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Pierre Elliott Trudeau and nuclear arms control : Canadian approaches to the nuclear world, 1978-84 Goldie, Mary Lorraine


The timeframe of 1978-1984, a period of critical importance in the development of the nuclear world, sets the boundaries for this analysis of Canadian nuclear arms control policy. The situation brought about by increasing hostility between the superpowers, and changes in doctrine and advances in technology that facilitated nuclear war-fighting scenarios, was extremely grave. Therefore it would seem appropriate for Canada, in its traditional role as mediator and middlepower devoted to easing the danger of world conflagration, to have taken an active stand in its nuclear arms control diplomacy. Such was not the case, as bureaucratic politics, cybernetic decision-making, and cognitive dissonance made adherence to the status quo, or minimal rhetorical changes, the order of the day. While that changed towards the end of the period under examination, there remained little substantive modification of policy, despite the growing threat of nuclear disaster. Four examples of Canadian nuclear arms control policy are examined with the aid of official government documents and appropriate commentary from a variety of analysts. Canadian arms control policy at the two United Nations Special Sessions on Disarmament, the controversy over the question of testing the American Air-Launched Cruise Missile in Canada, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's personal peace initiative provide a wealth of information that is used to illustrate the struggle of bureaucratic politics versus rational decision-making. Some of the more influential theoretical and structural difficulties within the foreign policy-making process in Canada that posed real impediments to comprehensive analytical decision-making are presented. These problems are outlined in order to provide a framework for the analysis of the four policy situations. In the first three cases, the decision-making indicates the predominance of the bureaucracy's cybernetic conduct. In the last instance, the attempts of the Prime Minister to impose rational/analytical decision-making on the policy process caused him to actively circumvent the bureaucracy within Canada, but he was bested by external forces. The thesis of this monograph is that Canadian nuclear arms control policy for much of this period was reactive, limited to well-crafted rhetoric, and oblivious to the changing nature of the strategic environment. The reasons for this policy behavior may be traced to external constraints imposed by the dynamics of the international system, the nonrationality of the nuclear world, and the weakness of Canada's influence vis-a-vis the superpowers. As well, the importance of not alienating the United States by too forceful a criticism was an essential consideration in the policy process due to the many issues of contention that already existed between Canada and the United States, and the vulnerability of Canada in economic terms to the negative reactions of its North American neighbour. When the Prime Minister did try to set policy and actively change the nuclear world via his personal peace initiative, the same factors and forces proved to be his undoing. In addition, the reactions on the international scene by some of the more powerful Western players indicate that Canada did not have the credibility to attempt such an influential role in the nuclear world. This response may have been prompted by Canada's minimal defence spending in recent years, or it may well have been the fate of a middlepower trying to exert influence in areas where the other nations were loathe to accept it.

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