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BOOK REVIEWS

AVOIDING ARMAGEDDON: CANADIAN MILITARY STRATEGY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS 1950-63

by Andrew Richter

Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. 214 pages, $85.00

Reviewed by Major J.C. Stone

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In Avoiding Armageddon, Andrew Richter challenges the notion that Canada had no interest in, or was incapable of, examining issues of strategy during the Cold War. He attempts to demonstrate that Canadians did in fact articulate and identify strategic interests that were independent of its allies, and particularly those of the United States. Richter looks at a series of assumptions that he argues have gone largely unchallenged in Canadian security literature. Using documentation from the Departments of National Defence and External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) that until recently remained classified, he demonstrates that Canadian officials approached defence and security issues from a uniquely Canadian perspective. More important, Richter notes that Canadian officials also identified and wrote about some of the main conceptual theories of the period dealing with nuclear strategy and deterrence.

Organized into six chapters, the book discusses the key issues and developments that arose between 1950 and 1963, a period that Richter considers is a decisive phase of the Cold War. Chapter 1 establishes the historical context of the study by examining the domestic and international environments after the Second World War. Richter correctly argues that the 1945-1949 period was critical in setting the broad framework for post-war Canadian defence and security policy. It was in this immediate post-war period that Canada made a conscious decision not to produce nuclear weapons and decided to join an alliance of Western states for whom an attack against one would be regarded as an attack against all. These are decisions that remain relevant and topical in 2003.

Chapter 2 examines developments in air defence and, more specifically, how officials from DND and DEA approached the air defence issue. Richter looks at three important developments: the NORAD agreement, the Avro Arrow fighter aircraft, and the relationship of air defence and nuclear strategy. The most important point that Richter makes in this chapter is the differences in how DND and DEA defined Canada’s interests. DND stressed the common air defence interests, while DEA stressed the need to protect Canadian political interests. Although officials often disagreed about the nature and scope of a problem, they offered analysis that they believed would further Canada’s larger strategic interests from their respective viewpoints. The significant point is that officials offered analysis that furthered Canada’s interests, and not those of the US or other allies.

Chapters 3 and 4 address the nuclear weapons issue both conceptually and within the domestic context of actually acquiring them for Canadian Forces weapon systems. Chapter 3 highlights some of the important Canadian writings on deterrence, strategic stability and nuclear doctrine. The chapter discusses the key concepts in post-war nuclear strategy that were distinct from the US appreciation. To support his arguments, Richter reviews a number of DND studies that examined nuclear strategy and deterrence issues. Canada, for example, rejected the early military arguments that the atomic bomb was just another weapon. Richter notes that Canadians viewed the bomb as the ultimate weapon, and this was the basis of its use as a deterrent. Chapter 4 examines the nuclear weapons acquisition for Canada’s NATO forces, US requests for storage and overflight of nuclear weapons in Canada, and Canada’s own deployment of nuclear weapons. Once again, the significant differences between DND’s and DEA’s views are important to forming an understanding of this volatile time in Canadian foreign and defence policy. External Affairs believed that Canada could not acquire nuclear weapons at the same time that Canadian officials were playing a leading role in disarmament negotiations. On the other hand, DND considered the acquisition of nuclear weapons important for core Canadian security interests, particularly within the NATO context.

Chapter 5 continues with the nuclear theme, but looks at Canadian thinking on arms control and disarmament. Richter focuses on the Canadian view of arms control and how Canada’s views differed from the American approach. Canadian officials in DND considered that measures designed to reduce or eliminate weapons systems might transform the nuclear balance, a view that contrasted with the stable environment that arms control supporters believed would result from agreements.

Finally, Chapter 6 addresses how Canadian strategic thought was either reflected in or influenced the development of defence policy. Richter argues that the Canadian Cold War defence policy was consistent with Canadian strategic thought, and that defence officials who formulated policy were not just working on a bureaucratic exercise.

Arming Armageddon is a well-researched study using recently released archival material that examines, in the defence and security context, a very turbulent period in Canada’s history. Richter’s study, which continues a more recent trend in the literature to examine contributions to nuclear strategic thought from outside the US, is well written, easy to read and understand, and logically organized. It is fairly clear from Richter’s study that Canada had its own views – views that often challenged US views. More important, perhaps in today’s context, is that Canadian officials examined complex defence and security issues and provided analysis that furthered Canadian interests.

The book will be released in paperback in May 2003 for $27.95. Reading this book is time well spent.

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Major J.C. Stone is a PhD student at Royal Military College.