842.20 Defense/12–1746

Memorandum of Canadian-United States Defense Conversations Held in Ottawa in Suite “E” Chateau Laurier Hotel, December 16 and 17, 194623

top secret
Present: Canadian
Mr. L. B. Pearson, Undersecretary of State for External Affairs
Mr. Arnold Heeney, Clerk of the Privy Council
Mr. R. M. Macdonnell, Department of External Affairs24
Mr. Evan Gill, Cabinet Secretariat
Major-General Mann, Vice Chief of the General Staff
Commodore de Wolf
A/V/Marshal Curtis25
Mr. Mitchell Sharp, Department of Finance
Ambassador Atherton
Major-General Henry
Brig.-Gen. Lincoln
Rear-Admiral Carey Jones26
Capt. Anderson
Col. Van Devanter
Mr. J. G. Parsons, Dept. of State
Mr. George Kennan, Dept. of State
Mr. Edward A. Dow, Jr., American Embassy, Ottawa

I. General Concept of the Situation

A. Political

Mr. Pearson opened the meeting by referring to the working papers27 which had been prepared and circulated by the Canadians and [Page 69]by summarizing the first section, which dealt with the background and purposes of the meetings. He said that he thought the main point to be borne in mind was that the Canadian Cabinet had neither accepted nor rejected the Joint Appreciation28 prepared by the Military Cooperation Committee but desired to have the latest American views on the political and military aspects of potential threats to North American security and the steps regarded as essential to meet the situation.

Ambassador Atherton said that the Canadian memorandum28 was a most able document and in effect fully covered a number of the points which he had in mind, among which were that home security must be our first thought and that it is now necessary for us to consider not the probability of action on the part of a potential enemy but its possibility. It was clear that any enemy must endeavor to paralyze North American industrial production and if such an effort were made the reaction on our two peoples might be psychologically most important. In this connection there would be serious interference with the normal life of the people and there was the possibility of sabotage. In so far as concerned the timing of our defense measures, this could be either accelerated or decelerated in the light of any situation which might be found to exist. Finally, Mr. Atherton reviewed briefly the sequence of events beginning in 1934 when Mr. Baldwin29 had said, “The Rhine is our frontier”, at which time, however, the British Government did not even begin to take any adequate precautions. In 1935 an Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed in clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles and against the wishes of France. In 1937 a United States Government suggestion for the stockpiling of strategic raw materials was rejected by the British. Only in March 1939 was the first public announcement made in England of the intention to re-arm and only in 1940 was full armament commenced in Britain or, for that matter, in the United States. The Ambassador said that he hoped that this sorry sequence would never be repeated. In those years action was not taken because of fear of the reaction of the potential enemy. This should not occur again and with specific reference to the present problem it should be borne in mind that Russia had never hesitated to boast of her development of the Arctic and it seemed unnecessary for us to approach the problem of possible Russian reaction to our own Northern defense plans with undue hesitancy.

Mr. Pearson said that he did not feel that our basic appreciation of the situation should be changed because of such apparent fluctuations in Soviet policy as had recently been witnessed at the General Assembly meeting in New York.

[Page 70]

Mr. Kennan agreed that Soviet policy does not change basically, its elements always remaining the same. It was virtually certain that the Russians were not planning a direct attack but there was always the danger of a Russian misunderstanding or miscalculation of the situation which might lead to an outbreak of hostilities which did not form part of any long range plan. Mr. Kennan felt that our best policy was to “contain” Russian expansionism for so long a time that it would have to modify itself. This would require the utmost firmness and patience.

Mr. Kennan said that although once a decision had been made by the Kremlin there was no one in the Soviet Government or the Communist Party who could ever criticize it, yet there was a relatively moderate element in the Kremlin and we could best encourage the moderates by a policy of firmness rather than vacillation. In other words, we should place the moderates in a position to point out to Stalin31 the extent of our strength and the dangers of an aggressive Soviet policy. At the same time the extremist element in the Kremlin must not be given ammunition for arguments that we were attempting provocation. This could be exploited by the extremists who were certainly not above giving deliberately false information to Stalin. A firm and patient policy of “containment” pursued by us over a period of 10 or 15 years might well result in a frustration which would in itself lead to a period of peaceful policy on the part of Moscow.

Mr. Heeney indicated that in connection with Mr. Kennan’s last point, the Cabinet must be convinced that planning itself would not be provocative. At present the Cabinet was anxious to have as much civilian “cover” for defense projects as possible.

B. Military

General Lincoln said that peace-time planning was much more difficult than war-time planning but that the technique of strategy remained basically the same, starting with the estimate and proceeding through the capabilities of the potential enemy. This was a purely military approach but there was also the political intention to be considered. Russian expansion could no doubt be to some extent controlled by our military posture and here there were two “musts”:

We should continue to maintain those of our capabilities apparent to the world.
We should maintain the capability to undertake offensive action in case war comes.

