Examining the emergence of the Cold War

United States and Canada has always been one of constant change. During the post-World War II era and through the emergence of the Cold War, the relationship between these neighboring countries continued to develop and change drastically, forever altering the way in which the two nations dealt with one another. During this time, Canada certainly followed some of the United States’ foreign and defense policies, but the post-cold war era also proved Canada to be a self-standing nation, capable and willing to create its own policies based on the needs of the country.

This two-part paper will examine how the emergence of the Cold War affected the relationship between Canada and the United States in a positive way, allowing for an advancement of trade policies as well as defense policies, while at the same time causing increasing tension between the two nations in terms of independence. Secondly, this paper will discuss the foreign and defense policies of Canada during the Cold War era years of 1945-1957, and will show that although Canada may have followed U.S. policy in some areas, they also created and maintained their own foreign and defense policies. This paper will show that the beneficial, albeit rocky, relationship that emerged from the Cold War era between the United States and Canada allowed Canada to maintain its own foreign policy, and to dictate the future of its country.

Even as early as 1921, relations between the United States and Canada were improving. In that year, Canada’s exports to the United States topped those to the United Kingdom. Even though the turbulence between the nations continued, relations were definitely improving. By 1938, United States President Franklin Roosevelt had made a promise to protect Canada in the event of foreign aggression (Thompson, 2003). This was partially due to the United States realization that entry by foreign combatants into Canada would threaten the security of the U.S. Additionally, then Prime Minister Mackenzie King was an admirer of President Roosevelt, who treated King with respect (Thompson, 2003).

The beginnings of true cooperation between the two nations occurred during World War II. During that time, Roosevelt and King negotiated to form a Permanent Joint Board of Defense, otherwise known as the Ogdensburg Agreement. Additionally during this time, the two leaders combined economic forces with the Hyde Park Agreement, which coordinated the economic war mobilization of the two countries (Hilmer, 1989).

Relations between the two countries were further improved by the appointment of a Canadian Ambassador to the United States. Until that time, Canada had been represented by the British Ambassador, and unofficially represented by Canadian diplomats in other areas of the world (Thompson, 2003). The step of creating an Ambassador specifically to assist with relations to the United States showed the Canadian’s dedication to improving relations, and creating a combined trade economy with the U.S.

The end of World War II meant a time of reallocation of resources for Canada. At the time, Canadians were focused on foreign policies and relations, and did not have a clear focus of national security (“Cold War,” 2002). Their assistance and large role in the Allied victory meant that Canada was now one of the more powerful nations of the world, having a large military and stable economy (“Foreign Policy, 2002). The Canadian government in power at the end of the war saw their role in the world’s foreign market, and aimed to maintain it. As a result, the government drastically reduced the size of its military forces, forcing the military down to an active service strength of only 51,000 members (“Cold War,” 2002).

Part of this decision was due to the newly created United Nations, in which Canada was a key member. Created in 1945, the United Nations treaty, much of which was drafted with the prime assistance of Canada, was designed to promote peace and security in the world. It also served to promote human rights, and security policies. At the time, Canada saw the UN as a guideline for their foreign and defense policies, aiming to promote peace, and avoid aggression (“Canada and the UN,” 2003). As part of this policy, the Canadian government was focused on reallocating resources to assist in post-war recovery efforts, and diverted monies from the military for that purpose.

This concept of a defense policy certainly differed from that of the United States. Following World War II, the United States lowered their military personnel, but increased their defense funding of submarines, aircraft, and other vessels (Milford, 1997). In the post-WWII era, the United States recognized that the already unstable relations between the Western World and Communism were falling apart, and even the relations between the Allies of WWII were beginning to diminish (“Cold War,” 2003). Thus, the U.S. military began work on naval planning and weapons acquisition with the Soviet Union as the enemy in mind (Milford, 1997).

The Canadian government realized their need for an increase in security not by the United States’ lead, but by an incident in September of 1945. A clerk at the Ottawa Soviet embassy defected with documents that showed the existence of a Soviet spy ring in Canada. Not only were lay people involved in the ring, but some of Canada’s top public servants and scientists were also involved, causing Canada to have concerns over their atomic research information (“Cold War,” 2003).

