Depth Charges in the Political Landscape

By Steve Shallhorn | 1985-05-01 12:00:00

Canadians expected the new Mulroney government to bring a 'new look' to Canadian foreign policy. We have not been disappointed. Public hand-wringing by the Liberals has been replaced by the Conservatives' gung-ho enthusiasm for American defence policies. What has been surprising is the degree of difficulty the Tories have had in lining up behind their American mentors. Revelations of secret plans to deploy US nuclear depth bombs at Canadian air bases, plans to disperse B-52 bombers at Cold Lake and other air fields, details of the testing of neutron bomb artillery shells at Canadian ranges have all caught the government by surprise.

The man most responsible for the Tories' insecurity in defence matters is William Arkin. Usually labelled a "defence analyst," Arkin works for the Institute for Policy Studies, a left liberal think-tank founded in Washington by two senior officials who left the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s. Arkin was invited to speak in Toronto by the Toronto Disarmament Network at the same time as President Reagan's summit with Prime Minister Mulroney in March.

A veteran of US army intelligence, Arkin has done what no Canadian has been able, or perhaps willing, to do -- publish details of American plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Canada, and details of past and present American testing of nuclear weapons systems. He has shown that successive Canadian governments have not been aware of, let alone in control of, plans to disperse and store nuclear weapons in Canada.

Arkin first obtained a copy of the top secret and highly sensitive U.S. foreign deployment order in late 1984. Entitled Nuclear Weapon Deployment Authorizations, it out lined plans to deploy B-57 nuclear depth bombs in eight countries around the world. As Arkin tells the story, he immediately broke the story in the country where it would have the greatest political effect -- Iceland. Back in May 1980, in an inter view on Icelandic state radio, Arkin had claimed that US forces in that country were likely to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Iceland, a country with no armed forces and a strict non-nuclear policy, was so sensitive to this assertion that the conservative coalition government fell the next day. In 1980. Arkin lacked proof to back his allegations but this time he had it

In December, 1984, Arkin showed the relevant portions of the document to Iceland's Prime Minister, Steingrimmer Hermanson, and the Foreign Minister, Geir Hallgrimsson. "It was obvious from their reaction that they had not been aware of these plans," Arkin told his Toronto audience of 200. The other countries listed in the document were Canada, Spain, the Azores (Portugal), Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the British protectorate Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The story was not picked up in Canada until a month after his revelations were made in Iceland. When it finally broke on January 10 of this year, it was in a roundabout fashion. A small story first appeared in the January 6 Sunday Observer in London, England, written by Peter Pringle. Pringle and Arkin had previously collaborated on a book documenting the US plans for nuclear war fighting. It was only after the Observer story specified Canada as one of the accepting countries that Canadian journalists began to take notice.

And notice they did. The Institute for Policy Studies fielded 300 phone calls from Canadian journalists in one day, January 10. "Every CBC local, affiliate, or whatever must have called me, the response was overwhelming. Only then did I realize just how little Canadians knew about their country's involvement with U S nuclear weapons", said Arkin .

Then-Minister of Defence Robert Coates tried to pooh-pooh Arkin's revelations by suggesting that an agreement had been signed with the US in 1967, but terminated in 1970. Coates said this agreement had allowed the US Navy to store nuclear weapons at their bases in Argentia, Nfld. (The US Navy closed the base in the 1970s, but in 1983 the US Ambassador Paul Robinson visited St. John's and held discussions with Canadian officials as to possible future use.) Coates denied Arkin's allegations that a Presidentially signed deployment order was in existence and said that Arkin was "out to lunch." After addressing the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations, Coates told the Toronto Star that "the US can't make any decisions on that without consulting us."

While Coates was denying the authenticity of the deployment document, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gerard Theriault, said aides had con firmed the existence of the plan by talking with US officials. He told the Globe and Mail January 12 that he had not known of the plan prior to public revelations. The same day, the Toronto Star reported Theriault's claim that the document was "nothing more than an internal US Department of Defence preventative planning strategy." Theriault also accused Arkin of leaving out that the plan calls for negotiations with the host country.

Neither Theriault nor anyone else explained how consultation or negotiations were supposed to take place if the host country knew nothing of the plan in the first place. Consultation doesn't take place during a crisis; it takes place during the planning stages.

