POL 3569 -- Canadian Foreign Policy


“Life with Uncle” 

John Holmes (title of his 1981 book, detailing Canada’s relationship with larger powers)


“Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.”

Lester B. Pearson (former Canadian External Affairs Minister and Prime Minister)


Canada’s place in the world is not always an easy one.  Great powers have costly international responsibilities, but so too can they afford a measure of policy freedom.  Meanwhile, small nations have little choice but to bandwagon or buck-pass.  But at least their strategic options are clearly laid out for them.  In contrast, middle powers such as Canada find international politics a difficult game to play.  This is largely because their not-inconsequential power provides sufficient means to consider themselves worthy of policy freedom, yet at the same time their relatively limited strength ensures they can never stray too far from a hegemonic benefactor.  


In POL 3569 we examine what it is like to live in such circumstances by considering the policies Canada can—and does—adopt.  This survey runs from the heady days (albeit nervously so) leading up to Confederation, through the terrible and transformative World Wars I and II, into the Cold War, and finally into today’s age of terrorist threats and a dramatically changing international political economy.  The aim of such a historical approach is to provide insight into the enduring elements of Canada’s ‘national interests’, but also to give an appreciation of the difficulties faced by policymakers straddling both domestic and international concerns.  Foreign policy is, after all, no place for the stubborn or timid.  


Course work for undergraduates includes seminar participation, a paper outline, a 20-page finished product, and two 15-minute case study presentations—each accompanied by brief, 2 or 3-page synopses.  Opportunity will also be afforded in lecture 9 (June 16) to present paper outlines to the class, for those students who choose to do so.  Graduate students will complete these same basic requirements, with two exceptions.  First, the length of their final paper will be extended to 25-pages, with the stipulation that the additional 5 pages of material consists of a much more extensive literature review component.  To be clear, graduate students will be required to demonstrate a far more comprehensive grasp of the theories and debates that make up this field.  Second, graduate students will face higher expectations in terms of the quality and quantity of their seminar participation.  Masters and PhD students need to get comfortable with expressing their ideas in public fora, and then partaking in the debate that almost invariably follows.


As this is a seminar course, students will be required to sign up and present two case studies—though the final number will ultimately depend on student numbers.  Cases will be selected by the students’ own choosing.  A sign-up sheet will be passed around during the first class, and a copy will be maintained online.  Selection of cases will occur on a first-come, first-served basis.  Once chosen, students may not change their selection.  


Keep in mind that seminar obligations are not limited to the presenters alone.  All students should arrive at class well prepared to discuss the material to be covered.  This includes completing the readings well ahead of time.  In particular, all students will be expected to be able to answer, by drawing on the course readings, each of the discussion questions outlined below.  In the case of lulls in the conversation, or where certain students are failing to participate in the class discussion, the instructor reserves the right to ask any student any of these questions at any time.  This necessitates a consideration of both the reading material and the discussions well prior to the seminar itself.  Meanwhile, during class discussions, students should make their points succinctly and clearly, and must not unduly monopolize the time available for discussion.  It should go without saying that criticism should be constructive, rather than pejorative, ad hominem, or outside the course material.


Lastly, the core learning objectives of this class come in two forms.  The first and most obvious is the need to become confidently familiar with the policies and events contained within the class textbooks.  These pieces constitute the bedrock of Canada’s foreign policy over the last 200 years.  An appreciation and mastery of this knowledge is therefore imperative before any further research in this area can be completed, including a student’s written assignments.  The second set of objectives deal with the mechanics of theory, research, and both verbal and written communication.  In this light, a seminar setting aims to not only further the traditional skills of knowledge recitation and paper writing, but also to practice and develop competence in idea presentation and debate.  Such abilities are highly useful to topics and contexts far beyond this course.



Course Documents


Dalhousie Pol 3569 - Cdn Foreign Policy - Summer 2011.docx


Canadian Foreign Policy Bibliography.docx


Case Studies Sign-up Sheet.xlsx