Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle.
I perused the opposition member's statement on sovereignty.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the renewal of the North American aerospace defence command, or NORAD agreement. NORAD has been one of the pillars of the Canadian-American defence relationship for nearly 40 years. It symbolizes the long tradition of friendship and co-operation which exists between Canada and the United States.
Throughout the cold war NORAD provided our countries with effective means of defending the North American continent against possible air attack. It also proved to be a highly flexible agreement adapting to meet new threats. I will take this opportunity to trace the evolution of NORAD and in particular to discuss the ways it evolved to meet today's challenges.
With this new agreement the government will equip NORAD to deal with new domestic and international circumstances while at the same time preserving the benefits of our longstanding co-operation with the United States in the aerospace defence field.
After the second world war, the cold war gave rise to a new threat, that of an intercontinental bomber force capable of launching a nuclear attack on North America.
That is what prompted Canada and the United States to deploy forces to counter this threat. However, the level of co-operation between the our two countries in terms of continental air defence remained limited for some years.
Things changed in 1958, with the signing of the NORAD agreement, which integrated Canadian and American air defence resources.
Our governments had come to recognize that it was much more efficient and effective to work together to ensure air defence. And they still think so.
Over the years the original mission of NORAD which was to control entry into sovereign air space, to provide a warning of attack and to respond to the attack if necessary, has been modified to keep pace with the changing weapons technologies. From 1958 to 1962 NORAD focused on defending against bombers. NORAD employed American and Canadian interceptor aircraft, American air defence artillery and Canadian based surface to air missiles. Our collective radar resources at the time consisted of the Canadian based distance early warning, mid-Canada and pinetree lines as well as some United States based radar systems.
In 1962 as the superpowers kicked their ballistic missile programs into high gear, NORAD adjusted its operational posture to that of deterrence. Although NORAD still had to contend with the bomber threat, its main focus shifted to missile warning, space intelligence and target identification. The mid-Canada line was dismantled and the pinetree line and the United States radar systems were reduced. As well, the number of American and Canadian interceptor aircraft were reduced from 1,600 to 500.
In the 1980s, the development of cruise missiles that could be launched from aircraft or submarines once again changed the nature of the threat hanging over North America. At the operational level, NORAD continued to put the emphasis on the same elements, but it made some changes regarding the deployment of its forces.
For example, forward operating locations in Canada's north were organized so that NORAD's airplanes could intercept cruise missile carrying aircraft before they could launch their missiles.
It was also during this period in 1981 that NORAD changed its name from North American Air Defence Command to the North American Aerospace Defence Command, reflecting the new emphasis on the space based satellites to warn against missiles.
At the end of the cold war NORAD has entered yet another stage in its development. The end of the superpower rivalry lifted the shadow of a nuclear Armageddon and for now eliminated the threat of attack against the North American continent. But the new strategic environment remains far from stable. Weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery still exist and their proliferation especially among rogue states could in time pose a major threat to North America. Facing an uncertain future, we cannot afford to let down our guard completely. NORAD therefore still has a role to play in preserving our security.
Under the new agreement, giving the alert in case of an aerospace attack against North America will continue to be NORAD's main mission, along with the surveillance and control of North America's air space, including legal and illegal air traffic. NORAD must also continue to evolve, and the new agreement will ensure that it is the case.
Canada and the United States have already decided to reduce operating levels for air defence and ground based radar surveillance for our northern approaches. However we will maintain the capability to conduct the appropriate levels of operations at full readiness should the need arise.
Should a strategic threat to the continent arise in the future, we will have enough equipment, infrastructure and expertise to build up our NORAD forces again. Canada currently contributes 720 personnel to NORAD as well as a number of CF-18 aircraft on continuous air sovereignty alert.
NORAD will remain a flexible arrangement that can take on new roles as circumstances dictate. The new agreement will stress the importance of close consultation between our two governments as NORAD moves into the 21st century.
NORAD remains a pillar of North America's security system. It also remains a highly effective and economical defence agreement.
NORAD was set up almost 40 years ago. Canadian and U.S. governments still feel that it makes more sense to accomplish together the missions and the duties of that command.
Since Canada's territory is very wide and since our armed forces are relatively limited in numbers, it would very difficult for us to conduct aerospace defence operations alone.
Although control of our air sovereignty would be possible, air defence would be difficult. Canada also depends entirely on the assistance of the United States to provide warning of ballistic missile attack both at home and in other theatres where Canadians could be threatened. For example, during the gulf war, Canadians in the Persian Gulf donned protective gear and gathered in shelters after receiving warnings based on NORAD assessments of impending scud missile attacks.