Ku70-Ku80 heterodimers promote the non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) of DNA breaks and, as shown here, the fusion of dysfunctional telomeres. Paradoxically, this heterodimer is also located at functional mammalian telomeres and interacts with components of shelterin, the protein complex that protects telomeres. To determine whether Ku contributes to telomere protection, we analysed Ku70(-/-) mouse cells. Telomeres of Ku70(-/-) cells had a normal DNA structure and did not activate a DNA damage signal. However, Ku70 repressed exchanges between sister telomeres - a form of homologous recombination implicated in the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) pathway. Sister telomere exchanges occurred at approximately 15% of the chromosome ends when Ku70 and the telomeric protein TRF2 were absent. Combined deficiency of TRF2 and another NHEJ factor, DNA ligase IV, did not elicit this phenotype. Sister telomere exchanges were not elevated at telomeres with functional TRF2, indicating that TRF2 and Ku70 act in parallel to repress recombination. We conclude that mammalian chromosome ends are highly susceptible to homologous recombination, which can endanger cell viability if an unequal exchange generates a critically shortened telomere. Therefore, Ku- and TRF2-mediated repression of homologous recombination is an important aspect of telomere protection.