842.20 Defense/8–2846

The Ambassador in Canada (Atherton) to the Secretary of State

No. 4303

Sir: I have the honor to report that debate in the House of Commons on national defense in connection with the estimates of the three Canadian Service Departments served to confirm the impression we have received from officials of the Canadian Government, from private individuals, and from the press, to the effect that Canada recognizes that she is confronted with the necessity for a major reorientation of her defense policy, that she is determined to carry out that reorientation, but that she will not act hastily.1

As seen from Canada, Soviet Russia is the only conceivable aggressor in the foreseeable future. If aggression takes place, it is anticipated that the first blow will be struck at the heartland and arsenal of democracy, the United States, and that Canada lying between the U.S.S.R. and the United States will inevitably be struck simultaneously. Inevitably, therefore, Canada must look first and primarily to the United States for assistance in defending herself. To do so causes a wrench at the heartstrings and requires a complete reorientation of Canadian military thinking which prior to the war looked to Britain for guidance and aid. Such a complete reorientation cannot be accomplished in a day, nor can it be accomplished without sincere misgivings … The northern frontier, nevertheless, is vast, and there is a growing realization that Canada cannot alone undertake the enormous expenditures necessary to its defense. A recent survey made by the Financial Post of Toronto among military men, authorities on international affairs and publicists indicated that a large majority advised immediate and full acceptance of aid from the United States in development of Arctic defense. As found by the poll, the general opinion was that the task of fortifying the vast Arctic frontier was far beyond Canadian resources. Even George Black, Member of Parliament from the Yukon who is not usually favorably inclined toward the United States, [Page 54]was one of those who favored acceptance of help from the United States in Arctic defense.

From our conversations we are convinced beyond question that the Prime Minister2 realizes the necessity of joint planning and eventual standardization of training and equipment, but that he is using his traditional caution in approaching the subject. That the bulk of his Cabinet and all of the Service Chiefs of Staff go along with him seems from our conversations to be also beyond question. Some want to move faster than others, but all seek the same end, that is, the security of Canada under the United Nations in cooperation with the United States without detriment, if possible, to Canada’s position as a member of the British Commonwealth. There is a deepseated hope that some means can be found to bring the British Commonwealth into the picture, but there is no present tendency to make that a sine qua non to integration with the United States. Canadians loyal to the Commonwealth idea find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They realize the necessity for joining with the United States in defense of this continent, yet they fear such action may lead eventually to withdrawal of Canada from the Commonwealth. There remain some members of the Cabinet who are of this group and who are still skeptical of the intentions of the United States. The convictions of these men are so patently honest that the Prime Minister seems unwilling to ride rough shod over their objections. It seems to me that if some way can be found to allay the suspicions of this element and to assure to Canada that joint defense with the United States will not lead to withdrawal from the Commonwealth our path would be much easier. This must be done, however, I believe, at the very highest level.

In the matter of defense as in other fields, the Canadian Government hopes desperately that it will not have to choose between the United States and the British Commonwealth. This was evident in the remarks made by Douglas Abbott, Minister of National Defense, Army and Navy, during the debate when he said:

“We should like to see standardization of equipment between our forces, those of our neighbor to the south, and those of the other members of the Commonwealth. Naturally, as a junior partner we are not in a position to initiate such a move, but we can do everything in our power to encourage it, and that is what we intend to do. Considerable headway has been made along those lines. I cannot conceive of any war we would be fighting in which Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, would be fighting on opposite sides, and therefore it is pretty self-evident that we all have an interest in standardizing equipments far as possible in order that the industrial potentials of our countries may be available one to another.”

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And when the naval estimates came up, on the subject of naval cooperation, he said that Canadian policy envisaged

“a relatively small but modern navy of ships of the most modern type, capable of operating in close cooperation, if needed, with either the British Navy; or the Navy of the United States. … At the present time the equipment is British type. There is no indication that that will change in the near future, but that does not mean that the Navy cannot operate in the closest possible cooperation with the United States Navy. . . . . We will endeavor to assure that the closest possible relations exist between our Navy and that of the United Kingdom and our great ally to the south.”

Except for Tommy Church, the ultra Tory Member from Toronto, and a back bench left-wing, C.C.F.er, these statements of the Minister of National Defense caused no dissenting voice in the House of Commons. There was evidence in the House, and I am told there has been similar evidence in Committee meetings, of a desire of members to know more about the Permanent Joint Board on Defense3 and about cooperation with the United States in defense matters, but no indication at any stage of opposition to the measures being taken by the Government.

I think it is safe to say, therefore, that … we may expect slow but steady progress toward that integration of our defense systems which seems so essential to the defense of the North American continent. Our requests will not be granted until we have justified them, nor will they be granted with the rapidity that was evident under the stresses of war, but they will be given unprejudiced consideration, and where we can offer convincing evidence of the necessity of a project, I believe we may count upon the full cooperation of the Canadian Government and the people.

Respectfully yours,

Ray Atherton
  1. A summary of the debate, which took place on August 19 and 23, was enclosed but is not printed here.
  2. W. L. Mackenzie King.
  3. This body was provided for by the Ogdensburg Declaration, August 18, 1940, issued jointly by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King; the text of the Declaration is printed in the Department of State Bulletin, August 24, 1940, p. 154. For information on the activities of the Board, see Stanley W. Dziuban, Military Relations Between the United States and Canada, 1939–1945, in the official Army history United States Army in World War II: Special Studies (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1959), pp. 31–54.