The stereotyped assumption that Canada is losing its identity and being inexorably absorbed needs re-examination in the light of a better grasp of history.
GIVEN THEIR COUNTRY'S RELATIVELY MEAGRE population and geographical position along side the world's most powerful state, it is understandable that Canadians seem to be endlessly concerned about their future as a sovereign people. Situations that demand international military co-operation, such as the current one in Afghanistan, tend, justifiably, to magnify these fears and provoke resentment of most, if not all, things American. The recent proposal for a joint military command structure for North America has elicited strong rebukes from a number of notable Canadians. In an article in the Globe and Mail, Paul Hellyer, a former minister of national defence, wrote: 'So when Defence Minister Art Eggleton says that we would not be giving up one ounce of sovereignty by turning over our troops to an "Americas Command," he takes the prize for naivete. What is proposed here is nothing less than the biggest surrender of sovereignty since Canada gained its independence from Britain.'(2) In a similar vein, Lloyd Axworthy, a former minister of foreign affairs, predicted: 'The more we tie ourselves to U.S. military decision-making, the more we will inevitably compromise the ability of the Canadian government to pursue approaches that reflect our distinctive views of the world and Canada's role in it.'(3)
These arguments may be convincing on the surface, but history suggests that they should be questioned. Admittedly, it would be foolish to claim that the situations in Korea in 1950 and in Afghanistan today are entirely analogous, The Korean War took place at a time when the United States was constrained by the bipolar structure of the cold war. Since then, the Soviet Union has been replaced by the more obscure, although to many equally threatening, concept of international terrorism. In Canada, critics will be quick to point out that contemporary foreign policy privileges international economic relations and cross-border arrangements over North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commitments and global military obligations.(4) Nevertheless, there are more than sufficient parallels between the events of 1950 and those of 2001 to justify a brief comparison. Moreover, if history does indeed repeat itself, then one might conclude that Canada's contribution to Afghanistan - under American command - will actually enhance its independence from the United States and add to the country's ability to promote 'its distinctive views of the world and Canada's role in it' on the international stage. The most optimistic might go so far as to say that this is already happening.
When the (communist) People's Republic of North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, the United States responded through the United Nations Security Council. A Soviet boycott there (because America had refused to recognize Mao Tse Tung's victory in the Chinese civil war) meant that there was no state present and willing to veto a resolution calling on the United Nations to participate in the armed protection of the democratic South. Already in the process of doubling its defence budget, the United States was charged with the mobilization of an international force.
Throughout the war, Canada promoted itself as an independent international go-between. This policy served to counter its image as an American protectorate, to limit the aggressiveness of the United States in Korea and the surrounding area, and to enhance Canada's status on the international stage. The secretary of state for external affairs, Lester Pearson, clarified the independent Canadian role in a letter to Prime Minister Louis St Laurent: 'We have made it abundantly clear in Washington that if Canada is to help, it must be help to the United Nations, fulfilling our obligations under the Charter, and not help to the United States.'(5) Cabinet concurred: 'If all free democracies would co-operate towards putting themselves in a position to save freedom from the menace of international Communism it would be infinitely easier for each of them to achieve a common objective to preserve peace.'(6) The United Nations was to become 'an anti-communist coalition'(7) with Canada paying the role of concerned, internationalist state.
Independent participation reinforced the differences between Canada and the United States. Canada saw itself as a faithful adherent to the United Nations charter, a supporter of peace and democracy, and an essential international mediator. It had a crucial role to play in Korea as the primary restraint against overly aggressive American military ventures.
The war began successfully. The international coalition pushed the North Koreans back to the original border at the 38th parallel. Seeking total victory, General Douglas MacArthur, an American who was commander of the United Nations forces in Korea, demanded permission to exceed his original mandate and cross into North Korea. Fear quickly arose that such action would provoke a Chinese response. When it became clear that an American-sponsored United Nations resolution to allow MacArthur to proceed would pass, Pearson reluctantly voted in the affirmative. A negative vote could not have changed the outcome and might have offended an importantally.
As the war continued, Canadian participation - which at first amounted to little more than three virtually obsolete destroyers and air transport - increased. The deputy under-secretary of state for external affairs, Escott Reid, explained one reasons why: 'our influence in Washington will be in direct ratio with our willingness to do our full share in strengthening the military power of the free world.'(8) Three months later, the under-secretary of state for external affairs, Arnold Heeney, was reminded that 'Canada's voice in the discussion of Far Eastern problems inside and outside the United Nations would be stronger if backed by a larger military contingent in Korea.'(9) By July 1951, there were finally sufficient Canadians in Korea to assign the 27th Infantry Brigade Group to the war; Canada would fight as part of a British Commonwealth force.
