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Cold War Radar

NORAD Tensions


A surface-to-air missile.  Some of the tensions between the two countries were a result of missile talks

American Power in Canada

Air defence itself was not controversial, neither were alliances.  There was never any real controversy surrounding NATO in Canada.  NORAD was more controversial because it placed Canada in a direct partnership with the United States and their priorities.

The fact that Americans were coming into Canadian territory as part of NORAD did not escape Canadians.  Canada was in a unique position as they were aware of the potential threat to the continent and wanted to defend it, but at the same time they were worried about American power in Canada. 

They wanted American presence to be avoided when possible, and otherwise to be short-term.  This was difficult in reality though and by the mid-1950s 15 000 Americans were serving in Canada. 

Canada then tried to keep whatever control they could once the Americans were in the country.  Under the Visiting Forces Act of 1947 however, they only had control over criminal law, not the military.

This fear of Americans gaining too much power was not totally unwarranted, as Americans did gain more control even before NORAD officially existed.  In 1951 American fighters could come into Canada’s airspace to track an aircraft but not shoot it, and by 1953 they could do both.

Unequal Partnership:

Relations were also strained when Canada did not feel they were treated as equals under NORAD.  For example during the Cuban Missile Crisis (and again in the Yom Kippur War) they were not approached like they were supposed to be, as NORAD allies before or during the crisis for discussion.  Instead they were told of the plans afterwards, like the other NATO allies.

Nuclear Weapons and Missiles:

Another fear in Canada was that they may be involved in issues they did not want to be, just because the United States was.  This was shown when Canada hesitated about accepting nuclear weapons into their countriy and relations took a hit.

Further tensions arose when Canada did not want to be involved in missile defence because they were worried it would further an arms race.  In the 1968 renewal of NORAD, Canada got the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Clause, which said they did not have to take part in any active ballistic missile defence.  This clause was a matter of contention betweent the two countries for years though.

While the Americas were not happy with the Canadian government for not participating in missile defence, the Canadian people sometimes felt they were doing too much.  Many in Canada said that Mulroney was simply Reagan's puppet.  While Canada did not take part in Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI (a system of ballistic missile defence), private Canadian companies could take part in its research.  Many also associated the North Warning System with SDI, even though it did not have the ability to detect ballistic missiles.