Canada Defense and Foreign Policy

Canada Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Canada is a nation in North America. Its capital city is Ottawa. Canada has traditionally pursued an active foreign policy with a strong commitment to issues related to disarmament, trade and the environment. At the turn of power in 2015, the new Liberal government talked a lot about climate policy, refugee aid and peace efforts. But when new visions for foreign policy were outlined in 2017, most of the money went to the defense and a smaller part to a focus on a feminist aid policy. Like the former Conservative government, Trudeau’s government is trying to strengthen Canada’s position through new free trade agreements.

canada military spending and defense budget

The country is a member of the G7 group that brings together the world’s seven leading industrialized countries. Canada is also part of the NATO defense alliance.

Work in the UN has usually been an important part of foreign policy. It was then Canadian Foreign Minister Lester Pearson who in 1956 proposed that the United Nations form peacekeeping forces to resolve the Suez crisis. Pearson received the Nobel Peace Prize the year after his efforts.

  • Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Canada for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Canada was also one of the driving forces behind the international ban on personal mines enacted in the Ottawa Convention in 1997.

Under the Conservative government, Canada lost much of its old prestige on the UN arena and for several years the country diminished its involvement in peacekeeping operations. When the Liberals returned to power, the United Nations again played a key role in Canada’s foreign policy. In the fall of 2017, the government decided to create a 200-strong rapid response force that can be deployed for five years in the UN peacekeeping mission around the world. It also promised a greater effort to train military personnel in other countries and to recruit women for peacekeeping missions (see below and Calendar).

When then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented his new foreign policy strategy in 2011, the goal was to create prosperity, promote democracy and defend human rights. One news was the Office for Religious Freedom, which was established in 2013 as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its task was said to be to fight religious oppression around the world and to promote “Canadian values” such as tolerance and diversity. Some observers thought that the agency had mainly come to appease the Christian core of the Conservative Party. It was replaced in 2016 by a new government body that would promote greater respect for human rights overall.

The Canadian aid agency Cida (Canadian International Development Agency) as well as trade issues were moved in 2013 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which at the same time was forced to save large sums. It was then said that an important task for aid, in addition to poverty reduction, was to promote Canada’s commercial interests. In the spring of 2013, Canada pledged $ 53 million to six projects in Peru linked to mining and education. The Harper government promised to ensure that Canadian investors would guarantee decent working conditions and environmental protection.

Harper’s government and the then Alberta provincial government (a change of power occurred there in 2015) tried through advertisements, diplomacy and other channels to convince public opinion at home and internationally that, despite all environmental problems, it is right to exploit Canada’s resources of oil sands (see Natural Resources and Energy). The Alberta oil sands were described as an “ethical” alternative to the oil produced in Venezuela, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, countries that have been criticized for human rights violations and poor environmental protection.

Relations with the United States

The United States is the country’s leading trading partner. For Canada, it has often been important to highlight the pursuit of an independent foreign policy line vis-à-vis the United States while deepening cooperation between the countries. In addition to the free trade agreement Nafta, which also includes Mexico, the countries cooperate militarily within Norad, whose mission is to defend all of North America against air strikes.

After the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001, Canada tightened its anti-terrorism legislation. At the same time, the United States strengthened its surveillance of the border with Canada. In 2002, Canada contributed 850 men to the US-led force in Afghanistan, participating in the hunt for members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network suspected of the US attacks. The countries also agreed on increased information exchange.

Canadian criticism of the Iraq war in 2003 created tensions between the countries. After that, both Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin (2003-2006) and Harper (2006-2015) made efforts to improve relations, a process that was facilitated when Barack Obama took office in 2009 as US President.

Donald Trump’s entry as US President in 2017 brought new difficulties, not least that Trump wanted to renegotiate the Nafta Free Trade Agreement. Initially, the cape was mostly aimed at Mexico, employees of Trump stressed that close cooperation between the US and Canada would continue as before. Negotiations began in the summer of 2017 (see Foreign Trade). Relations deteriorated in 2018, not least since the US decided to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum and Trump in June ended in open quarrel with the other six major powers in the G7 group. Trump particularly criticized Prime Minister Trudeau (see Calendar). And in August 2018, the US and Mexico signed a preliminary agreement, in which Trump admittedly invited Canada to participate while putting pressure on the Canadian government to make a swift decision. At the end of September, it became clear that Canada, too, is joining the new USMCA agreement (see Calendar). A new agreement became clear in December 2019. However, it will not enter into force until it has been approved by the parliaments of all three countries. Last out was Canada which gave its approval in March 2020.

