No. 939
Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Perkins) to the Secretary of State1

  • Subject: Joint defense arrangements with Canada in connection with USAF world-wide communications network
[Page 2026]


In May 1951, the Canadian Prime Minister announced a new policy—that the Canadian Government would not grant the United States any further leases in Canada for defense purposes.2 The Canadians indicated, however, that there would be no difficulty in permitting the United States to use and develop a Canadian installation if that were necessary for joint defense or for NATO purposes. This attitude reflects the sensitivity of the Canadian Government with respect to its sovereignty and its fear of adverse public reaction to the stationing of large numbers of United States troops in Canada.

The Canadian objections to the 99-year leases in Newfoundland had already been made known and Canada’s reluctance to enter into further long-term agreements was understandable to us. The United States has not challenged the Canadian position of no further leases in view of the assurance that Canada would continue to cooperate in making land available as long as necessary for joint defense.


In the early part of 1951 the United States sought the Canadian Government’s approval for the erection by the USAF of radio towers at Harmon Air Force Base, Newfoundland, and at Goose Bay, Labrador. It was necessary to ask the Canadian Government to make available small parcels of land for towers located away from existing base areas. The installations to be built in Canada will be an important arm of the world-wide communications network to enable the Strategic Air Command of the USAF to fulfill its obligations under the NATO plans. The Canadian Services recognize the need for the installations.

After long delays and negotiations, the Canadian Government revealed in November 1951 a policy which went far beyond the Prime Minister’s previous statement. The land for the radio installations would be provided but only on condition that Canada have the unilateral right to terminate the agreement and to cause the United States to evacuate on twelve months’ notice.3

[Page 2027]

The sudden realization by Canadian Government officials of the magnitude of the United States defense build-up in the Far North, plus a number of minor irritations caused by the U.S. Armed Services, are believed to have contributed to an element of concern on the part of the Canadian Prime Minister, Defense Minister Claxton and Foreign Minister Pearson which led to adoption of the new restrictive policy.

Unilateral termination on twelve months’ notice of joint defense projects is not acceptable to us. Such a policy would create great difficulties for military planning and requests by the Pentagon for appropriations from Congress. It could retard our efforts to build up hemisphere defense and handicap the discharge of our NATO obligations. The matter is important since such a settlement with Canada could establish a precedent for facilities to be provided by a number of other NATO countries.

During the past year, we have been disturbed by a tendency for Canada to whittle away the terms granted the United States for military projects, apparently with a view to reducing these to the lowest possible common denominator. The present Canadian proposal, we feel, might have such grave consequences by way of precedent that it should not be accepted. It is possible that the Pentagon may feel it is so vital to have the communications system installed this year that this should override the value of having our arrangements with Canada kept on a basis of mutual determination.

The language proposed on both sides for an agreement between the two countries is given as Tab A.4


Since our Chargé at Ottawa, Don Bliss, raised the communications facilities question with Mr. Pearson on two occasions last week, Mr. Pearson may initiate its discussion.5 If so, it is recommended that you should not ask him for a commitment until after he has seen the President about the St. Lawrence.6 We can anticipate a favorable reaction to the interview with the President and in that climate, Mr. Pearson might be willing to assure you that the small parcels of land will be available to the United States until the United States and Canada mutually agree the communications facilities are no longer necessary. If you can get Mr. Pearson [Page 2028] to agree to such a phrase, we believe the problem will be solved.

  1. Drafted by William L. Wright, Jr.
  2. The announced policy referred to here, or at least a primary application of it in U.S.–Canadian relations, was a memorandum of instructions approved by the Prime Minister and directed to the Canadian members of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense (PJBD), which stated that long-term leases should not be considered as an appropriate vehicle in U.S.–Canadian base negotiations. The memorandum is covered in a memorandum of conversation by Joseph Wolf of the Office of European Regional Affairs, May 11, 1951, printed in Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. ii, p. 886.
  3. A letter from Deputy Secretary of Defense Foster to the Secretary of State, Mar. 6, 1952, summarized the 1951 background of this matter and referred specifically to Canadian Note No. 322 dated Nov. 9, 1951, which contained the condition referred to here. A copy of the letter is in file 711.56342/4–1152.
  4. “Recapitulation of Negotiations with Canada for Communications Facilities,” Apr. 11, 1952, not printed.
  5. Reference is to Acheson’s planned meeting with Pearson on Apr. 12; see the editorial note, infra.
  6. See Document 941.