In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Canadian Foreign Policy

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Think Tanks
  • Foreign Policy Statements and Reviews
  • Official Sources

Political Science Canadian Foreign Policy
Adam Chapnick, Jean-Christophe Boucher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0175


Canadian foreign policy is a relatively new field of study in both history and political science. Although Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King signed the Halibut Treaty with the United States independently of Great Britain in 1923, Canada did not formalize its legal and constitutional independence from the British Empire in international affairs until 1931. The study of Canadian foreign policy developed slowly thereafter. University courses emerged in the 1960s, during which period historians, retired policy practitioners, and political scientists began to produce the first significant wave of scholarship. These groups ultimately produced three relatively distinct strains of a field that has yet to unite. The historians typically rely on empirical evidence, drawn initially from Library and Archives Canada (cited under Official Sources), but now also from archives around the world, to revisit the machinations of Canadian diplomacy, a term that is increasingly defined in a manner that extends beyond the powers of the state. Practitioners focus on policy advocacy inspired by their personal experiences either in diplomacy or, more recently, in international trade negotiations. While their work has garnered significant popular attention, it has made less of a contribution to the scholarly canon. Political science’s contribution to Canadian foreign policy remains limited. An effort, however, is ongoing to develop an intrinsic body of theoretically and methodologically informed work. The theoretical perspectives in use include realism and liberalism, critical scholarship, and constructivism, which emphasize the role of identity and culture in defining Canada’s international behavior. Methodologically, most studies rely on single-case analyses. Hence, comparative analysis and quantitative methods have yet to be exploited to their full potential. Recently, perhaps in response to Canadian governmental initiatives on the world stage that have integrated contributions from a variety of federal departments, scholarly analysts have begun to replace the term “foreign policy” with “international policy.” The new nomenclature better captures the increasing number of state and nonstate actors, not to mention the diversity of so-called intermestic issues that have become part of the Canadian foreign policy environment.

General Overviews

No single, truly comprehensive overview of Canadian foreign policy exists. The historical accounts provide context but no theory. The textbooks introduce theory but tend to rely on secondary sources for the historical context. The coverage of even the best anthologies is selective. A sampling of all three approaches is therefore necessary.

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