Fortress America: 62nd anniversary of NORAD – The demand to dismantle NORAD is more urgent than ever

The 62th Anniversary of NORAD on May 12 is a time to draw warranted conclusions about the nature of the military alliance. NORAD is always described as responsible for the defence of North America. NORAD was conceived and brought into being during the Cold War, which has long since ended. Its survival is now justified by claiming the danger is from “rogue states.” However, NORAD, like NATO is an aggressive military alliance. From our archives: “Fortress America: 60th anniversary of NORAD – The demand to dismantle NORAD is more urgent than ever”

This year marked the 60th anniversary of the North American Aerospace Defence Agreement (NORAD) signed on May 12, 1958. It is the arrangement through which, along with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) founded on April 4, 1949, the Canadian armed forces are integrated into those of the U.S. and put under U.S. command.

Canada’s membership in NATO and NORAD has implicated Canada in U.S. wars of aggression against the wishes of Canadians and the repeated insistence that Canada place and test U.S. missiles, including nuclear-armed missiles, on Canadian soil. Both NATO and NORAD have been broadly opposed by Canadians with the demand that Canada withdraw from these aggressive pacts and that they be dismantled. These treaties are incompatible with the desire of the people for a modern and humane conception of security based on defending the rights of all, for an independent foreign policy based on making Canada a Zone for Peace, and for nation-building on a modern basis. Canada’s integration into a Fortress North America in the service of the war aims of the oligopolies involved in war production is greater today than it has ever been. The striving of these oligopolies for world domination over energy and other resources and strategic zones of influence is increasing the danger of cataclysmic world war with every passing day.

This is what the government of Canada did not want discussed during its celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of NORAD’s creation. Despite the fact that through NORAD, the U.S. Commander-in Chief is effectively the commander of Canada’s armed forces, Prime Minister Trudeau called NORAD a “unique bi-national military command.” He called it “an enduring symbol of the important partnership between Canada and the United States – one that is essential to us both.” It places “the defence and security of their countries and citizens into each other’s care,” he said, adding that the “key to NORAD’s success has been its ability to evolve and meet new challenges, and to take advantage of new opportunities. We can trust in its ability to continue to adapt as needed to meet the needs of the future.”

What these needs are is revealed by the history of Canada’s involvement in NORAD which shows that all the changes that have taken place in the past 60 years have been directed at establishing more complete control by the U.S. over the Canadian armed forces, placing U.S. weapons of mass destruction on Canadian soil and, more recently, positioning U.S. special forces in Canadian territory and militarizing culture to distort the aims of war and what comprises the national interest.


The initial steps towards integration of the armed forces of Canada and the U.S. under U.S. command were taken during World War II with the signing of the Ogdensburg and Hyde Park agreements on joint defence and cooperation. As part of anti-Soviet moves, U.S. troops were stationed in Canada to set up and run radar installations in the north. No sooner was the war over than the U.S. unleashed the so-called Cold War to bring about counterrevolution in the Soviet Union while containing communism all over the world. In 1946 the Joint Military Cooperation Committee was formed to formulate Canada’s “joint defence plans” with the U.S. In the same year, the U.S. and Canada agreed to establish “joint air defence.” In April, 1948, Canada joined the secret Pentagon negotiations in Washington with the United States and Britain, which leads to the formation of the U.S.-imperialist dominated NATO military alliance in 1948.

In the years following the Second World War, and especially in the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. imperialism, which had emerged greatly strengthened from the war, was expanding globally at a rapid rate. U.S. finance capital flooded into Canada and came to dominate the key sectors of the Canadian economy, as well as to exercise its all-sided domination in the political, military, social and cultural spheres.

From 1958 when NORAD was founded, to 2006, the agreement was renewed every five years. During Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ottawa in 1981 the name was changed from the North American “Air” to “Aerospace” Defence Command, reflecting, in the words of the military, the “expanded surveillance and missile-warning responsibilities” of the alliance. When the agreement was renewed in 2006 in the Harper era, it was made permanent, subject to review every four years or “at the request of either country.” NORAD’s mission was also expanded to include maritime warnings, although it is claimed that the naval forces of the two countries retain separate commands.

NORAD’s stated responsibilities have been to warn of an aerospace attack on North America and to direct Canadian and U.S. air defences in response. In fact, like NATO, Canada’s membership in NORAD has drawn Canada into U.S. wars of aggression and demands to accept U.S. weapons of mass destruction on Canadian soil.

