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DEW Line.

October 6, 2000.

Unbelievable! We're late again, but we think it's worth it this time. The Web site is now functional and has all of our previous issues (both Friday and Sunday) archived. We are a long way from developing a final look, and there is much functionality to add (especially a site search capability and subscription maintenance), but we will get there. Please have a look and let Craig know what you think by e-mailing him at craig@factscanada.com .


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DEW Line
By Michael Hora (mike@factscanada.com)


At its inception, the DEW line, or Distant Early Warning system, was a state of the art project. It was intended as a passive detection system and was to give as much advance notice as possible to both the military and civil defence authorities regarding the deployment of Russian air bombers. The DEW line's radar stations could chart their destructive paths toward the North American continent. Of primary concern was the first strike capability of the Soviet Union. It was the height of the Cold War and paranoia rang deep within the halls of the military establishment. This project, a joint effort undertaken by the governments of Canada and the United States of America, was a massive undertaking. It is estimated that the final costs of the project were in the billions of dollars but the exact figures are obscured by the Official Secrets Act and Cabinet privilege. First considered as far back as 1946, it went through several abortive attempts to bring it to fruition before its completion in 1957. It was hailed as "a bulwark against the forces of communism". It now lies an abandoned ruin, a victim of both technology and diplomacy.

By 1949, the USSR had developed the atomic bomb and the capacity to deliver it by air. Nervous North American authorities had dismantled most if not all of their early warning networks after the end of WWII and were now feeling the need to protect their citizens from the threat of the Russians, formerly their allies. Joint discussions between Canada and the US resulted in what was finally called the DEW line. At its completion, the 22 stations spanned 5944 kilometres. It took over 25 000 people to build it. More so, the erection of the line contributed to the formation of NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command -- in itself, a notable achievement for the year 1958. This marked the first time that Canadian and American military leaders had ever shared responsibilities for strategic defences for the two countries. After it was completed, the usefulness of the system suffered an almost immediate decline. There was no way it could detect the deployment of either nuclear-armed submarines or inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM's). The role to detect these advanced warfare systems was assumed by the now viable satellite industry. Other more advanced warning stations were constructed in Alaska and the country of Greenland, whose cooperation had been assured the US through the provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

It was the development of the cruise missile that finally sounded the death knell for the DEW line and brought in its successors. In the spring of 1985 the so-called Shamrock Summit, held between Canada's Brian Mulroney and the US's Ronald Reagan, led to the creation of a new system to be called the North Warning System and to be completed by 1992. It was built at about 70 degrees north latitude and included 52 stations in total, with 47 of them being in Canada. It cost the Canadian taxpayer close to 600 million dollars. To facilitate this system, this plan of defence also called on the US military authorities to supply AWAC's, or Air Warning and Control aircraft. Canadians were responsible for supplying long-range fighter aircraft such as the CF-18.

Today, if one were to tour the original sites, there are many reminders of man's presence on the tundra. Large amounts of abandoned equipment and supply items litter the landscape. Quonset huts and radar domes lay open to the elements and, in some cases, enterprising Inuit hunters have made them their summer hunting shacks from which they deploy on the way to their traditional grounds. Several court cases have also arisen from the apparent disregard of those who chose to abandon the sites. One case in particular is an ugly environmental case and has to do with the spillage of toxic wastes left behind in the hurry to evacuate. PCB's and industrial solvents that have leached into the ground are proving to be a more lasting legacy than the remnants of the Cold War.


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We promise to get back into our normal time slot starting this Sunday, with newsletters going out in the early hours of Friday and Sunday morning (Pacific Time). Once again, if you have suggestions related to the Web site, Craig would love to hear from you.


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