Canadian Cold War Essay Titles

Always use specific historical examples to support your arguments.

Study Questions


In your opinion, was the Cold War inevitable? If not, was the United States or the USSR more to blame?

Although both Truman and Stalin helped increase tensions in Europe and East Asia in the years immediately following World War II, the Cold War itself was likely inevitable. The alliance that had formed between the United States and the USSR during World War II was not strong enough to overcome the past decades of suspicion and unease between the two nations. Moreover, as both leaders sought to achieve their postwar security objectives, which were often mutually exclusive, neither was willing to compromise.

The United States and the USSR had always generally disliked and distrusted each other, despite the fact that they were allies against Germany and Japan during the war. Americans had hated and feared Communism ever since it had appeared in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and had refused to recognize the new Soviet government, especially after Bolshevik leaders promoted the destruction of capitalism. During World War II, Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill delayed their decision to open a second front, which would have distracted the Nazis and taken pressure off the Red Army entrenched at Stalingrad. Stalin resented this delay, just as he resented the fact that the United States and Great Britain refused to share their nuclear weapons research with the Soviet Union. After the war, Truman’s decision to give Great Britain relief loans while denying similar requests from the USSR only added to the resentment.

Another major factor contributing to the Cold War was the fact that the United States and USSR were the only two powers to escape World War II relatively unharmed. Whereas other major world powers such as Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany lay in ruins, the Soviet Union and the United States still had manufacturing and military capabilities. The world had been a multipolar one before the war but was bipolar afterward, and this new order implicitly pitted the already distrustful and ideologically opposed United States and Soviet Union against each other.

Perhaps most important, both powers had conflicting security goals that neither wanted to concede. The USSR, which had already been invaded twice in the first half of the twentieth century, wanted to set up friendly governments throughout Eastern Europe to create a buffer between Moscow and Germany. In addition to exacting enormous war reparations, Stalin wanted to dismantle German factories to keep Germany weak and dependent. Truman, conversely, believed that rebuilding, reindustrializing, and democratizing Europe was the key to preventing another world war. With neither side willing to compromise on these conflicting ideologies and postwar plans, tension between the United States and the USSR was inevitable.


Why has the Korean War often been called America’s “forgotten war”? What purpose did the war serve, and what impact did it have?

The Korean War has often been called America’s “forgotten war” because the United States made no significant territorial or political gains during the war. Despite the fact that tens of thousands of Americans died, the war both began and ended with the Korean Peninsula divided at the 38th parallel. Nevertheless, the Korean War helped define the Cold War, established a precedent for keeping peripheral wars limited, and boosted defense spending that contributed to the postwar economic boom in the United States.

Despite the loss of life, the Korean War faded from national memory, perhaps because the three-year conflict ended without any territorial or political gains. Although General Douglas MacArthur captured nearly the entire Korean Peninsula after his brilliant Inchon landing, his tactical miscalculation at the Yalu River brought China into the war and forced United Nations troops back down to the 38th parallel, where they had started. Both sides became entrenched there, each preventing the other from making any headway. As a result, neither side could claim victory when cease-fire negotiations began in 1953. The 38th parallel remained one of the “hottest” Cold War borders in the world, almost as if the war had never really ended.

The Korean War was an important conflict, however, because it set the tone for the entire Cold War. In expanding the draft and sending more than 3 million U.S. troops to Korea, Truman demonstrated to the USSR his commitment to containing Communism at almost any cost. This demonstration of massive U.S. military force in East Asia forced the Soviets to rethink postwar policy in Eastern Europe and the rest of Asia.

Truman also set a precedent during the war of avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, despite the fact that MacArthur advocated using them against North Koreans and the Chinese. Although the American public vilified Truman for this decision and for firing his insubordinate general, the decision proved to be prudent. The president knew that using nuclear weapons would only drag the Soviet Union and China fully into the conflict, which would destabilize Europe and initiate a third world war—one that might even lead to all-out nuclear war. By refusing to use nuclear weapons, Truman kept the war confined to the Korean Peninsula. The decision would later have an enormous impact on future presidents making similar decisions in Vietnam. Truman’s actions in Korea therefore demonstrated not only American resolve to contain Communism but also a desire to keep the Cold War from devolving into an open war.

