Avro Arrow: Effect on Canada's Policy and Perception of Diefenbaker's Administration

 29. říjen 2014  Markéta Šonková   komentáře

Informací o tom, jak to vypadalo během Studené války s USA a SSSR najdeme všude mnoho. V článku Markéty Šonkové se dozvíte, jaká byla situace v Kanadě, která byla díky své geografické pozici v ohrožení.

Avro Arrow: Effect on Canada's Policy and Perception of Diefenbaker's AdministrationAvro Arrow: Effect on Canada's Policy and Perception of Diefenbaker's Administration

Canada was in a difficult position during the Cold War. Since it is geographically located just above the USA, it was highly likely that should the USA be attacked by the USSR, Canada would bear the consequences, too. Thus, it was only natural that organization like NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) was founded in 1958, as one of the means of North American – that is also Canadian – protection. With the foundation of NORAD, the question of Canadian contribution to it arose. This Canadian contribution was supposed to be a purely Canadian product – the Avro Arrow airplanes. However, the whole project was in the end cancelled and Canada purchased American equipment instead. As a result of this purchase, the question of nuclear arsenal and weaponry came on the scene once again. The decision making in connection to the possibility of Canada becoming another nuclear power was affected by the fact that it was happening in the early sixties that were marked by the MAD approach between the two competing blocks, and by the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In another words, it came at the moment when the relationship between the two blocks was on the verge of actual war and the US was thus eager for Canada’s acquisition of the nuclear weapons. The cancellation of the project also brought with itself far-reaching consequences for Canadian domestic as well as international politics, and all the above mentioned also influenced the perception of the whole Diefenbaker administration (1957-1963) later on. This essay will, thus, deal with the importance of NORAD for Canada during the Cold War, Canadian contribution to it, how the question of nuclear weapons was perceived in Canada in the period in question, as well as what the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project meant for Canada, and how it influenced both the domestic – that is John Diefenbaker’s administration – as well as international policy of Canada.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is a bi-national Canadian and US organization that is engaged with:

The missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America [that is] monitoring of man-made objects in space, and the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.  (“NORAD History”)

Since May 2006 NORAD Agreement also includes maritime warning mission (“NORAD History”), thus it is now no longer limited only to the air-based threats. Although the existence of NORAD as such was formalized on May 12, 1958 (“NORAD Agreement”), the first attempts to deal with “common defense of North American continent trace its history back to 1940 when Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt met to discuss the war in Europe and mutual defense concerns” (“NORAD Agreement”). When World War II was over, it, unfortunately, did not mean the end of military and security threats neither to the world, nor to North America. The Cold War commenced almost immediately after the end of WWII and thus NORAD was set up “as a bi-national command, centralizing operational control of continental air defenses against the threat of Soviet bombers” (“NORAD Agreement”). The “arch enemy” to the USSR was indeed the US; however, since Canada in this bipolar division leaned towards the US, it was threatened, too, the more given its geographical position, which was also one of the reasons for the need to set up an organization like NORAD.

Considering the progressiveness of the aeronautical technology in Canada, it boomed during WWII. Afterwards, C.D. Howe, a Canadian Cabinet Minister and later on also a Minister of Trade and Commerce, wanted to continue supporting the aircraft industry, and part of his plan was that the Victory Aircraft Limited, a Crown Corporation located in Malton, Ontario, would be in 1945 sold to Sir Roy Dobson. Dobson was the Managing Director of A.V. Roe and Company that would be later on known as Avro Aircraft Limited (“Origins”). After the outbreak of the war in Korea, Avro discontinued their civilian aircraft activities and they started concentrating purely on military airplanes, which together with “the growing Soviet bomber threat led to the acceleration of the development of the Arrow . . . , the sole Jetliner, which had been years ahead of its time, [and that] was scrapped by Avro in 1957” (“Design”).

This aircraft, which was supposed to be the Canadian contribution to the NORAD’s armament, was known as CF-105 jet fighter, also called the Avro Arrow. The Avro Arrow airplane was considered to be “Canada’s greatest aeronautical achievement” (“Heritage Minutes: Avro Arrow”), for its high technical quality, as it was “faster and more advanced than any other comparable aircraft” (“Heritage Minutes: Avro Arrow”) at that time. This new airplane was also supposed to replace the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck as a supersonic all weather interceptor that was being used back then (“The CF-105 Avro Arrow: 1958-1959”). The primary point for the Avro Arrow’s deployment was, however, carrying the air-to-air nuclear-tipped missiles that were supposed to destroy Soviet bomb attacks over Canada, should such actions happen (“Heritage Minutes: Avro Arrow”). Nevertheless, the project was from the very beginning afflicted by the financial difficulties, which later on partially caused the end of the Avro Arrow project (“Design”). There was a risk that:

If the Arrow programme went ahead as recommended there would be no money for re-equipping European-based RCAF squadrons for the nuclear strike-reconnaissance role, replacing aging navy warships, or acquiring armoured vehicles and tactical nuclear missiles for the army. (“Flight Testing”)