Trade agreement with the EU

In 2013, Canada agreed with the EU on a free trade agreement, Ceta, which would mean that 98 percent of all customs duties would be abolished. Canada would also, for the first time, allow companies from EU countries to submit public tenders in Canada’s provinces and municipalities. It came into force in September 2017 after the agreement had been formally approved by all EU countries, the European Parliament, Canada’s federal and provincial parliaments. France, Italy and Germany are among the countries that have not yet given their approval.


In recent years, China has become one of Canada’s leading trading partners. A number of Chinese companies have invested heavily in Canada, not least in the energy sector. During his first two years as prime minister, Justin Trudeau visited China twice, in order to strengthen trade between the countries, but failed to make any formal talks with China on a free trade agreement. Trudeau also addressed China’s human rights violations during its visits to the country, something the home opinion had demanded.

Relations between the countries were complicated since Meng Wanzhou, senior manager of Huawei’s Vancouver office, as well as the daughter of the Chinese company’s founder, was arrested in Canada in December 2018, after a US court requested her extradition to the United States. Among other things, China responded by arresting several Canadians who were in China and accused them of threatening China’s national security (see Calendar). China has also blocked food exports from Canada. The Beijing government has also rejected Canadian proposals to initiate a dialogue.


Canada has long had close contacts with Cuba. When Pierre Trudeau, the incumbent prime minister’s father, traveled to Cuba in 1976, it was the first time a Western leader had visited the country since 1960. Canadians have argued that dialogue has been the best way to encourage democratic development in Cuba. But relations with the Cuban regime deteriorated in the late 1990s due to Canadian criticism of the lack of respect for human rights in Cuba.

However, after the change of power in 2015, Canada-Cuba became closer and Prime Minister Trudeau visited the country in November 2016. The countries then agreed on cooperation in issues such as climate issues, regional security and greater equality between women and men. Trudeau’s howling words about Fidel Castro after the Cuban leader’s death a few weeks later, however, aroused criticism both at home and abroad.


In 2012, Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran, citing its support for terrorist groups, concerns that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and Iranian policy towards Israel. After the Liberals took power in 2015 and since Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program, Canada lifted most of its sanctions against Iran in early 2016.

Saudi Arabia

In 2014, an order for light armored vehicles was approved for Saudi Arabia (worth 15 billion Canadian dollars), despite the rules saying that Canadian weapons must not be sold to countries that are guilty of repeated human rights violations. The issue was raised when film images released in the summer of 2017 showed how the government in Riyadh deployed Canadian-made armored vehicles to residents of Awamiyyah in the Saudi eastern province. The government appointed an investigation into this, but the result has not been made public.

When Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, in a tweet in August 2018, criticized the arrest of Saudi regime critics, aroused sharp criticism from the Saudi Arabia, which accused the Canadian government of meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Canada’s ambassador was undesirable in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi ambassador to Canada was called home. Saudi Arabia also chose to sell all of its assets in Canada, freeze all new investments, stop buying Canadian cereals, the Saudi national airline canceled all traffic to Canada and withdrew all visas to Saudi students studying medicine in Canada. From a conservative standpoint in Canada, Freeland faced some criticism for not trying to influence the Saudis through diplomatic channels,Saudi Arabia: Political System), whose family lives in Canada.

In November, Canada imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis suspected of involvement in the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in early October (see Calendar). After that, the government was considering trying to cancel the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but there was great concern that Canada would have to pay large sums, perhaps as much as a billion Canadian dollars, to Saudi Arabia for breach of contract.


As the ice in the Arctic has begun to melt, competition between Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway and Denmark has increased if the natural resources believed to exist in the area. In addition, if the Northwest Passage becomes ice-free during the summer months, the interest in transporting goods that way will increase, compared with the longer route via the Panama Canal.

The Arctic countries have agreed to resolve any conflicts with peaceful means. The biggest disputes are between Canada and Russia. Since the Russians placed a Russian flag on the seabed during the North Pole in 2007, Canada has increased its military presence in the north, but only during the summer. Russia has built a new, large military base in the country of Franz Joseph, east of Svalbard.

In 2017, Canada announced plans to strengthen surveillance of the country’s Arctic areas, including by means of unmanned underwater vehicles. The idea was that it would replace the radar system built in the 1980s.

In 2013, Canada claimed territory outside the landmass right up to the geographic North Pole. Canada also has disputes with Denmark and the US over Arctic areas. As it is today, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are entitled to areas 200 nautical miles from their northern coasts.

