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Military History

Four CF-100 Canucks

CFJIC Photo PC-3107 by Flight Officer Sankey

Four CF-100 Canucks overfly a radar site near RCAF Station Cold Lake.

The Politics of Sovereignty ~ Continental Defence and the Creation of NORAD

by Michael T. Fawcett

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The political relationship between Canada and the United States has undergone many trials and tribulations over the last century. The defence relationship, however, has remained relatively stable. One of the most enduring pillars of this stability is the bilateral North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). During the late 1940s and early 1950s, two factors played a key role in the evolution of North American air defence. One was the growing threat of the Soviet Union, and another was the encroachment of US military forces into the Canadian North – and the concomitant perceived loss of Canadian territorial sovereignty. Overlaying these two factors was the cost, both financial and political, for Canada. The Soviet threat and the politics of Canadian sovereignty played a very important role in the planning, development, and implementation of the air defence system for North America. It was said that “…the traditional fear of American encroachment increased and decreased in an inverse relationship to the perceived threat of Soviet aggression. When the need for security against an alien aggressor became paramount, the objective to guarantee sovereignty rights was superseded…”1 In May 2008, NORAD celebrated its 50th anniversary. Accordingly, now is an appropriate time to look back and examine the political and military imperatives that influenced the formal establishment of NORAD on 12 May 1958.

Arctic Sovereignty and the Joint Canada - US Basic Security Plan

During the Second World War, the US invested heavily in the construction of several Northern projects, including the Alaskan Highway and series of weather stations and air bases dubbed the Crimson Highway.2 Worried that the US would translate its wartime financial investment into permanent rights, the Canadian government implemented a process of ‘Canadianization’ of the North. In early 1944, the Canadian government began to assume control of all defence facilities in the North. In spite of this policy, the US continued to make requests for development therein. These included overflight authorization, the installation of additional arctic meteorological stations and low frequency communications (Loran) stations, and the construction of new airfields. These US requests were perceived as a desire to control Canadian territory and airspace, which it was believed would directly infringe upon Canadian sovereignty. Lester B. Pearson, then Canadian Ambassador in Washington, voiced the government’s concern in 1946 when he said “…[that] there is already an increasing and in some of its manifestations an unhealthy pre-occupation with the strategic aspects of the North; the staking of claims, the establishment of bases, the calculation of risks. For no country have these faint stirrings of unhallowed but all too familiar fears had a greater or more sinister significance than for Canada.”3 It is therefore clear that, in 1946, Canadian sovereignty concerns were a top priority for the government.

In 1946, the Soviets did not possess the required long-range bomber aircraft or the weaponry to conduct a successful attack against North America. The lack of a direct and immediate threat to North America allowed politicians to continue to seek a peace dividend through post-war demobilization and the dramatic reduction of defence expenditures. However, the US military believed that the Soviet Union was a growing threat and that it would eventually develop the offensive military capacity to attack North America. The US and Canada utilized the wartime-established Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD) and the Military Cooperation Committee (MCC) for cooperative defence planning.4 In May 1946, the MCC produced two significant documents with respect to the defence of North America. 5 The first, An Appreciation of the Requirements for Canada-United States Security, outlined the threat to North America, and it stated that hostile powers would not be able to conduct “…sustained long range air operations … but limited long range air attacks are possible.”6 The Appreciation also stated that, in the longer term, adversaries would be able to develop the required long-range bombers and improved weaponry for a larger-scale attack on North America, and “…[that] it will probably require three to five years for any potential enemy to develop and produce the atomic bomb.”7 In effect, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb in September 1949. The second document produced was the Joint Canadian United States Basic Security Plan (BSP). The BSP was designed to counter this potential threat. Continental defence would be secured through Appendix A to the BSP, the Air Intercept and Air Warning Plan. The Air Appendix envisioned a ‘Fortress America’8 with three distinct radar-warning lines, including one in the far north, numerous new radar stations for the command and control of the air battle, eight of which would be located in Canada, and a significant increase in the number of air defence fighters. This was the military planners’ ‘dream plan.’ The reality was that the financial cost to both the US and to Canada to implement the BSP would have been enormous. In a memorandum to Prime Minister (PM) William Lyon Mackenzie King in October 1946, Pearson cautioned that, with respect to the BSP, “… the scale of installations would be so great that it would strain our capacity to provide and man them from Canadian resources. Furthermore, if we undertook ourselves to equip and maintain these installations, it would probably mean that our military activities were concentrated almost wholly on the protection of North America from the possibility of sporadic bombardment from the air.”9

Canada, in light of the limited immediate threat to North America, was not prepared to expend vast financial resources on the BSP, and, in particular, to fund the Air Appendix. In fact, American politicians were also not prepared to pay these costs. However, they did propose further cooperative development of the North. In a memorandum to Mackenzie King in January 1947, Minister of National Defence (MND) Brooke Claxton told the PM that the US cooperative development proposals “…would add little to defence expenditure. Further, they would fit in with any plans ultimately adopted and would assist in the development of the north for civilian as well as for military purposes.”10 In February 1947, the Canadian and American governments released a Joint Statement on Defence Collaboration. It outlined the nature of Canada-US defence cooperation and established the principles to guard against any loss, or perceived loss, of Canadian sovereignty. In early 1947, the Canadian government strongly believed that there was no direct threat to Canada from the Soviet Union. And the government was not prepared to dispense significant funding in order defend the country from a non-existent threat. Where Canadian sovereignty was concerned, they believed there was no need to make any compromise.

F-86 Sabre (foreground), a CF-100 Canuck (centre), and a T-33 Silver Star

CFJIC Photo PC-650

Canadas jet fleet. An F-86 Sabre (foreground), a CF-100 Canuck (centre), and a T-33 Silver Star in formation, circa 1953.

Soviet Weapons and the Pinetree Line

A series of events that occurred over the next three years would dramatically affect this train of thought. At the 1947 Moscow May Day parade, the Soviets displayed the new Tupolev Tu-4 Bull long-range strategic bomber, which was a brilliant ‘reverse-engineering’ of an interned wartime Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Soviet actions during the March 1948 Berlin Blockade, as well as the testing/detonation of an atomic bomb in September 1949, completed a triumvirate of concerns. The Soviets had demonstrated they had the will, the weapon, and the delivery vehicle to truly threaten North America. The June 1950 invasion of Korea solidified in many minds the belligerent nature of the Soviets. President Harry S. Truman declared “…[that] the attack on Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.”11 

In Canada, the November 1948 federal election promoted Louis St. Laurent to Prime Minister, established Brooke Claxton as the MND, and confirmed Lester B. Pearson as Secretary of State External Affairs (SSEA). To counter the increasing Soviet air threat, Canada initiated the development of a ‘made-in-Canada’ air defence system which would be fully funded, manned, and controlled by Canadians. The envisioned system would include “…jet interceptors … with the necessary radar equipment and communications system…”12 In December 1948, the first air defence operational unit, 410 Squadron, was established at St. Hubert in Quebec PQ, along with the 1st Air Defence Group, later renamed the Canadian Air Defence Command (Cdn ADC). In September 1949, a second unit, 420 Squadron, was established at Chatham, New Brunswick. In order to equip these new squadrons, Canada arranged with Britain for a trade of obsolete Second World War Supermarine Spitfires for 85 newer de Havilland Vampire jet fighters. Claxton soon replaced the Vampires with 56 North American F-86 Sabre fighters, and obtained a licence to build more in Canada. C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions and Supply, pressed for a ‘made in Canada’ air defence solution, and the CF-100 Canuck, designed and built by A.V. Roe (later Avro) of Toronto, was ordered. Successful test flights of the Canadian-made F-86s (by Canadair in Cartierville, Quebec) and CF-100s convinced Claxton to announce, on 2 June 1950, the expansion of the Canadian air defence network to five operational squadrons. To provide command and control, the RCAF was authorized to construct five radar sites, later expanded to nine sites,13 all of which would be positioned to defend the eastern economic heartland. “The creation of this rudimentary Canadian air defence system reflected Ottawa’s increasing perception of a Soviet threat, manifest in the deteriorating international scene and the growing Soviet air capability.”14

