Anglo-Canadian Defence Ties and the Changing Nature of Canadian Military Identity

By Robinson, Paul | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Anglo-Canadian Defence Ties and the Changing Nature of Canadian Military Identity


Robinson, Paul, British Journal of Canadian Studies


This article examines the changing nature of Canadian military identity in the light of Canada's defence ties with the United Kingdom. It notes that since World War Two the increasingly North American focus of Canadian defence policy has had a definite impact on Canadian military culture, in the sense of bringing the Canadian Forces (CF) closer to those of the United States. However, the CF have not been entirely Americanised. The distancing from Britain has to a degree led to the creation of a distinctive Canadian military identity. In addition, the UK remains Canada's second most important defence partner, and in cultural terms the CF in some respects remain closer to the British than they do to the Americans.

As a new century begins, many observers feel that 'the Canadian military is in the midst of a period of profound cultural change' (Capstick 2003: 47). Canadians like to think of themselves as a non-military people. In practice, though, as Desmond Morton has written, 'war has shaped Canadians more than most of them realize' (Morton 1999: ix). An examination of the development of Canadian military identity therefore helps to shed light on the more general topic of Canadian national identity. In addition, a study of military culture has value because, as Colin Gray has noted, 'Everything a security community does . . . is an example of behaviour effected by culturally shaped, or encultured, people, organisations, procedures, and weapons' (Gray 1999: 51). An understanding of the culture of the nation's military therefore helps us to understand Canada's foreign and security policy as well as the behaviour of the country's armed forces.

In this article, I look at the evolution of Anglo-Canadian defence ties since Confederation, and the impact of this evolution on Canadian military identity. As others have noted, Canadian military personnel, who once saw themselves as British first and foremost, gradually redefined themselves and became Canadianised. But at the same time, military independence from Britain was replaced by a new dependence - this time on the United States of America. These developments bring to mind certain key questions, which I examine in this article:

* What remains of the Anglo-Canadian military relationship?

* To what extent do remnants of British traditions, and ways of thinking and operating remain within the cf?

* To what extent has American culture taken over?

* And, to what extent has Canada developed its own distinct military identity, independent of either power?

* In short, where do the Canadian military forces lie - are they now truly part of a North American identity, or is the Atlantic link still strong?

The article concludes that while differences exist between the values of British and Canadian officers, they are probably not as large as those separating British and Canadians from Americans. Defence ties between the us and Canada are nowadays far more important than Anglo-Canadian ties, but the latter remain strong, and some sense of Anglo-Canadian moral community still remains among many members of the Canadian Forces (cf).

Determinants of military identity

A number of factors determine a nation's military identity. One author, Richard Brislin, identifies six factors which influence cultural values in general, namely: history, individual personality traits, groups, situation, task, and organisation (Brislin 1981: 10-15). Colin Gray also lists six factors which influence what he terms 'strategic culture'. These are: nationality, geography, weapons and functions, simplicity-complexity (i.e., a culture's 'attitude to simplicity and complexity of context'), generation, and grand strategy (Gray 1999: 67-8). Another author describes the determinants of military culture as being 'the legal basis for the institution, its history and tradition, the culture of society at large, and the operational context in which armed force is deployed' (Capstick 2003: 49). …

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