In March 1954, Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, compared the Canada-US relationship to one between a husband and wife: “sometimes it is difficult to live with her, at all times it is impossible to live without her.”1 While the odd comparison likely raised eyebrows, it seemed particularly apt in the context of the Eisenhower administration’s “New Look” defence policy. This new policy was an updated Cold War strategy based on a more cost-effective shift from conventional weapons/forces to increased reliance on nuclear deterrence.

As the documents from the first half of 1954 demonstrate, including those in this briefing book, the Canadian government spent significant time analyzing the New Look policy. Senior Canadian diplomats attempted to interpret Washington's shift toward massive retaliation by reading speeches, following press conferences, and speaking with US officials. Throughout this period, the historical record reveals numerous Canadian concerns about the New Look policy. These include the potential for US withdrawal of ground troops from Europe, a lack of consultation with allies regarding nuclear defence, and the need for increased Canadian contributions to continental defence.

Canada sought clarity regarding what the Eisenhower administration’s new approach would mean for US policy, Canadian interests, and NATO’s overall strategy. Though Canadian officials ultimately concluded that there wasn’t a drastic change in US policy, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s proclamation of the New Look led to numerous Canadian reports on the subject, a major speech from Pearson on the importance of consultation with allies, and debate in the House of Commons.

The documents of this brief period ultimately highlight Canada’s need to interpret US defence policy in order to appropriately coordinate strategy in the early Cold War. They also reveal the degree to which Washington left Canada in the dark regarding New Look policy. Even the country’s highest-ranking diplomat, Pearson, was not completely sure of US intentions, ultimately relying on public speeches and articles in order to evaluate the implications of US policy on Canada. 

1 Speech by the Secretary of State for External Affairs, "Canada in the World Today,” 15 March 1954. Record Group 25, vol. 2, file no. 50115-P-40, part 2. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.