CANADA

A debate charged with danger

Ian Austen,Terry Hargreaves January 28 1985
CANADA

A debate charged with danger

Ian Austen,Terry Hargreaves January 28 1985

A debate charged with danger

CANADA

Ian Austen

Terry Hargreaves

Since Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Conservative government fell in 1963 amid controversy over his refusal to arm Canada’s U.S.-built Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles with nuclear warheads, the basing of nuclear weapons on Canadian soil has been a volatile political issue. Under Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson the Bomarcs were subsequently armed, only to be removed from Canadian soil in 1971 by his successor, Pierre Trudeau, whose goal was to free Canada of involvement with nuclear arms. Finally, in fulfilment of Trudeau’s pledge, the last nuclear weapons known to be in Canada—some 55 outdated Genie air-to-air missiles—were sent back to the United States last summer. But the nuclear issue threatens to blow up again: Canadian defence department officials last week confirmed the existence of a U.S. plan—that Ottawa had known nothing about—to base nuclear weapons in Canada during a war scare.

The revelation provoked protests over Washington’s failure to inform Ottawa of its intentions, and a host of opposition questions for this week’s resumption of Parliament after a Christmas recess. Declared the former chief of Canada’s defence staff, retired Admiral Robert Falls: “The United States has a moral obligation to consult us when using our territory for something as emotional as nuclear weapons. It is an immoral attitude to make plans without consulting the countries involved.”

Clearly caught off balance by reports of the U.S. plan, Canadian officials moved quickly to find out more. In Ottawa, the chief of Canada’s defence staff, General Gérard C.E. Theriault, while stating that he had since confirmed the existence of the plan in conversations with U.S. military officials, dis-

counted the scheme as no more than “an internal U.S. defence department tentative planning strategy.”

But in Washington, Ralph Lysyshyn, a defence specialist at the Canadian Embassy, met for talks with William Arkin, a Washingtonbased nuclear policy analyst. His revelation earlier this month of the United States contingency plan to locate 10-kiloton nuclear depth charges in Canada and seven other countries had already set off controversies in Iceland and Bermuda. At week’s end, a statement issued by Canadian Defence Minis3 ter Robert Coates 2 stressed that no agree| ment with the United § States for basing the 2 weapons in Canada | existed and that no nego5 tiations were planned. 8 “If, in a time of crisis,” Coates stated, “there

were such negotiations

they would be at the highest level between the President and the Prime Minister.”

According to Arkin, who directs the Arms Race and Nuclear Weapons Research Project at Washington’s private Institute for Policy Studies—a respected liberal think tank—the plan to base U.S. nuclear depth charges in Canada and other foreign countries is contained in a top-secret U.S. government document known as the Nuclear Weapons Deployment Plan. It lists all of the 26,000 active nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal and details where and when these weapons would be assigned and used in the event of war, or during a state of U.S. advanced military readiness. Arkin said that the plan for 1985—he obtained it last year from sources —calls for 32 model B-57 nuclear depth

bombs to be moved onto Canadian soil at a time when a warlike situation involving the United States appeared to be developing. Arkin speculated that the most likely places for the bombs to be located would be at the Canadian Forces Bases at Comox, B.C., and Greenwood, N.S.

Opposition politicians and military experts reacted with alarm. Liberal House Leader Herb Gray told reporters that the U.S. plan appeared to contradict “the long-standing government policy not to have nuclear weapons on Canadian territory.” Pauline Jewett, the New Democratic Party’s external affairs critic, said that she was “aghast.” Jewett insisted that Ottawa must make it clear to the United States that permission to deploy nuclear weapons in Canada “would not be automatically forthcoming. This country has got out of the nuclear weapons business.”

Arkin’s revelations have already triggered controversies in two other countries that are earmarked in the nuclear deployment plan as sites for nuclear depth charges. Arkin made his information available to Iceland’s prime minister, Steingrimur Hermannsson, in December, and the scheme continues to dominate debate in the Icelandic parliament. In the British Crown colony of Bermuda, Premier John Swan demanded an explanation from Washington after his government learned that the United States planned to base nuclear depth charges on the Atlantic island.

By coincidence, the new nuclear controversy blew up last week as a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flew in over the Beaufort Sea and south to a weapons range in Alberta for the second of four scheduled flights over Canadian soil to test the guidance system on an unarmed cruise missile. As protesters gathered across the country, Roman Catholic Bishop Adolphe Proulx of Ottawa denounced the tests at a rally as “not only morally bankrupt but dangerous.”

But Canada’s anticruise opposition seemed mild in comparison to the protests that have erupted in Belgium, where Prime Minister Wilfried Martens last week stalled NATO plans to deploy 16 of the missiles in his country beginning next month. Martens insisted that deployment would go ahead, despite warnings that his government faced possible defeat in a December election.

In Canada, the smoldering nuclear controversy does not pose as pressing a political threat for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s four-month-old government. Nevertheless, critics in Ottawa viewed the U.S. plan’s implicit affront to Canadian sovereignty as, at best, an embarrassment to a government that has stressed a new, closer relationship of mutual confidence with Washington.^