Social Studies 8 Unit 3.4

8.3.4 Analyze Canada’s role in the world since WWII

  • Explain the meaning of the term Cold War
  • Evaluate Canada’s role in NATO and NORAD during and since the Cold War
  • Evaluate Canada’s role as a global citizen through its involvement in the United Nations and other international organizations


Canada and the Cold War

After the Second World War ended, a new kind of struggle began. It was called the Cold War. It was called the Cold War. The Cold War was “cold” because it did not mean war in the conventional sense. There were no direct attacks on the enemy’s homeland, no bombing, and no great tank battles. Instead, it was a tense exchange of words and threats. The only actual fighting consisted of small and localized conflicts.

The Cold War divided much of the world into two hostile groups. Canada was in the group of the friends and allies of the United States, along with Great Britain and most of the nations of Western Europe. The Union of Soviet Social Republics (U.S.S.R.) and it allies – the communist nations of Eastern Europe – were in the other group.

The Cold War had more than one cause. One was ideology – different values and idea about political and economic systems. Each side believed that its system was better and should be spread around the world. Each side was determined to prevent the spread of the rival system. These differences in ideology caused a great deal of tension between the two groups.

Ideology United States Soviet Union
Political System Democratic

  • Free and fair elections among two or more political parties
  • Personal freedoms

  • Control by only one political party
  • Devoted to empowering working people
Economic System Capitalist

  • Private ownership of business and industry, which operate for profit

  • Government ownership or control of business and industry

After WWII, the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R or Russia) would not leave the places that they had liberated during the war. This also caused a lot of tension between them and the U.S. because the U.S. did not like that these places now had communist governments being developed.

Hot Spots during a Cold War

The Cold War lasted until 1989, and was marked by times when tensions increased and the world seemed close to another world war.

Place Background of the Event Action and Reaction
Berlin 1948-1949 After Germany’s defeat in WWII, the Allies divided the country into occupation zones until it could become self-governing again. The capital city of Berlin was itself divided among France, Britain, the US and the Soviet Union. However,  Berlin was located within the Soviet occupation zone, and the Soviet Union wanted the Western countries to leave the city. The Soviet Union refused to allow the Western countries to transport supplies into Berlin by land, thinking this would force them to leave the city. In response, the Western powers bgan the Berlin Airlift, supplying Berlin from the air. Beginning in June 1948, airplanes flew around the clock for 11 months in an attempt to supply food and fuel to the Berliners in Western occupation zones. THe Soviet Union finally reopened land routes to Berlin on May 12, 1949.  


The people of Hungary, which had been under communist rule following WWII, removed their pro-Soviet government and made liberal reforms. The Soviet Union sent 200,000 troops to invade Hungary and crush resistance. The Western Allies provided verbal support to the Hungarian resistance, but no military help. Numerous Hungarians escaped and emigrated to the West – many of them to Canada.


Cuba had a communist government, led by Fidel Castro, who came to power in the revolution of 1959. In 1961, the US supported an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles known as the “Bay of Pigs” invasion. It failed! After this invasion attempt, Cuba began building nuclear missile sites, in 1962, assisted by the Soviet Union. US spy planes discovered the missile sites, raising concern that the US could be vulnerable to a nuclear attack. The US ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent SOviet ships from delivering missiles. Soviet ships ignored the blockade and continued to steam toward Cuba. The US threatened war. The Soviet government finally stopped the ships (after 5 days of intense drama during which the world waited for war) when the US promised not to invade Cuba. This standoff is referred to as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Place Background of the Event Action and Reaction


After WWII, France attempted to re-establish its colonial control over Vietnam when the Japanese left. The Vietnamese wanted to be independent and fought the return of the French. The French lost. In the negotiations that surrounded the French withdrawal  from Vietnam in 1954, Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam, a communist country and South Vietnam, a non-communist country. Aiming to reunite the country, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in 1963. The US sent military advisors and aid, and later troops, to assist South Vietnam. At the war’s peak, in 1969, the US had 543,000 troops in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam became very unpopular and an anti-war protest movement gained a great deal of support. The unpopularity of the war, and the fact that the US was unable to win it, led to the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975. North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam, and reunited the countries under communist rule.


Czechoslovakia, which had become a Soviet satellite shortly after WWII, began to reject communist government in favour of a more liberal system. This event was known as the Prague Spring. The Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia, and communist government was re-established. Western countries condemned the Soviet action in words, but took no other action.


