From Cold War to Present Day

NORAD (North American Air Defence Command)

An Integrated US-Canada Command

Grumman CSR-110 Albatross amphibian, 1966

Caption: Grumman CSR-110 Albatross amphibian, 1966

On 12 September 1957 an integrated operational command for the air defence of the North American continent began operations on an experimental basis. Its headquarters was set up in Colorado Springs in the United States. Officers from both countries serving there, along with part of each country's air force, came under this command. The commander and his deputy had to be of different nationalities - to date, the first role has always been filled by an American, the second by a Canadian. A common battle plan was drawn up. On 12 May 1958 an exchange of diplomatic notes between Canada and the United States, valid for 10 years, made this command official. Since that time the two countries have renewed the agreement at regular intervals.

An agreement such as that used to create NORAD, involving two neighbour states dramatically imbalanced in their political, economic and military power, might be expected to give rise to numerous disputes. Such disputes have occurred and continue to do so. The most significant ones are political and in one way or another have to do with the sensitive issue of Canadian sovereignty.

The Cuban crisis of autumn 1962 was revealing. The United States, claiming to be threatened by the installation of Soviet missile launchers in Cuba, became involved in some dangerous anti-Soviet manoeuvres that could have resulted in war. Canada was not consulted on the decision, as the Americans expected the Canadians to accept it instantly: This was not the case and it created a great sense of unease.

From the outset NORAD divided North America into regional commands, several of which - including areas on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border - were covered exclusively by the American air force. In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced that NORAD activities on Canadian soil would come solely under Canadian jurisdiction as quickly as possible. In 1986 some Canadian regions remained under U.S. protection. The new defence weaponry that Canada has since acquired has at last made it possible to put this policy into effect.

Since 1978, Canada has become involved in an immense rearmament programme that will be useful not only to NORAD but also to NATO. At the same time, Canadians want full control over their civil and military air space. Billions of dollars are being invested and will continue to be invested to back up these decisions: A warning and defence system against air attack is extremely expensive, whatever one's point of view.