The DEW Line and Sovereignty
Planing, Negotiating and Constructing the DEW Line
Together with the continental integration of the Canadian and American air defense command structures into the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) at the end of the decade, the establishment of the DEW Line in the Canadian Arctic formed the predominant North American defense project between Canada and the United States during the 1950s. Throughout the course of the DEW Line negotiations between Ottawa and Washington, the issue of ensuring Canada's sovereignty amidst a large American presence in the sparsely populated and developed Canadian Arctic constituted the central concern for Canadians.
Sovereignty and Canadian Participation
As this thesis has demonstrated, the final agreement and the internal and public debate essentially revolved around the issues of how Canada would ensure advance consultations with the United States, maintain Canadian law and jurisdiction along the radar stations, and questions of Canadian participation in the form of personnel as a measure of exercising sovereignty. These issues formed the core of the 1953 agreement on Project Counterchange, resulting in a comprehensive catalog of terms and conditions aimed at minimizing the impact of the American presence and establishing the bilaterial Military Study Group (MSG). The subsequent agreements on the construction of the DEW Line in April 1955 and the concomitant debate about Canadian participation in public and in Parliament further reflected the importance of the sovereignty question. Ottawa's decisions to have the United States construct and operate the radar chain exclusively, subsequent reports about unauthorized construction incidents, and redrafted transportation schemes in conjunction with the lack of a Canadian presence further increased concerns and apprehensions about potential infringements of Canada's de facto control of its northern lands.
Sovereignty concerns received further importance as the Canadian Arctic assumed a central role in the self-portrayal and self-conception of Canadians. Various cultural agents, ranging from writers, painters, playwrights, or radio producers, employed Northern themes in an effort to construct and interpret a genuinely Canadian art and experience. Paintings by the Group of Seven, radio and television productions such as Sergant Preston of the Yukon and movies shaped the discourses of the North and provided meaning-giving and stabilizing cultural narratives. Against the backdrop of Canada's intensified quest for a national identity following World War II and efforts to stimulate Canadian culture during the 1950s, these Northern narratives became cornerstones in the cultural construction of a Canadian national identity. The North provided a distinct set of character-moulding features and experiences shared by all Canadians, delimiting them from the American experience. As a consequence, the Canadian Arctic assumed meaning and significance beyond the political-military realm. As shown, conceptions of the North not only permeated the thinking of high-level officials in Ottawa's External Affairs department such as St. Laurent, Pearson, and Diefenbaker, but also the rationale of second-tier civil servants such as R. A. J. Phillips and Escott Reid. Whereas cultural conceptions of the Canadian North influenced foreign policy decision-makers and informed their more cautious approach towards the DEW Line stations-External Affairs proved to be most sensitive to and articulate of such concerns-these conceptions ultimately played a subordinate role in the DEW Line negotiations.
World War II's Legacyy
In light of Canada's ambigiuous historical relationship with the United States but more importantly with respect to its more recent mixed experiences in continental defense cooperation during World War II, Ottawa's decision to ignore concerns about the implications of a substantial U.S. presence in the north was remarkable. Ottawa's mixed experience of joint military projects in the Canadian North during the war formed the backdrop against which the DEW Line requests were evaluated. In fact, the 1947 postwar defense cooperation agreement already contained explicit assurances for Canadians regarding fears of sovereignty infringements. In consequence, historically-seated sovereignty concerns importantly informed Ottawa's course of action in the DEW Line negotiations with Washington.
The DEW Line and the framework of the Canada-U.S. Relations
In order to come to an understanding of Ottawa's position towards Washington in light of of the sovereignty debate, it is essential to view its decisions within the broader framework of the Canada-U.S. relationship. The tension between interdependence and asymmetry and a resulting sense of ambiguity about entering into an intimate cooperation scheme with the United States played an important role in Ottawa's deliberation process. Canada shared the United States' Cold War threat assessment and accepted the ensuing strategic-defense responsibilities in order to contribute its share to the mutual continental defense architecture. The asymmetrical nature of the relationship with Washington, however, added a crucial political element to the equation. Ottawa's dependence upon the United States in defense matters irked Canadians' sense of their country's national maturity, having finally shed the ties of British colonialism. Yet it was agreed that a rejection of U.S. air defense plans that Washington deemed vital for its national security was simply not a viable option. This understanding had been repeatedly articulated in the Defense as well as the External Affairs departments. In contrast to Defense Ministers Claxton and Campney, however, it was Secretary of State Pearson who was most sensitive to concerns and resentments that public reports about an overwhelmingly American presence along the DEW Line might stir up.
It is this melange of shared interests, an asymmetrical relationship, and a Canadian wariness about a large U.S. presence in the Canadian Arctic that had the civil leadership in Ottawa caught in an ambiguous position, one which Charles Doran termed the 'psychological-cultural' dimension of Canada-U.S. relations. With respect to the establishment of the DEW Line, this dimension is most importantly characterized by a 'commitment-capability gap'. While government ministers in Parliament, conscious of Canadian nationalist sentiments, continuously reaffirmed that measures were taken to ensure that Canadian sovereignty along the DEW Line stations was exercised and observed, their internal discussions indicate that they were aware of Canada's limited resources necessary to credibly address internal and public concerns about an increasing U.S. penetration of Canada. Ottawa's lacking capability to provide for the defense of its northern border fundamentally conflicted with the country's self-conception as an independent and internationally potent nation. As a result, St. Laurent, Pearson, and Lesage found themselves trapped, on the one hand, between their commitment to protect Canadian sovereignty and to play to nationalist feelings and, on the other, an inability to meet the financial and military demands those commitments entailed.
The Canadian debate about the establishment of the DEW Line and Ottawa's eventual decisions to have the radar chain constructed and operated exclusively by the United States thus was importantly defined by the two countries' intimate relationship, a link that was fundamentally shaped by a tension between an increasing interdependence and a stark asymmetry. The resulting ambiguity in Ottawa, which shared the United States' security concerns but simultaneously took an apprehensive stand with respect to a large American presence along Canada's Arctic borders, crucially informed the sovereignty debates within the government and was reflected in the formalized agreements between Ottawa and Washington. The concomitant 'commitment-capability gap', which characterized Ottawa's position, was further epitomized by internal tensions between the Defense and External Affairs departments. The sovereignty debate surrounding the DEW Line negotiations during the 1950s thus can be attributed to an interplay between Cold War defense imperatives, the unequal nature of Canada-U.S. relations, and Canadians' sensibility toward this asymmetry. These elements were further reinforced by a mixed record of Arctic defense cooperation during World War II and Canada's as well as the United States' newly obtained roles in the postwar era.
Sovereignty Concerns after the DEW Line ...
The DEW Line quickly became ineffective as the Cold War arms race fueled rapid technological advancements. The issue of Canada's sovereignty throughout the Arctic region in the face of the United States' stepped up defense efforts nonetheless remained a contentious topic. With the crossing of the Arctic waters by the American tanker Manhattan in 1969, the debate about the extent to which Canada exercised its sovereignty resurfaced and shifted from the land-focused discussions during the establishment of the DEW Line to the sea, in other words, to the Northwest Passage.