Canada and the Czechoslovak Crisis of 1968
From: 1968 in Canada
In 1968, Czechoslovakia experienced its Prague Spring as a gradual political liberalization took place in this previously tightly controlled Communist nation. During the Prague Spring, political debate and artistic expression flourished under the relaxed leadership of the popular Alexander Dubček. Canada belonged to NATO, the military alliance that opposed the Soviet- dominated Warsaw Treaty Organization, of which Czechoslovakia was a member. Despite this divide, relations between Canada and Czechoslovakia had warmed prior to 1968, spurred by the Czechoslovaks’ decision to host a pavilion at the 1967 World’s Fair (Expo 67) in Montreal. Among the Warsaw Pact countries, Czechoslovakia had arguably the most fruitful relationship with Canada, owing in part to a growing cultural exchange between the two nations. When the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, it provided a major foreign policy test for the new government of Pierre Trudeau and his Secretary of State for External Affairs, Mitchell Sharp. How to respond to the Czechoslovak events: send a strong message against military intervention or take a softer line and hope to promote cooperation over the longer term? This was the first major international crisis the Trudeau government was faced with, and the case study analyzed in this chapter illustrates the balancing act that Canada had to perform as a middle power during the Cold War.
Andrea Chandler is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada. Chandler is the author of three single-authored books, the most recent of which is Democracy, Gender and Social Policy in Russia: a Wayward Society (Houndsmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Her current research focuses on Canada’s foreign relations with East European countries during the Cold War (1945-1989).