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

top secret

Subject: Atomic Activities at Goose Bay

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

Mr. Arneson called on the Canadian Ambassador at the former’s request on Thursday, April 12, 1951, 11 a. m. Mr. Arneson inquired [Page 812] whether, in the light of what the Ambassador had stated during the discussion on the previous Saturday, it would be fair to assume that in the event it was decided to deploy non-nuclear components to Goose Bay for storage in the near future this could be done even though the final arrangements had not been made on a notification and/or consultation procedure. The Ambassador responded that he was confident that if such a deployment were desired before final arrangements were made Canadian consent would be readily forthcoming. He hoped if such a request were put upon them, however, they would be given adequate advance notice through diplomatic channels. Mr. Arneson stated that he was very glad to have a positive response on this point and would, of course, endeavor to provide maximum prior notice.

Mr. Arneson told the Ambassador that since their last talk he had had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Secretary, the Deputy Under Secretary, and the Director of the Policy Planning Staff,1 and wished to confirm that the views he had expressed previously, both as regards the position concerning relations with the British in this matter as contained in the Joint Communiqué of December 8, 1950, and as regards how best to meet the problem of consultation with the Canadian Government. Briefly those views were as follows:

The only commitment we have to the British as regards consultation is contained in the Joint Communiqué of December 8, 1950. 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, which was approved by the President, represented the last and, therefore, authoritative statement in the matter.
The problem of consultation might best be met in a broader context of frequent exchanges of view on the developing world situation. 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 stage of general war with the Soviet Union. There was a wide spectrum of interpretation that could be given to the word “consult” and the United States could not accept an interpretation which was synonymous with, or bordered on, “consent.” The Congress had taken a very active interest in the question whether the United States had entered into any commitments with other countries which might 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.

[Page 813]

Mr. Arneson went on to say that study was being given in the Department as to whether a program of frequent examination of existing and prospective world situations might be worked out with the United Kingdom and Canada. While it was too early to know what the exact nature and scope of such a program might be, it would probably be preferable not to have the discussions tripartite in nature but rather to arrange for separate talks with Canada on the one hand and the United Kingdom on the other. In response to a question from the Ambassador, Mr. Arneson stated that it was clearly contemplated that such a program of consultation on existing and developing world situations would be through diplomatic channels with military participation as necessary or desirable.

The Ambassador said he could see how the foregoing would have a direct bearing on the general problem of the use of atomic weapons in war but he wondered how it related to the problem of preparatory activities at Goose Bay for purposes involving over-flight of Canada with atomic weapons and strikes from this base with atomic weapons in the event of war. Mr. Arneson stated that from the point of view of the United States Government it was hoped that Canada might be able to give consent to the use of Goose Bay for the purposes that had been indicated, subject to (a) maximum notification, and (b) frequent discussions as to estimates of existing and prospective world conditions which might or might not indicate the necessity for the use of atomic weapons. In connection with the latter point, Mr. Arneson explained that such discussions would be designed to provide ample opportunity for full appreciation of each other’s point of view, it being recognized of course that no estimates of the situation are likely to possess finality. The Ambassador stated that he could not himself see any difficulty arising in connection with a final decision as to use of Goose Bay for initial strikes with atomic weapons in the event of the outbreak of general war with the Soviet Union, particularly if this were brought about by the Soviets launching an atomic Pearl Harbor, or in other situations where it was clear that general war was inevitable. He felt that the greatest difficulty lay in prior deployments into Canadian territory of complete atomic weapons.

At this juncture, Mr. Ignatieff suggested that it might be useful if he were to draw up an initial paper setting forth the arrangements that might meet the points of view that had been expressed. The Ambassador agreed that this might be the best way to advance a solution to the problem. Mr. Arneson welcomed the suggestion, but emphasized the importance of keeping the matter fluid and on a quite informal basis for the present. He reminded the Ambassador that he would be out of town for a period of approximately ten days beginning on April 14 and suggested that if in this period the Ambassador [Page 814] felt further discussion was desirable or timely he might be in touch with Mr. Matthews to whom Mr. Arneson would report the views that had been expressed at this meeting.

In conclusion, the Ambassador stated that he had favored for some time a meeting between Secretary Acheson and Foreign Minister Pearson either in Ottawa or in Washington. It had not been convenient to arrange such a meeting in the past, but he hoped that there might be a number of things that could be usefully discussed between them and that such a meeting called ostensibly for other reasons might afford an opportunity for some finalization of arrangements on this subject. Among the reasons that might be cited for a meeting would be consultation prior to the convening of a CFM.

  1. Paul H. Nitze.