In the US, the United States Air Force (USAF) developed Plan Supremacy, which called for a system of 411 air defence radars, 36 of which would be located in Canada. 15Limited funding significantly reduced this plan to a US-only 74-unit Permanent Radar Net. The USAF and the RCAF collaborated to develop a continental defence system, A Plan for the Extension of the Permanent Radar Net of the Continental Air Defence System, later referred to as the Pinetree Line, in the summer of 1950. The plan called for an expanded, continent-wide, early warning and control radar system. All 32 new radar sites, with the exception of one situated in Greenland, would be located in Canada, and they were to be manned by Canadian personnel. Funding for the 32 radars would be based upon the defensive coverage provided. This essentially meant that the US would pay two-thirds of costs, with Canada paying the balance.16 In February 1951, PJBD Recommendation 51/117 formally outlined the cost-sharing and manning arrangement for the Pinetree Line, and confirmed that all sites would remain Canadian property in perpetuity.

Unfortunately, the RCAF did not have a sufficient number of trained personnel, and thus, the US would have to man most of the radar sites. And US military personnel being permanently located on Canadian territory and tasked with its defence was to become a sovereignty issue for the government. Although politicians supported full RCAF manning, the reality was that Canada did not have the personnel to make this happen.

The development of a more extensive radar detection and control system also illuminated issues of command and control, interception, identification, and engagement (destruction or ‘shoot down’) of enemy aircraft within Canadian airspace. In early 1950, the USAF requested broad authority to conduct operations in Canadian territory. Canadian officials understood that the granting of broad authority would not be politically possible, as the RCAF did not possess full engagement authority for its own forces. The RCAF was not granted ‘shoot down’ authority until November 1951.18 Negotiation of this issue resulted in the August 1951 PJBD Recommendation 51/4, which authorized US aircraft to intercept adversary aircraft in Canadian airspace. However, actual engagement could only occur in US airspace.

Two CF-100 Canucks

CFJIC Photo PC-551

Two CF-100 Canucks in their natural element.

The command and control issue was essentially a sovereignty question as to ‘who would control whose aircraft where.’ A proposal was developed that would allow for aircraft to be controlled by the local Air Defence Control Centre (ADCC). If US aircraft entered Canadian airspace, they would fall under the tactical command and control of the regional Canadian ADCC. However, Canadian air defences were concentrated in the east, which meant that US forces generally defended the Canadian prairies and Newfoundland. PJBD Recommendation 53/1, adopted in October 1953, stipulated that fighters, regardless of nationality, would follow “…the Rules of Interception and Engagement of the country over which the interception or engagement takes place…”19 Additionally, that engagement would be conducted under the command of, “…[the] Air Defence Commander of the country over which the engagement is to take place, or by an officer who has been delegated the requisite powers.”20  It is interesting to note that Claxton, who must have known of the limitations in the prairie region, briefed his Cabinet colleagues that “…his understanding (was) that any force located in Canada will operate under a commander designated by Canada.”21 Recognizing its own defence limitations, and, given that the threat was so significant, Canada was prepared to compromise on its sovereignty concerns. Ultimately, due to the lack of fully operational radars on the prairies, Canada had to delegate intercept, engagement, and command authority to the US commander.

