Backgrounder / September 11, 2014 / Project number: BG 13.056

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a bi-national military organization formally established in 1958 by Canada and the United States to monitor and defend North American airspace. NORAD warns of attack against North America by aircraft, missiles or ‘space vehicles’ (e.g. satellites and space debris) by monitoring and tracking man-made objects in the aerospace domain. NORAD also provides surveillance and operational control of Canadian and U.S. airspace. When the Agreement was last renewed in 2006, NORAD’s mission was expanded to include a, maritime warning mission.

The NORAD Agreement was first signed by the governments of Canada and the U.S. on May 12, 1958. While there have been nine NORAD Agreement renewals since 1958, the basic text of the Agreement has been revised substantially only four times – in 1975, 1981, 1996, and in 2006.

The Commander of NORAD is appointed by, and is responsible to, both the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States. Although the Commander NORAD may be either Canadian or American, traditionally, the Commander of NORAD is American, and the Deputy Commander, Canadian. NORAD Headquarters is located at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Canada-U.S. Defence Relationship

Canada and the U.S. enjoy one of the most extensive and long-standing defence relationships in the world. The tradition of bilateral cooperation in the defence of North America dates back to the 1940 Ogdensburg Agreement and is a natural complement to the extensive geographic, political, economic, cultural and social ties that link our two countries.

Canada derives significant benefits from this relationship. Canada-U.S. defence cooperation has provided us with:

  • enhanced protection from direct military attack;
  • insight into U.S. thinking on security matters, and influence over U.S. decisions where Canadian interests are involved;
  • valuable training and operational experience that helps not only in the defence of North America, but also in UN, NATO, and other multinational operations abroad;
  • preferential access to U.S. test facilities, which, along with research and development opportunities, have helped develop many technologies used by the Canadian Armed Forces; and
  • defence development, production, and sharing agreements that stimulate Canada's research and development community and help support some 50,000 Canadian aerospace and defence jobs nation-wide.

Canada-U.S. Cooperation: Responding to the New Threat Environment

The Government of Canada has the fundamental responsibility to protect Canada and Canadians in an increasingly complex and uncertain environment. The past decade has seen significant and cumulative changes to the international security landscape, such as the emergence of global terrorism and the more recent aggressive military action by state actors in eastern Europe. Given the increasingly complex nature of the threat environment, exploring ways to strengthen defence and security arrangements with the U.S., including an enhanced role for NORAD, is in Canada's interest.

In response to the events of September 11, 2001, and recognizing the potential cross-border impact of emerging security threats, Canada and the U.S. pursued a range of measures to enhance continental security cooperation, both at home and abroad. As part of its response, the U.S. established U.S. Northern Command (U.S. NORTHCOM), mandated to protect U.S. sovereignty, territory, the domestic population and critical defence infrastructure against external threats and aggression. In Canada, the Canadian Joint Operations Command – CJOC is responsible for Canada and its air and maritime approaches as a single operational theatre.  This initiative places a greater emphasis on the defence of Canada and North America.

NORAD Post-September 11, 2001

The events of September 11, 2001 underscored NORAD's relevance in today's security environment. NORAD has since made important changes to adapt to the new threat environment by increasing its operational readiness and its ability to respond to threats from both outside and inside North America's airspace. In August 2004, Canada and the U.S. also reinforced their commitment to the bi-national command’s existing functions by amending the NORAD Agreement to allow its missile warning function, which it has carried out for nearly 30 years, to be made available to U.S. commands responsible for missile defence. NORAD is not, however, involved in the U.S. missile defence system beyond a missile warning function. U.S. NORTHCOM is charged with the ballistic missile defence mission for the continental U.S. and Alaska. While NORAD shares its missile warning function with the U.S. commands, it has neither the authority nor the capability to act on the information.

Canadian Participation in NORAD

Canada contributes financial resources, physical assets and personnel to NORAD. Specifically, Canada's NORAD contribution includes Canadian Armed Forces personnel serving in NORAD-related activities in both the U.S. and Canada; fighter aircraft on alert status during normal operations; the operation and maintenance of the Canadian portion of the North Warning System – a chain of radar stations along the northern edge of North America; and, forward operating locations to support fighter operations in the North.

NORAD provides the Government of Canada with the capability to exercise effective surveillance and operational control over Canadian airspace, a basic requirement for asserting national sovereignty. Given the size of Canada's airspace and our armed forces, bi-national aerospace warning and airspace defence cooperation through NORAD remains a cost-effective means of meeting this critical objective. The Canadian and U.S. governments retain the final say on issues related to their own defence and can respond in a fashion that best serves their respective national interests.

2006 NORAD Renewal

Negotiations between Canada and the U.S. in 2006 to renew the NORAD Agreement highlighted the genuine interest of both sides in making meaningful enhancements to NORAD and the Canada-U.S. defence relationship. The resulting Agreement enhanced the bi-national command in a number of respects. Notably, the Agreement:

  • created a permanent NORAD Agreement, subject to review at least every four years or at the request of either of the parties, with provisions for withdrawal by either party with one year’s notice. This arrangement underscores the commitment by both nations to an organization that has been a key element of Canada-U.S. defence cooperation for over 50 years. While there is no longer a requirement for formal renewal, Canada and the U.S. agreed to continue reviewing the roles and responsibilities of the bi-national command, including the relationship between NORAD and the two national commands (CJOC and U.S. NORTHCOM). These ongoing talks will help ensure that our two countries undertake continental defence responsibilities that complement and reinforce one another; and
  • expanded NORAD's mission to include maritime warning. The Agreement makes clear that NORAD has a comprehensive maritime warning role, but does not exercise operational control over maritime assets. While NORAD has the mandate to warn of maritime threats or attacks to respective national authorities, principally U.S. NORTHCOM and CJOC, both organizations are responsible for assigning forces to respond.

NORAD has served the citizens of Canada and the U.S. as the first line of defence against an air attack on their homelands since 1958. It has also acted as a clear deterrent to any aggressor through its air and maritime warning capabilities. Through outstanding, cooperation and cohesiveness between the two countries, NORAD has proven itself effective in its roles of “deterring, detecting and defending.” By continually adapting to the changing security environment, NORAD will continue to play an important role in the defence of North America.

The text of the NORAD Agreement can be found at:


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