Canadian Foreign Relations in the Early Cold War Period

Escott Reid’s document, “The United States and the Soviet Union: A Study of the Possibility of War and Some the Implications for Canadian Policy”, was written during a period of uncertainty. Globally, all major and minor powers where exhausted following the Second World War and sought to limit and ease global tension. This new state of heightened global tension was the result of the emergence of two new global powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, who sought to expand their power bases and increase their influence globally. The Soviet Union, fearful of another attack from a western power, sought to distance and protect themselves from western influence. Conversely, the United States sought to expand free markets and capitalism upheld by popular support in (remove ‘in’) at home. For Reid, the insatiable appetite for expansion by both of these new super powers meant that a lasting peace was impossible in the new geo-political environment following World War II. Furthermore, each power and their desire for expansion would have an impact on Canada in relation to its domestic and foreign policies. This competition for global influence between the superpowers was compounded by the fear that a new global conflict would likely be a nuclear war. Reid’s memorandum became the basis for Canadian diplomacy to avert this possibility. Did Reid contend that the actions of Canada could avert nuclear war between the US and the USSR? Although, Reid thought a nuclear conflict was unlikely, (punctuation; hereafter p) his assessment of the origin of the cold war and his recommendations on how to avert conflict became the foundation for Canadian foreign policy until the late 1950s.

Reid’s begins his memorandum with a discussion of the sources the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Reid states that the main source of the conflict is due to expansionist policies of both countries. He describes the Soviet Union’s expansionist policies as an outcome of the ruling elite in the Soviet Union desire to maintain their position of power. Furthermore, Reid notes that the Soviet Union desires to protect them from further western encroachment both geographically and physiologically by maintaining and expanding is its sphere of influence . For Reid, the most important area for Soviet control is recently created Ssoviet satellites, which served to protect the Soviet Union from western influence. However, Reid notes that the Soviet satellites close proximity to the west makes them the most vulnerable to western influence. To combat this the Soviet leadership would use any all-oppressive measures necessary to prevent exposure to western influence in the Soviet bloc countries. Furthermore, Reid notes in point 11 and 13 that the Soviet ruling elite desire to continue expansion into Western European democracies.

Reid contrasts the Soviet policies with the American expansionist designs that were based upon the desire of American leadership to push democratic ideals globally. The thrust of this desire to spread democracy globally, Reid notes is bolstered by popular support within the United States. Consequentially, it had created a mindset in America that identified any form of communism as inherently evil. The outcome of this clash of ideologies and desire to further expand their spheres of influence globally has lead to impasse in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. Furthermore Reid states, “… by its very nature a desire of a great power to extend its defense area as an illimitable process. The appetite for security grows with eating …”. Therefore, in Reid’s assessment it is impossible for there be a cessation in hostilities between United States and the Soviet Union until one of the powers is globally dominant. This point is well described. The desire of each great power to be globally dominant meant that Canadian foreign policy became shaped by a desire to find a way to balance global power in such a way to avert another war. Or to operate within the context of a global struggle, one that Reid did not anticipate developing into a full scale nuclear war.

For Reid, the Soviet policy for global expansion was based on slow gradual extension of power. Reid writes, “… they would try to extend their defense area until it ultimately might cover the whole world … as the result of a gradual extension of power and extension of political power over adjoining powers …”. This reasoning for slow expansion was the conviction of Soviet leadership in the virtue of communism to become the dominant global ideology. Reid was convinced that the ruling elite of the Soviet Union was not proponents of overt conquest unless it had an overwhelming chance of success without global condemnation or retribution. To combat this trend and diminish the likelihood of conflict Reid introduced the concept of the idea of a global balance of power. For Reid, a great determinant in reducing the risk of war was the maintenance overwhelmingly balance of power that favored the western world. Reid was advocating for the creation of a democratic power bloc as a buffer to the Soviet Union. This concept of a western power bloc came into reality with the creation of NATO and demonstrated the necessity of cooperation between all western powers. Furthermore, it was consistent with the UN charter and for Reid the western power bloc? meant it could serve as tool bolster the impact of the UN in response to the Soviet Veto. Reid realized that this may lead to the Soviet Union leaving the United Nations, (p) however this risk was far outweighed by the positive deterrence it give to Soviet expansion plans. He also advocated that the west maintain relations with the USSR – he did not want the country isolated, as that might encourage military action. As Bothwell notes, that (remove ‘that’) without the creation of NATO the only other alternative to the Soviet veto would be expulsion of the Soviet Union from the United Nations (which, as noted, Reid desired to avoid).