NORAD is also an instrument of the U.S. nuclear missile strategy. The NORAD agreement sanctions U.S. military exercises such as the “Global Shield” exercises, in which B-52 bombers equipped with nuclear weapons fly over Canada. Under the NORAD pact, U.S. troops regularly engage in military exercises in Canada at such places as the Cold Lake weapons range in Alberta and in the Arctic.

The NORAD treaty provides for a system of integrated operational control for the air “defence” of North America. NORAD is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with a U.S. commander, a Canadian deputy commander, and a staff drawn from both the U.S. and Canadian militaries. It reports to the senior defence authorities in the Pentagon and at National Defence Headquarters, and is under the overall command of a U.S. general.

Canadian Forces Base North Bay, Ontario is the centre for NORAD operations in Canada, under command of the Canadian NORAD Region Headquarters in Winnipeg. It is also home to Detachment 2, First Air Force of the United States Air Force.

Under the NORAD agreement, the U.S. imperialists constructed the “Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line” – a string of radar bases in the north, as well as the more southerly “Pine Tree” line, which has since been dismantled.

The manner in which the U.S. dominates Canada in the military sphere through NORAD has been graphically illustrated several times. When the U.S. illegally blockaded Cuba in October 1962, John F. Kennedy demanded that Canadian forces be put on high alert. Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker insisted on consulting cabinet, but Canadian NORAD personnel were put on high alert before Cabinet authorization had been given. During the 1973 Israeli war of aggression, the U.S. commander of NORAD placed Canadian troops on alert without even notifying the Minister said to be in charge of Canadian defence.

Opposition to Bomarc missiles on Canadian soil


Demonstration on Sparks Street in Ottawa, circa 1963, opposes the Pearson Liberal government’s agreement to allow U.S. nuclear missiles on Canadian soil.


One of the first decisions to arise from the NORAD agreement was the installation of the Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles at bases in North Bay, Ontario and La Macaza, Quebec, under the ultimate control of the the U.S. commander in chief. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker made the agreement under U.S. pressure, but he was opposed to arming the missiles with nuclear weapons as this was not consistent with Canada’s stated policy of not directly joining the nuclear arms race. The U.S. exerted great pressure on Canada, saying that nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles were essential in the North American “defence” system. There was broad opposition amongst Canadians to nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, with rallies and other actions across the country. Opposition leader Lester B. Pearson reversed himself on January 12, 1963 and declared that he now favoured the placement of nuclear weapons in Canada.

The U.S. then began to openly work to influence the election and bring about Diefenbaker’s defeat. In January 1963, the retiring NATO supreme commander Lauris Norstad, a U.S. airforce general, gave a press conference in Ottawa where he accused Canada of not keeping its commitments to NORAD. The U.S. State Department issued a press release saying that the Canadian government “has not yet proposed any arrangement sufficiently practical to contribute effectively to North American defence.” U.S. Ambassador William Butterworth gave briefings to the press, and Kennedy sent advisors (such as his personal friend Lou Harris, the leading U.S. pollster) to help Pearson, whose Liberals succeeded in winning the election. They formed a minority government, and quickly moved to install nuclear warheads. The warheads were deployed in Canada on New Year’s Eve, 1963.


Protestors hold sit-in at the entrance to the Bomarc missile base in La Macaza, Quebec, September 9, 1964.

In 1969 Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Liberal government announced that Canada would withdraw its armed forces from their nuclear roles, and the Bomarcs were phased out of service by 1971.

Toronto protest against Canada’s renewal of the NORAD agreement, 1968.

Canadians say No! to Cruise missile testing


Toronto protest against Cruise missile testing in Canada, 1983.

In 1969 Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Liberal government announced that Canada would withdraw its armed forces from their nuclear roles, and the Bomarcs were phased out of service by 1971.

In 1982 Canadians discovered that the government was quietly negotiating an agreement with the U.S. to test Cruise missiles in Canada. Cruise missiles are considered a first strike weapon and can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads and launched from land, sea or air. The U.S. rationale for choosing Canada for testing was that Canada’s terrain was similar to that of the northern Soviet Union, a clear indication that the U.S. contemplated using the Cruise missile to launch “pre-emptive” strikes. The government also argued that testing was necessary to allow NORAD to develop anti-cruise missile capability. The U.S. subsequently used Cruise missiles in the first Gulf War.


Protest against Cruise missile testing and Canada’s membership in NATO and NORAD at a security conference at Guelph University attended by Prime Minister Trudeau, October 28, 1983.