Canadians were proud of their growing independence in international affairs. The ambassador to the United States, Hume Wrong, spoke of 'a refreshing vigour and confidence in the future of the Canadian nation - the right sort of nationalism which leads to greater achievement.'(10) As the Defence Liaison Committee would later report: 'we have come to accept a substantial measure of responsibility for the preservation of the world order which we feel is essential for the security of our way of life and the safety of Canada as a nation.'(11)
As feared, communist China entered the war upon MacArthur's advance, increasing the risk that the conflict would expand beyond Korea. Quietly, Pearson travelled to New York to attempt to broker a ceasefire, while St Laurent met with fellow Commonwealth leaders to reaffirm cautious support for the American-led initiative. They were generally unsuccessful, and Canada reluctantly voted in favour of an American resolution that condemned China as an aggressor.
For Pearson, America's overly aggressive intentions in Korea had caused 'one of the most serious disputes in the history of Canada's relations with the United States.'(12) The secretary of state for external affairs spoke out in frustration in Toronto in an address to the Empire and Canadian Clubs. He first discussed the ideological nature of the cold war and Canada's determination to meet its international obligations to help preserve the free world. On Canadian-American relations, he announced that Canada recognized the need for American leadership and understood that, at times, national sovereignty might have to be compromised to serve the greater global good. Nevertheless, the Canadian government would maintain its ability to criticize American policy and would not stumble into international conflict blindly. Active participation in international affairs would justify Canada's right to participate independently on the world stage.(13)
In the United States, Pearson's comments were taken seriously, but their implications were minimized to limit potentially negative publicity.(14) The Department of State acknowledged Canadian sensitivities - based, it thought, on frustration, jealousy, and a fear of assimilation - but did not view the current proclamation as more serious than previous Canadian assertions.
In what is perhaps the best study on the Korean War to date, William Stueck has concluded that the United Nations played a crucial role in ending and limiting the conflict. It served 'not only as an agency of collective security against "aggression," but as a channel of restraint on a superpower that occasionally flirted with excessively risky endeavors.'(15) Korea also militarized the Western alliance, and participation in the war was used by all of the states involved to justify policies that often had little to do with the Far East. For Canada, this meant supporting its NATO allies, constraining the sometimes overly aggressive actions of the United States, and creating a voice for itself on the international stage.(16)
It is hard to ignore the parallels with today. Faced with a situation in which it might have chosen to respond unilaterally, the United States proposed instead to deal with the events of 11 September 2001 through an international coalition. Almost immediately, American defence expenditures skyrocketed, and states budgets around the world soon followed course. An international force, under United States leadership, was mobilized, for which Canada professed its full support. At first, Canadian participation was limited - and criticized - but, by late January 2002, 750 soldiers had been dispatched to Afghanistan as part of a global mission to restore peace and end international terrorism. The oppressed people of Afghanistan would be liberated, and democracy and freedom would be promoted throughout the world.
As in Korea, the war began successfully. The Taliban was quickly driven from power, and numerous soldiers, as well as a number of leading members of the former government, were taken captive. But conflict among the allies arose over America's treatment of the detainees. In the United States, President George Bush Jr refused to define Taliban fighters as prisoners of war (PoWs) under the Geneva conventions, and rumours of American mistreatment of the soldiers abounded. At first, Canada, which had previously agreed to turn over its PoWs to the United States, reserved judgment. Soon, though, Canadian political leaders spoke out actively in support of the Geneva conventions. A few days later, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed Nigel Fisher, a Canadian who had spent 24 years with UNICEF, as his deputy special representative for humanitarian affairs in Afghanistan.
The United States responded to international criticism by announcing that Taliban fighters would not be classified as prisoners of war (because Afghanistan had not signed the Geneva conventions), but they would be protected under the United Nations conditions. Al Quaeda captives would be guaranteed no such protection. In Canada, many have suggested that Canadian comments, and behind-the-scenes negotiating, contributed to the American change of heart.
During the dispute, an emboldened George Bush gave his State of the Union address in which he described Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an 'axis of evil.' Fear of expansion of the conflict in Afghanistan prompted a Canadian verbal response. The deputy prime minister, John Manley, spoke at the University of Ottawa in early February 2002 where he 'made clear that despite standing side by side with the U.S. in the war on terrorism, Canada intends to stand up to the Americans when they are wrong.'(17) Bush's language in his State of the Union address had been 'bellicose' and his approach to arms control was on 'the wrong track.' Subtlety, Manley added: 'We should differ from the Americans when we think they're wrong and we shouldn't feel that somehow our identity is challenged when we agree with them when they're right.'(18) As per the Geneva conventions, Canada would accept that, legally, the United States remained in compliance.