Canada’s support for the expansion of the continental air defence system, the construction of the Pinetree Line, and the approval of the intercept and command and control policies demonstrated that the Canadian government was convinced of the importance of defence against Soviet attack. James Eayrs, in his book In Defence of Canada, clearly articulated this idea. “Modest in cost and conception by comparison with the Artic warning systems subsequently to be constructed, the Pinetree Line would not have been undertaken but for two external and related developments upon the international scene. One was the enormous increase in defence budgets following the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. The other was the no less enormous increase in the severity of the Soviet threat to North America.”22 The last of the 33 Pinetree Line stations became fully operational by 1954.

McGill Fence and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line

The Pinetree Line was designed to provide one-hour notice of an air attack, which meant that detection would not occur until the Soviet bombers were well inside Canadian airspace. This reality, and the ever-increasing capabilities of Soviet strike aircraft and nuclear weapons, prompted the government to develop a new Canadian radar system. Defence scientists from the Defence Research Board and McGill University, under the guidance of Dr. George Lindsey, developed a highly automated early warning radar system. Accordingly, the 'McGill Fence,’ later known as the Mid-Canada Line, was developed for installation in the area of the 54th Parallel. The automated nature of the system would allow for the use of unmanned radars, a key requirement due to ongoing RCAF manning shortages.

The US, conducting its own research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), developed “a computerized system for rapid defence data handling.”23 The resulting Lincoln Transition system was later incorporated into the air defence system under the name of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system. The first SAGE system was operational in January 1959. 24 In the summer of 1952, a group of mostly American scientists from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory gathered to theorize about the scale of a Soviet nuclear attack. In their much publicized February 1953 final report, they concluded that a Soviet nuclear attack would kill millions of people and devastate the economy, and that the current air defence system was inadequate. They proposed a new radar defence system that would consist of two Distant Early Warning (DEW) lines located in the Canadian far north. DEW Line 1 would be located at the 75th Parallel, while DEW Line 2 would be located at the 70th Parallel. 25

In December 1952, in response to public fears of nuclear holocaust, President Truman directed the development of a new DEW line system. The ensuing USAF Project Counterchange, later renamed Corrode, would provide the US with three-to-six hours warning of an air attack.26At a January 1953 PJBD meeting, the US presented Counterchange, and formally requested Canadian permission to construct a testing facility in the Canadian north. Once again, the US was requesting authority for its own developmental initiatives in Canada's north. In response, Pearson stated his fear “…[that] one of the most important questions facing us now is this one of Arctic development and the danger of being excluded from such development on our own territory by US penetration.”27 Despite these fears, the Cabinet Defence Committee, on 10 February 1953, reviewed and approved the US request. In acknowledgement of the sovereignty concerns, the Committee added a number of stipulations. These included a statement that the project was an experiment that would involve no follow-on commitment by the Canadian government to an operational radar system, that full Canadian participation was required, that all sites had to be approved by Canada, and that all sites would retain Canadian ownership.28 The agreement also stipulated the formation of a new Canada-United States Military Study Group (MSG). The MSG, Canada hoped, would be able to provide the government with direct feedback on testing, and give it more insight into what further plans the US had for air defence.29

Air Marshal Charles Ray Slemon

DND Photo

Air Marshal Charles Ray Slemon, Chief of the Air Staff , RCAF, 1953-1957, and the first Deputy Commander-in-Chief of NORAD.

The January 1953 inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the US President brought with it a number of changes with respect to US defence policy. The Bull Committee Report, National Security Council Memorandum 159 (NCS-159), stated “…[that] the present continental defence programs are not now adequate to prevent, neutralize or seriously deter the military or covert acts which the Soviet Union is capable of launching.”30 The report also stated that the establishment of a ‘Southern Canadian Line’ was essential. They deemed that the SAGE data management system and the establishment of a DEW line were necessary requirements.31 To fund all this, the Eisenhower administration underwent a complete defence review. The Review of Basic National Security Policy (NCS-162) was completed in October 1953.32 Eisenhower, on 30 October 1953, approved the Basic National Security Plan – NCS-162/2. The ‘New Look’ policy established a new security posture that would be “…[based] on massive atomic capability … and an integrated and effective continental defence system.”33

