The Ogdensburg Agreement: The Canadians use the Americans

 
…Britain might not withstand the expected Nazi invasion. If that happened Canada would lose its two divisions of troops in Britain, it trained aircrew there, and possibly the four destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy, sent there on 23 May 1940; in other words, most of the country’s trained military manpower would be consumed in the flames of defeat. That was bad enough; much worse, the Royal Navy might fall into Nazi hands and then North America itself could be subject to an invasion in the near future.[1]
 
The situation in 1940 looked pretty bleak in terms of Canada’s position in the Second World War both in the defence of Britain and in the defence of Canadian soil itself. The Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had two choices, either continue to support the British cause and hope for the best, or look for an ally to who would be willing to defend both Canada and themselves if British and Canadian troops fell in Europe. Mackenzie King looked to the most likely possible ally who would be interested in securing the North American continent, the United States. Mackenzie King would look to the United States for a military agreement that would allow Canada to support the British cause, yet, would also protect Canadian soil from invasion. King would be successful for his quest for a military alliance when, in August 1940, King and the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, would sign the Ogdensburg Agreement. In order to fully understand why the Ogdensburg Agreement came about, the political realities of both Canada and the United States in the Spring of 1940 and the outcomes of the Ogdensburg Agreement need to be fully investigated.
 
The Canadian situation in the Spring of 1940 was frightening to most Canadian citizens. Perhaps a little known diplomat of the time, Lester B. Pearson, stated the Canadian situation best when he said “we might lose the war, and we had to face that fact.”[2] Pearson’s words would ring true with most Canadians as “opinion in Canada shifted quickly in favour of closer military cooperation with the United States”.[3] Military cooperation with the United States seemed to be inevitable, however, there was one simple problem that had to be overcome. The United States was still a neutral country in the Second World War and a positive response from the American President was crucial to developing a bilateral military agreement for North America.
 
The Canadian Prime Minister had did not have to worry about the response to such a proposal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt had for years had advocated bilateral dialog between the two countries. According to War Historian and Royal Military Academy Master Student, Aran Plamondon “it was Roosevelt that introduced defence into the bilateral dialog, beginning in July 1936 when he made an unprecedented presidential visit to Quebec to speak at the Citadel.”[4] In this speech, Plamondon notes, the President called for the United States and Canada “to close the gaps that hindered unity.”[5] Roosevelt was concerned on the defence of North America as well. Roosevelt, according to Canadian Historians Alvin Finkel and Margaret Conrad, worried “that Canada’s involvement in the war made the whole North American continent vulnerable to the fascist dictators.”[6] The President, acting upon his thoughts, convened a meeting of Canadian and American military officials on July 11th 1940 in Washington.[7]
 
The move to produce a military agreement was underway with the meetings in Washington in July 1940. Closer cooperation between the two countries because, King realized, “the military weakness of the United States was also apparent, but there could be no doubt that President Franklin Roosevelt’s country was the only hope…of Canada.”[8] Hugh Keenleyside also recognized the need for Canada and the United States to work together. Keenleyside, an advisor in the department of prepared a memorandum to Mackenzie King on the points that would need to be discussed if the Prime Minister were to meet Roosevelt. As Canadian War Historian J.L. Granatstein writes in his article, “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensburg, August 1940,” “the two most important paragraphs [of Keenleyside’s memorandum] covered defense …including the gradual switching of the Canadian Forces to the use of United States mechanized equipment.”[9] Granatstein explains the need to gradually switch Canadian Forces to American made equipment in order to standardize military industrial production. However, the Canadian Forces would only gradually switch to American made equipment as the older British versions became obsolete due to either lack of ammunition or malfunction. Keenleyside’s memorandum would soon prove to become useful as President Roosevelt called on King to meet him at Ogdensburg, New York on the 14th of August 1940.
 
