hero’s welcome in Ottawa for his struggle to defend his country from Moscow’s aggression,” wrote Mr. Chase.

Says General Jacoby: “Russia has maintained the capability to strike our two countries in a way that no other country has. They have continued to invest and demonstrate that they are going to retain that capability to do so …”

He said it is NORAD’s responsibility to “deter and demonstrate that we are capable and we have the intention of defending Canadian and American sovereignty.”

In the September incident, CF-18s were sent to intercept the two Russian long-range bombers - and encountered the Russian planes in the Beaufort Sea.

General Jacoby said that the Russian presence had died out after the Cold War but has picked up again since 2007. It spikes and then it drops, he says.

The bottom line for him, however, is to “make sure as far as the homeland goes, it is secure and safe.”

But Russia isn’t the only country representing a threat to North America’s security, as General Jacoby points to North Korea.

He says that due to their ability to “create a weapon of mass destruction, warhead and ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile], that they now represent a practical threat to the homeland.”

Canada has so far refused to join the American missile defence program. Says General Jacoby: “It’s something for the Canadian people to decide. I would just say as NORAD commander I’m sworn and have dedicated three and a half years of my life to defend the Canadian people against an aerospace attack.

“It would make me rest easier if I could defend them against an ICBM attack as well,” he says.

As he prepares to leave his post, General Jacoby reflects on NORAD, which he characterizes as “unique.”

“We are integrated and we have such complete confidence in each other … that we are sharing this critical sovereign interest of defending our airspace together and that just doesn’t happen anywhere else,” he says. “I think it is an enormous competitive advantage for the people of Canada and the people of the United States to secure this continent together. Could you imagine if we didn’t?”

He believes that NORAD has become more relevant over the last decade, in part, because of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Not only are the threats from outside of the continent but also inside with the threat of homegrown radicalization.

What keeps him up at night? “Being late,” he says.

“Whether the threat is coming at network speed, at jet speed, at ICBM speed, at the speed … of a tsunami or a hurricane, the Canadian people and the American people should expect that their armed forces will be there in the time of their greatest need …”

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