Charron on Goette, 'Sovereignty and Command in Canada-US Continental Air Defence, 1940-57'

Richard Goette
Andrea Charron

Richard Goette. Sovereignty and Command in Canada-US Continental Air Defence, 1940-57. Studies in Canadian Military History Series. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018. Illustrations. xvii + 290 pp. $89.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7748-3687-6.

Reviewed by Andrea Charron (University of Manitoba) Published on H-Diplo (March, 2019) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

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Richard Goette’s book is clearly a labor of love. Goette is a historian and airpower expert, and this book represents a deep dive into the decisions and debates between 1940 and 1957 that created the command and control (C2) architecture of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) (now North American Aerospace Defense Command). The foreword is written by former deputy-NORAD commander Pierre St. Amand.

Goette’s first chapter wrestles with definitions, especially for C2. This points immediately to the audience for this book: airpower enthusiasts and defense experts. And although marketed as a book for military historians, because NORAD is currently experimenting with new C2 arrangements to ensure it remains ahead of threats, past concerns and issues explored by Goette are relevant.

A professor at the Canadian Forces College (CFC), Goette’s explanation of C2 is outlined clearly. He does an admirable job of navigating the indistinctness created by evolving doctrines and geopolitics. “Definitions of command and control principles,” after all, “were still evolving in the 1940-57 period, and military personnel often used terms such as ‘control’ and ‘command’ interchangeably” (p. 18). Goette clearly explains that command is tied to the authority given to an individual over personnel, assets, administration, training, and discipline. I find it helpful to think of command in hierarchical or vertical terms. Thus command is “the authority vested in an individual of the armed forces for the direction, co-ordination and control of military forces” (p. 22). The individual, Goette notes, is essential, and the book illustrates this via a description using rich quotations of the influence of particular commanders and bureaucrats who helped shape the eventual architecture. For example, there is a wonderful quip by Canadian major general Maurice Pope, chairman of the Canadian Joint Staff Mission in Washington and the Canadian Army member of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense (PJBD): “To the American, the defence of the United States is continental defence, which includes us, and nothing that I can think of will ever drive that idea out of their heads” (p. 106).

If command is a vertical concept, control is the horizontal element. Always subordinate to command, control “focus[es] on a commander’s use of forces for operational and tactical purposes” (p. 22). Thus, if command is about the vision/strategy to be achieved, control is about its execution.

The source of Canada’s national command is the Crown devolved via the chain of command and codified and safeguarded in legal texts (for example, the 1985 National Defence Act) and plans. Therefore, highlighting how various Canada-US committees, boards, and doctrines were struck and penned to clarify and edify command is vital. A major contribution of this book to the literature is its chronicling of the decisions of the PJBD and its subcommittee, the Canada-US Military Cooperation Committee (MCC), as well as others. One of the first plans discussed in the book is the joint Canadian-United States Basic Defence Plan dubbed the “Black Plan” dated October 10, 1940 (p. 75). It was apocalyptic in its assumptions based on the strategic scenario of British defeat in World War II and a major Axis assault on North America. Goette’s descriptions of these plans and the working processes of the various committees are even and fair as he notes both Canadian and US compromises.

C2 is relatively straightforward to navigate and describe within a single unit or force but what Goette explains is how C2 was negotiated between Canada and the US, both with different ideas and doctrines, in the most perilous of times along a continuum from a mutual cooperation-unity of command compromise, to integrated and centralized air defense arrangements, to eventually a binational C2 structure. The title of the book suggests that control is of less significance than are command and sovereignty. Indeed, the thesis of Goette’s book can be summarized as follows: so long as national command of Canadian assets and personnel is maintained, Canadian sovereignty is assured. There is an irony in this conclusion, however, as Goette’s analysis often highlights how, like a big elephant in the room, the US concern for Axis and then Soviet intentions and capabilities dictated the strategic continental defense expectations, which limited Canadian assets struggled to match. Therefore, Canadian sovereignty and command preoccupations were driven by the US need to protect itself and, by extension, Canada, coupled with Canada’s struggle to meet those demands and ensure that US commanders respected Canadian rules of engagement, such as when intercepting or engaging hostile aircraft—a control issue.