This concern was shared by the United States, which further strengthened the bond between the once hostile nations. By 1947, Communist satellites were created on the borders of the Soviet Union, threatening Greece and Iran, and the Soviet Union was expanding its interests in Europe and Asia (“Cold War,” 2002). Both the United States and Canada were concerned on the foreign policy front that the Communist nations were attempting to spread throughout the world.

This link of foreign policy, however, was not simply a following of America by Canada. In post-WWII Canada, the post war era was providing a solid economic foundation dependent on foreign policy and foreign trade. Following WWII, the government of Canada had dismantled many of the previous industrial controls to encourage foreign trade. Additionally, foreign aid and trade allowed for the discovery and development of new oil supplies in Alberta and Quebec. The trade of those supplies helped Canada to establish a basic standard of living, which included unemployment insurance, veteran’s benefits, pensions, subsidized housing, and health plans (“Canada,” 2003). Canada realized that without their foreign trade, which the spread of Communism was threatening, their nation’s economy would severely falter.

Motivated by their need for continued foreign policy, and a need for a new defense policy, Canadian External Affairs Department member Escott Reid proposed in 1947 that an organization be created, consisting of Allied parties. This organization would provide collective security in Western Europe and all non-communist areas to counter the Communist threat. The proposal was backed by Secretary of State for External Affairs Louis St. Laurent and Lester B. Pearson, Deputy to the Secretary (“Cold War,” 2002). Again, Canada acted on behalf of the nation, seeking to further enhance their defense strategies in the most economic way possible, so that their foreign relations would not suffer. Rather than acting from the lead of the United States, Canada took the lead, proposing a united strategy that would benefit all parties involved. The American government followed Canada’s lead, and talks began among the nations to for NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

By 1948, the need for a solid security strategy had deepened. The once democratic government of Czechoslovakia had been replaced by a Communist coup. Additionally, the Soviet Union had blockaded the Allied areas of Berlin, virtually trapping the inhabitants within Communist Germany. In response, a joint effort by the United States, Canada, and other Allies was pushed, which airlifted food, fuel, and supplies for the trapped citizens of Berlin (“Cold War,” 2003). This joint effort by Canada and the United States was in tune with Canada’s new defense and foreign policies of providing assistance to Allied nations, and promoting democratic tradition.

By 1948, relations between the United States and Canada had begun to lose their post-war euphoria, giving Canada another reason to push for a NATO alliance. Due to a rise in imports from the United States, and an already existing financial crisis with foreign trade, Canada had no choice but to stop imports from the U.S. In the nature of positive relations, the U.S. added Canada to the list of “off-shore” sources of the European Recovery Plan, or the Marshall Plan. This meant that post-war recovery programs could purchase from Canada, resulting in an economic boom for Canada (“Cold War,” 2003).

To avoid economic problems in the future, Canada and the U.S. set out to create a free trade deal. An agreement was reached that allowed for the removal of all duties and for the creation of customs unions between the two nations. However, before the deal could be completed, Prime Minister King pulled out. Citing skepticism of American motives, and fearing the end result of the absorption of Canada into the United States, King stopped the deal (Jockel, Sokolsky, 1996).

The result was a put-off United States. Realizing this furthered the need for an outside alliance, talks of NATO resumed. At this point, Canada saw NATO as more than just a defense strategy in the face of Communism. Canada fought and won a battle in discussions to require all members of NATO to cooperate economically. Additionally, the NATO alliance assured that Canada would have a say in combined foreign policy and security. Even further, Canada would be able to deal with the United States on more of a multilateral level, which would help ease the disparity between the nations (Jockel, Sokolsky, 1996). Rather than simply following America’s lead in foreign affairs, Canada was determined to make decisions in the best interest of the Canadian people.

By 1949, the threat of Communism was in full swing. The Soviet Union had tested its first nuclear weapon, and the world took notice. Now that the Soviet Union had long-range bombers, the North American continent was in danger of invasion (“Cold War,” 2002). This allowed the full agreement of NATO to continue, with Canada, the United States, and 10 European countries joining. This effectively created a unified defense strategy for all members. Canada, taking the lead yet again, agreed to an early commitment of troops, electing to send both infantry divisions and air divisions (“Cold War,” 2002).