Another reason that in the end contributed to the doom of the Avro Arrow was the fact that the Western defense policy approach changed from defense to deterrence, as well as the falling demand for “the interceptors . . . as the world entered the age of the long-range missiles” (“Heritage Minutes: Avro Arrow”). In fact, NORAD forecast “that by 1961, the year the Arrow was scheduled to enter squadron service, the principal Soviet threat to North America would come from intercontinental ballistic missiles, not bombers” (“Flight Testing”). All the aforementioned in the end resulted in the project being cancelled by the Conservative Diefenbaker government on “Black Friday” of February 20, 1959 (“The CF-105 Avro Arrow: 1958-1959”). On the very same day, he also announced his “intention to acquire nuclear warheads for the Bomarc-B and other weapons systems” (“Destruction”) from the USA, since they were relatively cheap compared to the prices of Avro Arrow, however, they once again raised the question of Canada becoming a nuclear power.

Diefenbaker was struggling throughout his whole term to define whether Canada should or should not become another nuclear power. Having nuclear weapons would mean united policy with the US which would strengthen not only Canadian position within NORAD, but also NORAD itself: “In order to meet the requirements of NORAD, Canada planned to make a significant investment in upgrading its military technology and resources,” (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 - 1963)”), and this investment was supposed to be the Avro Arrow airplane, however, since the project had been discontinued, “the government agreed to establish an arrangement with the United States for the sharing of Bomarc ground-to-air missiles as well as utilizing the American Semi Automatic Ground Environment” (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 - 1963)”). Still, Canada needed jet interceptors, therefore two years later “RCAF took possession of 66 used McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet fighters from the United States, a plane they had rejected as inadequate before commissioning the Arrow” (“1959: Diefenbaker cancels Avro Arrow project”). Nonetheless, there still was an ongoing issue with the American weapons that were in fact designed to carry a nuclear warhead; otherwise they were basically useless and the Diefenbaker government infuriated the US administration by keeping refusing its commitment to accept those nuclear warheads as well as other weapons worth hundreds of millions of dollars (“Aftermath”). The decision on the nuclear arsenal question was in the end made by September 1958, when “the direction of the Canadian Defence Policy indicated that the nation fully intended to acquire nuclear warheads from the United States” (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 - 1963)”). However, the negotiations were plagued by various delays as well as by the fact that “Diefenbaker’s cabinet was increasingly divided over the question of whether nuclear warheads should be utilized at all” (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 - 1963)”), since internationally, Canada was against the spread of nuclear weapons, regardless the fact that they were supposed to meet the obligations stemming from Canada’s NATO and NORAD agreements, that is to acquire their own nuclear weapons (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 - 1963)”). The decisive moment for resolving the matter in question came in February 1963 when Lester B. Pearson, the then Leader of the Opposition, expressed his support for the acquisition, even though personally he did not agree with it, however, he wanted to keep the promises the Canadian government made. In the end, though, the tension over the nuclear warheads that emerged in the government as well as Diefenbaker’s own indecisiveness contributed to his political fall. The warheads were purchased by Pearson in 1963, but it was as soon as in 1969 when Canada ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the missiles were phased out (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 – 1963)”).

When considering Canada’s position within NORAD and in the international political arena, the question of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project, purchase of the Bomarcs and other American weapons, and the subsequent question of obtaining the US nuclear warheads represented a very hot issue between the US and Canada. The two powers were “hotly debating deployment of atomic weapons in Canada [and the] U.S. President John F. Kennedy demanded Canada accept the atomic warheads that the Bomarc was designed to carry” (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 – 1963)”). In another words, by purchasing the Bomarc missiles and then hesitating to arm them with the nuclear warheads for which they were designed, they basically became useless, so Diefenbaker’s actions could have easily been questioned (“Diplomacy and Defence”). On the other hand, Diefenbaker inherited the Cold War commitments made by St. Laurent’s Liberals, and thus it was not entirely his idea and his decision whether to initiate a nuclear programme in Canada (“Issues”). Nonetheless, Diefenbaker’s indecisiveness regarding the nuclear weapons, as well as his reluctance to support JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis (“Issues”), even though the US and Canada were NORAD partners, meant other negative points for his already deteriorating public image, which in the end also badly reflected on Canadian position within NORAD as well as in North America.

From the domestic point of view, one of the most negative impacts the cancellation of the Avro Arrow programme had was the loss of the engineering elite, because:

Angry A.V. Roe immediately fired his 14,000 employees, and the government ordered all plans and prototypes destroyed. Cancelling the Arrow made good economic sense, but the effects were felt throughout Canada. Most of the scientists and engineers involved in the project moved to the US, and Canadians bemoaned the devastation of the Canadian aircraft industry. (“Heritage Minutes: Avro Arrow”)

Moreover, Avro Arrow was also a matter of national pride, since it was a purely Canadian product, made by Canadians for Canada. It was a moment “when the eyes of the aviation world were on Canada” (“Aftermath”) and the tragedy was that although Canada demonstrated success; they could never reap its fruits (“Aftermath”). So in the end, Canada had not only lost a chance to produce a unique jet fighter and thus importantly contribute to NORAD and boost its international fame, too, but it also meant a decline in the already decreasing support of and trust in Diefenbaker’s government, deterioration of the US/Canadian relationship and it heavily contributed to the fall of the Diefenbaker’s government afterwards.