Implicit in Goette’s argument is that the US is the source of Canadian sovereignty concerns, whereas I could also read the opposite: that in fact, limited Canadian resources and reticence to allow US help on Canadian soil because of Canadian “Janowitzian” social/political concerns were to blame.[1] In other words, I wonder if Canadian sovereignty concerns were not Canadian constructed ones. Both lines of argument are rich with consequences and I would urge the CFC to translate Goette’s chapter 1 outlining the definitions and civil-military relations theory into French immediately: this chapter alone is a must-read primer for all military members and defense experts.

Not being a historian but a political scientist, I was particularly drawn to the themes and trends that reoccur throughout the book and that continue to persist today. For example, Goette notes US sensitivity to Canadian sovereignty concerns. The US is often portrayed as a tone-deaf bully vis-à-vis Canada (especially lately), but Goette outlines US patience and appreciation for Canada’s particular political dilemma that was the US. For example, Goette outlines the rather perverse situation in 1952 when Canada was unable to defend fully its newly acquired province of Newfoundland because it had deployed twelve fighter squadrons to Europe to fulfill North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) obligations and had no assets left to redistribute without leaving vulnerable “critical areas” of Canada (p. 160). The US Air Force, therefore, deployed US Northeast Command interceptors to Goose Bay to protect against air attacks. To satisfy Canadians, the US Northeast Command forces were referred to as a special “adjunct” to the Canada-US air defense systems. This, of course, occurred at a time when the Korean War was raging, and when the USSR had detonated its first atomic bomb (in 1949) four years ahead of intelligence estimates and any Soviet attack on vital centers in eastern North America would come via the air approaches to Newfoundland.

The above anecdote also points to another theme: the NATO-NORAD nexus and priority. Today, NATO and NORAD are thought of as completely separate, albeit analogous because of their defense mandates. While NATO gets more press coverage and attention, NORAD is the more important alliance (at least for Canada). Canada, however, often defended greater cooperation with the US to defend North America as an extension of NATO commitments, which were formerly considered a higher priority. How interesting then to see that today NATO-NORAD geographic seams and jurisdictional gaps are being revisited by NATO and NORAD. Whereas Canada can be faulted for conflating NATO and NORAD for political ends sixty years ago, today both states have overlooked the importance of their complementary strategic end goals.

The extent to which Canada has always been the accelerator and brake of the Canada-US defense relationship is another interesting theme that Goette raises. For example, he describes how Canadian airmen stressed that an agreement between Canada and the US should give the commanders of each nation’s air defense command blanket permission to reinforce one another in an emergency. And yet, in 2006, Canada agreed only to add maritime warning to NORAD’s existing aerospace warning and control mission suite post 9/11 when the binational agreement was signed in perpetuity.[2]

Given the rich material Goette provides in this book, he is the ideal candidate to write a future biography of the PJBD. Via his description of its work and compromise among members, the PJBD strikes me as having been a binational committee par excellence from the beginning—so singularly focused were the members on solving the C2 problematic for North America. Sadly, today, I think the PJBD can only be described as moribund. 

With Goette’s excellent book and Joseph Jockel’s Canada in NORAD 1957-2007: A History (2007), we have a much better appreciation for how NORAD came to be and has evolved. The next book, naturally, needs to consider NORAD from 2007 onward.


[1]. Morris Janowitz was a civil-military expert and founder of the Armed Forces & Society peer-reviewed journal. Goette often refers in the book to the Canadian military officers’ Janowitzian need to appreciate the political and societal implications and consequences of military affairs.

[2]. NORAD Agreement,

Citation: Andrea Charron. Review of Goette, Richard, Sovereignty and Command in Canada-US Continental Air Defence, 1940-57. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. March, 2019. URL:

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