H-Diplo Article Review 1074- "Environmental Nationalist"

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H-Diplo Article Review 1074

1 December 2021

Daniel Macfarlane.  “Environmental Nationalist: Andrew McNaughton and Canada–US Relations in the Cold War.”  International Journal 76:1 (2021):  129–144.  DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1177/0020702021994513.

Article Review Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Stephen Azzi, Carleton University

The annals of Canada–U.S. relations are replete with disputes over fish, water, softwood lumber, and other natural resources.  The standard histories have not shied away from these issues, but perhaps for fear of boring the reader, scholars have not dwelled on them either.[1] Daniel Macfarlane has set out to place natural resources and the environment at the centre of bilateral relationship, writing two books and co-editing two others on the management of the cross-border waterways that Canadians and Americans use for navigation and hydroelectricity.[2]

In “Environmental Nationalist: Andrew McNaughton and Canada–US Relations in the Cold War,” Macfarlane highlights the role of a distinguished Canadian in environmental diplomacy.  McNaughton was an engineer, an army officer who became chief of the general staff, a Cabinet minister, president of the National Research Council, permanent delegate to the United Nations, Canada’s representative on (and president of) the UN Security Council, and chair of the Canadian section of two key Canada-U.S. institutions, the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the Permanent Joint Board on Defence (PJBD).  In the late 1960s, he was the subject of a laudatory three-volume biography by John Swettenham, a military historian.[3] Swettenham includes lengthy descriptions of McNaughton’s role in cross-border resource matters, devoting considerable space, for example, to the controversy over power generation and flood control on the Columbia River.

Still, Macfarlane has something new to contribute.  Most notably, he argues that McNaughton wished for Canada to proceed alone in developing the St. Lawrence Seaway, rather than launching the endeavour jointly with the United States.  Macfarlane quotes the minutes of an interdepartmental meeting in which McNaughton said that it “did not appear that there was a formula for joint construction of the seaway which Canada could accept without prejudicing our national life” (136).  In contrast, Swettenham pointed out that McNaughton raised the issue at meetings of the Permanent Joint Board of Defence, suggesting that he did so believing that defence arguments would spur the Americans to action.[4] Swettenham concluded that McNaughton preferred a joint project, only proposing an all-Canadian seaway when he concluded that the Americans would not take part.  Another key difference is that Macfarlane criticizes McNaughton for his tendency to “be unrealistic about the limits” of Canada’s ability to proceed without the United States (142).  This runs in sharp contrast to Swettenham’s hagiography, which contains not a disapproving word about its subject.

Macfarlane labels McNaughton a nationalist.  In contrast, in Swettenham’s work, McNaughton is only described as a nationalist in quotations from American officials and the general’s Canadian critics.[5] But neither in Macfarlane’s nor Swettenham’s work is nationalism equated with protectionism.  McNaughton did not push to limit trade with the United States, American investment in Canada, or the influx of American culture, whether through magazines, television programs, or radio signals.  For Macfarlane, McNaughton’s nationalism was a vigorous struggle to defend Canadian interests, a broad definition that might well include all Canadian public figures.

Another intriguing concept in Macfarlane’s article is quiet diplomacy.  He identifies McNaughton as an “unquiet and activist” diplomat (131), saying that he resisted the “quiet and closed-door diplomacy represented by the 1965 Heeney–Merchant report” (141-142).  But it is not clear from the article that McNaughton did so.  The report in question, Canada, and the United States: Principles for Partnership, was prepared by Arnold Heeney, two-time Canadian ambassador to the U.S., and Livingston Merchant, two-time U.S. ambassador to Canada.  One line could summarize the entire document: “It is in the abiding interest of both countries that, whenever possible, divergent views between the two governments should be expressed and, if possible, resolved in private, through diplomatic channels.”[6] In short, quiet diplomacy meant merely that differences were ironed out behind closed doors rather than in the public eye.  In Macfarlane’s article, McNaughton was a “blunt and outspoke advocate of what he perceived as his country’s national interests” (132), but he advanced his views outside of the public eye.  He only spoke openly on Canada-U.S. issues after the Diefenbaker government forced his retirement.  These instances were less cases of unquiet diplomacy, as the term was defined by Heeney and Merchant, than they were of public commentary by a former official.  For Macfarlane, quiet diplomacy meant not that issues would be settled in private but that Canada would “compromise its interests vis-à-vis the US” (132).  This is considerably different from the self-proclaimed “unquiet diplomacy” of Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2001 to 2005, who publicly criticized positions of the Canadian government.[7]

Daniel Macfarlane’s article, another in his series of original contributions to the history of Canada-U.S. relations, exposes a side of McNaughton about which scholars will want to know more.  The article highlights Andrew McNaughton’s often overlooked role as a diplomat, particularly on environmental issues, and reminds scholars that resources and the environment lie at the very centre of international relations in upper North America.


Stephen Azzi is associate professor of political management, history, and political science at Carleton University, where he is director of the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management.  He is author of Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism (1999), Reconcilable Differences: A History of Canada–US Relations (2015), and (with Barry Gough) the third edition of the Historical Dictionary of Canada (2021).


[1] The standard histories of the relationship published in the last 30 years include Stephen Azzi, Reconcilable Differences: A History of Canada–US Relations (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015); Robert Bothwell, Canada and the United States: The Politics of Partnership (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992); Norman Hillmer and J.L. Granatstein, For Better or for Worse: Canada and the United States into the Twenty-First Century (Toronto: Thomson Nelson, 2007); and John Herd Thomson and Stephen Randall, Canada and the United States: Ambivalent Allies, 4th ed (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008).

[2] Daniel Macfarlane, Negotiating a River: Canada, the US and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014); Lynne Heasley and Macfarlane, eds., Border Flows: A Century of the Canadian-American Water Relationship (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016); Macfarlane and Murray Clamen, eds., The First Century of the International Joint Commission (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2020); Macfarlane, Fixing Niagara Falls: Environment, Energy, and Engineers at the World’s Most Famous Waterfall (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2020).

[3] John Swettenham, McNaughton, 3 vols. 3 (Toronto: Ryerson, 1968-1969).

[4] Swettenham, vol. 3, 215-218.

[5] Swettenham, vol. 3, 265, 332.

[6] Arnold D.P. Heeney and Livingston T. Merchant, Canada and the United States: Principles for Partnership (Ottawa: n.p., 1965), paragraph 81.

[7] Paul Cellucci, Unquiet Diplomacy (Toronto: Key Porter, 2005).