Canada Foreign Policy

– Trudeau Essay, Research Paper

In 1970 the Trudeau government issued a major statement defining its foreign policy. Three primary policy aims were presented: preservation of Canada as an independent political entity, maintenance of expanding prosperity, and constructive contribution to human needs.

In 1970-72 Canada scaled back its contribution to NATO, reducing the number of its military and civilian personnel and military bases in Europe. Canada established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of in October 1970; ambassadors were exchanged the following year, and an exchange of consuls and most-favoured-nation trading arrangements were agreed upon in 1973. Trudeau’s attitude toward the Cold War and the Soviet Union was decidedly ambiguous for a prime minister of a country that had been a charter member of NATO and was intimately tied to the United States in Norad. He improved relations with the Soviets at first, believing that closer ties with the Soviet Union would restore balance to Canada’s international position and deemphasize Canada’s role as a partisan of the West. But at the same time, Trudeau did not contest fundamental U.S. policy regarding the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and even the war in Southeast Asia. Despite Trudeau’s cautious and skeptical view of the United States, he was ultimately respectful of the realities of American power. Canada also sought closer relations with the European Economic Community and played a more active role in the United Nations. During the 1970s Canada extended its fishing rights and reaffirmed Canadian sovereignty in its Arctic islands and their icebound waters.

The goal of protecting Canada’s economy led to adjustments in relations with the United States. In 1970 Canada increased the price of petroleum and natural gas sold to the United States, and in 1974 a plan to gradually reduce those sales and end them by 1982 was announced. This action was taken to protect domestic supplies of fossil fuels in the face of increasing prices of imported oil used in the eastern provinces. In 1978 Canada initiated purchases of new airplanes and other military equipment to better defend its borders and fulfill its international commitments.

In accordance with the third aim of its foreign policy–to contribute to human needs–Trudeau’s government expanded Canada’s foreign aid efforts and pursued a policy promoting the international control of nuclear weaponry. Canada undertook efforts to control pollution in its coastal waters, and in 1972 Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to control pollution of the lakes.

In foreign policy, Trudeau’s approach to the Americans and the Cold War changed little after the Clark interregnum. In July 1983, despite his professed disdain for the U.S. preoccupation with the Cold War, Trudeau’s government gave the United States permission to test cruise missile guidance systems in the Canadian north, over the strenuous objections of peace groups and environmentalists. In late 1983, however, possibly to balance his decision on the cruise missiles, Trudeau mounted a well-publicized global peace mission to the capitals of countries possessing nuclear weapons to press for greater international cooperation on nuclear arms control and reduction. He had little success; U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were clearly annoyed by his initiative

THE ECONOMIST magazine has an unusually clever cover this week, titled “America’s World.” It shows a distorted world map, with an overly large, continental United States filling up all of the centre space, and the other six continents shrunk down to microscopic size and pushed to the margins of the globe.

The one country besides the U.S. that benefits from this fanciful exercise is Canada. As part of the North American continent, our size expands automatically with that of the U.S.

In the editorial accompanying this cover, The Economist comments that the U.S. “bestrides the world like a colossus,” in every dimension from the economic and financial and political to the cultural and technological.

All true. What the magazine didn’t add – unsurprisingly, since it’s scarcely of world-shattering importance – is that the very fact that the U.S. is now the world’s only super-power, the “indispensable” nation that overshadows all the rest, means that Canada – although we certainly don’t tower over anyone else – can now cast a longer and deeper shadow around the world.

That Canada’s economic performance is contingent upon that of the U.S. is obvious. Almost 85 per cent of our exports go there. When the U.S. booms, as it is doing now, so do we. That the same things happen to us diplomatically, has been less often remarked on.

That the U.S. is now a “colossus” and that we are at one and the same time similar to Americans in so many respects and yet also different from them, does, potentially, extend our diplomatic reach. The very fact that the rest of the world is focused upon the U.S. and is obsessed by it draws attention to us. Other nations are more eager than usual for us to help them get a read on American policies and politics.

All of this augments our diplomatic influence circumstantially and indirectly. How we use this opportunity depends upon us. Most particularly, it depends upon whether we know what we want to do in foreign policy.

At this propitious juncture, we seem to know what we want to do. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has developed a coherent foreign policy built upon the concepts of soft power, of sustainable human security and of promoting civic society, or the society of citizens and of voluntary organizations, rather than just that of conventional state power.

Whether this policy is the right one for us and whether we are executing it well or badly is a subject for another time. The point is that it is a distinctively Canadian foreign policy. We have to rely on soft power because we have little hard, military power (just about none). Moreover, human rights issues are central to the contemporary Canadian consciousness, in part as a consequence of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in part because we are so diverse and polyglot a society that we have to work out ways to live together and, by doing this, gain experience and understanding in how to promote ethnic and other harmonies around the world.

So long as the Cold War lasted, the U.S. was concerned that Canadians at least be seen to be making a military contribution to the Western Alliance. Also, it didn’t like Canada attempting East-West reconciliation, as Pierre Trudeau did by his peace initiative.

Now that the Cold War is history, we are free to develop any foreign policy we wish. The U.S. isn’t even that upset – in part because it’s become so isolationist; mostly because it’s so powerful – when we take issue with its military policy, as Axworthy did last week when he called on the U.S. to be “front and centre” in trying to achieve global nuclear disarmament, rather than retreating from it, as the U.S. Senate did by rejecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Here’s the last part of the opportunity that circumstances have presented to us. On a whole range of issues, from free trade to an international criminal court, the U.S. is in an inward-turned, defensive phase. Canadians, though, are astonishingly assertive about international issues. A study by Ekos Research last year found a “streak of moralism” that “pervaded” Canadians’ thinking about foreign affairs.

It would be going too far to say, in a play upon The Economist’s cover, that it is “Canada’s world.” It is, though, a world where Canada can feel more at home, almost everywhere, than we’ve felt in decades.


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