Draft History of US-UK-Canadian Atomic Energy Cooperation

By Elisabetta Kerr, University of Toronto |

This blog post accompanies the release of a digital briefing book, created in May 2018 by a team of University of Toronto undergraduate students participating in the Jackman Humanities Institute’s Scholars-in-Residence research program. Part of an ongoing series, Canada Declassified‘s digital briefing books include key documents from recently declassified government files released by Library and Archives Canada via the Access to Information Act. This project was supported, in part, by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, “Canada in the Atomic Age: Unlocking the Nuclear Vault,” 430-2018-00291.

The particular challenge with this briefing book was deciding which drafts and memos were more representative of the narrative and underlying themes. On the surface, the file only included various drafts and correspondence related to the draft history of British, Canadian, and US cooperation on atomic energy, a project which was initiated by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the hopes of increasing US recognition of – and appreciation for – British contributions to atomic energy development. The Department of External Affairs’ push for recognition of Canada’s atomic contributions yields another interesting layer to the narrative. Canadian officials were aware that there were limits to their power in pushing for sponsorship and publication of the history. All the same, they were convinced of the value of attaining greater involvement through a tripartite history of atomic cooperation.

The DEA undertook discussions for over a year, committed to producing the most accurate and fair version of the draft history possible. Anticlimactically, and much to the Canadians’ chagrin, the history was never actually published. The file itself has a gap between 1955 and 1957, and again until 1961 when the United States quietly declassified the draft history.

It seems counterintuitive that so much effort was expended on a document that never came to fulfill its purpose. However, this is a testament to the pace of change in the early Cold War.

Contrary to popular assumptions about Canadian foreign relations, this file exhibits a clear willingness on the part of the Department of External Affairs to insist on credit where it was due. Canada’s participation in atomic energy and nuclear programs was crucial in making the Anglo-American program successful. Concerns about international image, future atomic cooperation and defence, and alliances grew more pertinent as the Cold War progressed. The draft history therefore takes on greater significance in its consideration of Canada’s past, present, and future in context of the international system in 1954.

One thought on “Draft History of US-UK-Canadian Atomic Energy Cooperation

  1. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of September 16, 2018 | Unwritten Histories

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