Civil war broke out in Afghanistan between a communist government and Muslim guerillas (unofficial soldiers). The Soviet Union sent troops to aid the communist government. To oppose communism, the US sent aid to the Muslim guerillas. The Soviets did not win, and decreased support at home caused them to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. Civil war continued in Afghanistan until 1996 when one faction, the Taliban, managed to gain control.


To address concerns about the spread of communism, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949. Its members were Canada, the US, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. NATO was designed to provide collection security. Collective security makes the members of an alliance more secure because all members are pledged to go to the aid of any member that is threatened or attacked. The members of NATO hoped that a united front would discourage aggression, especially by the Soviet Union of the countries of Eastern Europe.

By joining NATO, Canada signalled to the world that it was an ally of the US and Western European nations. It also signalled that it would play a role in world affairs. Canada’s commitment to NATO meant that Canadian armed forces were stationed in Western Europe.

Canada continues to be involved in NATO with more members than the original group. NATO’s focus is no longer on stopping the spread of communism. It has been redirected toward protecting ethnic minorities and preventing international terrorism.

As the Cold War developed and weapons became more sophisticated, it became clear that Canada would be a key location if there was a war between the US and the Soviet Union. The shortest attack route would have been across the Arctic Ocean. By the late 1950s, the Canadian and US governments had created a unified defence called the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD). The NORAD agreement meant that both countries would share the air defence of the continent.

The decision to join the US in NORAD was controversial. Some Canadians believed that Canada was giving up some of its independence because major decisions affecting the defence of Canada would be made at NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A series of 63 radar stations were built in the Canadian Arctic. This project disrupted lives of the Inuit very significantly.

Today, the radar stations are closed and silent as the technology became obsolete. The NORAD alliance continues today, although the name was changed in 1981 to the North American Aerospace Defence Command. Military alliances with the US remain controversial.


Canada and the United Nations

The United Nations officially came into being on October 24, 1945. By that date a majority of the 50 countries that had signed the UN Charter in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, had ratified it in their national parliaments. The UN replaced the League of Nations, which had been created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Canada, a participant at the San Francisco Conference (April 25 to June 26, 1945), is one of the founding members of the United Nations.

The actions of the UN are guided by its Charter, which defines the United Nations’ purposes as follows:

  • to maintain international peace and security;
  • to develop friendly relations among nations; and
  • to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights.

The actions of the United Nations are based on certain principles:

  • all of its members are equal;
  • all members must fulfil their Charter obligations;
  • international disputes are to be settled by peaceful means;
  • members may not use force or the threat of force against other members;
  • members must help the United Nations in any action it might take in accordance with the Charter;
  • the United Nations may not interfere in the domestic affairs of any state.


Currently, there are 193 member states.Although UN Member States do not legislate in the manner of a national parliament, through their actions and their votes, they help set international policy. The United Nations has six main bodies established by the Charter: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. All act along with dozens of related specialized agencies, funds and programmes in order to develop increasingly co-ordinated but diversified actions in the spheres of peace and security, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and economic and social development.


The United Nations System of Organizations is made up of the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Programmes and Funds – such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) – and the Specialized Agencies – such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

From the beginning, Canada took an active role in the new UN. Lester B. Pearson, who later became prime minister of Canada, was elected president of the seventh regular session of the UN General Assembly. Canada supports the UN in many fields – humanitarian, social and economic. Perhaps our best-known contribution is as peacekeepers. Lester B. Pearson, came up with a plan to calm situations during time of crisis and potential conflict. He suggested that UN members make up a UN force that would be a “truly international peace and police force,” known as peacekeepers.

Often referred to simply as “peacekeeping,” peace support operations have evolved greatly from the first modern peacekeeping mission over 60 years ago. Today, they encompass a range of operations that take place in all phases of the conflict cycle, including peacekeeping, peacemaking, and even reconstruction and development roles. Many peace support operations now involve more than one of these roles at the same time. In addition, peace support operations have become increasingly multidisciplinary, encompassing civilian, police and military tasks.

Canada is active in all manner of UN peace operations. Since the first peacekeeping operation in 1956, Canada has accepted frequent requests to join UN operations around the world, whether in Cyprus, Bosnia, Haiti, or elsewhere. To date, over 125,000 Canadians have served in close to 50 UN missions.



Cold War Newspaper Assignment