Canadian politicians were very concerned about the ‘New Look’ policy implications for Canadian security. Claxton had already almost doubled defence approbations that were funding the rapid expansion of the armed forces. Canada was still committed to financing its operations in Korea and Canada’s NATO forces in Europe. Large amounts were already being expended upon increasing Canadian-based air defence squadrons and the construction of the Pinetree Line. The cost of any new defence program became a significant concern. Claxton believed that if Canada was forced to pay for both early warning lines, it would be forced to scale back commitments to Europe. He suggested to St. Laurent that it might be better for Canada to utilize a “cost avoidance strategy,”34 which would entail Canada paying for the Mid-Canada Line, and the Americans paying for the DEW Line. In this way, Claxton believed Canada could “…keep (its) self respect without having to put out too great an expenditure…”35 Accordingly, in November 1953, the Canadian government informed the US that the Mid-Canada Line would be funded as a Canadian project, and it supported the US funded construction of the DEW Line.

In recognition of Canadian sovereignty concerns, the US agreed to a number of conditions with respect to the construction and operation of the DEW Line. The May 1955 diplomatic note establishing the DEW Line contained an annex entitled Statement of Conditions to Govern the Establishment of a Distant Early Warning System on Canadian Territory. It included 21 separate provisions encompassing location and title to sites, liaison requirements, provision of Canadian-made electronic equipment, application of Canadian law, operations and manning, including the Canadian right “…to take over the operation and manning of any or all of the installations,” issues affecting Canadian Eskimos, immigration and customs, and the construction of airstrips.36

By the end of 1953, both the Soviet threat and the requirement to defend North America had gained prominence in Canada-US relations. Canada had to balance the cost of defence versus the cost of sovereignty. Pragmatically, if Canada did not assume full responsibly for defence programs in the north, then the US would do it for them. In the final analysis, the Canadian government knew it could not afford the cost of maintaining complete control over its sovereignty. Ultimately, the government agreed to the DEW / Mid-Canada Line cost sharing arrangement, and it stipulated conditions to guard against any loss of sovereignty. Construction of the Mid-Canada Line, located 300 miles (480 kilometres) north of the Pinetree Line along the 55th Parallel, was completed in 1957. The 57 radar station DEW Line, paid for by the US and stretching along the 70th Parallel, almost 200 miles (320 kilometres) north of the Arctic Circle, was completed in 1957.

Early warning radar lines

Map by Christopher Johnson

The trio of early warning radar lines erected on Canadian soil.

Operational Integration ~ NORAD

The vastly expanded air defence system brought with it new problems. An arising issue became that of overall air battle management. In order to defeat an air attack, it was necessary to determine the size of threat, its intended direction, its target areas, and an assessment as to if it was the only attack wave or the first of many. Commanders had to allocate air defence fighter resources, and the fighters required control to intercept and engage the enemy. The DEW Line allowed for the initial detection and analysis of the threat. The Mid-Canada Line would be used to determine the direction of the attack, and the Pinetree Line provided the command and control radars for initial engagements. These systems would eventually be fully ‘electronically integrated.’ The major problem was that there was no ‘operational integration.’ There was not a single unified command or commander provided to efficiently and effectively direct the air battle. Operational engagements with enemy aircraft carrying nuclear weapons, and being in Canadian airspace, were a sovereignty concern. Canada wanted, indeed, needed to have more than just a minor role.

