“Premier Partners?” Canadian-American Relations in the Early Cold War Arctic


“Premier Partners?” Canadian-American Relations in the Early Cold War Arctic

Project Leaders: Whitney Lackenbauer, Daniel Heidt, Peter Kikkert, and Adam Lajeunesse


This research program seeks to clarify the nature and practice of Canada-US relations in the early Cold War by applying new theoretical approaches and archival evidence to re-assess the interplay between sovereignty and security in the Arctic. The interrelationship between sovereignty and security continues to evolve, but the distinction between the two concepts – and the precise nature of their interaction – is seldom systematically explained in a manner attentive to historical experience. This project critically assess how Canadian and American stakeholders at various levels identified, defined, perceived, and managed issues and relationships in changing political, operational, and historical contexts.


We will produce three books pursuant to this project:


  • The first, co-authored by Peter Kikkert and Whitney Lackenbauer, focuses on Canadian diplomatic and security policy-making between Canada and the US from 1946-55. Building upon securitization theory and systematically analyzing Canada and American archival sources, this book will develop a theory of “sovereigntization” to explore how securitizing and sovereigntizing moves influenced the development of policy tools and instruments related to defence, diplomatic engagement, and international law.


  • The second book, co-authored by Adam Lajeunesse and Whitney Lackenbauer, will provide the first systematic analysis of U.S. naval task force activities in the Canadian North from 1946-60. These modern “exploratory“ voyages charted new passages, yielded ground-breaking scientific information, and shaped logistic, transportation, and settlement patterns. They also led Canada and the US to collaborate and manage disagreements over Arctic sovereignty. Focusing on US sources previously unexplored by historians will shed new light on why the joint defence relationship was so successful.


  • The third book, co-authored by Daniel Heidt and Whitney Lackenbauer, critically interrogates the Canada-US Joint Arctic Weather Stations (JAWS) program that operated in the High Arctic from 1946-72. Drawing upon extensive archival evidence and interviews with former JAWS employees, this study will go beyond the diplomatic record and examine how technicians and maintenance personnel from both countries mediated Canadian-American relations on the ground.


Through these detailed case studies grounded in mixed qualitative evidence (government documents, scholarly and popular literature, archival material, and oral interviews), we will examine the intersections of sovereignty, security, science, and technology in international and domestic contexts. Our main questions include:


  • How and why did various political, diplomatic, military, media, academic, and other actors perceive and construct threats?


  • Does existing theory adequately explain these securitization processes, and how does this interact with our model of sovereigntization?


  • How were threat images diffused or translated to new (inter)national contexts?


  • How were challenges managed in practice, and did cooperation or antagonism characterise Canada-US relationships across the various scales (from the high-level political to local interactions on icebreakers, in the field, and at joint stations)?


  • How did modernist assumptions and inter-personal relationships facilitate or hinder the performance of sovereignty and security in isolated places?


  • How did advancements in science and technology influence operations and perceptions of sovereignty and security?


  • What lessons can be derived from the early postwar period to inform contemporary Canadian decision-making and strengthen bilateral cooperation?


For access to a brochure with more information on this project click here.