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Norad: 'A monument to the Cold War'

One of the most terrifying visions of the Cold War was the spectre of Soviet bombers and nuclear missiles crossing the Arctic toward North America. To protect the continent, Canada and the United States created Norad, the North American Aerospace Defense Command: a vast array of electronic eyes forever sweeping over the continent. But the world changed since the 1950s, and Norad shifted focus to monitor drug trafficking and terrorism. Yet critics call the organization an expensive monument to the Cold War, and a first step on the slippery slope to weapons in space.

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Ottawa is committing $1.5 billion to fight old ghosts. That's the opinion of historian Desmond Morton, commenting on Canada's quiet renewal of the Norad agreement. Militarily, Morton thinks Norad is a relic, an orphan of a long-forgotten conflict. Politically, however, he sees a powerful weapon. In this commentary on CBC Television's Schlesinger, Morton outlines the uses of Norad for safeguarding political interests. 
. The Norad agreement between Canada and the United States has been renewed eight times (approximately every five years). At each of the most recent renewals, considerable controversy has erupted over whether or not participation in Norad would commit Canada to participation in an American missile shield program.

. There were substantial revisions to the Norad agreement in 1975, 1981 and 1996:
- On May 8, 1975, the Norad agreement renewal included recognition that ballistic missiles are the primary threat to North America, acknowledgement of the need to monitor space activities and to ensure airspace sovereignty, and a caveat that Canada would not participate in missile defence.

- On May 12, 1981, the agreement was again renewed after extensive public discussion about Canada's participation in space-based programs. The caveat against missile defence was dropped, and Norad's name changed from North American "Air Defence Command" to "Aerospace Defence Command."
- On March 28, 1996, a Norad renewal was signed once more. It redefined the primary missions as aerospace warning and aerospace control.

. In 1991 Norad began using its coastal radar to monitor drug smuggling activities in North America.
. In 2004 Canada signed an amendment allowing Norad to share information with the commanders of the U.S. missile defence program.
Medium: Television
Program: Schlesinger
Broadcast Date: April 7, 1996
Guest(s): Desmond Morton
Host: Joe Schlesinger
Duration: 7:27

Last updated: March 19, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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