If our “military posture” remained strong in this way, we might overcome many difficulties.

[Page 71]

Finally, said General Lincoln, the North American continent would inevitably take a certain amount of punishment in case of war. We could not secure total protection and must be prepared to take calculated risks.

Mr. Pearson mentioned that the United Kingdom might feel some concern lest North American defense be over emphasized to the detriment of overseas potential.

Mr. Atherton emphasized at this point that it was not being suggested that anything in the nature of a Maginot Line should be created in the north but that it would seem apparent that Canada and the United States could not go to anyone’s assistance either in the Middle East or elsewhere unless the Arctic were secure. The voter in the United States at least would make this politically impossible.

General Henry, agreeing with General Lincoln that there was no rigidity about our plans, added that one must appreciate the position of the Canadian Government on these questions. In his view there was no serious threat of war within five or six years. The interceptor plan, for example, was being broken down into stages. If they were all carried out at once it would be very expensive but what is being planned for the next three or four years should prove no great drain on the Canadian treasury and at the end of that time a new appreciation of the situation would certainly be made.

Mr. Pearson pointed out that the entire problem was of far greater internal political importance in Canada than in the United States.

General Lincoln said that there was no borderline between the offensive and the defensive in total warfare of the future and victory could only be obtained by the offensive. There would be constant fluctuations in the estimate of the situation and we must maintain flexibility in planning and avoid rigidity in thinking, particularly with respect to the time element. For the present, he said, the United States considered the present appreciation to be basic and sound but the entire situation was subject to periodic, probably annual, re-estimate.

Captain Anderson said that there was a two-and-one-quarter to four-year time lag in creating adequate security measures and the main point we should strive for was to try to minimize this time lag. He fully agreed that the whole plan was subject to new review and re-estimate.

General Henry referred to paragraphs 2, 22, 23, 25 and 26 of the Outline of the Basic Security plan.32 He stressed that the potential enemy would have additional initial capabilities by 1950 but that in the short-term future his capabilities were more or less limited, a fact of which we must take advantage. With respect to the December 11 [Page 72]memorandum33 by the Military Cooperation Committee, General Henry stressed paragraphs 1, 3, 4 and 5 (a and c). For long-range planning, therefore, the Committee recommended, 1) prompt initiation of an accelerated research program with emphasis on radar research; 2) maintenance of certain vital existing airfields; 3) immediate accomplishment of air surveys; 4) establishment of appropriate training schools with provision for exchange of students; 5) continuation of present RCAF mapping program; 6) gradual development of weather coverage of the Arctic; 7) initiation of Loran program.

It was agreed that there was no substantial difference between the viewpoint of the Canadian and United States representatives as to the objectives of the Soviet Union and as to the effect on Soviet foreign policy of joint North American defense measures.

II. “Civilianizing” of Defense Projects

The Canadians expressed the view that there were advantages in providing a civilian “cover” for at least some of the defense projects in their early stages, air warning research, mapping and weather coverage being mentioned. The U.S. side felt that this was primarily a Canadian problem but that such “cover” could probably be provided in certain cases, although it would tend to complicate the problem in most fields.

It was agreed that there might be advantages to carrying out certain of the earlier parts of the projected program under civilian auspices and that whenever this was practicable the U.S. would cooperate to that end.

III. Sharing of Costs

There was some general discussion under this heading as to the desirability of formulating a definite policy on cost-sharing at present, Mr. Sharp urging the exploring of the possibility of an agreed principle and Mr. Parsons stating that the U.S. State Department felt that this might be difficult and premature at the moment. During discussion, it was pointed out that radar and other research offered no real problem inasmuch as both countries were working on parallel but purely national lines and that a considerable problem would arise with regard, for example, to the maintenance of such airfields as might be intended for heavy bombing. The Canadians indicated that they might wish to follow the policy of providing land and buildings at their expense.

It was agreed that while no definite principles should be set down at present as regards cost-sharing, annual programs for joint plans should be examined jointly by the appropriate financial authorities of [Page 73]both countries and that they should make joint recommendations on the allocation of expenses as between governments. It was suggested that a “Joint Finance Committee” could appropriately be set up for this purpose.

IV. Goose Bay

Colonel Van Devanter read from a prepared statement, the substance of which was that the most probable route of approach to North America included Iceland, Greenland and the line Newfoundland–Labrador–Eastern Canada, the latter portion of which was only about 1200 miles from the main continental industrial centers. Goose Bay was considered to be the only suitable base for very heavy bombardment groups and in fact could be said to be the most important all-round strategic air base in the western hemisphere.

During the ensuing discussion Mr. Pearson and Mr. Heeney referred to the desirability for political reasons of emphasizing the training side of the Goose Bay project, although Mr. Parsons pointed out that Goose Bay was intended for offensive purposes. He added that it was a “facility in being” and there were evident advantages to be derived from this fact.