In 1954, the US established a Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), which would assume operational command of all continental US air defence assets. It was then tasked to develop a continental air defence master plan that would integrate the activities of the US and Canada. This was a necessary step in the evolution of continental air defence, but the politicians in Canada needed convincing. In February 1956, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) addressed a letter to General Charles Foulkes, Chair of Canadian Chiefs of Staff (COS), indicating their desire to share views on operational integration. Foulkes agreed to the establishment of an ad hoc committee, but warned that “…to avoid raising delicate political problems the ad hoc group should limit their discussions and recommendations to the problems of operational control. … (The) subject of operational control is very sensitive politically in Canada and that it is important that there should be no leakage of information regarding the proposed group or the subject of its discussions to the press.”37  While the military issues were relatively straightforward to overcome, the political issues were not. Two primary political issues had to be resolved. One dealt with how Canadian command and control (sovereignty) issues would be addressed, and the other concerned how a new unified command would fit into NATO, or how it would not fit there, depending upon American concerns.

The sovereignty issue was brought to light in the reaction to comments made by Air Marshal Roy Slemon in June 1955. He stated that, in his estimation, “…a joint Canada-United States air defence command was inevitable.”38 This infuriated the government, as they had taken great pains during the Pinetree Line debates to ensure Canadian command within Canadian airspace. A US officer in command and control of all air defence forces was wholly unacceptable to Canadian politicians. However, it was becoming “…increasingly apparent that observance of the Canada-US political boundary as a dividing line of military responsibility imposed limitations which made it impossible to achieve the best air defence arrangements.”39 Foulkes, aware of the sovereignty concerns, knew that the plan would have to demonstrate “…compelling military advantages to an integrated air defence command system to counterbalance political disadvantages.”40In its 1956 report, the ad hoc study group proposed a palatable solution. Operational control could be instilled in a single individual, the Commander-in-Chief, Air Defence Canada-United States (CINCADCANUS), instead of a unified command organization. Operational control would be invested in this individual for all forces delegated to him for the air defence of North America. CINCADCADUS would report simultaneously to the US JCS and the Canadian COS, who would, in turn, report to their respective political masters. This was not a unique proposal, since NATO already had a similar structure embodied in the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) position. Canada had already approved the NATO structure, along with its inherent loss of control over forces assigned to it.41 If the new continental air defence command was similar, the loss of sovereignty was supportable. The NATO linkage appealed to Canada, but not to the United States. The Americans were adamantly opposed to the idea as they feared “…[that the] US and Canadian resources [would be] planned on a joint basis by representatives of all the parties to the Atlantic Treaty.”42 Europeans would then have a say in how the US defended itself, and the US would not tolerate any interference with its Strategic Air Command and its nuclear deterrence plans and capabilities.

MND, the Honourable George Pearkes, VC

CFJIC Photo E-50612

The Minister of National Defence, the Honourable George Pearkes, VC, inspecting naval ratings.

In February 1957, the US JCS, supported by the US Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson, and the Canadian COS, formally approved the concept, renaming it the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). This proposal was to be presented to the Canadian Cabinet Defence Committee for approval, but the process was overtaken by the June 1957 federal election. The ensuing Conservative victory established John G. Diefenbaker as PM and George Pearkes as MND. Immediately after the election, General Foulkes, as COS, sought a quick approval of the air defence initiative. He advanced two fundamental arguments in support of the NORAD agreement. One was the fact that the US had already approved it, and the Liberal government had been preparing to do so before the vote. As a result, there should be no political opposition to NORAD in Parliament, in spite of the change of ruling party. The second argument, the NATO linkage, was by far the most convincing. Foulkes, aware that the US did not and would not support any NATO linkage, knew that the only way to get government approval was to lessen the perceived loss of sovereignty. Thus, he deliberately minimized the sovereignty issues while over-emphasizing the non-existent NATO linkage. As Foulkes admitted later, he “…stampeded the incoming government with the NORAD Agreement.”43  Foulkes was able to convince Pearkes, who, in turn, went directly to Diefenbaker for approval. Diefenbaker, without consulting Cabinet, approved the NORAD plan on 24 July 1957. And at the 27 July Cabinet meeting, Pearkes presented NORAD as a fait accompli, and the only related decision Cabinet made was to appoint Air Marshal Slemon as Deputy Commander (DCINCNORAD).44  On 1 August 1957, Pearkes and Wilson jointly announced the NORAD Agreement, and concluded with the statement that, “…[the] new bilateral arrangement extends the mutual security objectives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the air defence of Canada-US region.”45

