Canada's Role as a Middle Power During the Cold War


Gouzenko Affair

Approx. 1945 - Approx. 1946

Igor Gouzenko was a clerk of the Soviet Federal Embassy in Ottawa. He went to the Ottawa Journal with documents proving that a Soviet spy ring was operating within the Canadian government. After denial, he went to the RCMP, the Department of Justice, and the prime minister. He was not believed until Soviet agents broke into his apartment. In February 1946, the RCMP made several arrests and the British and American governments were informed. This was significant in demonstrating Canada's role as a middle power because the Cold War began with the defection of Igor Gouzenko in 1945 and revelations surrounding a Soviet spy ring operating in Canada.
The Gouzeko Affair symbolized the crumbling of the wartime alliance between East and West, and the emergence of a new era of global conflict. In Canada, the defection had far more immediate consequences. The federal government invoked wartime powers to detain, interrogate, and prosecute several suspected communist spies. Habeas corpus was suspended, and people were arrested and questioned by the police for weeks. Denied access to legal counsel, they were held in tiny cells, kept under suicide watch, and guarded at all times. Even those who were acquitted at trial lost their reputations due to the stigma of being associated with treason.

United Nations is Created

Approx. October 1945 - Approx. Present

Delegates from 5 countries around the world established the UN to replace the unsuccessful League of Nations. The organization was formed upon the idea of collective security, after witnessing and experiencing the damage of the second world war. The UN was (and still is) composed of the General Assembly and the Security Council. The creation of the UN illustrated Canada's role as a middle power because Canada had enough international influence and political clout to be a member of the General Assembly and the Security Council (until 2000), but was not one of the "Big Five" nations (USA, Britain, France, Russia, China), so it did not have veto power within the UN. As a member country of the UN, Canada has participated in many peacekeeping missions and has contributed resources to various UN efforts.

Iron Curtain

Approx. 1946 - Approx. 1985

The Iron Curtain was the name for the boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War. The boundary symbolized efforts by the Soviet Union to block itself and its allied states from open contact with the West and non-Soviet-controlled areas. On the east side of the Iron Curtain were the countries that were connected to or influenced by the Soviet Union. On either side of the Iron Curtain, states developed their own international economic and military alliances. Member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact, with the Soviet Union as the leading state were on the Eastern side of the curtain, and member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were located on the Western side. Physically, the Iron Curtain took the form of border defenses between the countries of Europe in the middle of the continent. The most notable border was marked by the Berlin Wall. The Iron Curtain illustrated Canada's role as a middle power because we were allied with the Nations on the Western side of the boundary, but we were not directly impacted physically by the Iron Curtain.

Civil Defense

Approx. 1947 - Approx. 1991

During the early decades of the Cold War, many Canadians worried that an open war between the US and the Soviet Union would lead to a rain of nuclear bombs and missiles in Canada. The federal government developed civil defence plans and cities prepared to protect their populations. Cities created nuclear defence shelters in basements and subway tunnels, and sirens were created to alarm in the case of a bomb warning. Schools ran "duck and cover" drills to prepare for the event of a nuclear bomb. This was important in shaping Canada's identity as a middle power, as even though we knew that we would not be directly involved or threatened in a battle of the US and the Soviet Union, we were aware that we needed to take precautions as we would be impacted in the case of war.

Berlin Blockade

Approx. 1948 - Approx. 1949

The Berlin Blockade was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche mark from West Berlin. In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the city's population. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew over 200 000 flights in one year, providing to the West Berliners up to 8 893 tons of necessities each day, such as fuel and food. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict. By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On May 12, 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin. The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe. This demonstrated Canada's role as a middle power because Canada was not physically affected by the Berlin Blockade, but since our ally was, we provided resources and sent the Royal Canadian Air Force to assist West Germany.

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Approx. April 1949 - Approx. Present

Canada united with the USA, Britain, and other Western European countries to form NATO, which was a mutual defence organization. Its purpose was to protect Western Nations from the Soviet Union, amidst the threat of the nuclear weapons and a potential war. The members agreed that an armed attack against any one of them in Europe or North America would be considered an attack against them all. Consequently, they agreed that, if an armed attack occurred, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self defence, would assist the member being attacked, taking such action as it deemed necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. The treaty does not require members to respond with military action against an aggressor. Although obliged to respond, they maintain the freedom to choose the method by which they do so. The formation of NATO demonstrated Canada's role as a superpower because Canada was influential enough to be an important member of this organization, but the United States was by far the most powerful member of the organization. NATO typically prioritized the interests and policies of the USA.

