The Paradigm that Dare not Speak its Name: Canadian Foreign Policy’s Uneasy Relationship with Realist IR theory

  • Citation: Haglund, D. G. (2017). The paradigm that dare not speak its name: Canadian Foreign Policy’s uneasy relationship with realist IR theory. International Journal, 72(2), 230–242.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • Canada
    • realism
    • constructivism
    • middle power
    • soft balancing
    • Canadian foreign policy

This article examines the place that “realism” occupies in the debates over International Relations theory and Canadian Foreign Policy. Argued here is the claim that realism is far from being a dominant paradigm in the Canadian academy, which in itself is hardly a surprising finding. However, realism’s relative absence from the scholarship on Canadian Foreign Policy disguises a more important finding: there has been a fairly longstanding Canadian approach to foreign policy analysis bearing many of the hallmarks of structural-realist formulations, an approach that puts great emphasis on Canada’s “relative capability” as a “middle power” in the international system. Although few in the country would embrace the realist label explicitly, many have heeded the structural-realist injunction that foreign policy analysis should start with an assessment of the country’s relative standing in the international pecking order. In the Canadian case, this empirical emphasis on relative capability has become suffused with normative significance of a decidedly “non-realist” kidney, summed up in the disputed concept “middlepowermanship.” The article concludes that, to the extent realism is to continue to be a presence in Canadian Foreign Policy scholarship, it will likely be the non-structural variant known today as “neoclassical realism,” in no small measure due to the logical inconsistencies of the earlier, structuralist, paradigm.

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