The Diefenbaker government staked its decision to favour defence over sovereignty concerns on the belief that the political repercussions of the loss of sovereignty were overcome by the NATO linkage. Unfortunately for Diefenbaker, the NATO linkage was unfounded. In his first speech to NATO, Diefenbaker stated that “…this integrated force (NORAD) is an integral part of our NATO military structure in the Canada/USA region and will report to the Standing Group and the NATO Council in a manner similar to that followed by the other NATO military commands.”46 The Liberal opposition, led by Pearson, attacked the government on this issue, and the Diefenbaker government was forced to concede the point. In reality, NORAD was a bilateral agreement and there was no direct connection between NORAD and NATO. Even in defeat, Diefenbaker maintained the NATO connection when he stated:  “…whether it [NORAD] is part of NATO or not, it does strengthen NATO, which is all that matters.”47  In the wake of the Agreement, NORAD was formally inaugurated on 12 May 1958.


The politics of Canadian sovereignty played a very important role in the planning, development, and implementation of an air defence system for North America. As both the Soviet threat to North America and the perceived likelihood of an attack increased, the Canadian government was forced to balance the political and financial cost of maintaining sovereignty with the requirement for defence. In the case of the 1946 Basic Security Plan, the lack of a viable threat tipped the equation in favour of sovereignty and resulted in the sovereignty reinforcing Joint Statement on Defence Collaboration. The 1950s witnessed the rapid rise of the Soviet threat. Additionally, there were the ongoing commitments to Korea, NATO, and the US ‘New Look’ security policy. Canada simply could not afford the financial and personnel cost associated with developing and maintaining a 'made in Canada' defence policy. US manning and cost-sharing of the Pinetree Line was the first of many compromises on sovereignty. As the threat increased, so did the requirement for more extensive defensive systems. The resulting DEW Line and Mid-Canada Line were created to provide a robust and integrated air defence system. Canada had to make compromises on sovereignty issues in order to ensure this system was deployed. The final stage of evolution of Canada’s air defence system was NORAD. Operational integration was a military necessity, but, for Canadians, it was politically unpalatable. Foulkes’s false NATO gambit nevertheless provided the key to the Canadian government’s support of defence over sovereignty. In the final analysis, it can be said that, as both the threat and associated defence costs increased, the political sovereignty concerns were overcome by the military imperatives of the day. The formal creation of NORAD on 12 May 1958 created a 50-year legacy that, in all likelihood, will last for at least another 50 years.

NORAD crest

CMJ Logo

Major M.T. Skip Fawcett, an Aerospace Controller (AEC), is currently serving as a Mission Crew Commander with 962 Airborne Air Control Squadron (AWACS) located at Elmendorf, Alaska. Actively pursuing a Master of Arts degree in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada, he was recently a staff officer for Officer Professional Development at the Canadian Defence Academy.