When the House of Commons resumed sitting on January 21, NDP External Affairs critic Pauline Jewett took up the issue with Coates during Question Period. Coates stuck to his story that the document was an old one, but changed the date. He said, "I want to say that the document the Honourable Member is referring to is an old document that was conceived in 1975. It has nothing to with consultation between Canada and the US. I can assure the Honorable Member that if there are any plans in the future in relation to mutual defence between Canada and the US there will be consultation with this government "

Jewett continued her attack in the House, asking"...will he communicate Canadian policy to the United States before it makes any further contingency plans? That policy is the one adopted previously by the Prime Minister that there will be no nuclear weapons on Canadian soil." Coates' answer was short. "Mr. Speaker, there is a simple answer to the Honourable Member's question. There are no such plans."

We now know that Coates' response was not true. The real question is whcthcr Coatcs knew the truth himself, and lied in the House of Commons, or whether he was lied to by US officials and was guilty of accepting their version without ques tion or further investigation. For instance, the Icelandic government had seen the deployment document and accepted its authenticity. Arkin had met with Canadian embassy officials in Washington. Why didn't the Canadian government consult with the other seven affected countries, most of whom are either NATO members or have bilateral defence agreements with Canada? At best Coates was guilty of handling the affair very poorly.

We know that Coates wasn't telling the truth in the Commons because Arkin finally released a copy of the Nuclear Weapon Deployment Authorizations to the New York Times. In a front page story dated February 12 which appeared in the February 13th edition of the New York Times, both the Times and Reagan administration officials con firmed the existence of the documents. These unnamed officials also said that the existence of the document had been confirmed to foreign authorities after the appearance of press reports.

The date on the Times story was the same day Coates announced his resignation as Minister of Defence. He did this in response to an article in the Ottawa Citizen describing a visit by Coates and two of his aides to a West German bar featuring nudity and sex films. Coates' indiscretion had taken place in November during an official visit to a Canadian Forces Base in Lahr. Many commentators expressed surprise at how quickly Coates caved in on what seemed to be a minor infraction with no serious security of political implications. The bar, Tiffany's, was no different from scores of bars scattered across Canada. It was all the more surprising because stories of the visit to Tiffany's had been circulating for weeks. Apparently the source was one of the aides, who had a reputation as a party-goer. Even the Prime Minister had been aware of the incident for three weeks, during which an investigation cleared Coates of any security breach.

Canadian news outlets were so pre-occupied with Coates' resignation that they didn't seem to notice the front page story in the Times, which clearly showed that someone had lied to Canadians about deployment of nuclear weapons. The Times story was written by Leslie H. Gelb, a former high-ranking official in Jimmy Carter's State Department. Gelb's story was the first time the US press had picked up the story of Arkin's revelations in conjunction with any country.

Arkin went to Gelb because he thought Gelb would be the only reporter likely to appreciate the sensitivity of the topic and the significance of the document. As former head of the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs of the State Department, Gelb should have been aware of the document during his term of office. However, Arkin is convinced that Gelb did not know of the document until he showed it to him in February. It seems the Pentagon had not even told the State Department.

When Gelb's story was published his picture was removed from the wall of the State Department by the current head of the bureau, Lt. General Chain, US Airforce, and replaced with a sign that read "Removed with cause. This former Assistant Secretary did on 13 February willingly and knowingly reveal information detrimental to US national security."

Arkin told his Toronto audience that one of the reasons why Coates lied in the House and elsewhere was because the US government had lied to him. "I have it on good authority," Arkin claimed, "that we said to Mr. Coates 'don't pay any attention to that hypothetical, unimportant (document). Some junior bureaucrat in the basement of the Pentagon put together this plan ... and it's an old document.' And Mr. Coates just ate it up." Arkin ridiculed this gullibility by pointing out that the document was drawn up by Henry Kissinger, and the first four words are "The President has approved...".

We may never know the reasons for Mr. Coates' sudden departure from the cabinet, or his continued silence on his brief tenure as defence minister. But his insensitivity to the political issues and his lightweight approach to an extremely sensitive subject could have played a part in his demise. Just before press time, Arkin told Peace Magazine that the deployment order is still a divisive issue in the Canadian government. Canadian officials are still distressed about the way in which they found out about it. According to Arkin, they are trying to deal with the fact that "essentially the US government lied about the authenticity of the deployment document." In Arkin's view, the Canadian government is cautious and afraid.

As for William Arkin, he may yet end up a casualty of his own revelations. An important case before the US courts in Washington is Morrison vs. the United States, in which the US government is trying to use espionage laws to prosecute those responsible for information leaks. If the US government succeeds with the Morrison prosecution, Arkin figures he may be next. So why did he release the document? Said Arkin, "I think I did what I did as a matter of con science, my responsibility as a citizen."

Peace Magazine May 1985

Peace Magazine May 1985, page 12. Some rights reserved.

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