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

top secret

Subject: Atomic Activities at Goose Bay

Participants: Mr. A. D. P. Heeney, Under Secretary of State
Mr. N. A. Robertson, Secretary to the Cabinet in the Office of the Privy Council
Mr. R. A. MacKay, Director, Defense Liaison Division, Department of External Affairs
Mr. James George, Secretary of the Advisory Panel on Atomic Energy, Department of External Affairs
Mr. George Ignatieff, First Secretary,1 Canadian Embassy
Mr. R. Gordon Arneson, S/AE, Department of State

Mr. Arneson met with the above named Canadian officials at their request on Saturday morning, May 12, in Mr. Heeney’s office. In order to place the problem in proper focus, Mr. Arneson recalled that a decision by the United States to use atomic weapons could be made only by the President. He pointed out further that it had become established practice for Presidential authorization to be secured before non-nuclear and/or nuclear components could be turned over by the Atomic Energy Commission to the Department of Defense whether for training purposes or for strategic deployment. In making such decisions the President, [Page 830] as a matter of established procedure, obtained the advice and recommendations of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Mr. Heeney was glad to have these facts confirmed.

The discussion turned to the question of a “canopy” arrangement. Mr. Heeney stated that in considering this problem his people had thought it might be useful if the Canadians could now give assurance that in the event of one clear contingency, namely a Soviet armed attack on any part of the North American continent, Canada would be prepared to have the United States use Goose Bay for retaliatory atomic strikes without any requirement for prior consultation or even notification if this proved impractical. Mr. Arneson stated that this point of view was very helpful and would seem to represent a self-evident position. He inquired, however, whether it was not equally logical to expect that Canada would be prepared to have Goose Bay used for atomic strikes in the event the United States decided such action was called for as a result of an armed Soviet attack on one or more of the NATO countries. Mr. Heeney felt that Canada should be able to agree now that in such a contingency the United States should be able to proceed without delay to use Goose Bay for such purposes. Mr. Arneson then inquired what view the Canadian authorities would take toward an additional identifiable contingency, namely Soviet armed attack on U.S. forces wherever situated. Mr. Heeney stated that this would pose very grave political difficulties for the Canadian Government. He felt that if Canada were asked to agree now to the use of Goose Bay for atomic activities in such a contingency, the answer would necessarily be “no.” He felt that it would be in the common interest of the two countries not to put such a question in terms of asking for a clear cut answer. This led Mr. Arneson to raise the question whether an attempt to specify categories in clear terms might prove to be the wrong way to approach the problem. He expressed the view that a more fruitful avenue might bo to employ the vehicle of periodic discussions between the Canadian Ambassador in Washington and appropriate officials in the Department directed toward a mutual examination of developing world situations as the means of giving meaning and content to the term “consultation”. If, in frequent discussions of this sort, the two Governments were able to secure a mutual appreciation of the thinking of the other, would this not go a long way toward meeting the Canadian desire to be consulted in these matters, while at the same time avoiding the danger inherent in trying to spell out with precision the various contingencies and variations thereon in which Canada would be prepared or not to grant prior permission to use Goose Bay? Mr. [Page 831] Heeney apparently had not thought of the suggested discussions in quite these terms and rather hesitated to comment. Mr. Robertson, however, supported the suggestion made by Mr. Arneson, pointing out that he hoped that it would be possible to avoid a situation where the United States would be asking for prior consent such as in the example given, namely a Soviet attack on U.S. troops wherever situated, which could only result in a negative answer from the Canadians. He felt that the way out of this difficulty would lie in using the discussion mechanism as a means of bringing the collective thinking of the two Governments together on current and continuing appraisals of world situations as they might give rise to a decision concerning the use of atomic weapons. He felt that discussions of the sort proposed would go a long way toward reassuring the Canadian Government on the question of consultation.