While the fighting in Afghanistan continues, it is clear that the multilateral nature of the military effort has helped preserve a sense of global unity. Canada clearly remains a staunch ally of the United States; it has, nonetheless, asserted itself on the world stage as a supporter of the rule of law and a promoter of its prized concept of human security through its public support of the Geneva conventions and its position of leadership in the United Nations humanitarian mission.
Threats to the future of Canadian sovereignty have, therefore, been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, a degree of national independence is always forsaken in collective missions, but Canada has used Afghanistan to reassert itself internationally as an active player committed to the 'war on terrorism.' It has promoted Canadian values abroad through its contributions to United Nations humanitarian aid.
As for its relations with the United States, Canada remains as independent as it has ever been. That is not to say that the United States could not encroach upon Canadian sovereignty if it chose to - only that it would not be in America's best interests. As in Korea, American foreign policy concerns have been shown to be best served through multilateralism. International forces cloak United States military choices in a degree of moral and political credibility that is unattainable unilaterally. Active, public, and independent Canadian support for American policy in Afghanistan is far more beneficial to the United States than any united military force will ever be. Moreover, the United States has demonstrated historically its willingness to tolerate the occasional Canadian public criticism, particularly when this disapproval is accompanied by support for its more general objectives.
Canada and the United States exist in a relationship of unequal co-dependency. Committed to democracy and the rule of law, Canada relies on American power to advance its interests and values on the international stage. In exchange, the United States depends upon relative Canadian complicity in its global actions.(19) The relationship works because both states benefit. And so long as it remains advantageous to both, it is unlikely to change.
(1) John Holmes, Life with Uncle: The Canadian-American Relationship (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1981), 3.
(2) Paul Hellyer, 'The Americans will dictate our military roles,' Globe and Mail (Toronto), 4 February 2002, A11.
(3) Lloyd Axworthy, 'Watch your step, Mr Chretien,' ibid.
(4) Others, including American revisionist historians, would, of course, suggest that this was also the case in 1950.
(5) Pearson to St Laurent, 4 July 1950, in Documents on Canadian External Relations (hereafter DCER), 16: 1950 (Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services 1996), 49-50.
(6) Cabinet Conclusions, 2, 3, 7 August 1950, in ibid, 99.
(7) Pearson to Wrong, 21 August 1950, in ibid, 418.
(8) Reid to UNGA Delegation, 19 December 1950, in ibid. The death of Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his replacement by the more internationally activist Louis St Laurent also played a role.
(9) A.R. Menzies to Heeney, 10 March 1951, in DCER, 17: 1951 (Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services 1996), 179.
(10) Broadcast for use by WNYC radio, 27  June 1951, in National Archives of Canada, MG 30 E101, Hume Wrong Papers, vol. 8, file 46, speech 14.
(11) Defence Liaison Division to Wilgress, 9 July 1952, in DCER, 18: 1952(Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada 1990), 1113.
(12) Denis Stairs, The Diplomacy of Constraint: Canada, the Korean War, and the United States (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press 1974), 165.
(13) See Adam Chapnick, 'Inevitable co-dependency (and things best left unsaid): the Grandy Report on Canadian-American Relations, 1951-?' Canadian Foreign Policy 9(autumn 2001), 19-28.
(14) 'Memorandum Prepared in Department of State,' 12 June 1951, in Foreign Relations of the United States 1951, vol. 2 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office 1979), 893.
(15) William Stueck, The Korean War: An International History (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press 1995), 4.
(16) Denis Stairs's Diplomacy of Constraint remains the best source on Canadian diplomacy during the war. Stairs argues that foreign policy focused primarily on Canadian attempts to constrain American aggressiveness. Some of his conclusions have been challenged by Robert S. Prince in 'The limits of constraint: Canadian-American relations and the Korean War, 1950-51,' Journal of Canadian Studies 27(winter 1992-3), 129-52. Prince argues that, although constraint was a priority, containment of the cold war was often a more pressing concern.
(17) Allan Thompson, 'Canada is able to stand up to U.S.: Manley,' Toronto Star, 9 February 2002, A18.
(18) Quoted in ibid. Emphasis added. Ironically, Manley gave a much softer speech at the Canadian Club a few days later. See Caroline Mallan, 'Suspicion of U.S. is passe: Manley,' ibid, 12 February 2002, A6.
(19) Chapnick, 'Inevitable co-dependency,' 20.…