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Why Canada Goes to War: Explaining Combat Participation in US-led Coalitions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2019

Justin Massie*
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Quebec in Montreal. C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-ville, Montréal, Québec, H3C 3P8
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Canada has taken part in six wars since 1945, all of which have been conducted under US leadership. Despite such military interventionism, there have been no systematic comparative analyses of Canada's decisions to take part in US-led wars. The objective of this article is to develop and test a theoretical framework about why Canada goes to war. More specifically, it seeks to account for variations in Canada's provision of combat forces to multinational interventions led by the United States. It assesses leading theoretical explanations by examining five post–Cold War cases: the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya; the war against ISIS; and the refusal to take part in the invasion of Iraq. The article concludes that Canada's willingness to go to war is shaped primarily by a desire to maintain transatlantic alliance unity and enhance Canada's alliance credibility. Threats to national security, the legitimacy of the intervention, government ideology and public opinion are not found to consistently or meaningfully shape Canadian decisions to take part in US-led wars.


Le Canada a participé à six guerres, depuis 1945, au sein de coalitions multinationales dirigées par les États-Unis. Malgré cet interventionnisme militaire, peu d’études ont cherché à cerner les motivations qui amènent le Canada à faire la guerre. L'objectif de cet article est d'offrir un cadre analytique capable d'expliquer pourquoi le Canada fait la guerre. Il propose une comparaison structurée et ciblée de six décisions de prendre part, ou non, à des opérations de combat au sein d'une coalition militaire dirigée par les États-Unis, au Kosovo, en Irak, en Afghanistan, en Libye et contre le groupe État islamique. L'article démontre que le Canada semble faire la guerre principalement pour deux raisons complémentaires : afin d'assurer l'unité de l'Alliance transatlantique ainsi que son statut d'allié fiable. En contrepartie, les menaces contre la sécurité nationale, la légitimité de l'intervention militaire, l'idéologie du gouvernement et l'opinion publique n'ont pas influé de manière systématique ou significative sur la décision de faire la guerre.

Research Article/Étude originale
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 2019 

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