The Korean War also boosted American military spending, as a result of a memorandum issued by the National Security Council, known as NSC-68. The memo recommended that Congress quadruple military and defense spending in order to contain the Soviet Union. As a result, the percentage of Congress’s annual budget spent on defense soared throughout the following years, hovering at roughly 50 percent under the Eisenhower administration. Government investment in war factories kept employment high and money flowing into the economy between 1950 and 1970, contributing significantly to the prosperous economic boom.


Was the United States, the USSR, or Cuba more to blame for the Cuban missile crisis? What impact did the crisis have on U.S.-Soviet relations?

Because the United States attempted repeatedly to assassinate or overthrow Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, the blame for the resulting Cuban missile crisis falls squarely on American shoulders. Had it not been for Khrushchev’s ultimate willingness to back down and end the crisis, the United States and the USSR might actually have ended up in the nuclear war that the world feared.

The United States tried repeatedly to topple Castro after he seized power in a popularly supported revolution in Cuba in 1959. Americans disliked the Castro regime because it threatened U.S. economic interests in the country. When the United States withdrew its financial support from Castro’s government, Castro turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. In order to prevent Cuba’s Communist influence from spreading throughout Latin America, Kennedy launched the Alliance for Progress, a program that awarded Latin American countries millions of dollars in U.S. aid to tackle poverty. Kennedy took more direct action when he authorized the arming and training of 1,200 anti-Castro Cuban exiles to invade the island, in the hopes that the invasion would cause a massive public uprising that would ultimately depose Castro. The plan for this Bay of Pigs invasion failed, however, when Kennedy decided not to involve American military forces and withheld the air support he had previously promised the exiles. As a result, the Cuban army killed or captured all of the exiles, and the invasion attempt was an embarrassment for the U.S. government.

Although Kennedy accepted full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs failure, he continued to authorize unsuccessful CIA-led assassination attempts against Castro. Not surprisingly, Castro turned to the Soviet Union for support, and in 1962, U.S. intelligence officials discovered that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy sent a naval blockade to circle the island, despite Cuban and Soviet protests, and refused to back down, even at the risk of nuclear war. The crisis ended only when Khrushchev himself agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for an end to the blockade. This sacrifice cost him his position as head of the Soviet Communist Party but saved the world from the prospect of nuclear war between the superpowers.

The crisis had a significant impact on U.S.-Soviet relations, as both sides worked to improve their relationship in order to prevent another potentially catastrophic situation from arising. A Moscow-Washington “hotline,” for example, was installed so that the Soviet premier and American president could speak to each other personally should another crisis occur. Kennedy also changed his rhetoric by asking Americans to think more kindly of the Russians rather than see them as enemies. He also pushed the USSR into signing the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a symbolic but nonetheless significant step that helped pave the way for détente in the 1970s.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. How did George Kennan’s containment doctrine change during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations? Which president was the most successful in containing Communism?

2. What were the causes of the American economic boom in the 1950s? How did prosperity affect the nation socially, politically, and economically?

3. Why were Americans so terrified of Communist infiltration after World War II? What impact did the Red hunts of the late 1940s and early 1950s have on American politics and society?

4. What impact did the Korean War have on American foreign policy?

5. Why was the launch of Sputnik I in 1957 so significant? What did its launch mean for Americans?

During the Cold War, Canada was one of the western powers playing a central role in the major alliances. It was an ally of the United States, but there were several foreign policy differences between the two countries over the course of the Cold War.

