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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Relinquishing Canada's nuclear roles Erickson, Darrin Jerroll


This thesis is intended to enhance our knowledge of the processes behind the relinquishing of Canada's nuclear roles. As such, the underlying factors which helped bring about this change in Canadian defence policy are to be isolated and assessed. The process of retiring Canada's nuclear roles was long and complex, involving many actors and influences. The factors examined in this thesis are looked upon in the greater context of the 1960s and 1970s. The global and domestic political climates, the strategic environment and Canada's power within the global community as a whole during this time period, are considered. This study has revealed several interesting conclusions which one may draw concerning the relinquishing of Canada's nuclear roles. First of all, the Trudeau government's position on nuclear weapons coincided with growing opposition to nuclear weapons within the Canadian public. Furthermore, it is evident that public opinion on the nuclear issue was closely related to an individual's perception of the United States and his or her position on defence spending. Secondly, the process of retiring the nuclear weapon systems was led largely by Pierre Trudeau and some of his close associates, in particular Ivan Head and Donald MacDonald. This was done in the face of intense bureaucratic resistance. Thirdly, abandoning the nuclear roles was strongly related to Canada's declining position in the global community and also to the growth of detente. In addition, it was also partly the result of a rapidly changing strategic environemnt in which weapon systems were quickly made obsolete. Perhaps most importantly, this thesis shows that relinquishing Canada's nuclear roles was an extremely important part of the 1971 defence review. The issue of nuclear weapons is one which has been largely overlooked by defence and foreign policy analysts in the past, such as Thordarson as well as Granatstein and Bothwell, and therefore merits our attention. For this thesis, telephone interviews had to be conducted because very little written material is available to the public. Regrettably, these interviews must remain confidential for the time-being. Several books, articles and public opinion surveys also were very helpful in conducting this analysis.

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