MSc International Relations of the Americas
Register your interest in UCL

AMERG003: Case Study in Foreign Policy

Course convenor: Dr Tony McCulloch


This module examines a selected aspect of modern US foreign policy. The actual case study under review changes periodically to reflect staff expertise, student interest, and changing issue significance. The case study in 2012-13 examines US foreign policy towards Canada since the Second World War.

Uneasy Neighbours: US relations with Canada from FDR to Barack Obama

Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada for most of the period 1968-84, once likened being a neighbour of the United States to sleeping with an elephant. ‘No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast is affected by every twitch and grunt’.

This course examines the ‘twitches’ and ‘grunts’ in American foreign policy towards Canada from the era of Franklin Roosevelt down to the presidency of Barack Obama and shows that relations between the two countries have often been far from smooth. As in the US ‘special relationship’ with Britain, commentary on US policy towards Canada has tended to focus on the personal chemistry – or lack of it - between President and Prime Minister. From JFK’s animosity towards John Diefenbaker during the Cuban Missile Crisis and LBJ’s fury with Lester Pearson over his comments on US policy in Vietnam to Reagan’s frustration with Pierre Trudeau  and George W Bush’s infamous ‘snub’ of Canada after 9/11, there have been many diplomatic rows between the two governments since the Second World War.

Nor has this uneasy relationship been simply the result of an occasional clash of personalities. Although the two countries are close allies and cooperate on a daily basis within organisations such as NORAD, NAFTA and NATO, for much of its history Canada has felt threatened by its more powerful neighbour to the south. As the anniversary of the War of 1812 reminds us, this threat was initially a military one but more recently it has been primarily economic and cultural – the fear that Canada has become an economic satellite of the US and that Canadians have become too dependent on American cultural imports, from Hollywood blockbusters to McDonald's and Starbucks.

US foreign policy towards Canada therefore has to take this factor into account – but it has not always done so. Most recently, Barack Obama, while generally very popular in Canada, has upset many Canadians over his refusal to sanction the Keystone XL pipeline project from the Alberta oil sands to the refineries of the Gulf Coast. This has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government to consider China as an alternative market for Canada’s oil and natural gas. US policy towards the Arctic is another current area of contention between Washington and Ottawa that has significant implications for the future. US diplomacy towards Canada since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt therefore presents an important and timely case study of the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary US foreign policy.

Students taking this course will be eligible for the UCL-IA prize of £250 to be awarded for the best essay by a postgraduate student on a Canada-related topic in 2012-2013.


Teaching is through a combination of lectures and seminars. Assessment is based on a 4,000-word essay.

The programme of topics to be covered is as follows:

Week 1 – US foreign policy and Canada: Uneasy Neighbours?
Week 2 – FDR and Mackenzie King: from the League of Nations to the United Nations
Week 3 – Truman, Eisenhower and St Laurent: the Cold War and the Suez Crisis of 1956
Week 4 – JFK and Diefenbaker: the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962
Week 5 – Reading Week
Week 6 – LBJ and Pearson: draft dodgers and the Vietnam War
Week 7 – Nixon, Ford and Trudeau: anti-Americanism and the Third Option
Week 8 – Carter, Reagan and Trudeau: Canadian peacemaking in the Cold War
Week 9 – Reagan, Bush Sr and Mulroney: NAFTA and the New World Order
Week 10 – Clinton, George W Bush and Chretien: 9/11 and the Iraq War
Week 11 – Obama and Harper: China and the Asia-Pacific pivot

Introductory Reading

A list of introductory reading for the course is given below. A full course reading list is normally issued at the beginning of the session.

  • Adams, Michael, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2004)
  • Bothwell, Robert, Alliance and Illusion. Canada and the World, 1945-1984 (Toronto, UBC Press, 2007)
  • Cox, Michael and Doug Stokes, eds., American Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Dyment, David, Doing the Continental: A New Canadian-American Relationship (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010)
  • Hillmer, Norman, Partners Nevertheless – Canadian-American Relations in the Twentieth Century (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman Ltd, 1989)
  • Granatstein, J L, Yankee Go Home? Canadians and Anti-Americanism (Toronto: Harper Collins, 1996)
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin, Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada (New York: Routledge, 1990)
  • Mahant, E and Mount, GS, Invisible and Inaudible in Washington: American Policies Toward Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999)
  • Martin, Lawrence, The Presidents and the Prime Ministers: Washington and Ottawa Face to Face: The Myth of Bilateral Bliss 1867-1982 (Toronto: Doubleday Canada Ltd., 1982)
  • Perras, Galen Roger, Franklin Roosevelt and the Origins of the Canadian-American Security Alliance, 1933-1945 (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998)
  • Simpson, J, Star-Spangled Canadians: Canadians Living the American Dream (Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 2000)
  • Thompson JH and Randall S, Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002)

Back to top