In addition, the creation of NATO preserved the United Nations as an international body that was critical to Canadian foreign policy in regards to multilateral relations. Reid believed that NATO should not only serve as a military deterrent but also serve link western powers economically. In relation to Canadian foreign policy, NATO was only partially successful,; (p) Foreign Affairs was able to convince the American’s to accept a policy that stressed military cooperation. However, Canadian diplomats were unable to influence the United States and Western European powers to accept a further economic integration. In terms of a closer linking of NATO economically was superceded by the GATT agreements, due to the American preference for unilateral relations with their trading partners. Reid’s memorandum had stressed the importance of not just military organization but as an economic organization to bolster European recovery and stem further Soviet encroachment in Western Europe yet Canadians were unable to achieve economic unity through NATO. If developed countries were required to maintain a balance of power against growing Soviet power, so to was the developing world.

Reid, saw colonial possessions and the developing world as an untapped resource for Ssoviet expansion. Reid, identifies the Soviet Union as the champion of these people’s when he states, “… the Soviet Union is today posing as the principal defender of the rights of colored and colonial peoples …”. The impact of Soviet involvement in the third world cannot be discounted and it required Canada to be equally open and embracing in their relations with developing world. This point was dramatically emphasized with the emergence of communist China in 1949. First, due to the Soviet’s acceptance of the role as champion of the developing world it would be necessary for Canada to follow an international policy which would remove, as much as possible, racial discrimination and accept neutrality as the basis for further relations with the developing world. In doing so, Reid believed that western influence could as a balance to the more favorable policy being presented by the Russians. Secondly, much of this discrimination was the result of the development of colonial possessions of the dominant countries in Western Europe. Regardless of the preparedness of former colonial possessions to become independent states, Reid saw this as a necessary step. By quickly granting independence to former colonial possessions it was less likely that pro-Soviet elements, targeting to exploit the connection between independence and colonial rule, could gain popular support in these newly emerging countries. . (p – no second period) The result of winning over the third world and former colonial possessions would achieve an even greater balance of power in favor of the western democracies (Reid’s observation that internal American reform was needed in this context – regarding racism and civil rights – is also worth noting). However, external affairs was unable to meet this mandate. In particular, it leads to Canadian military involvement in the Korean War. However, external affairs did attempt to reach out to the developing world in their relations with India. Despite Canada’s best attempts to lure India on to the pro-capitalist camp it is was largely a failure. By 1954, India under Nehru, is was drawing itself closer to the Soviet Union. The ultimate failure of external affairs came with the inability of Canada to convince Nehru to speak out against the Soviet Union when it attacked Hungary in 1957. External affairs felt that the colonial legacy of both countries would make them suitable partners. It is true that Canada did pledge siginificant funding for development in the third world under the Colombo Plan but this did little to overshadow the over all failure of Canada to address relations with the developing world. Canada, despite largely failing in the third world, (p) was more successful in maintaining relations with the Soviet Union. That Canada’s ability to address relations in the third world was largely a failure would be debated. It’s effective use of middle power status allowed for significant contributions (for example, the Suez Canal Crisis)

