The 10 Most Important Books on Canadian Foreign Policy

By Kirton, John | International Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

The 10 Most Important Books on Canadian Foreign Policy


Kirton, John, International Journal


In many ways the scholarly study of Canadian foreign policy has become a rich, robust, and rapidly growing field. It is now well over a century old, if one dates its inauguration from the publication of Goldwin Smith's Canada and the Canadian Question in 189 1, a book that understood that Canada's relationship with the United States was properly part of, or even at the centre of, the field.1 From 1945, when many of today's scholars start their scrutiny, to 1995, the detailed bibliographies compiled under the auspices of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs recorded works of all kinds as relevant to the subject. Since then, the explosion of material has been too vast for this careful bibliographic compilation to be published in print, especially as the internet has arrived to help others take on the task in electronic form. Since 1970, courses on Canadian foreign policy have become staples of universities' undergraduate curricula across Canada, accompanied by selective forays into the US and beyond. These courses have been mounted and delivered in the first instance by the doctoral students produced by John Holmes, with some help from James Eayrs, at the University of Toronto over many years. More recently, the 4000-member strong International Studies Association has created a separate Canadian studies section that has been flourishing, expanding, and honouring its senior scholars since its inception. There are now over a dozen articles reviewing the state of the Canadian foreign policy field.2 There are also several reflecting on its connection with, and theoretical inheritance from, international relations as a whole.3 AU signs thus suggest that the study of Canada foreign policy has gone prime time on a global scale.

But amidst this proliferating scale, scope, and self- reflection, there remains an unanswered question. Is Canadian foreign policy really a selfcontained scholarly field with an intellectually coherent, progressive research tradition, defined by seminal books of creative inspiration and continuing relevance at its core? There are good reasons to doubt that it is, especially in contrast with the larger field of international relations in which it properly resides. Here foundational works such as those by Thucydides, Hans Morgenthau, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, John Ruggie, Kenneth Waltz, and Alexander Wendt are used, disputed, or at least recognized and referred to by all. In contrast, the study of Canadian foreign policy has long been an endeavour involving those from many disciplines, starting with history and law. It has also been one to which practitioners from government, the media, research institutes, and the business community contribute a great deal. And it has always had its second solitude of an important French language literature centred in Québec, which has long enriched only the few who have been able or willing to read it on the other side of Canada's great linguistic divide.

To determine whether there is a coherent field of Canadian foreign policy based on broadly recognized, intellectually generative foundational works, this study identifies and justifies the impact of the top io most important books on Canadian foreign policy of all time. It focuses on books rather than journal articles as the probable source of the foundational centrepieces, given the small number of journals, especially peer-refereed ones, focused on the subject over many years. It further aims at works of enduring importance, reducing the "recency bias" that would otherwise propel today's biggest hits, most prolific scholars, curricular fashions, and policy favourites to the top of the list. It thus sets aside the standard mechanical metrics of citation indices and Google hits to probe the content of the "top io" and explore how they shaped thinking, research, and teaching for many years in the past - and probably will for many years to come. This is thus the list of Canadian foreign policy's finest wines that have aged well enough to be continuously copied, adapted, and selectively consumed directly by the dedicated purists in the profession today. …

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