Canada’s participation in the Gulf War and Iraq Wars


Halifax protest against the first Gulf War and Canada’s participation in it under the Mulroney Conservative government, 1991.

The Gulf War and Iraq Wars brought forward even more starkly that membership in NATO and NORAD violate Canadian sovereignty and Canadians’ right to decide foreign and defence policy. More than 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in the Persian Gulf region in 1990-1991 as part of the U.S. “coalition of the willing.” Canada took part in the enforcement of the blockade against Iraq which was responsible for the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children.

NORAD systems provided surveillance and communications support to the 1991 war on Iraq as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Veterans Affairs reports on its website that “CF-18 jet squadrons with approximately 500 personnel operated out of the ‘Canada Dry’ bases in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, performing combat air control, and escort and reconnaissance missions. For the first time since the Korean War, Canadian air-to-surface attacks took place during the conflict.”

Canadians expressed massive opposition to the 2003 Iraq War and, officially, the Chrétien government did not join the “coalition of the willing” because it did not have UN Security Council sanction. Once again the issue came to the fore that membership in NATO and NORAD meant that Canada was drawn into U.S. wars of aggression without the consent of Canadians, and without even their knowledge. Even Parliament does not have a say over matters of war and peace, which are matters of executive privilege. Canada’s participation in the Gulf War included NORAD-stationed Canadian Air Force pilots who flew combat missions with the U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry, and exchange officers who fought with U.S. units. Canadian pilots also flew Boeing C-17s into Iraq to “season” the flight crews.


Marching through the snow against Bush’s war, January 18, 2003 | Photo by Mark Rushton

1.29.03.Halifax Forum

Opening session of the Halifax Political Forums, January 29, 2003 on the topic “Why Iraq?”


Protest against the second war on Iraq, Windsor, October 25, 2003.

Military integration following 9/11

After the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, Canada’s Minister of Defence Art Eggleton attended a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on November 21, 2001, where Canada agreed to open talks on “the widest possible” level of military integration between the U.S. and Canada. Canadians were not informed that Canada was participating in these precedent-setting meetings where a fundamental shift was taking place. The U.S. military traditionally was not used for domestic security purposes, but that changed after 9/11. The National Post reported that the review included “some 80 treaties and 250 memorandums of understanding that govern the security arrangements between Canada and the United States.” Further, the newspaper reported that “Mr. Eggleton hinted at the creation of a sweeping continental security defence system that includes all arms of the military, but refused to say whether Canada and the United States are considering full integration of army battalions or task groups.”

The following year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced its 2002 Unified Command Plan (UCP). The UCP included a Northern Command military zone which took over the responsibilities of the Joint Forces Command for “homeland defence.” The area of operations included the United States, Canada, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean – including Cuba and Puerto Rico – and the contiguous waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans 500 miles out to sea.

NORTHCOM combined NORAD and the Joint Task Force for Civil Support that currently resides in Joint Forces Command, which is responsible to civil authorities for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, major conventional explosives events.

The fact that NORTHCOM combined NORAD with U.S. Homeland Defence implicated Canadian forces ipso facto. The location of NORTHCOM alongside NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, with the same U.S. general in charge of both had profound implications for Canadian sovereignty and control over its armed forces. In spite of this, Defence Minister Eggleton claimed NORTHCOM “is only an internal structure for the American military.”

2004 Amendment to the NORAD agreement

2004.10.02.Windsor v Missile Defence

In 2004, the government announced that it had amended the NORAD agreement with the United States. The amendment authorizes NORAD to make its missile warning function available to U.S. commands conducting ballistic missile defence. The government stated that the amendment “safeguards and sustains NORAD regardless of what decision the Government of Canada eventually takes on ballistic missile defence.” In its announcement, the government said that NORAD has “adapted and evolved to address emerging threats” over its 60 years in operation.

Canadians launched Canada-wide protests against joining the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defence Shield, popularly called “Star Wars.” The action once again highlighted the level of concern that Canadians have regarding negotiations held behind closed doors that have such grave consequences for war and peace. People from all walks of life, including workers and their unions, youth and students expressed their opposition and the demand of Canadians for sovereign control over their nation and its foreign policy. People stressed that far from making Canada secure, the “missile defence shield” would lead to an escalation of the arms race and thus threaten the security of Canadians by escalating the war preparations. “We said No! to Bush’s war on Iraq and we want you to say No! to Bush’s Star Wars,” Canadians told the government.

