Thursday, September 03, 2015

Part 8 of The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

The Diefenbaker Government Collapses

Diefenbaker recalls the Canadian Ambassador. February 1963. 
By Robert Godwin
The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 
The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Diefenbaker's decision to not equip Bomarc with nuclear warheads would lead to an unparalleled rift between the USA and Canada. Demonstrating an almost breathtaking ignorance of the situation one of the options Diefenbaker's cabinet had seriously considered was having the nuclear warheads delivered to Canada only in the case of an emergency. They would only be fitted to the delivery systems when required, apparently accepting the fact that the fallout would still rain down on Canada.[1] This option would however allow the Prime Minister the ability to say that he hadn't been "proliferating."

Diefenbaker had tried to put any nuclear weapons deployed in Canada under joint control so that neither Canada nor the United States could unilaterally use them without the other's consent. It was however his stated preference to not have any at all while there were still disarmament discussions with the Soviets. He was also convinced that such joint control was all but impossible as long as the US law specifically precluded it.

This situation had festered until, just two days before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy wrote to Diefenbaker. A vote was pending in the United Nations for a moratorium on nuclear weapons tests and Diefenbaker had decided to vote in favour of the moratorium. Kennedy wrote, "It will be tantamount to Canada's abandoning the Western position…this will be seen by the Soviet Union as a successful breach of the Western position…I hope you will reconsider this decision to cast an affirmative vote for a resolution which can only cause damage."

Two days later Kennedy went toe-to-toe with Kruschev and what Diefenbaker might have thought quickly became irrelevant.

In November 1962 meetings were held in Ottawa with the United States to determine how much warning there might be of a Soviet attack. The conclusion was three hours. If the Bomarcs were armed with warheads, but there was a "missing part" they could be armed in just less than two hours. This would therefore allow Canada to remain "nuclear free". Diefenbaker thought this was the best option until someone in the US team suggested that if the "missing part" also remained in Canada the time could be reduced. Diefenbaker realized this was ridiculous and declined...

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Robert Godwin.
Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series "The NASA Mission Reports" and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called "2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey" about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Globe and Mail Feb 1 1963

Last Week: "Canada Rejects the Commonwealth Space Program," in part seven of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program."

Next Week: "RADARSAT & the Consequences for Canada's Aircraft Industry," as the final chapter of "The Empire Strikes Out - Canada's Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program" concludes!

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