281. Memorandum of Conversation0



Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 8–11, 1958


  • United States
    • The President
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Merchant
  • Canada
    • The Prime Minister
    • The Secretary of State for External Affairs (Sidney Smith)
    • The Canadian Ambassador to Washington (Norman Robertson)


  • 1) Review of world situation
  • 2) Proposal for joint Parliamentary-Congressional Committee
  • 3) NORAD
  • 4) Proposal for joint Cabinet Defense Committee
  • 5) Atomic energy matters

The Prime Minister met the President at the front door and after a few pictures escorted him into the residence.

After a warm greeting the Prime Minister suggested that the President might wish to discuss the general world situation.

The President circled the world covering the Middle East situation and the obvious intent of the Soviets to make trouble in that area. He pointed out that they were not doing it, in his judgment, for reasons of strategic position or trade but primarily to destroy the position of the West and in particular to deprive Western Europe of Middle East oil on which it was dependent. He then went on to discuss with frankness the situation in Lebanon and the possible applicability of the Middle East Resolution. In response to a question from the Prime Minister he said that superficially in recent days the situation seemed quieter but it had to be watched constantly. The support of the Baghdad Pact powers for Lebanon announced today is a new factor. He then described the situation in France with particular respect to General DeGaulle.

From the questions of the Prime Minister on this subject there seemed to be no divergence in the estimate of the situation in France and North Africa.

[Page 693]

Then the President referred to the situation in Latin America and the tendency in those countries to personalize economic tribulations. There was some discussion of coffee and the entrance of low cost African producers. The President explained what we were doing in an effort to ameliorate the situation in regard to this commodity but in reply to a question from the Prime Minister said that we were not in a position to make Government purchases of coffee.

Finally the President discussed briefly the matter of disarmament with particular reference to the slightly increased possibility, in light of the last Soviet note,1 of making progress on an Arctic inspection zone.

The Prime Minister then raised the question of the advantages in an informal, joint Parliamentary-Congressional Committee, describing his thought in the same terms he had used in the House the day before.2

The President and the Secretary explained the Constitutional aspects in the United States of the conduct of foreign affairs and also explained that it was not possible for the Executive to commit the Congress.

The President said, however, that he thought Parliamentary exchanges and associations for the purpose of discussion were useful and that he would support the general idea but that naturally it was for the Congress and the Canadian Parliament to work out.

The Prime Minister made clear that he had not intended with his proposal to trespass on any Constitutional boundaries and seemed satisfied to leave his proposal in the rather vague status of the conclusion of the discussion.

The Prime Minister then brought up the question of NORAD. He referred with emphasis to the difficulty he had encountered in carrying through the House the NORAD Agreement. He said there was a widespread fear in Canada that they were sacrificing sovereignty by turning their squadrons over to an American General and during his discourse gave some evidence of overlooking the entirely defensive mission of NORAD. He also made the surprising statement at one point that, “NORAD would have gone down the drain in Parliament” had he not had behind him so substantial a majority. The Prime Minister then suggested that in order to assure the people that NORAD and our other defense arrangements were firmly under civilian control there should be established a joint Cabinet defense committee. He suggested for its membership: The Secretary of State for External Affairs, Sidney Smith; the Secretary of State, Mr. Dulles; the Minister of Defence, Mr. Pearkes; [Page 694] Mr. McElroy, Secretary of Defense; Minister of Finance, Fleming; Secretary of the Treasury, Anderson; and Mr. O’Hurley, Minister of Defence Production for Canada.

The President indicated that he agreed completely with the principle of civilian control; that he felt the problem was to assure that there should be no particular delaying NORAD’s reaction time. In view of its purely defensive character, he was inclined to think the two defense ministers were in fact civilians who should keep in touch with each other and report to their respective Cabinets.

The Prime Minister referred again to his proposal for a larger Cabinet committee.

The President insisted that it should not be over-formalized; for example, he would be opposed to it having a secretariat or staff. He pointed out that the Secretary of State was our busiest Cabinet member and could not tie up his time in meetings alone.

The Secretary then raised the question of the suitability of having the Defense Production Minister a committee member.

The Prime Minister backed down on this.

The President suggested there would be no objection, however, to the Production Minister sitting in on meetings as an observer.

It was then informally agreed that an effort should be made to work out simple terms of reference for the six-minister joint committee.

The President then suggested that it might be possible to translate NORAD into a NATO command. This followed a description by the Prime Minister of his difficulties on this point in the House and the complication introduced by Spaak’s press conference on the matter.3

The Prime Minister seemed interested but did not press the point.

Sidney Smith then indicated that the purview of the committee should not be confined to NORAD but should extend over such matters as atomic weapons stockpile questions and SAC refueling bases.

The Prime Minister then raised the question of atomic weapons and the transfer of classified information to Canada. He did so in a rather confused fashion. He asked where Canada comes in under the recent amendment of the McMahon Act4 and asked in effect if it would not be possible for Canada to have the same sort of agreement with the United States as the United Kingdom now is obtaining.

The President and the Secretary explained at some length the content and the implications of the legislation. They pointed out that the new law liberalized our ability to communicate information on everything [Page 695] except weapon design, the communication of such information being confined to allies which had made substantial progress in this field. To date, only the United Kingdom qualified.

The Secretary then spoke at some length on the subject of his conversations with DeGaulle on this matter.5

It was pointed out that arrangements could be worked out for a stockpile of atomic weapons in Canada available for instant use in the event of an attack, and along the general lines of the NATO stockpile in Europe.

Mr. Smith at this point injected a query as to whether or not the United Kingdom had a veto. The purpose of his question was not clear and not elaborated; in consequence it was not answered.

The President indicated that this question of a stockpile might be the sort of matter which the projected joint cabinet [on] defense might consider. The President also commented that weapons production was pretty expensive, and the Secretary pointed out the motivation of the recent amendment as being the desire to avoid complication in the problem of a disarmament agreement by not contributing to the increase in the number of nations with an atomic capability.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Secret. Prepared by Merchant. See also Document 282. The meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s residence.
  2. For text of the Soviet note of July 2, see Department of State Bulletin, August 18, 1958, pp. 279–281.
  3. July 7.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946, August 1. (60 Stat. 755)
  6. Secretary Dulles visited Paris July 5; see Part 2, Documents 33 ff.