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Book Reviews

Canada In Norad 1957-2007: A History

by Joseph Jockel

Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007
x + 230 pages, $75.00 hardcover
ISBN 978-1-553-39135-7

Reviewed by Richard Goette

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Book CoverSince 1957, the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) has been a crucial part of the Canada-US defence relationship. However, only now with the publication of Joseph Jockel’s Canada in NORAD 1957-2007: A History has the story of this important bilateral command organization been given its due attention. The wait has been well worthwhile. Jockel, a political science professor and Director of Canadian Studies at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York, has written an interesting examination of NORAD (renamed North American Aerospace Defence Command in 1981) as it has evolved over the past 50 years. Jockel is one of the leading authorities on Canada-U.S. defence relations, and this book complements his previous publications – in particular, his seminal 1987 work on the origins of NORAD entitled: No Boundaries Upstairs: Canada, the United States and the Origins of North American Air Defence, 1945-1958.

There are three main focuses of Jockel’s latest book.The first deals with the course of Canadian involvement in US-dominated continental defence missions that have embodied NORAD. Specifically, Jockel analyzes the changes that NORAD has undergone over the years, from its concentration upon active air defence against enemy bombers, to a role focusing upon integrated tactical warning and attack assessment (ITW/AA) of nuclear attack on the continent, followed by an examination of its new responsibilities with respect to the war on terror. The second focus examines NORAD as a Canada-US command organization, and the specific authority (or lack thereof) that it had over the two nations’ air defence forces. Special attention is given to the NORAD American Commander-in-Chief/Canadian Deputy Commander-in-Chief relationship, and the exercise of ‘operational control’ over assigned forces. Lastly, the book focuses upon the evolution of the NORAD Agreement itself, from its inception in 1958 and subsequent renewals up to the most recent renewal in 2006, and how the command’s air defence role has evolved over time.

Each chapter is based roughly upon the period between renewals of the NORAD Agreement, and there are several themes that resonate throughout the book. Jockel notes that Canadian and American officials often forget that NORAD had actually become operational in September 1957, with the establishment of the command organization, and those officials instead focus upon the May 1958 exchange of diplomatic notes, the actual NORAD Agreement, as NORAD’s founding date. This is a representative of a divide between military personnel (1957 outlook) and political officials (1958 outlook) as to how they have perceived NORAD. The former viewed NORAD in “purely functional” terms as a Canada-U.S. command organization with operational control authority over the two nations’ air defence forces. The United States Air Force (USAF) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) thus saw NORAD as “...just a practical and useful continental air defence headquarters, and little more” that was “...no big deal politically.” The latter, however, led by officials from Canada’s Department of External Affairs (DEA), viewed NORAD in more political terms as being more than a military command organization or even a government- to-government arrangement “...but also the linchpin to what the diplomats hoped would be a consultative arrangement between the United States and Canada in the event of a severe international crisis.” However, as Jockel demonstrates in Chapter 2, the lack of consultation by the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis soon dashed these hopes.

Nevertheless, this perspective leads to the theme of NORAD being the cornerstone or symbol of overall Canada-US defence. Although Canadian officials in the past may have placed too much credence upon this interpretation, it has served NORAD well in terms of the command’s longevity as its roles and mission have evolved over time. For example, as Jockel noted in reference to the 1973 renewal: “NORAD, whatever its functional value, had become a fixture of Canada-US relations and thus seemed to have become a symbol not to be trifled with.” Importantly, the quality of Canadian Forces (CF) personnel assigned to NORAD duties has earned Canadians the respect of their American peers. Canada has benefitted as a result. In the words of one Canadian defence official, Americans were just “...in the ‘habit’ of involving Canada in the defence of North America.”

This brings forth another principal theme: the issue of Canadian involvement in NORAD missions and the endeavour to secure a proverbial “piece of the action.” For example, when there was a movement toward space-related issues in the 1970s and 1980s, the CF, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the Canadian government, sought to utilize the NORAD connection to secure access to ‘cutting edge’ American space technology and research and development (R&D) for the fledging Canadian space development industry. As such, NORAD became “a channel” to Canada, not only for consultation, but also for advanced technology. However, Canada had to keep its part of the bargain. If it was unwilling to make a meaningful contribution, it might have to pay a price. This is, in fact, what happened in the late 1980s, when Canada’s decision not to get involved in the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) anti-missile defence system (yet another ongoing issue throughout the book) led to Canadian air force planners being shut out of American joint strategic defence planning. Indeed, unfortunately for Canada, when it came to strategy, despite the Canadian NORAD connection, it was the US that “...continued to call the major shots by itself when it came to the course of North American aerospace defence,” with Canada being left to react to American policies.

This book is well researched and very readable. Jockel compensates for a lack of access to archival sources, several of which still remain classified, by making good use of other primary source material. These include the Department of National Defence (DND) Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH) Raymont Collection (especially in the earlier chapters), and, in particular, the invaluable USAF/ NORAD historical narrative series and documents available at the NORAD/USNORTHCOM History Office in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The book contains some excellent maps, but, aside from the cover, there are no photographs.

Those interested in air force history may feel that this book focuses too much upon the political aspects of the Agreement, especially with regard to ballistic missile defence. In particular, one does not ‘get a good feel’ for the contribution of the USAF and the RCAF (later CF Air Command) to NORAD’s air defence role throughout the command’s history. Certain important issues, such as the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968 and its effect upon NORAD, are neglected. In addition, a list of NORAD’s American Commanders and Canadian Deputy Commanders would have been advantageous. The most conspicuous omission from the book, however, is the lack of a bibliography.

Nevertheless, these drawbacks are minimal. Jockel has made an important contribution to the historiography of Canadian-American defence relations in general and the study of NORAD in particular. It serves as an excellent study of both, and is therefore highly recommended for political scientists, academic historians, and professional military officers.

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Richard Goette is an air force historian specializing in command and control, leadership, maritime air power, and air defence issues. He is currently a Teaching Fellow and a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Queen’s University in Kingston.

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