On the opinion page of Monday’s Globe and Mail, Royal Military College of Canada professor Christian Leuprecht argued that the recent shootdown of four different "objects" over North American airspace should lead to "redoubling our commitment to NORAD." Erasing decades of Cold War propaganda, the Director of University of Manitoba’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Andrea Charron, took to the pages of the National Post to write that the North American Aerospace Defense Command is "now needed more than ever." For its part, the Canadian Press published "Airborne incursions offers clear evidence that NORAD needs upgrade: the US expert."
But the balloon/UFO panic is a bread only sandwich. US officials are now admitting the three unidentified objects they recently shot down may have been "tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign." Additionally, the Washington Post reports that US officials tracked the Chinese balloon from Hainan island and that it "may have been diverted on an errant path."
Still, NORAD has been given a boost. The pro-NORAD rhetoric has bolstered the government’s push to spend heavily on an alliance that undercuts Canadian sovereignty and strengthens the US Empire. In June the Liberals announced a $5 billion 6-year expansion of NORAD, which is the first phase in a 20-year $40+ billion plan to upgrade the military alliance. Additionally, spending on F-35s and other high-tech weaponry is partly designed to ensure the Canadian Forces are capable of working alongside their US counterparts in NORAD.
The main criticism of NORAD has been that it impinges on Canadian sovereignty. When the accord was being negotiated 65 years ago an internal External Affairs 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 US commander of NORAD could deploy Canadian fighter jets based in this country without any express Canadian endorsement.
NORAD also deepened the US military footprint in Canada. Most controversially, it effectively committed Canada to acquiring US nuclear weapons for air defence and forover a decade the US commander of NORAD essentially controlled nuclear tipped Bomarc missiles based near North Bay, Ontario, and La Macaza, Québec. According to the agreement, the Canadian battle staff officer on duty in North Bay would receive authorization from the Colorado Springs commander, reports John Clearwater in Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada’s Cold War Arsenal, "allow[ing] for the release and firing of nuclear armed Bomarc missiles without specific Canadian government authorization."
NORAD makes Canada a junior partner to US militarism and imperialism. At best the alliance is a defensive arrangement that secures the home base of an empire with 1,000 international bases and special forces deployed in 149 countries. As Leuprecht argues in his op-ed praising NORAD, "North America’s continental security has also enabled the United States to project extended deterrence to Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, which enhances International stability. If the content is not secure, neither are America’s allies and partners."
In practice, NORAD supports violent missions led by other US commands stationed worldwide (European Command, Pacific Command, Africa Command, etc.). Much of modern air war takes place from the ground and NORAD has provided logistical support to US air strikes. NORAD systems offered surveillance and communications support for the 1991 war on Iraq. They monitored the region and provided information to launch US Patriot surface-to-air missiles.
NORAD also supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The same can be said for US bombing in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, etc.
The balloons are nothing but hot air, pro-US, militaristic propaganda. A tempest in a Chinese teapot. Every thoughtful person understands that spying is something every country with enough resources does.
The truth is a truly independent Canada would withdraw from NORAD.
Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.