Canada and the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949


The signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, also known as the Washington Treaty, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and revolutionized Canadian foreign policy. As Canada’s first military peacetime alliance, it was a watershed event in Canada’s new, more international role that it now played on the world stage. 

Canada was one of the three initiators of the North Atlantic Treaty, along with its traditional allies: the United Kingdom and the United States. The Canadian negotiators played major roles and were credited with strongly influencing the outcome and significantly shaping the alliance. 

As Prime Minister Louis S. St-Laurent’s foreign minister, Lester B. Pearson believed, as did many Canadian internationalists, that the treaty had to serve as a beacon of hope for those who were vulnerable and threatened. In Canadian eyes, the treaty was to be more than just a defensive military alliance against the perceived threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

The resulting treaty reflected Canada’s insistence on a guarantee of mutual security consistent with the United Nations Charter and combined with promoting democratic values and human welfare. Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty pledging political and economic cooperation, is called “the Canadian article”. 

Since 1949, membership in NATO has been one of the key elements in Canada’s international relations, an underpinning of its relations with Europe and a cornerstone of foreign policy and military planning.


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