Canada is one of eight states that have full membership in the Arctic Council (the others are Russia, USA, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland). Six indigenous peoples organizations also have permanent seats on the council. Thirteen countries that are not located in the Arctic have observer status. The Liberal government did not show the same strong interest in the Arctic as the Conservative government did.

In 2013, the member states agreed to be assisted in the event of an accident leading to large and environmentally hazardous emissions.


Canada between 2001 and 2011 fighting squad in the troubled province of Kandahar in Afghanistan. Since Harper came to power in 2006, the Canadian force in Afghanistan has doubled to 2,500 men. The troop was part of the NATO-led UN force Isaf. But the effort was contentious at home, especially as Canada suffered losses (158 people were killed in Afghanistan). There was also discontent that other NATO countries were so reluctant to send reinforcements to Isaf. After 2011, Canada had more than 900 soldiers in the country to train Afghan defense forces, but the last Canadian soldiers were taken home in March 2014.

In 2009, a Canadian diplomat accused his own troops of routinely surrendering prisoners to Afghan government forces, even though they knew the prisoners were subjected to torture and other abuses. The diplomat said he had tried to sound an alarm about this already in 2006, but that he had then been asked to keep quiet about the matter. Only in 2007 did the Canadian government take steps to try to prevent the prisoners from being tortured. Defense Minister Peter MacKay rejected the diplomat’s accusations and questioned his credibility.

The Liberal Party, which in opposition demanded a public inquiry into how the prisoners were treated, decided in 2016 that such was not needed. The Liberal government pointed out that Canadian soldiers had not committed any abuses, but the demands for an investigation into what had happened did not remain silent.


Defense forces consist of professional military. In the 1990s, extensive cuts were made to the defense, whose activities had increasingly focused on peacekeeping operations and rescue operations in the event of natural disasters in the country. Paul Martin’s but even more Harper’s government subsequently increased the appropriations for the defense and new equipment was purchased. The price tag for the new battle plans that the government plans to buy has become much higher than originally stated.

Canada has extensive arms exports. About half of the weapons are sold to the United States.

Canada is investing relatively small sums on defense. In both 2015 and 2016, Canada accounted for just under one percent of GDP on its defense. However, in 2017, a major investment in defense was announced, but the country would still not reach the 2 percent of GDP that the NATO countries have committed to invest.

Canada participated in the NATO-led operation in Libya in 2011. The then Prime Minister, Harper, was among those who first started talking about setting up a no-fly zone in Libya.

In January 2013, the Canadian Armed Forces lent a military transport aircraft to France to transport soldiers and equipment to Mali.

Another year later, the Canadian defense sent combat and reconnaissance aircraft as well as 600 men to Iraq to participate in US-led air strikes against the extremist group Islamic State (IS) (see Calendar). In 2015, the Conservative government intended to extend the effort to include IS-controlled areas in Syria, but after the change of power, the Liberal government changed its focus. Canada would now place emphasis on humanitarian efforts and on advising and training Kurdish and Iraqi security forces. In June 2017, Canada pledged to continue with this for another two years. Canada also promised to send weapons to the Kurdish forces, but deliveries could not be made because the Baghdad authorities refused to grant their permission.

In the fall of 2017, disputes between Iraqi and Kurdish allies led to the suspension of the educational effort. However, Canadian engineering troops would continue to instruct Iraqi troops on how to disarm road bombs and foreclosure that IS has left behind. After IS was defeated in Iraq, Canada 2018 decided to suspend training of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, only to continue training Iraqi forces. In the spring of 2019, this training effort was extended to the year 2021. Canada then had 250 people in Iraq. However, it could be extended to 850 men. Plans were also in place to help Jordan and Lebanon with similar efforts.

Canada also has 200 men in Ukraine, where, among other things, it has trained nearly 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers. The effort there will last until 2022.

In 2016, NATO decided to station a battalion of up to 1,000 soldiers in each of the three Baltic countries, as a defense against Russia. Canada undertook to lead it in Latvia and in early 2017 450 men were sent to the military base Ādaži.

In July 2018, Canada sent troops to UN peacekeeping troops in Mali. At the end of the same year, Secretary of Defense Harjit Sajjan announced that the Canadian soldiers would be taken home in July 2019. The mandate was later extended to August the same year.


Army: 34 800 men (2017)

The air Force: 19 900 men (2017)

The fleet: 8,300 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.3 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 3.1 percent (2017)