Shaping Canada's Foreign Policy: 1968-84

Article excerpt

I must begin by saying how pleased I am to have been given the honour of speaking from this distinguished platform for a third time. The occasion this evening is the recent publication of the volume of Canadian foreign policy written by Pierre Trudeau and me (Head and Trudeau, 1995). Our book covers the years 1968-1984, a period so long ago in the eyes of many of my students that it might as well be the middle ages. I trust that no one here tonight will feel offended if I observe that some of you at least will recall events of those years.

This is a weekend that invites reflections on Canada's foreign interests and its stature in the international community; that invites as well comparisons and similarities on then and now. The meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government now underway in Auckland, New Zealand reveals that the years may pass, and the actors may change, but many of the most pertinent issues remain constant even if the flavour is not. In New Zealand, in the congenial atmosphere that marks Commonwealth conferences, Prime Ministers are discussing nuclear tests and circumstances in Nigeria as they have on several occasions in the past.

November 11 adds additional resonance to this discussion. Defence policy is rarely debated in Canada but remains nevertheless a critical element of foreign policy. If Canadians relate all too rarely and inconsistently to the effect upon their own well being of circumstances beyond our borders, we consider even less frequently those that are composed of military ingredients. In a democratic society it is important to give thought on regular occasions to the costs and burdens of a military role in the international community: of the consequences of lack of readiness, of the price of adequate preparation, and the ambiguity which often blankets the distinction between the two.

I invite you this evening to join with me in looking back at the span of years from 1968 to 1984 during which Pierre Elliott Trudeau, short only a nine month interval in 1979, was Prime Minister of Canada. In contrast to the constancy of Canada's leadership in that decade and a half, the cast of characters elsewhere in the world displayed little of the same longevity. In the United States, in that interval, five Presidents: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. In the United Kingdom: Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Wilson again, James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher. A period of colourful actors, considerable activity, and occasional controversy. There is much to reflect upon, something I'd like to do this evening.

As we discussed whether we should write about Canada's foreign experiences, Pierre Trudeau and I exchanged comments about volumes of memoirs that most appealed to us. One of my favorites was George Kennan's "Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin." Kennan was at Harvard, working on the manuscript for this seminal study, while I was a graduate student there. Once a week for a period of a couple of months he would appear in a large lecture theatre and read from his work in progress, pausing to make alterations as he did so. Kennan's presence was immensely attractive. The lecture theatre would fill up an hour in advance as faculty and students alike seized the opportunity to share with this remarkable statesman and chronicler his recollections and commentary.

Another well-known writer, an influence upon each of Trudeau and me, this time from Yale, was the celebrated political scientist Harold Lasswell. Lasswell and Myres McDougal collaborated on several seminal studies of the international public order. In one of his works Lasswell insisted that international lawyers must discharge two roles: that of client-server, and as well that of citizen-participant.

These writers, among others, served as models to us as we set about our endeavours. As we did so, we strove consciously to avoid the temptation of which Herodotus wrote: "Very few things happen at the right time," he noted. …