Memorandum of Conversation, by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State (Arneson)1

top secret

Subject: Atomic Activities at Goose Bay2

Participants: The Canadian Ambassador, Hume Wrong
George Ignatieff, Canadian Embassy3
R. Gordon Arneson, S/AE, Department of State

Mr. Arneson called on the Canadian Ambassador at the latter’s request at the Embassy on Saturday, April 7, 1951, 11:30 a. m. The Ambassador said that he had now heard from his Government concerning the problem of Goose Bay which Mr. Arneson had put to him some weeks before. The communication he had received was from Mr. A. D. P. Heeney, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, which he was instructed to pass on to me orally. The substance of the Canadian views is as follows:

The Canadians have no difficulty in agreeing to any preparatory work that needs to be done at Goose Bay to put it in readiness for [Page 810] Strategic Air Command activities, up to and including the preparation of storage facilities and the deployment to Goose Bay of non-nuclear components. The Canadians are quite prepared to have these activities handled on a regular interservice basis. The handling of the nuclear cores is, however, another matter. The Canadians do not feel that the deployment and storage of cores or complete weapons should be permitted on a routine interservice basis.

In three situations involving nuclear cores, namely, storage of cores at Goose Bay, over-flight of Canada with complete weapons or nuclear cores alone, and strikes with atomic weapons taking off from Goose Bay, the Canadians feel they should be consulted through civil channels. It was suggested that the channel should be from the State Department to the Canadian Ambassador, who in turn would be in touch with the Minister of External Affairs or the Prime Minister.

The Canadians are anxious that whatever procedures are established they occasion no delay in the event speedy action is required. In case of an atomic Pearl Harbor it is recognized that the United States would have no choice but to move immediately, and it was the Canadian Ambassador’s view that his Government would not wish in any way to obstruct the prompt carrying out of retaliatory strikes.

The Canadian Ambassador, reading from his communication from Under Secretary Heeney, suggested that an exchange of notes on this subject might well tie the arrangements in to the obligations that have been assumed by the NATO countries to the general effect that each has a common obligation to assist the United States in carrying out its strategic air operations and that member nations should lend appropriate facilities to this end.

The Canadian Ambassador had apparently gained the impression from private talks with Sir Oliver Franks that the British Prime Minister feels that he has a commitment from President Truman for consultation on the use of atomic weapons. In response to this assertion, Mr. Arneson stated that the commitment we have to the British is contained in the Joint Communiqué of December 8, 1950.4 Whatever might have passed between the President and the Prime Minister in private talks prior to the issuance of the Joint Communiqué, the language of that document represented the last and, therefore, the authoritative statement on the matter. Mr. Arneson went on to say that the British had been interested in learning more about our strategic plans and that the appropriate authorities in the United States had been able to meet their wishes in this regard. After the Truman-Attlee [Page 811] talks, Slessor had come over and in discussions with General Bradley had been given an appreciation of U.S. strategic plans. The Department of State understood that these talks had been satisfactory to the British. Mr. Arneson expressed the personal view that the problem of consultation might best be met in a broader context of frequent exchanges of view on the developing world situation, that the crucial question was not the use or non-use of atomic weapons per se but whether a situation was developing or had developed which foreshadowed or had brought about a state of general war with the Soviet Union. He felt that there was a wide spectrum of interpretation that could be given to the word “consult” and he was confident that the United States could not accept an interpretation which was synonymous with, or bordered on, “consent.” It was pointed out that the Congress has taken a very active interest in the question whether the United States has entered into any commitments with other countries which would serve in any way to delay the implementation of a decision by the President that atomic weapons should be used. It would seem that the most fruitful line of exploration would not be on the narrow question of use or non-use of atomic weapons but whether means could be found whereby Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States could be in frequent touch with each other as to general world developments vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

The Ambassador said that if the United States found any real difficulty in going along with the line that had been suggested to him by his Government, he would suggest that the most expeditious way of moving the matter forward might be for discussions to be had between the Secretary of State and the Minister of External Affairs.5 Mr. Arneson stated that he would, of course, discuss the Canadian views with the Secretary and Mr. Matthews as soon as possible and be in touch again during the following week.

  1. R. Gordon Arneson was Special Assistant to the Secretary for Atomic Energy Affairs.
  2. The Royal Canadian Air Force Station at Goose Bay, Labrador, had been used by U.S. forces since its construction during World War ii. Negotiations were in progress in 1951 for the United States to lease portions of the base; see vol. ii, pp. 870 ff.
  3. George Ignatieff, Counselor, Canadian Embassy.
  4. For the text of the Joint Communiqué of December 8, 1950, issued by President Truman and Prime Minister Attlee, see Department of State Bulletin, December 18, 1950, pp. 959–961. Documentation on the conversations between Truman and Attlee, December 4—8, 1950, may be found in Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. iii, pp. 1698 ff.
  5. Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson.