Louis St. Laurent in His Parliamentary Office, Ottawa, Ontario, n.d.
Archives Nationales du Québec (P97 S14 P4586).

Louis St. Laurent in His Parliamentary Office, Ottawa, Ontario, n.d.

St. Laurent and his Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester Pearson, were deeply interested in expanding Canada's role in international affairs. During St. Laurent's tenure as Prime Minister between 1948 and 1957, Canada joined NATO and several other international organizations.

Canada played a large role in the Allied victory in the Second World War. The dominion not only met the challenge of the war but also emerged from it as one of the most powerful and prosperous nations in the world. Canada had a large and potent military and a vibrant economy. The new challenge for Canada after 1945 was to maintain its prominence on the world stage.

Even more than during the post-1918 period, Canada became involved in international organizations during the 1940s and 1950s. The dominion participated in the Bretton Woods Conference and in the creation of the International Monetary Fund. It was also a founding member of the United Nations (UN). Indeed, after the war, Canada continued to be very active in world affairs.

Internationalism became central to Canada's post-war identity. The Canadian government adopted two relevant foreign policy positions. The first was that Canada was a "middle power." The government asserted that the nation should not be considered alongside the former Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Japan, and Germany) or the emerging superpowers (the USA and the USSR). But neither should it be grouped with small powers in the developing world. Canada, along with a few other nations, ought to occupy a middle ranking on the world stage.

Lester B. Pearson and O.D. Skelton, n.d.
National Archives of Canada (PA-110825).

Lester B. Pearson and O.D. Skelton, n.d.

Lester Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs (1948-1957), was instrumental in defining Canada's role in international affairs. Skelton was a former Undersecretary of State.

The second policy was functionalism. It helped to define Canada's middle power rank by suggesting that nations should involve themselves only with matters in which they have specific interests or knowledge. For instance, Canada's wartime experience in the development of atomic energy, including the Manhattan (atomic bomb) Project, made the dominion a natural choice for full-time membership in the Atomic Energy Commission. In keeping with the concept of not being a great power, Canada decided not to produce nuclear weapons even though it had the technology. Likewise, Canada was active in providing food and supplies to the Allied war effort. After the war, it became an important participant in UN relief programs.


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