Canada was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) in 1958 and played a leading role in United Nationspeacekeeping operations – from the Korean War to the creation of a permanent UN peacekeeping force during the Suez Crisis in 1956. Subsequent peacekeeping interventions occurred in the Congo (1960), Cyprus (1964), the Sinai (1973), Vietnam (with the International Control Commission), Golan Heights, Lebanon (1978), and Namibia (1989–1990).

Canada did not follow the American lead in all Cold War actions, sometimes leading to tensions. Canada refused to join the Vietnam War and in 1984 the last nuclear weapons based in Canada were removed. Relations were maintained with Cuba and the Canadian government recognized the People's Republic of China before the United States.

The Canadian military maintained a standing presence in Western Europe as part of its NATO deployment at several bases in Germany – including long tenures at CFB Baden-Soellingen and CFB Lahr, in the Black Forest region of West Germany. Also Canadian military facilities were maintained in Bermuda, France and the United Kingdom. From the early 1960s until the 1980s, Canada maintained weapon platforms armed with nuclear weapons – including nuclear-tipped air-to-air rockets, surface-to-air missiles, and high-yield gravity bombs principally deployed in the Western European theatre of operations as well as in Canada.

Early Cold War[edit]

Canada emerged from the Second World War as a world power, radically transforming a principally agricultural and rural dominion of a dying empire into a truly sovereign nation, with a market economy focused on a combination of resource extraction and refinement, heavy manufacturing, and high-technology research and development. As a consequence of supplying so much of the war effort for six long years, Canada's military grew to an exceptional size: over a million service personnel, the world's third largest surface fleet and fourth largest air force. Despite a draw-down at the end of the war, the Canadian military nonetheless executed Operation Muskox, a massive deployment across the Canadian Arctic designed in part to train for a ground and air war in the region. Canadians also assisted in humanitarian efforts, and sending observers for the United Nations to India and Palestine in 1947 and 1948.

There was never any doubt early on as to which side Canada was on in the Cold War due to its location. On the domestic front, the Canadian state at all levels fought vehemently against what it characterized as communist subversion. Canadian and business leaders opposed the advance of the labour movement on the grounds that it was a Bolshevik conspiracy during the interwar period. The peak moments of this effort were the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and the anticommunist campaigns of the depression, including the stopping of the On-to-Ottawa Trek. The formal onset of the Cold War, usually pegged with the 1945 defection of a Soviet cipher clerk working in Ottawa, Igor Gouzenko, was therefore a continuation and extension of, rather than a departure from, Canadian anticommunist policies.

Canada was a founding member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), of which Prime Minister St. Laurent was a chief architect. Canada was one of its most ardent supporters and pushed (largely unsuccessfully) to have it become an economic and cultural organization in addition to a military alliance.

It played a middle power role in international affairs, and pursued diplomatic relations with Communist countries that the US had severed ties with, such as Cuba and China after their respective revolutions. Canada argued that rather than being soft on Communism, it was pursuing a strategy of "constructive engagement" whereby it sought to influence Communism through the course of its international relationships.

Domestic anti-Communism[edit]

Canada had far less of the anti-Communist hysteria that had afflicted the United States. The United States wished the Canadian government would go further, asking for a purging of trade unions, but Canada saw this as American hysteria, and left the purge of trade unions to the AFL-CIO. The American officials were especially concerned about the sailors on Great Lakes freight vessels, and, in 1951, Canada added them to those already screened by its secret anti-communist screening program. The Communist Party of Canada had not been outlawed since Section 98 was repealed by Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1935.[1]

Despite its comparatively moderate stance towards Communism, the Canadian state continued intensive surveillance of Communists and sharing of intelligence with the US. PROFUNC was a Government of Canadatop secret plan to identify and detain Communist sympathizers during the height of the Cold War.[2]

Tensions between Canada and the United States heightened during this time as on April 4, 1957, Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, E. Herbert Norman, leaped to his death from a Cairo building after the United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security released a textual record of a previous hearing to the media. Despite having been cleared several years earlier, first by the RCMP in 1950, then again by the Canadian Minister of External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, the United States media portrayed Norman as a spy and traitor. The only evidence the United States had was that as a student at Cambridge and Harvard he was a part of a Marxist communist study group. This made Pearson, who was still External Affairs Minister, backed by outrage across the country, send a note to the US Government, threatening to offer no more security information on Canadian citizens until it was guaranteed that this information would not slip beyond the executive branch of the government.[3]


Further information: List of Canadian Peacekeeping Missions

It was during the Cold War period that Canada began to assert the international clout that went along with the reputation it had built on the international stage in World War I and World War II.

