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US, Canada Seek to Advance NORAD Missile-Warning System Upgrade

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(Bloomberg) — The US and Canadian defense chiefs discussed upgrades to North America’s missile-warning system as the Biden administration seeks to slow North Korea’s atomic ambitions, open better communications with China and dial back fears the Kremlin might use nuclear weapons in its war in Ukraine.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he and Canada’s defense minister, Anita Anand, talked about steps to advance the modernization of the North American Aerospace Defense Command during a meeting on the sidelines of a security forum in Halifax, Canada, on Saturday. 

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NORAD, first established in the 1950s to protect against a Soviet attack, watches for Russian, Chinese and North Korean missiles and other threats.

Military officials, including NORAD commander General Glen VanHerck, have warned that the system can’t detect the latest threats from long-range and hypersonic missiles. 

Canada is about to start a $40 billion upgrade, spread over 20 years, its largest investment in decades, a spokesman said. 

Austin is on a weeklong trip encircling the globe with a focus on Asia, coinciding with North Korea’s launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles with a potential to hit the mainland US.

Less than a week after presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in person and sought to rein in US-Chinese tensions, Austin renewed warnings about China and Russia. 

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“Beijing, like Moscow, seeks a world where might makes right, where disputes are resolved by force, and where autocrats can stamp out the flame of freedom,” he told the Halifax forum, citing China’s “increasingly provocative” military moves in the Taiwan Strait.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is “an invitation to an increasingly insecure world haunted by the shadow of nuclear proliferation,” he said.

“Putin’s fellow autocrats are watching,” Austin said. “And they could well conclude that getting nuclear weapons would give them a hunting license of their own.”

US leaders have been making Asia a destination: Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken just got home from trips to the Pacific region, while Vice President Kamala Harris is on a visit there now. She and Xi met on Saturday.

Biden’s defense secretary, on his fifth journey to Asia, is scheduled to stop in Jakarta and Siem Reap for talks with counterparts from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. He will also attend an ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting.  

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