In the course of opposing missile defence, Canadians became aware of initiatives such as the Smart Border Action Plan, amendments to the NORAD agreement and the re-organization of Canadian armed forces which the government was implementing to integrate Canada with the United States under the guise that Canada is proving itself a “worthy partner.” The real nature of “missile defence” as a tool of aggression and pre-emptive strikes also became more clear.

Further integration under Stephen Harper


Calgary protest against Canada’s integration into the U.S. through the Security and Prosperity Partnership, August 19, 2007.


Calgary protest August 19, 2007.

During the Harper era from 2006 to 2015, new arrangements were put in place to make permanent the placement of U.S. troops and security agencies on Canadian soil, as well as to integrate the command of the Canadian military with that of the U.S. These arrangements included integrating the Canadian military with so-called civilian agencies which then come under joint command structures. These arrangements have been and continue to be put in place in the name of “security,” including having the military secure the economy of North America.

A document entitled “Framework for Enhanced Military Cooperation among North American Aerospace Defense Command, United States Northern Command, and Canada Command” was released on November 25, 2010. The document discussed the problems which needed to be resolved in order to firmly place the Canadian military under NORTHCOM through NORAD. The document was prepared by U.S. General Victor Renuart, Commander of both NORAD and NORTHCOM, and Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson, Commander of Canada Command.

The document exposed the extent to which the U.S. military has fully infiltrated the Canadian forces at the highest command levels, not only through the placement of U.S. military officials in Canada, but also through the integration of Canadian military commanders into the U.S. military apparatus.

Based on its definition of security, the document outlines how the Canadian and U.S. militaries need to work much closer in order to “secure” the “North American Homeland.” “Security” is defined as “use of the military at the request of civil authorities in support of public safety, domestic emergencies, law enforcement and other activities.”

In line with this definition, the framework document outlined how events such as the June 2010 meetings of the G8, the Vancouver Olympics and North American leaders’ summits were used to work out a “seamless” unified military command. These “seams” include legislation and regulations mainly in Canada on areas such as information sharing, “civilian oversight” and military structure that the U.S. wants changed, removed or introduced.

Under the category of Operations, the Framework outlines problems that emerged during large political events in Canada. The report suggested that the preferred option in the future would likely be a single command, likely by NORAD, which means U.S. command, in order to overcome “differences in authorities.”

The document outlined differences in the U.S. and Canadian command structures, with the implication that Canadian armed forces be reorganized to align with the U.S. The report stated, “The differences in these constructs make it difficult for USNORTHCOM and Canada COM to maintain a habitual relationship at the tactical/operational level because the participants on the U.S. side will vary dependent on the situation and the participants on the Canadian side will vary dependent on location.”

The current public infiltration of U.S. military forces in Canada and the goal to have Canada fall in line with U.S. military demands is also addressed. The document states: “There are currently two USNORTHCOM liaison officers assigned to Canada COM. Liaison officers offer significant benefits to all commands.” It then calls for greater “interaction” between military officials.

In 2012, Canada announced that a long-term partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) had been established. Under the agreement, data from Canada’s Department of National Defence’s Sapphire satellite is integrated with the U.S. Space Surveillance Network. The government claimed the aim of the integration was to “avoid collisions between satellites or with space debris.” The agreement followed similar arrangements in which Canada is being integrated into U.S. arrangements to militarize space.

For example, in November 2011 it was announced that Canada was spending $477 million to join a U.S. Defense Department satellite communication system called the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) System. The system is designed for “U.S. warfighters, allies and coalition partners during all levels of conflict, short of nuclear war.”

Current agenda for NORAD and Canada’s participation in U.S. missile defence

The government of Justin Trudeau has taken a number of initiatives in the direction of expanding U.S. control over Canadian airspace and territory through NORAD as well as to agree to hand over Canadian territory to the U.S. for placement of its missiles and sensors under the guise of “protecting Canada.”

The government enlisted Derek Burney, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney, to “open doors” in Washington. Burney claimed that Canada’s actions on September 11, 2001 were “spontaneous and voluntary” and this is not good enough. However, Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan made it clear this was not the case when he responded to several detailed questions in the House of Commons. NORAD did in fact “take control” of Canadian airspace on September 11, he said. Burney’s remarks thus indicate that Canada, already 100 per cent under U.S. command, is to be used in a manner Canadians disapprove of. Burney also said that Canada should look at joining the U.S. on continental missile defence as one area of “common ground” that “could go a long way in boosting Canada’s voice at the table.”