The lack of trust to Diefenbaker’s administration was most evident on 3 February 1963, when:

In a Cabinet meeting that morning, Harkness [a member of the then Canadian Parliament] announced that the ‘people of the nation, Party, Cabinet and he had lost confidence in the Prime Minister’.  Diefenbaker asked for a standing Vote of Confidence and, upon seeing several of his Ministers remain seated, left to submit his resignation to the Governor General. (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 – 1963)”)

Not getting support even from his own ministers was a devastating blow and his government fell in the House of Commons on February 6, that is three days after the crucial Cabinet meeting.  Diefenbaker lost the next election, but managed to get the position of Leader of the Opposition. As has already been mentioned above, Pearson as his successor acted quickly and agreed with the US on acquisition of the nuclear warheads by September of 1963.  However, Canada got rid of those weapons as soon as in 1969 and has never purchased any nuclear weapon since (“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 – 1963)”).

In conclusion, Canadian situation after the Second World War and mainly during the Cold War was not an easy one. Naturally, they agreed to set up an organization like NORAD to rise up the level of North American protection, however, being part of such an organization carried with itself not only benefits, but also obligations and those obligations were the Achilles heel of Canada at that time. The problem in question was the possibility of Canada becoming a nuclear power, either by their own means, or thanks to the US equipment. The Avro Arrow project was very advanced, however, its costs became unbearable. The resolution to discontinue the project, however, caused no good since Canada not only lost its military gem, but also many engineers formerly working on Arrow decided to work in the USA rather than in Canada where their future was uncertain, and most of all, it meant a devastating blow to the national pride, since Avro Arrow was meant to be a purely Canadian product, which was on this scale unprecedented. The cancellation of the project also had both international as well as domestic political consequences. From the international point of view, Canada discredited its capabilities to produce their own weapons and had to rely on the US equipment that they were not ready to employ and use in full, since this once again opened the question of acquisition of nuclear weapons which is also the point when the domestic politics suffered the consequence of the aforementioned actions. Not only that Diefenbaker’s decision to call off the Avro Arrow project was very unpopular, but the acquisition of American weapons without the nuclear warheads did not provide any definitive solution, and only caused another disputes over the nuclear question that not only worsened the US/Canadian relationship at that time, but also divided the government at home which in combination with Diefenbaker’s natural indecisiveness and unpopularity cost him his position of the Prime Minister of Canada.


“1959: Diefenbaker cancels Avro Arrow project.” CBC Digital Archives. CBC Radio Canada, 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Aug. 2013. .

“Diplomacy and Defence.” Biography: John Diefenbaker. The Prime Ministers of Canada, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2013. .

“Issues.” Biography: John Diefenbaker. The Prime Ministers of Canada, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2013. .

“Heritage Minutes: Avro Arrow.” Historica Canada. The Historica-Dominion Institute, n.d. 3 Sept. 2013. .

“NORAD Agreement.”  North American Aerospace Defense Command. NORAD, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2013. <http://www.norad.mil/AboutNORAD/NORADAgreement.aspx >.

“NORAD History.”  North American Aerospace Defense Command. NORAD, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2013. <http://www.norad.mil/AboutNORAD/NORADHistory.aspx> ;.

“Origins.” The Avro Arrow. Diefenbaker Canada Centre Archives, 2003. Web. 1 Sept. 2013. .

“Design.” The Avro Arrow. Diefenbaker Canada Centre Archives, 2003. Web. 1 Sept. 2013. <http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/arrow/design.htm>.

“Flight Testing.” The Avro Arrow. Diefenbaker Canada Centre Archives, 2003. Web. 1 Sept. 2013. <http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/arrow/flight.htm>.

“Destruction.” The Avro Arrow. Diefenbaker Canada Centre Archives, 2003. Web. 1 Sept. 2013. <http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/arrow/cancellation.htm>.

“Aftermath.” The Avro Arrow. Diefenbaker Canada Centre Archives, 2003. Web. 4 Sept. 2013. <http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/arrow/aftermath.htm>.

“The CF-105 Avro Arrow: 1958-1959.” Arrow Digital Archives. Arrow Digital Archives, 2009. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. .

“The Nuclear Question in Canada (1957 - 1963).” The Nuclear Question in Canada: a virtual exhibition from the Diefenbaker Canada Centre. Diefenbaker Canada Centre, n.d. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.


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Šonková, Markéta. Avro Arrow: Effect on Canada\'s Policy and Perception of Diefenbaker\'s Administration [online]. E-polis.cz, 29. říjen 2014. [cit. 2017-06-25]. Dostupné z WWW: <http://www.e-polis.cz/clanek/avro-arrow-effect-on-canada-s-policy-and-perception-of-diefenbaker-s-administration.html>. ISSN 1801-1438.

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