The U.S. wanted a reliable detection system in place, in case of a Soviet launch. To the United States, Canadian airspace and territory were essential to the security of North America, and therefore, to the U.S. As a whole (Jockel, Sokolsky, 1996). Canada, on the other hand, was somewhat more skeptical about the Soviets capability for launch, and in their intentions (“Cold War,” 2003). Even so, Canada had to take the United States into account, in part due to the NATO agreement, but also because their foreign policy and foreign trade was extremely dependant on the U.S.

The U.S. proposed a bilateral defense relationship between Canada and themselves, and Canada agreed. The proposal resulted in a vast network of radars spanning the entire North American continent. The final line, known as the DEW line (distant early warning), stretched to the Atlantic (“Cold War,” 2003). The radar network was designed to allow for early detection and warning systems for any incoming attack on North America. This warning included the detection and assessment of any missiles or aircraft entering Canadian or U.S. airspace (Jockel, 2003).

While Canada agreed to the project, they could not agree to the funding. Canada had committed themselves to the foreign aid of NATO and the UN, and did have the resources to fund such a massive undertaking. Thus, the United States funded much of the project (“Cold War,” 2003). This relationship, with Canada trusting the United States within their boarders, and in their airspace, and with the United States trusting Canada and their military, helped to strengthen the bonds again between the two nations. Canada, used to being under the protective arm of Britain, no longer needed security from them, but instead turned towards the United States. The agreement placed Canada where no other ally of the United States had been: a central component to the strategic nuclear forces where the United States’ defense rested (Jockel, Sokolsky, 1996).

The Cold War influence over United States and Canadian relations appeared to be beneficial. By the 1950’s, Canada saw increasing American economic and cultural influence in Canada, despite the failure of the previous free trade agreement. The United States continued to equal almost 70% of Canada’s imports, and exports to the United States had more than doubled. As the allies entered the Korean War, U.S. military needs continued to feed the Canadian economy (Donaghy, 2003).

Canadian foreign policy did not, however, follow that of the United States entirely. By the 1950’s, Canada had expanded to include Newfoundland as its tenth providence. Additionally, the British Commonwealth attempts to expand the Commonwealth were overwhelmingly supported by Canada. In fact, Canada began its commitment to foreign aid by supporting the creation of the Colombo Plan, which helped modernize Asian countries into democracy. Canada contributed $25 million to the plan, aiming both to counterbalance Communism in the region, and also to bolster foreign trade with the Commonwealth (“Cold War,” 2003). While Canada made it clear that they would not limit ties to the United States, they took hold of other foreign markets without the United States’ backing, in an effort both to improve their economy and to improve overall security.

The Korean War brought even more challenges for the U.S. And Canadian relations, and showed again that Canada was not operating under the lead of the United States. The U.N. asked for help in 1950 to defend South Korea against invading Communist forces. The United States was the primary aggressor of the assault. While Canada initially agreed to send three destroyers to aid, the Cabinet hesitated to send more. Their concern was that the U.S. would run the assault as an anti-communist crusade, and would escalate the conflict (Canada Department of National Defense, 1953).

In response to this threat, Canada led their military and the other allies through the Korean War in such a way as to restrain the United States’ influence. Canada vocally objected to the U.S. plan to invade North Korea, fearing Chinese involvement, but the U.S. forces proceeded. The result was the deployment of over 300,000 Chinese troops into the area. Additionally, Canada attempted to gear the U.N. towards a ceasefire, and opposed any mention by the U.S. Of atomic weapon use against China. Still further, Canada voiced objection to the consideration of China as an aggressor, for fear the label would even further delay a ceasefire (Aronsen, 1997). It was only after these objections were heard and ignored that Canada reluctantly agreed to support the American resolution.

It became obvious that the close association between the United States and Canada that had developed with the emergence of the Cold War was ending. As the foreign policy of Canada stressed peace and humanitarian aid, the United States aimed for control over the Communist threat. Additionally, while Canada continued to ally with the United States in security policies, their foreign policies were rapidly changing in relation to those of the U.S.

Canada further proved their divergence from U.S. policies in 1955, when the Suez Canal was suddenly nationalized by Egypt. The canal, long run by British and French investors, was a major source of contention. Britain and France responded by attacking Israel, an act which was condemned by the United States. Canada, on the other hand, had mixed views. On one hand, Canada was bound by loyalty to Britain and on the other, felt that Britain had betrayed them. In the end, Canada refuse to support Britain, as did the United States (“Cold War,” 2003).