Before Mackenzie King left for Ogdensburg, New York, he called on his Minister of National Defence, Colonel Ralston, to produce a list of equipment “Canada sought from the United States.”[10] According to Granatstein Ralston’s meeting was King’s “only briefing prior to the meeting with Roosevelt” and “equally important, King took no advisors with him.”[11] The President’s idea was “to create a joint board to oversee the defence of North America.”[12] Henry L. Stimson, Roosevelt’s Secretary of War also attended the Ogdensburg meeting and outlined Roosevelt’s idea of the joint board. Stimson wrote that the President:
 
Suggested that there should be a Joint Board composed of representatives of the Army and Navy and Air Force in Canada, together with one lay person, and a similar group for the United States. The function of this Committee should be to discuss plans for defence of the Northern Half of the Western Hemisphere…he pointed out how vitally important it was that there should be conferences, discussions, and plans made…in case there should be an attack.[13]
 
The Prime Minister was a little leery of the creation of the Joint Board because the President insisted the board be permanent. King questioned Roosevelt on the need for the permanence of the Defence Board. Roosevelt explained that his intentions of the board was “not to meet alone this particular situation but to help secure the continent in the future.”[14] After explaining this technicality, both countries signed what would become the Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940 in order to create the Joint Board of Defence.
 
King quickly telegrammed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in order to announce the defence agreement between Canada and the United States. Aran Plamondon best describes Churchill’s response to the Ogdensburg Agreement when he writes:
 
His preliminary response contained traces of sealed disgust and dissapointment at how the Canadians were shielding themselves under the American umbrella. A telegram in response to King reads: ‘there may be two opinions on some of the points mentioned. Supposing Mr. Hitler cannot invade us … all these transactions will be judged in a mood different to that prevailing while the issue still hangs in the balance.’ In a later reply to another King telegram, he seems to have realized that the agreement was logical and that it was for the best. He wrote: ‘I am very glad to have this opportunity of thanking you personally for all you have done for the common cause and especially in promoting a harmony of sentiment throughout the World’.[15]
 
Mackenzie King had completed what was necessary in order to protect Canada in a time of military uncertainty. King also seems to have sold the idea to Winston Churchill. However, King was also able to ensure that the Joint Board of Defence would operate on Canadian as well as American terms.
 
The Canadian Prime Minister was not about to give into American pressure. That is why during the Ogdensburg negotiations he rejected the idea of American bases on Canadian soil.[16] It appears the King was not willing to give up Canada’s sovereignty on the issue of defence. King was willing to work with the Americans on North American defence, however, if defence required giving up Canadian sovereignty, he would hear none of it. However, Roosevelt responded to King’s rejection by saying “if necessity required the seizure of facilities in Halifax or Saint John, so be it.”[17] This would not be the last time King would be forced to stand up to the Americans.
 
A second time the Canadian Prime Minister refused to budge was on the initial defence plan that was drafted by the newly created Permanent Joint Board on Defence. The Board, in the fall of 1940, “approved a plan for the defence of North America in the event of a British defeat that gave the Americans strategic control over Canadian forces.”[18] However, King rejected this plan and called on the board to draft another. “In the spring of 1941, a new plan was drawn up, to come into effect should the United States enter the war. This time, Canadian negotiators refused to give the United States such extensive control of Canada’s forces, and rejected proposals to integrate much of the country’s defences into Washington’s Northeast and Northwest Defence Commands.”[19] The rejection by the Canadian delegation and Mackenzie King would ensure that Canada would maintain control over military operations involving Canadian troops. It would be up the Canadian government to place control of Canadian troops under American Command when a conflict arose and not on the basis of a military agreement.
 
The legacy of the Ogdensburg Agreement would have immense effect on Canadian military history. The agreement would lead to the establishment of several military treaties and operations between the two countries. According to the Canadian Department of National Defence the Ogdensburg agreement has lead to the “construction of the Distant Early Warming Line of radars, the creation of the North American Air (later Aerospace) Defence Command in 1958, the bi-national operation of the underwater acoustic surveillance system and high-frequency direction finding network and the decision to proceed with the North American Air Defence Modernization program in 1985.”[20] The Ogdensburg agreement was the beginning of along military relationship between Canada and the United States that would allow for the development of many military projects come to fruition. For example, the agreement had not been in place the idea of the North American Air Defence (NORAD) would not be able to take place because the Americans and the Canadians would not be able to do it alone. However, with the Ogdensburg agreement in place, the Permanent Joint Board on Defence could draft an agreement between the two country’s top military leaders that each country could easily agree to. Therefore, the Ogdensburg Agreement itself allows the two countries to come together military, and each would make a contribution.
 