Concerning the procedures to be followed in the suggested discussions, Mr. Arneson stated that he hoped that the Canadian representatives could agree that the discussions be held on a bilateral basis. He said it was the view of the Department that this would be the most useful way to proceed. While it was recognized that the Canadians had a tentative preference for a tripartite arrangement, the United States hoped that Canada would not feel it necessary to insist on this point. Mr. Heeney responded that while their initial preference had been for a tripartite discussion, he was sure that Canada would be quite willing to accede to U.S. wishes in this matter. It was left that the possibility of eventual tripartite talks should not be precluded but that in any event the talks should be initiated on a bilateral basis. For their part, the Canadians intended to have Hume Wrong represent them without any other official present. Mr. Arneson stated that the most logical person on the U.S. side would in all probability be Mr. Nitze, although both the Secretary and the Deputy Under Secretary, Mr. Matthews, would be available and would be glad to sit in from time to time as might be desirable. It was evident from the discussion that the Canadians would hope that such talks would be arranged on a periodic basis, say for example once a week. They were particularly anxious that their Ambassador not be placed in the position of having to ask for such meetings. Mr. Arneson stated that he was confident that every effort would be made to hold such discussions on a regular basis although in his own mind it seemed more important that the discussions be as frequent as developing circumstances might require; although if Canada preferred regularity, he was confident this could be worked out and that an invitation would be extended to the Ambassador in the near future.

Mr. Arneson stated that he had been rather puzzled by what appeared to be a rather sharp distinction in Canadian thinking between [Page 832] problems of deployment and/or over-flight of Canada with non-nuclear components on the one hand and nuclear components on the other. He inquired what the basis for such distinction might be. Mr. Heeney stated that they looked upon the deployment of nuclear components as perhaps an indication that the world temperature was rising. Mr. Arneson stated that he thought there were some technical considerations involved which might help to put this aspect of the matter in perspective. There was more inherent danger to life and property in the jettisoning of the non-nuclear component than in the case of the nuclear cores. If it were necessary to jettison a non-nuclear component, standard operating procedures called for a detonation in midair at an altitude which would be relatively harmless although windowpanes in the surrounding countryside would be broken. On the other hand, nuclear components were by themselves inherently non-dangerous. In the event of a malfunctioning of an aircraft carrying a nuclear component, there was no danger that the nuclear core would explode. Under present procedures, the Air Force would never overfly friendly territory with a completed weapon. . . .

Mr. Arneson hoped that the Canadians would be able to make a clear distinction in their thinking between preparatory action involving deployment of non-nuclear and/or nuclear components on the one hand and a decision to use atomic weapons on the other. He pointed out that it may be decided from a technical point of view that it would make more sense to have completed weapons deployed than the non-nuclear components alone. … The argument has been made that non-nuclears should not be deployed alone but that it would be desirable to have both parts of the weapon stored together at any given location. He wished to stress this essentially technical argument because in the event that a decision were taken by the President in this direction it should be recognized that a deployment of nuclear cores would not necessarily bear any direct relation to U.S. estimates of the imminence of the need to use them. Mr. Heeney expressed considerable interest in this explanation and stated that he recognized the force of the argument.

From the hour and a half discussion the following tentative conclusions were reached.

  • 1. Informal discussions should be initiated as soon as possible between appropriate officials in the Department of State and the Canadian Ambassador designed to examine on a continuing basis the respective appreciations of the two Governments of developing world situations as they bear upon the question whether general war is imminent and whether decisions must be taken to use atomic weapons. It was agreed that such talks should be on a bilateral basis and that it would be desirable that they be held regularly, say once a week, [Page 833] with provision for ad hoc emergency meetings if circumstances required.
  • 2. That the United States would continue to use the diplomatic channel for informing Canada of any proposed action to over-fly Canada with non-nuclear and/or nuclear components and to store non-nuclear and/or nuclear components at Goose Bay.
  • 3. An attempt at this time to spell out with particularity contingencies in which Canada could now consent to the use of Goose Bay for atomic strikes did not appear to be a fruitful approach. While not precluding the possibility that this might be done in the future, it would be better to initiate the discussions indicated in 1 above to see whether such discussions might provide an appropriate method and degree of consultation concerning possible contingencies while avoiding a negative Canadian response, if pressed now to give advance approval for the use of Goose Bay for atomic strikes in those contingencies which the Canadians do not presently regard as clearly calling for atomic retaliation.

  1. Counselor, Canadian Embassy.