Reid felt that the best way to avert hostilities with the Soviet Union was to always maintain contact with them. Reid states as his basis for relations with the Soviet Union, “.. The Western powers should do their utmost to prevent any break with Soviet Union from occurring on any issue unless that are satisfied that they can demonstrate to their people that they have exercised the utmost patience and forebearance, and have exhausted every possibility of reconciling opposing viewpoints …”. It was Reid’s hope that in doing so, it would not leave any excuse for the Soviet leadership to have grounds, at the international level, to claim an unreasonable position is being taken by the Western powers. In addition, Reid stressed that western firmness was necessary but that it should not lead to a policy that isolated the Soviet Union. Therefore, there should be room made for the Soviet Union in all international organizations (yes, gets to the point I made above). Furthermore, a policy of openness with the Soviet Union should also follow as well in the economic field. Reid felt that such an open but firm policy would best serve Canadian relations with the Soviet Union. This course proved to be highly successful especially during the post Stalin and Pre Khrushchev period. During this period, Pearson was selected to be the first foreign emissary to visit Russia in 1955. His trip marked the development of economic relations between the two countries with a wheat agreement signed in 1955. These developments are consistent with Reid’s description of how to deal with one great super power. Reid, also had described a policy on how to deal with the super power to the south of Canada, the United States.

Reid recognized that there was a global shift in democratic leadership with the on set of the Ccold Wwar. For Reid, this was a shift away from their former colonial partner and into a deeper developing relationship with the United States. Due to the close proximity to the United States, Reid stressed that it was impossible for Canada to conduct foreign policy without considering the American position on the issue. Therefore, Reid proposed, at least for an outward impression, that Canada agree on all major issues with the United States (and he advocated bilateralism, as later evident in the DEW Line and NORAD, for example). However, it was the belief of Canadian policy makers that must find a way to temper US domination of western bloc foreign policy. In particular they sought to gain a larger role for European powers to back up Canadian opinion suggestions in foreign policy. Fore Reid, the best way to exert influence on the United States in regards to foreign policy was to use international organizations. It was his belief that doing so would enable Canada to play a large role in US decision making comparable to size of Canada. In achieving a working relationship with the United States through the use of international organizations, as the source of multilateral relationships with the United States, Canada was able to keep a degree of independence from American policy. In hopes of western solidarity, Reid also stressed the necessity to maintain a unified front with the United States. This was demonstrated in Canada’s acceptance and eventual involvement in the Korean War, despite their desire not to be involved. Furthermore, during Pearson’s trip to Russia, he was keenly aware to maintain the appearance of unified relations between the two countries in regards to issues that the Soviet to divide them on. Reid, was a keen observer of global trends and through insight he had created a blueprint for Canadian relations in the early Ccold Wwar era.

Escott Reid’s memorandum written in 1947 proved to have an enduring impact on Canadian foreign policy. It served to shape relations with both the Soviet Union and proved to be almost to be a clear mapping of the development of foreign policy with the Soviet Union until the early 1960s. Similarly, relations with the United States followed Reid’s assessment until the election of the Cconservative party lead by Diefenbaker. Despite its impact in regards to relations with the two most dominant global powers it only had limited impact on the development of a truly integrated Atlantic community (multilateralism – NATO – and bilateralism – NORAD would seem to suggest that this point is open to debate). Furthermore, it had little impact on leading to more sympathetic and open policy between Canada and the third world. Despite these two areas of weakness, the Reid memorandum did have a high degree of impact on the shaping of Canadian foreign relations in the early Ccold Wwar period.

Bothwell, R.. Alliance and Illusion: Canada and the World 1945-1984. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007.
Donaghy, G.. “The Most Important Place in the World: Escott Reid in India, 1952-57. In, Escott Reid: Diplomat and Scholar. Donaghy G. and Roussel S. eds. Montreal: Mc Gill-Queens University Press, 2004.
Glazov, J.. Canadian Policy towards Khrushchev’s Soviet Union. Montreal: McGill-Quen’s University Press, 2002.
Hagland, D.G. and Roussel, S. “Escott Reid, the North Atlantic Treaty, and Canadian Strategic Culture”. In, Escott Reid: Diplomat and Scholar. Donaghy G. and Roussel S. eds. Montreal: Mc Gill-Queens University Press, 2004.
Reid, Escott, “The United States and the Soviet Union a Study of the Possibility of War and Some Implications for Canadian Policy”, in History 455 Reading File. Athabasca, University of Athabasca Press, 2003

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