The Roots of Soft Power: The Trudeau Government, De-NATO-ization and Denuclearization (Queen’s Centre for International Relations, 2005)

The Roots of Soft Power: The Trudeau Government, De-NATO-ization and Denuclearization (Queen’s Centre for International Relations, 2005)



Roots of Soft Power is the first time the public has had access to newly-declassified documents describing the Trudeau Government’s attempts to make Canada neutral during the Cold War and the successful attempt to strip Canada of her offensive nuclear strike force dedicated to the NATO deterrent in the 1960s. This course of action and the realignment of Canadian foreign policy were the first major moves which reduced Canada to a third-rate power from the respected allied partner she was in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. This document is for those who want to understand Canada’s decline on the world stage.

From the Introduction:

The public announcement of a new Canadian national security policy by the Martin government in the spring of 2005 is a significant move away from the dangerous and ineffective ‘soft power’ policies of the 1990s. Implicit in the new policy documents is the understanding that Canadian global influence has waned and that the role of military power in the calculus of that influence is a critical factor in the projection of Canadian interests. In many ways, the new policy is a refutation of ‘soft power’ as championed by former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and those in the bureaucracy and academic communities who supported him. Indeed, the Axworthy ‘soft power’ doctrine of the 1990s questioned the utility of military power in general and Canadian military power specifically, particularly outside of the UN context. Implicit in the ‘soft power’ argument was that Canada had little or no military power, nor should it. Attempts to retroactively recast Axworthian foreign policy concepts to portray them as less anti-military, after the successful employment of Canadian combat forces in and over Kosovo in 1999-2000 and particularly after operations in Afghanistan, have already started.

Though there was a significant draw-down of the Canadian Forces in the 1990s, the dramatic de-emphasis of Canadian military power as a policy tool actually started under the Trudeau government, though it had as its underpinnings Pearson-era national security policies in which an alternative force structure designed for Third World intervention was proposed but not funded. The first moves, once the Trudeau government took power in 1968, were to distance Canada from NATO, and then remove Canada’s nuclear weapons capability. The emphasis on the Third Option in Canadian foreign policy after 1971 to distance Canada from the United States and Europe, plus dramatically-reduced funding for the remaining conventional Canadian Forces in the 1970s, built on these decisions.

Taken together, these were the distant foundations of ‘soft power’ in the 1990s. ‘Soft Power’ in the Axworthian sense was a policy based on weakness, not strength, and based on a utopian UN-centric world with a neutral Canada operating in it regardless of the practical realities involved in the exercise of global power. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Trudeau-era tampering with a painstakingly-constructed national security structure dramatically weakened Canadian power in almost all of its forms and sought to propel Canada into the “non-aligned” camp during the Cold War.


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