Canadian Foreign and Defense Policy 1944-1964


In 1964, the Canadian Defense Policy was under review about the many changes that had resulted from the years of both before and after war eras. Previously, the Canadian defense was under its allies, and the expenditure was low. The policy paper was also reviewed in different years following this one. However, policies maintain consistency as it is evident from its history. In 1947, Brooke Claxton said that the main work of the forces is to defend the country from external threats, help the civilians maintain law and order and volunteer on any undertaking that will enhance cordial relations with Canada under the United Nations. The 1964 White Paper, after some changes were affected, it was issued just like other subsequent papers after that.

This article looks into the major issues that made impacts in the 1964 White Paper. First, the historical aspect of the defense forces of Canada was under review in this paper. For many years up to the World War II, Canada had no defense policy of its own. It is because it worked on the strategies of its allies. During the period leading to the World War II, the defense policy was formulated during the Cold War years and was in use during the years that followed. It is because Canada’s security came from the alliance it had made with America and also the NATO forming countries. She also believed that she was playing a role in containing and deterring Russia which was a potential threat to the stability of North America. Due to this, as R B Byers said, the policy did not have a lot of independence in its strategies and analysis. The development of the Canadian forces was inadequate and required re-organization. Again, the development of the forces depended on the plan of the allies and also their requirements in the political scene.

The White Paper of 1964 was drafted with an emphasis on Canada’s defense system in mind at a time when the review of the Cold War policies was in progress. It also came at a time when Canada realized that she needed to depart from the plans from her allies that governed her, as a result of her engagement in the Korean War. It was at this time that Canada’s isolation came to an end and their resolve was to be committed to serving in an international assignment as duty called. However, the paper was contained within the system of the allies and also recognized that she had limited capabilities of producing modern weapons and therefore supported the sharing of international production of arms as the only way of approaching the conundrum in the policy. The main aim of the White Paper was to update the defense policy with reorganizing the forces as a major priority.

Secondly, despite the policy of containment, Russian was increasingly becoming a threat. It was a result of this that both United States and Canada formed a link between them, and Canada maintained this posture during the World Wars. It changed when Russia developed nuclear weapons, which directly threatened America. The White Paper had to focus on how the threat to its security as weapon technology developed. The developments in the technology in weapons and political ideologies prompted strategic policies to change, as observed from 1944 to 1964. As a result, both the strategies in the military and equipment were becoming outdated, and so, the Western states on seeing how the situation was turning out had every reason to be concerned. They wanted to form a stable security team that would work together in case of an attack.

The deployment of Canadian forces was primarily determined by the requirements of NATO and United States. During the outbreak of the Korean War, air and the ground troops were deployed to Europe. The Naval forces were working for the NATO’s AWS in the Atlantic. The soldiers in North America were equipped with nuclear weapons under the arrangement of ‘two-key’ between them and the United States. All of this required a substantial allocation of funds, and it caused the federal budget to increase in the 1950s. It was a result of the costly weapons and also the demand on the domestic budget that made the made the government review the defense policy.

Thirdly, the other factor that influenced the policy was the international outlook. The Canadian forces together with the forces of her allies trained for both conventional and nuclear warfare. Their involvement in the foreign missions brought Canada on the table alongside other nations and also allowed her to take part in the deliberations involving issues of global security. Her involvement in these discussions elevated her status and was seen as one of the industrialized nations of the west. James Eayrs said that the primary motive of Canada’s involvement and maintaining the military presence was not for their security, but it was because of elevating and underpinning the negotiating powers and propagating diplomatic relations with foreign nations and organizations.

The approach received many appraisals both home and abroad during the era of the cold war and beyond. To most Canadian, defense policy was not an issue that required much attention, and it was not a priority in the domestic affairs. They were proud that their forces were in NORAD and also in NATO and peacekeeping was seen as good thing. Thus the public was proud of it. Many of the Canadians did not think that there was the need for a substantial budget allocation towards the defense forces.

One of the significant impacts of lack of ability to follow the requirements of the policy was the fall of Diefenbaker. His reluctance and indecisiveness in the acquisition of nuclear arms led to the collapse of his government a situation that he had inherited from his predecessors. He did not entirely deserve the blame for either creation of issues of that nature or trying to differ with the policy. There lacked adequate initiatives to guide the matter, and Diefenbaker and his administration lacked a foundation on which to base their actions.

Indeed, throughout his tenure, Diefenbaker struggled with the decision of acquiring nuclear weapons. It created a lot of problems between him and President Kennedy who was angry because Diefenbaker could not make a fast decision on the matter. He saw it as a reluctance to honor the agreement they had made concerning the nuclear weapons. Diefenbaker once told him that he was interfering in Canadian affairs.It is true that the defense policy was based on having a defense that had the collective responsibility and relied on the strategies of others. As a result, Canada entered into some agreements with the US to enhance this case and so, there were informal treaties which required Canada and the American government to enable it. Later it caused Diefenbaker his post when he tried to go against it. US President, JF Kennedy had a meeting with Diefenbaker in May 1961 in which Kennedy pushed Canada to incorporate nuclear missiles to be included in the defense policy. Diefenbaker and his administration were undecided over the issue and questioned the use of the warheads.

There was a dilemma as Canada was against the use of nuclear weapons internationally and to include it in the national policy would contradict the two stands.It was Lester B Pearson, a Liberal leader who said that he supported the acquisition of the weapons so that Canada could fulfill the agreement she had made with NATO and NORAD. He was not happy with the role his country had agreed to play in the defense, but Canada was bound by these agreements. It was not until the defense policy was changed that Canada could evade what it had committed to do. In 1963, after he became the Prime Minister, he agreed with the US government to acquire the warheads and tabled it in the House of Common later in September of the same year. It was such conundrums that set the background for the review of the policy of 1964. The changes which were proposed included the ability of Canada to make her own decisions as far as defense equipment acquisition was concerned rather than relying on her allies to do so. Mclin said that the operations meant to keep peace would no longer be determined by Canada’s partners, but it will be after deliberations in agreement with the policy were made. In 1961, after 20 years, the Columbia River Treaty was signed by the United States and Canada.

It formalized the beginning of dam construction on the Columbia River, with an aim to control flooding and to generate power. With the World War II came a sense of urgency to develop the river. The energy produced would go a long way to help make the armory. However, the BC Premier, WAC Bennett initially wanted to develop the two rivers that run in his territory. He wanted the dam to be built on his conditions because he wanted the proceeds to establish his province. The residents of the surrounding areas were not consulted, and the compensations were very little. For Canada, a signing of the treaty was also a sign of loyalty to the United States.In conclusion, the Canadian defense policy had not been reviewed for many years up to the World War II and largely depended on the strategies of her allies. In 1964, a White Paper defense was under review because according to a report from the Ad Hoc committee on security said it was not efficient and needed revision. Many factors that had influenced the defense policy of the subsequent years and it was a time the federal government reviewed the plan.

Kirton, John J., and Don Munton. Canadian Foreign Policy: Selected Cases. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall Canada, 1992.

Nossal, Kim Richard, StГ©phane Roussel, and StГ©phane Paquin. The politics of Canadian foreign policy. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP, 2015.