Avoiding Armageddon: Canadian Military Strategy and Nuclear Weapons, 1950-63

Article excerpt


Andrew Richter

Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002, x, 214pp, $85.00 cloth (ISBN 0-7748-0888-8), $27.95 paper (ISBN 0-7748-0889-6)

Avoiding Armageddon is an account of Canadian military strategy and nuclear weapons that should have been told long before now. The traditional view is that Canadians did not think about strategy during the cold war. With no tradition of strategic thought, Canadians were dependent upon foreign military doctrines and the defence policies that resulted from them. Moreover, Canadian policy-makers were thought to be wholly dependent on American strategic thinking. The dearth of Canadian strategic studies reflects this traditional perspective in the absence of documentation to illustrate the contrary; it does not, however, accurately reflect the level of interest of policy-makers. Relying on original documentation, Richter successfully challenges this orthodox approach.

An examination of the historical evidence of strategic thought at the Department of National Defence, as well as the interplay and differences between that department and the Department of External Affairs, between 1950 and 1963, leads Richter to argue that Canadians identified strategic interests that were separate from those of the Americans and other allies. Richter demonstrates the existence of independent strategic thought in two ways. He compares the conceptual thinking of Canadians on core issues (for example, the acquisition of nuclear weapons) with those of key foreign strategists. At the same time, he examines how Canada's national interests influenced the recommendations of government officials and how those interests were tempered by external constraints. To this end he relies on a selected topics approach, examining the development of air defence and NORAD, the debate surrounding the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and the Canadian approach to arms control and disarmament. He concludes that it is not necessary to demonstrate that Canadian strategic thinkers wielded great influence with their American counterparts. Instead, he looks to the interaction between Canadian and American strategic thinkers, illustrating the existence of both formal and informal mechanisms that led to the exchange of ideas. …


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