Raising the false assertion that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a threat to Canada, Burney stated, “North Korea has got the capacity to launch a missile as far as North America. Why wouldn’t we at least sit down and at least explore the prospect of joining with the Americans; why don’t we renovate NORAD with something to protect us against the 21st century threat in the same way NORAD helped us with 20th century defence?”

Canadians made clear in 2004 and 2005 that they opposed Canada’s participation in the U.S. ballistic missile defence program, as they did Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program. Despite this, the Liberals have been for several years laying the groundwork to revive this dangerous debate which Canadians considered closed in 2005. The government’s Defence Policy Review, released in 2016, asked whether, “given changing technologies and threats,” Canada should revisit its decision to not participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defence system. This is another step in this direction.

The defence policy review was carried out by a four-person Ministerial Advisory Panel which included Bill Graham, Minister of Defence under the Paul Martin Liberal government. Graham was the biggest proponent of missile defence at the time and has expressed regret that the government opted out of the missile defence program in 2005 in the face of Canadians’ rejection. Graham told a Senate committee in 2014 that it was the negative opinion Canadians held about George W. Bush that forced the government to stay out.

During meetings of the defence committee leading up to the release of the defence review, Liberal Members of Parliament posed questions to Canadian armed forces personnel which envisioned nightmare scenarios of missiles hurtling from some unknown source towards Canadian cities, and asked what Canada could do in such a situation. According to the Liberals and these military figures, once a missile is identified, the decision would be solely up to the U.S. as to whether its missile defence system would attempt to intercept it.

It is self-serving propaganda designed to present any opponent of the war preparations as posing a danger to national security and national interests.

The Trudeau Liberal government subsequently unveiled its new defence policy in June 2017. The document, “Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada’s Defence Policy,” left the decision as to whether to join the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) system open. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan stated, “Our policy is not changing on BMD. What we are going to be doing is to look at all of those threats, from air, maritime and underwater.”

In the name of “modernization,” the policy said that Canada will “expand our capacity to meet NORAD commitments by improving aerospace and maritime domain awareness and response, and by enhancing satellite capability. We will also procure an advanced fighter capability and ensure we remain interoperable with our American allies.”

Both NORAD and the missile defence program are presented as purely for defence. This denies the reality of the long U.S. history of aggressive war and pre-emptive strikes. Both the Bush and Obama doctrines asserted the “right” to conduct preemptive strikes and the actual bombardment of cities and the doctrine has been reasserted by Trump with his threats against the DPRK. Pre-emptive strikes and the massive destruction of cities have been a feature of U.S. warfare going back to the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945 which killed 100,000 Japanese civilians and destroyed 16 square miles of the city, leaving a million more homeless. This was followed five months later by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and in 1950-53 with the killing of 4 million people and the destruction of 78 cities in the DPRK during the Korean war.

Get Canada out of all imperialist war alliances! Make Canada a Zone of Peace!

The 60th Anniversary of NORAD is a time to draw warranted conclusions about the nature of the military alliance. NORAD is always described as responsible for the defence of North America. NORAD was conceived and brought into being during the Cold War, which has long since ended. Its survival is now justified by claiming the danger is from “rogue states.” However, NORAD, like NATO is an aggressive military alliance.

Since the inception of NORAD, Canadians have opposed every step of Canada’s annexation into Fortress North America, and the placing of Canadian resources and territory under the control of the U.S. imperialists for the purpose of war preparations. Membership in NATO and NORAD is incompatible with the stand of Canadians to Make Canada a Zone for Peace which requires withdrawing from all aggressive military alliances. This is the stand consistent with the peacekeeping role Canadians want Canada to play and fought for during the 60 years in which NORAD has placed Canada under U.S. command.

Sixty years on, the clash between the government’s conception of “security” and that of Canadians has become very sharp. The government’s watchwords “defence of North America” and “shared security” are designed to accelerate war preparations and insecurity for the people of the world. The premise underlying all the calls for the complete integration of Canada’s armed forces into the U.S. war machine is that security means “securing” the North American “Homeland” as “free and prosperous” that is, against any threat to the rule of the oligopolies. It is completely devoid of a modern and human-centred concept of security.

This drive to war is clashing with a modern human-centred conception of security which is integrally connected to the defence of the rights of all both at home and abroad. Canadians must continue to stand as one with the world’s people in defence of their independence, sovereignty and peace.

(With files from TML Archives, Hardial Bains Resource Centre, Canadian Encyclopedia, CBC, Globe and Mail)

Source: TML Weekly, Supplement, June 2, 2018 – No. 21. Slightly edited to provide some detail.

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