In the Korean War, the moderately sized contingent of volunteer soldiers from Canada made noteworthy contributions to the United Nations forces and served with distinction. Of particular note is the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry's contribution to the Battle of Kapyong.

Canada's major Cold War contribution to international politics was made in the innovation and implementation of 'Peacekeeping'. Although a United Nations military force had been proposed and advocated for the preservation of peace vis a vis the U.N.'s mandate by Canada's representatives Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his Secretary of State for External Affairs Louis St. Laurent at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in June 1945, it was not adopted at that time.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, the idea promoted by Canada in 1945 of a United Nations military force returned to the fore. The conflict involving Britain, France, Israel and Egypt quickly developed into a potential flashpoint between the emerging 'superpowers' of the United States and the Soviet Union as the Soviets made intimations that they would militarily support Egypt's cause. The Soviets went as far as to say they would be willing to use "all types of modern weapons of destruction" on London and Paris – an overt threat of nuclear attack. Canadian diplomat Lester B. Pearson re-introduced then Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent's UN military force concept in the form of an 'Emergency Force' that would intercede and divide the combatants, and form a buffer zone or 'human shield' between the opposing forces. Pearson's United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) - the first peacekeeping force, was deployed to separate the combatants and a cease-fire and resolution was drawn up to end the hostilities.

Canada–U.S. tensions[edit]

See also: Canada–United States relations

To defend North America against a possible enemy attack, Canada and the United States began to work very closely together in the 1950s. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) created a joint air-defense system. In northern Canada, the Distant Early Warning Line (Dew Line) was established to give warning of Soviet bombers heading over the north pole. Great debate broke out while John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister as to whether Canada should accept U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory. Diefenbaker had already agreed to buy the BOMARC missile system from the Americans, which would be not as effective without nuclear warheads, but balked at permitting the weapons into Canada.

Canada also maintained diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution. Prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the insistence on a much more placated policy towards the Cuban government had been a source of contention between the United States and Canada.[4] Prime Minister Diefenbaker firmly stood by his policy decision, insisting that this was the result of the rights of states to establish their own forms of government, rejection of current US interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine as well as Canada's right to establish its own foreign policy.[4] Concern in the Canadian government was focused primarily on nuclear weapons, many politicians in the opposition and in power believed that as long as the US president retained absolute control of the nuclear weapons, Canadian forces could be ordered to undertake nuclear missions for the US without Canadian consent.[5] During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Canada was expected to fall in line with American foreign policy, in that Canada’s military forces were expected to go on immediate war alert status.[6] Diefenbaker however, refused to do so emphasizing the need for United Nations intervention.[6] It would only be after a tense phone call between President John F. Kennedy and Diefenbaker that Canada’s armed forces would begin preparations for "immediate enemy attack".[6] Although the crisis would eventually be solved by diplomatic talks between Nikita Khrushchev and Kennedy, nothing would loom larger over the Canadian state in the months following the crisis than the governing party’s disarray on the question of nuclear arms.[7]

In the 1963 Canadian election, Diefenbaker was replaced by the famed diplomat Lester B. Pearson, who accepted the warheads. Further tensions developed when Pearson criticized the American role in the Vietnam War in a speech he gave at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. See also Canada and the Vietnam War.

Canada also refused to join the Organization of American States, disliking the support and tolerance of the Cold War OAS for dictators. Under Pearson’s successor Pierre Trudeau, US-Canadian policies grew further apart. Trudeau removed nuclear weapons from Canadian soil, formally recognized the People's Republic of China, established a personal friendship with Castro, and decreased the number of Canadian troops stationed at NATO bases in Europe.

