Draft History of US-UK-Canadian Atomic Energy Cooperation, 1953-1954

In 1953, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill requested the creation of a historical record of Anglo-American cooperation in the field of atomic energy. Churchill's aim was to rectify what he perceived to be a lack of "awareness in Washington" of Britain's contribution to atomic energy. Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, pressed for Canadian involvement in editing the history prior to its publication. The Canadians had a stake in securing recognition of their participation in the wartime Anglo-American atomic program and continued atomic cooperation. As Pearson states in his letter of 13 January 1954, it was "important to protect Canada’s continuing interest in the fostering of cooperation with the United States and United Kingdom in the development of atomic energy” by ensuring that Canada’s contributions were recognized.1 As a result, there was a clear push from the Department of External Affairs for Canadian sponsorship of the history, to which the United States and United Kingdom agreed.

Now a tripartite history, the Canadians were afforded acknowledgement of their prolonged commitment to and participation in the allied nuclear programme. However, it was never made clear during discussions in 1954 and 1955 if the history would be made public. The Canadians favoured publication but were not in a position to insist on its publication. There were extensive Canadian revisions to the draft history, consulting various departments and authorities in atomic energy and foreign relations in order to get the story straight. Rumours of atomic sharing eventually leaked to the media and the House of Commons, putting greater pressure on the Canadian government to consider the ramifications of its involvement in atomic cooperation on its image as a nation, the future of its defence planning, and its alliances going forward. It was evident that Canada was determined to have a singular voice and defend its own interests with respect to the draft history, especially in considering a fair and honest representation of its contributions. However, the Canadian government had to balance these interests with considerations of its power relative to that of the United Kingdom and United States. Ultimately, the draft history was never published and was quietly declassified by the United States in 1961.


1 Secretary of State for External Affairs to Minister of Defence, 13 Jan. 1954, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG 25, vol. 5957, file no. 50219-AF-40, part 1.