Courtesy Reuters

Tensions in Canada's Foreign Policy

Rarely is Canada's external policy the subject of controversy. The country occupies a relatively modest station in the world and exerts its influence through quiet diplomacy, usually coordinated with its allies, and particularly with its major partner, the United States. Canada's foreign policy reflects the nature of the polity itself: it is marked by stability, a penchant for compromise, and a distinct disinclination for rapid political change. Over the last 40 years, there has been a fundamental continuity in Canada's strategic policies, but there has also been a fundamental tension in Canada's position toward the two superpowers.

This tension has resurfaced in the last two years, again prompting political debate over Canada's international position. Not since 1963 has foreign policy been a major political issue in Canadian politics. The breakdown of détente by 1980 alerted the Canadian public to the continuing dangers of East-West rivalries. The advent of the cruise missile has once again enhanced the strategic importance of the Canadian north, and rekindled the uneasiness with which Canadians have viewed their country's minor role in maintaining the balance of terror. Now, as the Trudeau era appears to be approaching its end, foreign policy looks like being a major issue in the general elections which will be held in the summer or fall of 1984.

As the elections come closer, various options in external relations available to Canada are being debated; the positions taken by political parties and other groups are gradually crystallizing. What should Canada's role in NATO be? Should the country give priority in its defense policy to North American continentalism by cultivating a special relationship with the United States, or should it adopt a more detached stand (resembling that of the Scandinavian countries), particularly by having nothing to do with nuclear weapons? A corollary question is: should Canada move toward closer economic integration with the United States, or should it try to emphasize its independence in the economic sphere? And, finally, should Ottawa take a more activist stand in East-West relations

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