The Canada-U.S. Defence Relationship

Backgrounder / November 22, 2013 / Project number: BG 13.055

The United States is Canada's most important ally and defence partner. Defence and security relations between our two countries are longstanding, well-entrenched and highly successful.  The closeness of the Canada-U.S. defence partnership provides both countries with greater security than could be achieved individually.

Given the common defence and security requirements, it is in Canada’s strategic interest to remain a reliable partner in the defence of North America and steadfast in its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As like-minded Allies and close operational partners, Canada and United States meet at the Ministerial level, bilaterally and in the NATO Alliance, as well as at the Chief of Defence Staff and senior Defence officials levels. From joint training exercises to personnel exchanges, strategic policy discussions, and operational cooperation, our countries share a broad-based, dynamic, and mutually beneficial defence relationship.

As a strong and reliable defence partner, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are prepared to conduct continental operations, including through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD); carry out training and exercises; remain interoperable with the U.S. military; and respond to crises at home and abroad.

The principal bilateral defence forums, arrangements and agreements with the United States are:

  • Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD) – established in 1940 to discuss and advise on defence policy issues related to continental defence and security.  The Canadian and U.S. co-chairs report the bi-annual discussions directly to the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States.
  • Military Cooperation Committee – established in 1946 as the primary strategic link between Canadian and U.S. joint military staffs.
  • North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) – established in 1958 to monitor and defend North American airspace. In 2006, a maritime warning function was added.
  • The Combined Defence Plan – synchronizes military efforts from both countries into one coherent bilateral military defence plan.
  • Tri-Command Framework – signed September 2009, outlines how NORAD, United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), and the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) operate and cooperate.
  • The Canada-U.S. Civil Assistance Plan – signed February 2008, and renewed in January 2012, to facilitate the support of military members from one nation to the armed forces of the other nation in support of civilian authorities during an emergency such as a natural disaster.

The unique Canada-United States military relationship can be defined as a partnership in North American defence and global security. At any given time, there are more than 700 CAF members serving in the United States. Approximately half are committed to the NORAD mission, while the remainder serve as liaison and exchange officers, or as students pursuing post-graduate military or civilian academic studies. In addition, more than 100 US Armed Forces personnel are currently participating in exchange positions with the CAF in Canada.

Canada and the United States also share a privileged relationship in NATO as the only two non-European members of the Alliance. Canada and the United States share a mutual commitment to the NATO Alliance as the cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic security and defence relationship.  Both countries are committed to ensuring that NATO remains active and engaged with the modern, flexible, and agile capabilities it needs to defend the populations and territories of its members and deal with the challenges of the 21st century. Canada and the United States share common views on many NATO issues and are particularly committed to transforming NATO into a fit for purpose defence Alliance, reinforcing the Alliance’s role as a political-military hub for operations and good financial stewardship of NATO’s common-funded resources.

At the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the CAF maintain the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff, a field unit of the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.  The senior Canadian Defence Attaché, a Major-General (or Rear Admiral), the Chief of the Canadian Delegation to the Inter-American Defence Board, and the CAF defence attachés from the air, sea, and land environments provide military advice and appropriate support and assistance to the Canadian Ambassador.  In support of the Canada-U.S. defence and security partnership, defence attachés liaise directly with the Pentagon and their other American counterparts, linking Canada’s Department of National Defence with the U.S. Department of Defense.

U.S. Military Partners

North American Aerospace Defense Command

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the U.S. and Canadian bi-national organization whose missions include aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning. Aerospace warning and aerospace control pertain directly to air sovereignty and air defence for North America; while maritime warning entails the sharing of awareness and understanding of the activities conducted in the U.S. and Canadian maritime approaches, maritime areas, and internal waterways.

Traditionally, the Deputy Commander of NORAD has been a senior Canadian Armed Forces Officer. 

United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM)

USNORTHCOM, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is CJOC’s counterpart for domestic operations in the U.S. and the continent.  The USNORTHCOM area of responsibility includes air, land, and sea approaches to the continental U.S., Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. The Straits of Florida, portions of the Caribbean region, including Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also included. 

The Command was established in 2002 to provide command and control of homeland defence, and to coordinate defence support to civil authorities. US NORTHCOM defends the U.S. and its citizens, and contributes to continental defence, just as CJOC does across Canada.

United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)

USSOUTHCOM – with headquarters in Miami, Florida – is a joint, interagency command representing the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of State, and federal agencies that share similar mission objectives, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and US Customs and Border Protection. Neighbouring nations, such as Canada, are key partners in planning and contingency operations. The Command’s area of operations includes Central and South America, the Caribbean and the surrounding waters south of Mexico. 

