International relations are as important now—if not more important—than at any other time in Canada's history, noted Robert Bothwell, former fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and professor of Canadian history at the University of Toronto. Bothwell was joined by Johns Hopkins SAIS professor Charles Doran to discuss his new book, Alliance and Illusion: Canada and the World 1945-1984, at an event hosted by the Canada Institute on June 27, 2007. The book provides an in-depth study of Canada's modern leaders, and pays particular attention to how international events in the decades following World War II influenced and shaped Canada's foreign relations. Bothwell's book is based in part on the research he conducted while in residence as a fellow at the Wilson Center.

In the book, Bothwell reminds us that in 1945 Canada had only recently become a sovereign state (in 1931). Consequently, the Canadian government kept a watchful eye for any attempt to compromise or undermine the country's newfound independence. Nevertheless, in the realm of international affairs, Canada maintained a pattern of "following a greater power's lead." In 1939, explained Bothwell, Canada's forces were content to follow the lead of the British and fight under British command. This trend continued after 1945, with Canada tending to follow the foreign policy initiatives of the United States, which replaced Britain as the dominant power following the Second World War. For Bothwell, Canada's approach to follow rather than lead in external affairs reflects the country's tendency to respond to world events rather than shape them.

However, Bothwell pointed out that there have been several occasions—including the Suez crisis in 1956, the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and questions regarding NATO garrisons in 1969—when Canada refused to follow the lead of its larger, more powerful allies. Bothwell contended that Canada's refusal to abide by the wishes of its allies in these instances was symbolic of the country's expectations of its alliance with Britain and the United States formed during the Second World War that subsequently carried over to the post-war era. According to Bothwell, international alliances are formed with the expectation that each member country will contribute what resources it can to the alliance in return for representation in any decisions that are made. Problems therefore arise when alliance members fail to agree on matters involving foreign affairs, which has frequently been the case between Canada and the United States. Bothwell argued that since World War II, Canada has emerged as a country unafraid to voice its own opinion on international issues, a pattern that continues to frustrate the United States periodically, but "shouldn't be unfamiliar" to American policymakers.

Doran remarked that Alliance and Illusion managed to cover the formative period of Canadian foreign relations from an "authentically Canadian" perspective. He described the book as an objective look into the "great Liberal era" of Canada, noting that between 1945 through 1984, Canada was governed almost entirely by the country's Liberal party. Nonetheless, maintained Doran, Canada's leaders during this period had strikingly different views of the country's responsibilities toward the Western alliance. He illustrated this point by contrasting the foreign policy perspectives of Louis St. Laurent, Canada's prime minister from 1948 to 1957, to those of Pierre Trudeau, Canada's prime minister from 1968 to 1979 (and again from 1980 to 1984). Whereas St. Laurent proclaimed that Canada must be ready to act in collaboration with its allies for the welfare of the North American continent or be "resigned to ineffectiveness," Trudeau was much more inclined to question the wisdom of Canada's allies' foreign policy initiatives and decisions related to external affairs, said Doran. For instance, Trudeau openly questioned why Canada was still sending money and troops to Europe during the Cold War, despite the fact that, in his opinion, the continent had fully recovered from the Second World War. For Doran, this contrast highlighted how Canada's perspective regarding its role and responsibilities within the Western alliance evolved and diverged from that of the United States over time.

In the question period, Bothwell explained in depth the history of Canadian policy towards Latin America, the background and implications of French President de Gaulle's infamous remarks in Montreal, and whether Canadian and American policy differences were exaggerated or real.

Drafted by Ken Crist, Program Associate
David Biette, Director, Canada Institute