  1. Shelagh D. Grant, Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936-1950 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1988), p. 160.
  2. The ‘Crimson Highway’ was a series of northern air bases used by transport aircraft that were repatriating wounded soldiers back to North America during the Second World War.
  3. Lester B. Pearson quoted in Joseph T. Jockel, No Boundaries Upstairs - Canada, the United States, and the Origins of North American Air Defence, 1945-1958 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987), p. 2.
  4. The PJBD, formed in 1940, is a bilateral defence forum for senior military and diplomatic representatives, and it reports directly to the PM and the President. The MCC, formed in 1946, manages military cooperation at the strategic level.
  5. Copies of both documents located in Canada, Documents on External Relations, Volume 12, 1946, Vol. 12-975,pp. 1617-1627.
  6. An Appreciation of the Requirements for Canada-United States Security in Ibid.,p. 1619.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Jockel,p. 2.
  9. Lester B. Pearson, in Memorandum from Ambassador in US to PM, in Documents on External Relations, Volume 12, 1946, Vol. 12-975, p. 1654.
  10. Brooke Claxton, quoted in James Eayrs, In Defence of Canada – Peacemaking and Deterrence (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), p. 344.
  11. Henry S. Truman, quoted in Jockel, p. 36.
  12. Ibid., p.12.
  13. The RCAF was authorized to build only five sites, but they projected the requirement to build nine sites in order to make the cost benefits of the new Pinetree system appear more palatable.
  14. Jockel, p. 39.
  15. Project Supremacy is further detailed in Jockel,pp. 30-32.
  16. A detailed breakdown of the funding formula is found in Ibid., pp. 44-45.
  17. Created by Canada and the United States in 1940, the Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD) is the senior advisory body on continental defence matters. It is composed of military and diplomatic representatives from both nations.
  18. The Cabinet Defence Committee authorized the RCAF ‘shoot down’ authority in a Cabinet document entitled Authority to Intercept and Engage Unidentified Aircraft, dated 22 November 1951.
  19. Jockel,p. 57.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid., p. 54.
  22. Eayrs, p. 358.
  23. Jockel, p. 62.
  24. Authors Note: Although replaced by the ROCC system in the early 1980s, the SAGE system was still in use as a back-up system when I conducted my initial Aerospace Control training in North Bay, Ontario, in the autumn of 1988.
  25. Detailed discussion of the LSSG report is found in Jockel, pp. 64-65.
  26. NCS-139 Statement of Policy on an Early Warning System, dated 31 December 1952, referenced in Jockel, pp. 64-65.
  27. L.B. Pearson, Defence Relations in the North in Documents on Canadian External Relations, Volume 18, 1952, Vol. 18-746, 15 January 1953.
  28. Canada, DEW System and Mid-Canada Line in Canada, Documents on Canadian External Relations, Volume 19, 1953 (Donald Barry (ed.) Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1991), Vol. 19-698, 10 February 1953.
  29. Eayrs, p. 362.
  30. Quoted in Philippe Legassé, “Northern Command and the Evolution of Canada-US Defence Relations,” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 2003, p. 17.
  31. NSC-159 is broadly referenced and quoted in Jockel,p. 71.
  32. Government of USA, National Security Council, Review of Basic National Security Policy -NCS-162, October 1953.
  33. Ibid., p. 19
  34. Jockel,p. 83.
  35. Ibid., p. 82.
  36. Government of Canada, Notes between Canada and the US Governing the Establishment of a Distant Early Warning System in Canadian Territory, Note No. 306, Washington, DC, 5 May 1955.
  37. Government of Canada, Continental Air Defence in Canada, Documents on Canadian External Relations, Volume 23, 1956 – 1957 Part II, Vol. 23-22, 6 April 1956.
  38. Jockel,p. 98.
  39. Government of Canada, Continental Air Defence in Canada, Documents on Canadian External Relations, Vol. 21-313, 6 May 1955.
  40. Ibid.
  41. NATO was formally established on 4 April 1949.
  42. Canada, Implementation of the North Atlantic Treaty in Canada, Documents on Canadian External Relations, Volume 15, 1949. Vol. 15-349, 1 April 1949.
  43. Charles Foulkes, quoted in Jockel,p. 104.
  44. Government of Canada, Continental Air Defence - Extracts from Cabinet Conclusions, Vol. 25-12, 31 July 1957.
  45. Jockel,p. 107.
  46. John G. Diefenbaker, Prime Minister’s Statement to Meeting of NATO Heads of Governments in  Canada, Documents on Canadian External Relations, Volume 24, 1958 (Michael Stevenson (ed.), Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1997), Vol. 24-254, 16 December 1957.
  47. John G. Diefenbaker, quoted in Jockel,p. 117.

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