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Diefenbaker, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the impact of society on foreign policy



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Typically, students of foreign policy have viewed the decision-­making process from perspectives that downplay, if not ignore, societal influence. Canadian scholar Patrick Stuart Robinson has gone against this trend, asserting that foreign policy, properly understood, is in fact rooted in society. According to Robinson, the political process is inherently a social activity, and as such, imposes certain constraints on decision-makers. He asserts that decision-makers, like all members of society, have a role to play. Indeed, as the symbolic representatives of their constituency, these individuals have a particularly significant position within society -- they are at the helm of the ongoing process of affirming its values and rules. Like everyone else, they too are aware of, what is expected of them according to their role. However, because of their status, and because of the importance of what they do, decision-makers are especially burdened by societal expectations. Their choices cannot simply be made according to personal preferences; rather, they must be made against the backdrop of their leadership position and its attendant obligations to society. Importantly, as Robinson notes, the "political fortunes [of decision-makers] -- even their survival -- ­depend to a great extent on how they are popularly perceived to have discharged [their] ...responsibility." As a result, considerations of role and appropriateness are often pivotal to the policy-making process. This thesis, a case study of the Canadian response to the Cuban missile crisis, lends credence to Robinson's argument. Specifically, it shows that considerations of role, responsibility, and appropriateness were highly relevant to the Diefenbaker government in the formulation of Canadian policy. Moreover, this thesis dispels the popular notion that Canada's reaction to the crisis can be explained solely by reference to Prime Minister Diefenbaker's propensity for indecision, his personal antipathy for President Kennedy, or his strong Canadian nationalism.





Master of Arts (M.A.)


Political Studies


Political Studies


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