CJOC and USSOUTHCOM consult regularly on a collective response to regional and trans-national security challenges, such as preventing and reducing illicit trafficking through detection, monitoring, and tracking drug traffickers. To address this issue, USSOUTHCOM, through the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF (S)), conducts surveillance operations in the air and maritime approaches to the U.S. and other countries, including Canada.

Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S)

JIATF (S) is a multiservice, multi-agency task force based at the Naval Air Station Key West in Florida and is a subordinate organization to USSOUTHCOM.  Its primary mission within the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility is to integrate and conduct interagency counter drug and other illicit trafficking operations with the purpose of interrupting and stopping the flow of illicit trafficking. JIATF-S coordinates the employment of U.S. and allied ships and aircraft, their crews, and law enforcement agencies for the detection and monitoring of suspect air and maritime drug activity in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific. It collects, processes, and disseminates counter-drug information for inter-agency operations dedicated to interdicting the flow of illicit drugs.

Through Op Caribbe, the Canadian Armed Forces have been supporting JIATF (S) efforts to address illicit trafficking in the international waters of the Caribbean Basin and East Pacific Ocean since 2006. The CAF remains committed to working with the US and other Western Hemisphere and European partners to successfully disrupt illicit trafficking operations in the Caribbean.

United States Coast Guard (USCG)

The USCG is a maritime, multi-mission service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces with a unique maritime law enforcement mission, with jurisdiction in both domestic and international waters. Its roles include maritime homeland security, maritime law enforcement, and search and rescue.

CAF and USCG operations regularly interact in three prime areas: search and rescue, illicit drug surveillance and interdiction, and illegal migrant interdiction.   

In February 2011, a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment conducted operations, for the first time, from a Canadian Navy ship, HMCS Toronto. The vessel and crew, under Canadian command, was operating in direct support to the U.S.-led, multi-national effort to interdict drug trafficking in the Caribbean Basin, called OP Caribbe.

Military-to-Military and Defence Arrangements between Canada and the U.S.

A number of agreements and arrangements govern the military-to-military relationship between Canada and the United States. The following is an overview of the key agreements or bodies that shape, guide and inform that relationship and joint defence.   

Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD)

The PJBD, created in 1940, is the highest-level bilateral defence forum between the U.S. and Canada. It continues to provide critical senior military and diplomatic contact, with its meetings serving as a window to Canada-U.S. defence relations for more than seven decades.

The Canadian and U.S. PJBD co-chairs act in an advisory capacity, reporting directly to the Prime Minister and President, respectively, on matters affecting the defence and security of the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. The Board has examined virtually every important joint defence measure undertaken since the end of the Second World War, including construction of the Distant Early Warning Line of radars, the creation of the North American Aerospace Defense Command in 1958, the bi-national operation of the underwater acoustic surveillance system, and the decision to proceed with the North American Air Defence Modernization program in 1985.

Discussions have increasingly included broader policy issues related to continental defence and security, including work to identify areas of cooperation to defend against asymmetric threats and to protect critical North American infrastructure. The Board meets semi-annually, with hosting duties rotating between the two countries.

North American Aerospace Defence Agreement

The North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), is a bi-national military command established in 1958 with a mandate to monitor and defend North American airspace, and remains the centrepiece of the Canada-United States defence relationship. It is a leading example of the Canadian approach to engagement and partnership with the U.S. in the common defence of the continent. 

There have been nine NORAD renewals since 1958, though the basic text of the Agreement has been revised substantially only four times – in 1975, 1981, 1996, and 2006. The 2006 revision established a permanent arrangement by removing the requirement for formal renewal every four years. However, the Agreement remains subject to review at least every four years or at the request of either of the parties.

Another important evolution in 2006 was to expand NORAD’s mission to include a maritime warning mission.

Since the inception of NORAD, Canada has helped maintain the North Warning System, a series of 11 long-range and 36 short-range radars along the entire Arctic coast of North America. Tied in with other NORAD radars, the system forms a radar buffer zone 4,800-kilometres long and 320-kilometres wide.  It stretches from Alaska, across Canada, to Greenland, and allows NORAD to detect all approaching airborne activity.

Civil Assistance Plan

In February 2008, the two countries signed the Canada-U.S. Civil Assistance Plan (CAP), a bilateral document that facilitates the movement of military members from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency, once government authorities have agreed upon an appropriate response.  Military forces from one nation could be provided upon the request of the other nation, permitting the rapid deployment of military personnel and assets to respond to devastating events such as floods, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and the effects of a terrorist attack, so as to save lives, prevent human suffering, and mitigate damage to property. 