Mr. Pearson said that regardless of the general question of how far the U.K. should be brought into the Canadian–American discussions it would be essential to discuss the disposition of Goose Bay with the U.K., as Canada was only a limited lessee there.

It was agreed that there was urgency with respect to the basing of a VHB group at Goose Bay and that a very preliminary discussion should be held immediately in Ottawa between certain of those present at the meeting and the United Kingdom High Commissioner to Canada.

V. Publication and Registration of Joint Defense Board’s Recommendation of November 20, 1946

Several of the Canadians present, including Mr. Pearson, stated that as soon as Parliament reconvened it was almost inevitable that questions would be asked of the Government concerning the status of joint defense planning and in any event the Government would certainly have to reply to such questions during examination in Parliamentary Committee of the Defense Budget estimates. It was possible that publication of the November 20 Recommendation might tend to ward off detailed questions and in other ways minimize publicity which it was impossible to avoid entirely. At the same time there were of course disadvantages in publication.

Mr. Parsons said that the United States State Department would prefer on the whole that there should be no publication either of the [Page 74]Recommendation or of its substance although the Department recognized the Canadian Government’s difficulties.

Various suggestions were made by several present, including one that publication of any statement should be accompanied by an emphasis of the provisos to the original 35th Recommendation of the Board,34 while Ambassador Atherton suggested that the solution might be a statement not quoting the Recommendation textually but containing something close to it. A copy might then be sent for information purposes to the Secretariat of the United Nations.

It was agreed that it would be preferable not to publish the Recommendation itself if only because any suggestion of making a practice of publishing Recommendations might seriously hamper their drafting. There was general agreement in favor of the issuance of an agreed statement containing the substance of the Recommendation, referring to past defense cooperation arising naturally from the Ogdensburg Declaration and to the UN relationship. A copy of the statement would then be sent to the United Nations Secretariat. It was agreed that it would be unnecessary to register any such statement formally with UN.

With respect to the formalization of the two Governments’ decisions to cooperate in the defense of North America it was agreed that this might best be accomplished by following the normal procedure of an exchange of letters between the Canadian and United States sections of the Permanent Joint Board which would notify acceptance by their respective governments of the Recommendation of November 20.

VI. Position of UK in Connection with Canadian–US Defense Plans

Mr. Pearson invited the attention of those present in this connection to the Canadian memorandum of December 635 on the subject and emphasized paragraph 6 thereof which states that in the recent conversations between the Prime Minister and President Truman it was agreed that it was to the interests of both the United States and Canada that the UK Government be kept informed of Canadian-United States joint planning. Mr. Pearson said that the United States representatives on the Joint Board apparently had had no objection to informing the U.K. in general terms of what was being done but that details should be transmitted only in matters in which cooperation with the U.K. was essential.

It was brought out in the discussion that information transmitted to the U.K. would normally be passed on to the various Dominion [Page 75]governments, although it seemed probable that if the U.K. were asked not to transmit information on any specific subject she would not do so.

It was agreed that no effort should be made at present to arrive at any formal or hard and fast agreement on the subject of informing the U.K. but that the policy should normally be followed of keeping the U.K. informed in general terms and not in detail, except in those matters in which U.K. cooperation was essential.

Conclusion of Meeting. Before the meeting concluded certain of the American representatives stated that in connection with questions which had arisen during the meeting concerning the existence of a geographical limit to which the Russian expansionist policy could be permitted to proceed, the United States Government did have in mind certain specific limits but although they could be expressed geographically they should not be considered on a purely geographical basis since ethical considerations also entered into the matter. It was pointed out, for example, that in the case of the entry of troops into certain areas it would be necessary to consider whether this was or was not being done in contradiction to the wishes of the nation affected.

It was decided that a few of those present would remain behind after the meeting in order to discuss with Sir Alexander Clutterbuck, United Kingdom High Commissioner to Canada, the question of Goose Bay in a preliminary manner in view of the unusual opportunity offered by the presence in Ottawa of several of those concerned with the problem.

Edward A. Dow, Jr.
  1. Prepared by the Second Secretary, U.S. Embassy in Canada, Mr. Edward A. Dow, Jr.
  2. Mr. Macdonnell was also Secretary, Canadian Section, Permanent Joint Board on Defense.
  3. Air Vice Marshal Wilfred A. Curtis, Air Member for Air Staff and Senior RCAF member, Permanent Joint Board on Defense.
  4. Senior U.S. Navy member, Permanent Joint Board on Defense.
  5. None printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister, 1923–24, 1924–29, 1935–37.
  9. Generalissimo Iosif V. Stalin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union.
  10. Not printed.
  11. Not printed.
  12. For text, see footnote 5, p. 56.
  13. Not printed.