However, Canada did not stop there, as the United States policy dictated. Canada, in their first of many UN peacekeeping activities, suggested the creation of a UN force to separate the combatants in the canal while peace was negotiated. The plan was unanimously adopted by the UN, and was successful (“cold War,” 2003). Again, while Canada needed the security and economic foundations of the United States, the country as a whole still made decisions that forged away from those of the United States, in an effort to further their own nation.

In 1957, the final event of the United States-Canadian joint security was to create the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD. This bilateral defense agreement meant that Canada would create a line of radar sites along the 55th parallel. By this time, Canada was the sole financer, contributing over $220 million (Thompson, 2003). This single system had a commander-in-chief, who was an American General, and a Canadian deputy. By this time, Canada was already beginning to want independence from United States influences, with the newly elected Prime Minister John Diefenbaker against the influences of their neighboring country (Jockel, 2003). After two decades of necessary cooperation and voluntary sharing of resources, ideas, land, air, and military, the United States-Canadian relationship began to break down.

From the end of World War II through the creation of the NORAD defense system, Canada and the United States had a close, yet at times strained relationship. The coming of the Cold War changed the views of both nations, making it apparent that cooperation in both security and in foreign policy was absolutely vital in the quest for a secure continent. Both sides agreed to join forces whenever possible, and fought side by side in a number of battles, as economic ties and trade policies increased between the nations.

Yet Canada also saw a need to further its own foreign and security policies. Being under the arm of the United States was only one aspect of Canada’s defense strategy, and their economic contributions were only one of many results of foreign relations. Canada continued to venture into many other foreign affairs, and continued to thrive from those actions. While in some cases the Canadian policies matched those of the United States, they did so because the end goal was to keep the Communist invasion from spreading. Canada was not merely following the lead of the United States, but instead listened to the ideas of their neighbors, and acted in ways that matched their own set of foreign and domestic policy. The actions of Canada during the Korean War were a clear sign that any influences American had over its neighbors were not a matter of controlled dominance, but rather, a matter of timely opportunity.

The Cold War relations between the U.S. And Canada clearly showed the world the difficulties of any attempted coordination of strategy between a middle power country and a superpower. Canada continued to strive for independence in the shadow of the world’s largest leader, and the United States continued to forge ahead with its own interests in mind. As U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson stated, Canada was simply “the stern daughter of the voice of God” (Hamilton, 2003).


Aronsen, L.R. (1997). American National Security and Economic Relations with Canada, 1945-1954. Westport: Praeger Publishers.

Canada. (2003). Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from Encarta Online. Web site: http://au.encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761563379_7/Canada.html.

Canada and the UN. (2003). Canada and the United Nations. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Web site: http://www.un.int/canada/canadaandun.html.

Canada Department of National Defense. (May 1953). Canadian participation in the Korean War, Part I. Canadian Defense Report No. 62. Montreal: Canada Department of National Defense.

Cold War. (2002). Military History, 1945 — Present. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum. Web site: http://www.lermuseum.org/ler/mh/1945topresent/coldwar.html.

Cold war. (2003). History of Canada’s International Relations. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Web site: http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/ciw-cdm/6divid-en.asp#cold_war.

Donaghy, G. (2003). Tolerant Allies. New York: McGill Queens University Press.

Foreign Policy. Military History, 1945 — Present. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum. Web site: http://www.lermuseum.org/ler/mh/1945topresent/foreignpolicy.html.

Hamilton, L. (October 2003). Paul Martin: a Canadian foreign policy renaissance. Informed, 11(2): 25-27.

Hilmer, N. (1989). Partners Nevertheless: Canadian-American Relations in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman.

Jockel, J.T. (2003). Four U.S. military commands: NORTHCOM, NORAD, SPACECOM, STRATCOM — The Canadian opportunity. IRPP Working Paper Series, No. 2003-3. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Jockel, J.T. And Sokolsky, J.J. (1996). The end of the Canada-U.S. defense relationship. Policy Papers on the Americas, Volume 7. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Milford, F. (October 1997). Post WW-II submarine launched / heavyweight torpedoes. The Submarine Review, 3: 22-27.

Thompson, J. (May 1, 2003). The Canada-U.S. saga: a timeline. CBC News Online. Retrieved November 17, 2004 from CBC News. Web site: http://www.cbc.ca/canadaus/timeline.html.

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