Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

Realist or Liberal? Canadian Foreign Policy in the 1960s 1

Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

Realist or Liberal? Canadian Foreign Policy in the 1960s 1

Article excerpt


The realist/liberal internationalist debate in international relations has been ongoing in the modern era dating back to Carr and existed in earlier eras in less explicit terms. This research contributes to the long-standing debate by examining Canadian foreign policy in the 1960s. Canada's behavior in this decade is often associated with Lester Pearson and liberal internationalism. Two sets of hypotheses based on realism and liberalism are developed to test if the standard appraisal of Canadian foreign policy is accurate. Drawing on the cases listed in Canada's World Historic Timeline, this research finds that although greater support exists for the notion that Canada acted along the lines of theoretical liberalism, realism can also help explain significant Canadian activities. In fact, realism performs well in cases of high politics. These findings suggest that portraying Canadian foreign policy in broad and sweeping liberal terms may be a misrepresentation or simplification of reality during that volatile decade.

Canada's so-called liberal internationalist values have hardly been liberal, or even liberal. There is a tradition underlying the philosophy of Canadian external relations, but it is one derived primarily...from the values of conservatism (Chapnick 2005).

It has too often been too easy for rulers and governments to incite man to war. Lester Pearson (The Nobel Foundation 1999, 140).

Canadian liberal internationalism has been touted as ideologically dominant over the decades (Munton and Keating 2001). Often highlighting the foreign policy decision-making of Prime Ministers St. Laurent and Pearson as the pinnacle of "good international citizenship" (Nossal 1998-1999), the discussions frequently revolve around the depth of belief in or support for liberal internationalism or whether this Canadian foreign policy perspective is in decline (Munton and Keating 2001). This portrayal raises important questions. How accurate a depiction is this representation of Canadian foreign policy? Is this more the musings of proud internationalist Canadian scholars than an accurate presentation of reality? Are there other potential theoretical explanations for Canadian foreign policy behavior? How consistent has Canadian foreign policy been over time? Has Canada achieved a level of foreign policy independence in spite of the long shadow of American power (for discussion, see Bow and Lennox 2009; Clarkson 1968; Clarkson 2002) or is it better seen as a partner to the United States (see Doran 1984)?

This research seeks to address these questions by assessing how well liberalism and realism help explain Canadian foreign policy in the 1960s. Realism and liberalism are theoretical standard bearers in the international relations field (IR) and should therefore be tested regarding their effectiveness in explaining state behavior. The conventional wisdom is that Canadian foreign policy is profoundly liberal in orientation, yet not all agree with this conclusion. Some Canadian scholars argue that Canadian foreign policy leans towards realism (Stairs 2003; Lagassé and Robinson 2008). The focus on the 1960s puts Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister for the majority of the decade, front and center. This fits well with the goal of assessing these theories as Pearson is noted for his liberal internationalist tendencies.2 Accordingly, support for realism during this period is particularly relevant in terms of theoretical debates about Canadian foreign policy.

The article begins by reviewing both realist and liberal internationalist theory. Hypotheses are developed for each theory that enables comparison based on their contrasting expectations. The methods applied here are then outlined. The ensuing section reviews 15 cases of Canadian foreign policy behavior in the 1960s. Special attention is paid to instances of "high politics." The results generally support the notion that Canada acted according to the precepts of liberalism in the 1960s. …

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