By far the most important US-Canada military accord is the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). The Cold War agreement was supposed to defend the two countries from an invasion by Soviet bombers coming from the north. But, the Berlin Wall fell three decades ago and NORAD continues.
While framed as an exclusively military matter, NORAD’s political implications are vast. The accord impinges on Canadian sovereignty, influences weapons procurement and ties Canada to US belligerence.
External Affairs officials immediately understood that NORAD would curtail sovereignty. An internal memo explained, “the establishment of NORAD is a decision for which there is no precedent in Canadian history in that it grants in peace time to a foreign representative operational control of an element of Canadian Forces in Canada.” Under the accord the Colorado-based commander of NORAD could deploy Canadian fighter jets based in this country without any express Canadian endorsement.
For over a decade the US commander of NORAD effectively controlled nuclear tipped Bomarc missiles based near North Bay, Ontario, and La Macaza, Québec. NORAD also deepened the US military footprint in Canada. As part of the accord, the US set up the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line across the Arctic in the late 1950s.
NORAD has pushed the CF towards US arms systems. It’s also heightened pressure to add and upgrade radar, satellite, jets, vessels, etc. CBC reported that Canada may be “compelled to invest in technology that can shoot down cruise missiles as part of the upcoming overhaul of the North American Aerospace Defence Command.”
NORAD has also drawn Canada into US belligerence. During the July 1958 US invasion of Lebanon NORAD was placed on “increased readiness” while US troops checked secular Arab nationalism after Iraqis toppled a Western-backed King (at the same time British troops invaded Jordan to prop up the monarchy there).
In a higher profile incident, Canadian NORAD personnel were put on high alert when the US illegally blockaded Cuba in October 1962. This transpired even though Prime Minister Diefenbaker hesitated in supporting US actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
During the 1973 Ramadan/Yom Kippur/Arab–Israeli War NORAD was placed on heightened alert. Washington wanted to deter the USSR from intervening on Egypt’s behalf.
NORAD systems offered surveillance and communications support to the 1991 war on Iraq. They also supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The same can be said for US bombing in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, etc.