End of the Cold War[edit]

Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan had a close relationship, but the 1980s also saw widespread protests against American testing of cruise missiles in Canada's north.[citation needed]

When the Cold War ended, Canadian Forces were withdrawn from their NATO commitments in Germany, military spending was cut, and air raid sirens were removed across the country. The Diefenbunkers, Canada's military-operated fallout shelters designed to ensure continuity of government, were decommissioned. In 1994, the last active United States military base in Canada, Naval Station Argentia Newfoundland, was decommissioned and the facility was turned over to the Government of Canada. The base was a storage facility for the Mk 101 Lulu and B57 nuclear bombs[8] and a key node in the US Navy's SOSUS network to detect Sovietnuclear submarines. Canada continues to participate in Cold War institutions such as NORAD and NATO, but they have been given new missions and priorities.

In addition, Canada may have played a small role in helping to bring about glasnost and perestroika. In the mid-1970s, Alexander Yakovlev was appointed as ambassador to Canada, remaining at that post for a decade. During this time, he and Canadian Prime MinisterPierre Trudeau became close friends.[citation needed]

In the early 1980s, Yakovlev accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was the Soviet official in charge of agriculture, on his tour of Canada. The purpose of the visit was to tour Canadian farms and agricultural institutions in the hopes of taking lessons that could be applied in the Soviet Union; however, the two began, tentatively at first, to discuss the need for liberalisation in the Soviet Union. Yakovlev then returned to Moscow, and would eventually be called the "godfather of glasnost",[9] the intellectual force behind Gorbachev's reform program.

The Cold War in Canada came to an end during the period 1990–1995 as the traditional mission to contain Soviet expansion faded into the new realities of warfare. The Cold War required permanent foreign deployments to Western Europe, something which was no longer necessary, and as such bases closed down. Less equipment was needed, and so much was sold off, soon to be replaced by newer equipment designed for future conflicts. At home, bases were closed and operations consolidated and streamlined for maximum efficiency, as by the early 1990s many Canadians were openly questioning the necessity of large defence budgets.

In 1990, Canadian troops were deployed to assist provincial police in Québec in an effort to defuse tensions between Mohawk Warriors and the Sureté du Québec and local residents. In 1991 Canadian Forces personnel deployed in support of the American liberation of Kuwait. By 1992, Canadian peacekeepers were deployed to Cambodia, Croatia and Somalia. In 1993 Balkan involvement expanded into Bosnia and Canadian troops participated in some of the fiercest combat since the Korean War during Operation Medak Pocket.

By the end of the 1990s, Canada would have a completely different military, one more inclined towards the rigours of peacekeeping and peace-making operations under multi-national coalitions. The country would be further involved in the Yugoslav Wars throughout the rest of the decade, would become involved in Haiti, and would further see action again in Zaire and East Timor. The Navy, by decade's end (and prior to the modern post-9/11 era), was comparatively brand new, the Air Force well-balanced and modern as well. The Army began to acquire new equipment, such as the LAV-III, Bison APC and the Coyote Reconnaissance Vehicle as it transitioned to fighting irregular warfare instead of the large tank battles once feared would rage across Western Europe. It is with Canada's late-Cold War and early-Peacekeeping Era military that Canada would embark on its deployment to Afghanistan, currently Canada's longest-running war.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