The CAP recognizes Public Safety Canada and the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. as the respective lead federal agencies for emergency preparedness in each country. Renewed as recently as January 2012, the plan was successfully used for the first time in September 2008 during Hurricane Gustav, when Canada provided a CC-177 Globemaster III aircraft to help evacuate medical patients from the southern U.S., and two CC-130 Hercules aircraft for humanitarian assistance efforts.

Combined Defence Plan

The Combined Defence Plan (CDP) is a planning framework between CJOC, its counterpart USNORTHCOM, and NORAD for enhanced defence cooperation between Canada and the U.S. should governments require each other’s assistance.

This plan largely updates and formalizes existing arrangements, taking into account new security architectures put in place since September 11, 2001.

Information Sharing Memorandum of Understanding

The Information Sharing Memorandum of Understanding is an arrangement between CJOC, its counterpart USNORTHCOM and NORAD to identify and provide for ease of information sharing amongst the three organizations.

North American Maritime Security Initiative (NAMSI)

NAMSI improves maritime interoperability between Canadian, U.S., and Mexican forces in response to regional maritime threats. NAMSI provides a means for the CAF to increase involvement with Mexican allies to counter transnational criminal organizations. The initial signatories, in May 2008, were USNORTHCOM, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Mexico’s Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR). Canada became an official member of NAMSI in August 2011, when the Commander of CJOC (then Canada Command) signed the Letter of Intent that recognized Canada as a full member of NAMSI. With Canada’s participation, NAMSI provides a foundation upon which to build trilateral cooperation in the area of maritime defence. Much of the initial work has been focussed on the development of standard operating procedures and protocols for naval interoperability.

Tri-Command Cooperative Initiatives

In late 2007, the Chief of the Defence Staff and his U.S. counterpart, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, initiated a study to investigate the future roles, missions and relationships for CJOC, NORAD and USNORTHCOM – collectively responsible for defending North America. The Tri-Command Study, now complete, resulted in the development of three keystone documents:

The Tri-Command Framework, signed by the Commanders in September 2009, described how the three Commands – CJOC, NORAD and the USNORTHCOM – will operate and interact, highlighted fundamental relationships, and underscored command responsibilities concerning mutual support and cooperation. The Framework led to the identification of 16 specific action items, most of which have since been completed, aimed at improving cooperation, efficiency and interoperability among the three Commands.

The Tri-Command Vision, signed in March 2010, provided a strategic view on how the three Commands should cooperate and collaborate to achieve their missions and identified five strategic goals. Those goals are to: strengthen the collective ability to detect, deter, defend against, and defeat threats to our nations; improve unity of effort and with respective mission partners; develop a culture of continuous collaboration and cooperation in planning, execution, training, information management, and innovation; enhance intelligence and information sharing and fusion to support mission accomplishment; and to strengthen the collective ability to provide appropriate, timely and effective support to civil authorities, when requested.

The third keystone document is the Tri-Command Strategy. Signed in December 2010, the strategy outlines a series of shared tasks designed to strengthen working relationships with defence and security partners, including such things as: improving the ability to share classified information; completing the review of the Civil Assistance Plan; sharing best practices/lessons learned; and improving shared situational awareness in the five domains in which the military operates (land, sea, air, space, cyber).

The Commander of CJOC, Lieutenant-General Stuart Beare, and the Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM, General Charles H. Jacoby, Jr. signed two documents – the Tri Command Framework for Arctic Cooperation and the Tri Command Training and Exercise Statement of Intent – during the 230th meeting of the Canada-US Permanent Joint Board on Defense, in Colorado Springs, Colorado in December 2012.

The Tri Command Framework for Arctic Cooperation acknowledges that defence issues do not drive Arctic affairs and that the Canadian and U.S. militaries will support other departments and agencies in response to threats and hazards in the region when requested and directed.  In that context, the goal of the Framework is to promote enhanced military cooperation in the Arctic and identify specific areas of potential Tri-Command (CJOC, USNORTHCOM, and NORAD) cooperation in the preparation for, and conduct of, safety, security and defence operations. It strengthens an already unique and mature partnership with deep military bi-national coordination and cooperation ties. Areas of potential improved cooperation in the Arctic include planning, domain awareness, information-sharing, training and exercises, operations, capability development and science and technology.

Both the Commander of CJOC and the Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM have areas of responsibility within the Arctic.  The Commands have complementary missions and work closely together to meet individual and collective responsibilities including support of civilian authorities when required.

The second document, the Tri Command Training and Exercise Statement of Intent, enhances joint and combined readiness in support of safety, security and defence missions through combined training and exercises and reinforcing partnerships and collaboration among the Commands.

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