Canada to was unable to make any contributions militarily or financially at the time the Ogdensburg Agreement was signed. At the time of the agreement, Canadian Conservative Party Leader Arthur Meighan “accused King of abandoning Britain and placing Canada in the control of the United States.”[21] Canadian Historian Donald Creighton claimed that Canada “is…the nation too weak to resist American imperialism and Canada simply out to the United States.”[22] However, both of them had it wrong, Mackenzie King was a major deal broker when he needed to be. King was forced to consider that the country had basically left itself defenceless by allowing its forces to go over to Europe and what was looking like defeat. Mackenzie King knew that he had to defend the country militarily somehow or he would loose not only the next election, but also the possibility of Canada falling victim to Nazi rule. Therefore, William Lyon Mackenzie merely made a deal that both the Canadian and American governments could live with. The Permanent Joint Board of Defence was a necessary tool in order to entice the Americans to agree to defend Canada during 1940. Lets also consider King’s outright refusal to allow the United States to station troops on Canadian soil unless Canada was being invaded. Also, the approval of Winston Churchill would seem to conclude that King was simply protecting Canadian interests pragmatically while still allowing the majority of the Canadian military to remain in the protection of British soil. Therefore, the Ogdensburg agreement was a pragmatic approach to a Canadian crisis and not merely ‘selling out’ to the Americans.
 
The Canadian government following the war would ensure that American military influences would be kept to a minimum by agreeing to be a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Canadian government realized that other partners would be required in order to counterbalance the heavy American military demands made at the Ogdensburg agreement. Thus, as Canadian Historian Desmond Morton points out:
 
Canadian diplomats offered the hope that NATO agreements could conceivably cover North America as well as Europe. Instead of living alone with the Americans, Canada would have ten allies to curb her [(America’s)] occasionally wilful friends in Washington. In another phrase beloved by Canadians at the time: ‘twelve in the bed means no rape.’[23]
 
The Canadian government had recognized the after the war that it could not stand up to the American demands for military implementation on its own. Therefore, the government of Canada looked for the best way to curb the heavy American influence by joining with the United States and other countries in the NATO agreement.
 
The Ogdensburg Agreement allowed Canada to continue to contribute to the war in Europe. The agreement also allowed the President Roosevelt to relieve his fears that the North American continent would be allowed virtually undefended. However, the President did not consider that the agreement during the war really only protected Canadian soil and not American soil. Roosevelt did consider that the majority of the Canadian military was in Europe at the time. However, he did not consider if Germany was successful in invading Great Britain, that the Canadian forces were most likely to be obliterated or placed under Nazi control. The Canadian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King during the war, realized that the shift of military power was shifting from the British to the Americans and the Ogdensurg Agreement meant that Canada could take advantage of America’s military power. Thus:
 
the Ogdensburg Agreement was an obvious proof of Canada’s realization that her safety must depend ultimately on the security of North America. …Whether the British Cause suffered further defeats, or whether it proved ultimately victorious, this defensive association with the United States was likely to bulk larger and larger in Canadian policy. Whoever won or lost in the end, the Second World War was almost certain to bring about a new balance of power in the world.[24]
 
 
Bibliography
 
“1939 - 1945: The World at War.” Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 2000. Online. Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/hist/canada6-e.asp
 
“1994 White Paper : Chapter 5.” Department of National Defence. 1994. Online. Internet. 30 October 2000. Available: http://www.dnd.ca/menu/canada-us/chap5_e.htm
 
Creighton, D. G. “The Ogdensburg Agreement and F.H. Underhill.” The West and The Nation: Essays in Honour of W.L. Morton. Ed. Carl Berger and Ramsay Cook. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976. 300-320.
 
Finkel, Alvin and Margaret Conrad. History of the Canadian Peoples: 1867 to the Present. 2nd ed. Toronto: Copp Clark Ltd., 1998.
 
Granatstein, J.L. How Britain’s weakness forced Canada into the arms of the United States. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.
 
Granatstein, J.L. “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensburg, August 1940.” Fifty Years of Canada-United States Defense Cooperation. Ed. Joel J. Sokolsky and Joseph T. Jockel. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. 9-29.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. 9-29.
 