Further information: List of primary and secondary sources on the Cold War

  • Balawyder, Aloysius. In the Clutches of the Kremlin: Canadian-East European Relations, 1945-1962.Columbia University Press, 2000. 192 pp.
  • Cavell, Richard, ed. Love, Hate, and Fear in Canada's Cold War U. of Toronto Press, 2004. 216 pp.
  • Adam Chapnick. The Middle Power Project: Canada and the Founding of the United Nations University of British Columbia Press, 2005. ISBN 0-7748-1247-8.
  • Clark-Jones, Melissa. A Staple State: Canadian Industrial Resources in Cold War. U. of Toronto Press, 1987. 260 pp.
  • Clearwater, John (1998), Canadian nuclear weapons: the untold story of Canada's Cold War arsenal, Dundurn Press ISBN 1-55002-299-7
  • Cuff, R. D. and Granatstein, J. L. Canadian-American Relations in Wartime: From the Great War to the Cold War. Toronto: Hakkert, 1975. 205 pp.
  • Dewitt David and John Kirton. Canada as a Principal Power. Toronto: John Wiley 1983
  • Donaghy, Greg, ed. Canada and the Early Cold War, 1943-1957. Ottawa: Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Int. Trade, 1998. 255 pp.
  • Eayrs, James. In Defence of Canada. III: Peacemaking and Deterrence. U. of Toronto Press, 1972. 448 pp.
  • Farrell R. Barry. The Making of Canadian Foreign Policy. Scarborough: Prentice- Hall 1969
  • J. L. Granatstein David Stafford. Spy Wars: Espionage and Canada from Gouzenko to Glasnost (1991) (ISBN 1-55013-258-X)
  • Holmes John W. The Shaping of Peace: Canada and the Search for World Order, 1943-1957, 2 vols. University of Toronto Press 1979, 1982
  • Knight, Amy. How The Cold War Began. (2005) ISBN 0-7710-9577-5
  • Maloney, Sean M. Canada and UN Peacekeeping: Cold War by Other Means. St. Catharines, Ont.: Vanwell, 2002. 265 pp.
  • Matthews Robert O. and Cranford Pratt, eds. Human Rights in Canadian Foreign Policy. McGill-Queen's University Press 1988
  • Nossal Kim Richard. The Politics of Canadian Foreign Policy, 2nd edition. Prentice-Hall 1989
  • Reid Escott. Time of Fear and Hope: The Making of the North Atlantic Treaty, 1947-1949. McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
  • Sharnik, John. Inside the Cold War: An Oral History (1987) (ISBN 0-87795-866-1)
  • Smith, Denis. Diplomacy of Fear: Canada and the Cold War, 1941-1948.University of Toronto Press, 1988. 259 pp.
  • Tucker Michael. Canadian Foreign Policy: Contemporary Issues and Themes.McGraw-Hill Ryerson 1980.
  • Whitaker, Reg and Gary Marcuse. Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945-1957. (1994) ISBN 0-8020-5935-X. 511 pp.
  • Whitaker, Reg and Hewitt, Steve. Canada and the Cold War. Toronto: Lorimer, (2003). 256 pp.
  • CBC Archive - Cold War Culture: The Nuclear Fear of the 1950s and 1960s

External links[edit]

  1. ^Roberts, Barbara (1997). Whence They Came: Deportation from Canada 1900 - 1935. University of Ottawa Press. ISBN 9780776601632. 
  2. ^CBC: Secret Cold War plan included mass detentions
  3. ^Pearson, Lester (1975). The Memoirs of The Right and Honourable Lester B. Pearson (3rd ed.). University of Toronto Press. pp. 167–174. ISBN 0812906012. 
  4. ^ abHayden, Peter T. (1993). The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis:Canadian Involvement Reconsidered. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Institution of Strategic Studies. p. 112. 
  5. ^Hayden, Peter T. (1993). The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis:Canadian Involvement Reconsidered. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Institution of Strategic Studies. p. 117. 
  6. ^ abcPalmer, Bryan D. (2009). Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era. Toronto Ontario: University of Toronto Press. p. 62. 
  7. ^Palmer, Bryan D. (2009). Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era. Toronto Ontario: University of Toronto Press. p. 63. 
  8. ^Canadian nuclear weapons: the untold story of Canada's Cold War arsenal. Dundurn Press. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  9. ^"Alexander Yakovlev, 81". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on October 20, 2005. 
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