Korean War

Approx. June, 1950 - Approx. 1953

After the second world war, Korea was severely divided. The Soviet Union and China supported the communist state of North Korea, whereas the United States and its allies supported South Korea, which was a fragile democracy. North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, and war broke out. Members of the United Nations deployed troops to assist South Korea. The UN force tried to drive invaders back over the border into North Korea. The USA considered using the atomic bomb, but chose not to. In 1953, a ceasefire was negotiated, and tensions between the West and the communist nations were greater than ever before. This event was significant in shaping Canada's identity as a middle power because it has often been called "Canada's Forgotten War". Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent sent more then 25 000 soldiers to fight in Korea and three naval destroyers, yet our contribution has rarely been acknowledged, Lester Pearson, Canada's Minister of External Affairs, advocated for the ceasefire that was eventually negotiated. Without Canadian contribution to the war, a third world war may have broken out.

Suez Crisis

Approx. 1956 - Approx. 1967

Egypt's President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, took over the Suez Canal and threatened to ban ships travelling to and from Israel. The annexation of the Suez Canal was significant because the Suez Canal linked the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, thus providing the shortest route from Europe to the Indian Ocean. British and French forces attacked Egypt, without consulting the United States, in attempt to regain control of the Suez Canal. The Soviet Union offered financial and military aid to Egypt. Lester Pearson went to the United Nations and proposed the creation and installation of a multinational peacekeeping force in the war zone to maintain ceasefires and oversee the withdrawal of troops. The United Nations Emergency Force was formed and, under the command of a Canadian general, remained stationed along the Israel-Egypt border until 1967. Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for helping to defuse the Suez Crisis. This event was integral in shaping Canada's reputation as a peacekeeping nation because it helped build our identity of being a peacekeeping nation. Unlike France and Britain, who decided to attack, Canada looked for alternative, peaceful situations. Our troops and contribution to UNEF played a major role in the deescalation of the Suez Crisis, but we did not demonstrate significant power, as we chose to keep the peace instead of contributing to the flame.

Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line

Approx. 1958 - Approx. 1968

Radar stations were established in Northern Canada and Alaska to detect Soviet activity over the North Pole, and in the case of an attack, the United States would have a warning and time to prepare a counterattack. These DEW stations helped the US feel less vulnerable to Russia and other Soviet nations. The DEW line illustrated Canada's middle power identity because the US compromised Canada's sovereignty. For the first time in history, the US stationed military personnel in Canada. To visit the DEW line, Canadian members of parliament and journalists had to fly to the headquarters in New York and obtain security clearance. Canada was respected as an ally of the US, but they were not trusted to handle all of the surveillance in the Northern regions.

NORAD (North American Air Defense)

Approx. May, 1958 - Approx. Present

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, known until March 1981 as the North American Air Defense Command, is a combined organization of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for Northern America. Canadian Prime Minister Diefenbaker signed into the NORAD agreement in 1958. Canada became an important member of the joint coordinated continental air defense against the threat of the Soviet Union and potential future attacks. This was significant in shaping Canada's identity as a middle power, as Canada had enough international influence to be valued as a member of NORAD, and Canada made significant contributions to the organization by giving land and resources to NORAD to assist in protecting against the forces of the Soviet Union.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Approx. 1959 - Approx. 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union concerning American ballistic missile deployment in Italy and Turkey with consequent Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. It was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war. In response to the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to agree to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter future harassment of Cuba. The United States established a military blockade to prevent further missiles from entering Cuba. It announced that they would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the USSR. After a long period of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a U.S. public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba again without direct provocation. The blockade was formally ended on November 20, 1962. The negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between Washington and Moscow. As a result, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established. This was important in illustrating Canada's role as a middle power because there wasn't any direct confrontation between the USSR and Canada, or Cuba and Canada, but the presence of arms in Cuba still threatened Canada's safety. Canada was given the choice to participate in this crisis and support the US, but Canada chose to maintain a non-offensive role. This damaged Canada-US relations, as the US expected unconditional support.

Strategic Defense Initiative

Approx. 1983 - Approx. 1990

The Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars, was a program first initiated on March 23, 1983 under President Ronald Reagan. The intent of this program was to develop a sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system in order to prevent missile attacks from other countries, specifically the Soviet Union. With the tension of the Cold War looming overhead, the Strategic Defense Initiative was the United States’ response to possible nuclear attacks from afar. Although the program seemed to have no negative consequences, there were concerns brought up about the program “contravening” the anti-ballistic missile of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks years before. For this reason, in conjunction with budgetary constraints, the Strategic Defense Initiative was ultimately set aside. The nickname “Star Wars” may have been attached to the program for some of its abstract and farfetched ideas, many of which included lasers. Furthermore, the previously released science fiction movie titled “Star Wars,” caused the public to easily associate this program with new and creative technologies. “The weapons required included space- and ground-based nuclear X-ray lasers, subatomic particle beams, and computer-guided projectiles fired by electromagnetic rail guns—all under the central control of a supercomputer system.” By using these systems, the United States planned to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles while they still flew high above the Earth, minimizing their effects. This program illustrated Canada's role as a middle power because it was a program created by the US and was suited solely to US interests, but Canada had enough influence to partner with the US and contribute to the program, as the US interests generally aligned with Canadian interests.