Morton, Desmond. “The NATO Alliance: Do North Americans Care?” Defense Associations National Network: National Network News. Vol. 3 No. 6 (April 1995). Online. Simon Fraser University. Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: http://www.sfu.ca/~dann/nn3-6_3a.htm
 
Plamondon, Aran. “Canada and the Ogdensburg Agreement: the Historical Analysis of a Logical Profession.” Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Military and Strategic Studies Colloquium. 24 March 2000. Online. University of Calgary. Internet. Available: http://www.stratnet.ucalgary.ca/smss/Colloquium2000/Plamondon.html
 
Trotter, R.G. and A.B. Corey, Eds. Proceedings of the Conference on Canadian-American Affairs, 1941. Toronto: Ginn Co. 1941.
 
 

 [1]J.L. Granatstein. “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensubrg, August 1940.” Fifty years of Canada-Unied States Defense Cooperation. Ed. Joel J. Sokolsky and Joseph T. Jockel. (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992): 14.

[2]R.G. Trotter and A.B. Corey, Eds. Proceedings of the Confrence on Canadian-American Affairs, 1941. (Toronto: Ginn Co. 1941): 227.

 

[3]“1939 - 1945: The World at War.” Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 2000. Online.Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/hist/canada6-e.asp

 

[4]Aran Plamondon.Canada and the Ogdensburg Agreement: the Historical Analysis of a Logical Profession.” Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Military and Strategic Studies Colloquim. 24 March 2000. Online. University of Calgary. Internet. Available: www.stratnet.ucalgary.ca/smss/Colloquium2000/Plamondon.html

 

[5]Ibid. www.stratnet.ucalgary.ca/smss/Colloquium2000/Plamondon.html

 

[6]Alvin Finkel and Margaret Conrad. History of the Canadian Peoples: 1867 to the Present. 2nd ed. (Toronto: Copp Clark Ltd., 1998): 324.

 

[7]J.L. Granatstein. “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensubrg, August 1940.”: 15.

 

[8]J.L. Granatstein. How Britain’s Weakness forced Canada into the arms of the United States. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989): 27.

[9]J.L. Granatstein . “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensburg, August 1940.” 17.

 

[10]Ibid. 20.

 

[11]Ibid. 20.

 

[12] “1939 - 1945: The World at War.” Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 2000. Online. Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/hist/canada6-e.asp

 

[13]Henry Stimson qtd. in Aran Plomandon. “Canada and the Ogdensburg Agreement: the Historical Analysis of a Logical Profession.” Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Military and Strategic Studies Colloquium. 24 March 2000. Online. University of Calgary. Internet. Available: www.stratnet.ucalgary.ca/smss/Colloquium2000/Plamondon.html

 

[14]J.L. Granatstein “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensburg, August 1940.” 20.

[15] Aran Plomandon.Canada and the Ogdensburg Agreement: the Historical Analysis of a Logical Profession.” Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Military and Strategic Studies Colloquium. 24 March 2000. Online. University of Calgary. Internet. Available: www.stratnet.ucalgary.ca/smss/Colloquium2000/Plamondon.html

               

[16]J.L. Granatstein. “Mackenzie King and Canada at Ogdensburg, August 1940.” 21.

 

[17]Ibid. 21.

[18]“1939 - 1945: The World at War.” Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 2000. Online.Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/hist/canada6-e.asp

 

[19]Ibid. Available: www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/hist/canada6-e.asp.

 

[20]1994 White Paper : Chapter 5.” Department of National Defence. 1994. Online. Internet. 30 October 2000. Available: www.dnd.ca/menu/canada-us/chap5_e.htm

[21] “1939 - 1945: The World at War.” Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 2000. Online. Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/hist/canada6-e.asp

 

[22]Aran Plomandon.Canada and the Ogdensburg Agreement: the Historical Analysis of a Logical Profession.” Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Military and Strategic Studies Colloquium. 24 March 2000. Online. University of Calgary. Internet. Available: www.stratnet.ucalgary.ca/smss/Colloquium2000/Plamondon.html

[23]Desmond Morton. “The NATO Alliance: Do North Americans Care?” Defense Associations National Network: National Network News. Vol. 3 No. 6 (April 1995). Online. Simon Fraser University. Internet. 30 October 2001. Available: www.sfu.ca/~dann/nn3-6_3a.htm

 

[24]D.G. Creighton. “The Ogdensburg Agreement and F.H. Underhill.” The West and The Nation: Essays in Honour of W.L. Morton. Ed. Carl Berger and Ramsay Cook. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart 1976): 303.

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