MACLEAN'S REPORTS

Virgins no more: now Canada must face up to nuclear weapons

PETER C. NEWMAN October 20 1962
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

Virgins no more: now Canada must face up to nuclear weapons

PETER C. NEWMAN October 20 1962

Virgins no more: now Canada must face up to nuclear weapons

MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

PETER C. NEWMAN

ONE QUESTION likely to get short shrift in the brassy circus atmosphere of Ottawa politics this season is the matter of nuclear warheads for our armed forces. Because the acceptance or rejection of nuclear warheads for our troops might cost votes either way, the Conservative government has maintained an ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, External Affairs Minister Howard Green, acting on behalf of the cabinet, has been proclaiming our nuclear virginity at disarmament negotiations in Geneva, assuring allies and enemies alike that we will never submit to nuclear dishonor. On the other hand, Defense Minister Douglas Harkness, also acting on behalf of the cabinet, has built up a fairly impressive arsenal of weapons that can carry nuclear bombs.

Until recently, this coquettish indecision could be justified by the fact that not all the weapons we had contracted for were actually in service, and our final acceptance of nuclear warheads could therefore be delayed.

The government has been saying, in effect, that all these weapons aren’t available yet; we will make our decision when they are.

Now, at the end of this month, the first squadron of CF-104s will be transported across the Atlantic for service with the NATO forces of the RCAF in Europe. With the delivery of

these aircraft, our contracts to buy weapons systems designed for nuclear warheads will be fulfilled. At this point the nuclear argument of the Diefenbaker government will be exhausted.

Now the decision will be not whether we will take nuclear weapons but whether we will live up to our obligations, which we freely contracted.

The government, then, has only two choices: to scrap $685 million worth of military hardware and thereby publicly renege on our obligations under NORAD and NATO; or to accept U. S. nuclear warheads under a system of joint control. Despite Prime Minister Diefenbaker s hints that there are other possibilities, no other choice in fact exists.

The government didn't drift into this dilemma. The acceptance by Canada of each of the five atomic weapons-carriers — Bomarc, CF-101B, CF-104, Honest John, and Argus— was based on a deliberate choice by the Diefenbaker cabinet of armaments which could effectively function only with nuclear warheads.

The two Bomarc bases at North Bay, Ont., and La Macaza, Que., for example, might now be armed with Bomarc “A” missiles, for which a conventionally armed warhead could have been developed (it was designed but not manufactured). Instead, the Canadian government chose the “B” model, for which only nuclear warheads exist and for w'hich no conventional warhead has ever been designed.

It was the Canadian government which put pressure on Washington to keep the antibomber Bomarc system alive at a time when the Pentagon cut the program by two thirds, because Diefenbaker wanted to have the Bomarc available as a replacement for the Arrow. The U. S. agreed to build the two Bomarc bases in Canada, and contributed $86 million of the $100 million required. Now the two unarmed installations are dangerous gaps in the NORAD defense system. (In fact, the RCAF crew manning the North Bay station recently went off 24-hour alert and onto an eight-hour day; because they couldn’t do anything even if war were declared.)

The background to the adoption of the CF104 provides a similar example. Before the Canadian cabinet decided how it would replace its obsolete F-86 and CF-100 interceptors in France, NATO commander Lauris Norstad flew to Ottawa and briefed the ministers on his requirements. It was the Canadian government that picked the strike-reconnaissance function, w'hich involves an aircraft able to drop small

nuclear bombs. The plane chosen for the mission was an adaptation of the U. S. Starfighter, and $431 million was budgeted to build it at Canadair Limited in Montreal. Fittings for the nuclear charges have been added to the plane at the factory, but under present arrangements there’s no provision for the bombs themselves.

The same thing holds true for three other weapons. The five squadrons of CF-101B fighters which we acquired from the U. S. for our home defense to replace the CF-100 are armed with conventional Falcon rockets. The identical plane being used by the U. S. air force, for the same job, carries nuclear Falcons or nuclear-tipped Genie missiles. While the current arrangement does not contribute effectively to Canadian defense, it certainly weakens continental defense by withdrawing the five squadrons from effective service with the USAF, where they could fly with nuclear weapons. The thirty-three Argus anti-submarine aircraft which we built for $132 million can now spot submarines but. without nuclear depth charges, can’t kill them.

For the army, the Conservative government bought half a dozen Honest John atomic artillery pieces. Four are now with our brigade in Germany, but of all the NATO land forces, our Honest Johns are the only ones without nuclear ammunition. The brigade is a vulnerable point in NATO’s anti-communist shield.

One of the main arguments which opponents of nuclear w'arheads for Canada have used is that if we take such weapons, the U. S. would also be forced to give them to West Germany. But the Luftwaffe, which uses the same (F-104G) fighter as we have, already has nuclear warheads under joint control with the U. S. A similar agreement has been drafted in Washington waiting for Canadian signature since February, 1959. Yet Diefenbaker goes on insisting that Canada will not take the warheads until American legislation is amended to permit joint control. Washington remains baffled.

In fee topsy-turvy world of modern diplomacy, &en our usefulness in pressing for disarmament is probably weakened by not having nuclear warheads. Our main influence in Geneva is felt in corridor sessions with American and British delegates. But since we’re participating in the talks as a nominee of NATO, if we continue to shirk our NATO defense commitments, that influence will very quickly be spent.