Counterweights: The Failure of Canada's German and European Policy, 1955-1995


270 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1507-0
DDC 327.71043





Reviewed by David A. Lenarcic

David A. Lenarcic is an assistant professor of history at Wilfrid
Laurier University.


Anyone interested in the foreign and defence policies of Canada or the
Federal Republic of Germany since World War II will want to read this
book. It traces the evolution of Canadian–West German relations during
the Cold War and up to the present, with the aim of describing the
factors that influenced decisionmakers in both countries when
approaching their bilateral political, military, and economic ties. The
author draws on archival sources, interviews, and scholarly works to
explain the past, present, and future contours of the relationship.

The primary focus of Counterweights is Canadian policy, and the picture
it paints is hardly a rosy one. Rempel maintains that, on the whole,
Ottawa managed its dealings with Bonn poorly, continually missing
opportunities to counterbalance American influence because of an
inability to recognize fully the political and economic significance of
Canada’s military presence on the continent. The result was often
conflicting foreign and defence policies. Put simply, Canadian leaders
failed to understand “the role played by military power in the broader
policy framework.”

Despite its convincing “realist” perspective, the argument’s
counterfactual nature diminishes its persuasiveness. How does one
completely prove that had Canada realized the full potential of its
relationship with West Germany, its relationship with the United States
might today be less dependent? Moreover, while this monograph is a prime
case study of all that is wrong with Canada’s “vacuous strategic
culture,” the author is somewhat reluctant to consider that it was
perhaps the West Germans who did not sufficiently understand the
delicate balancing act that Canada, by virtue of its geographic
location, has historically been forced to perform in reconciling
contrasting diplomatic, military, and economic imperatives. No one has
yet figured out how to square that circle.

Even so, Rempel’s discussion of the implications of Canada’s
failure to craft a coherent defence policy for the country’s future
international role is chilling. His book is a fine example of the
contemporary relevance of history.


Rempel, Roy., “Counterweights: The Failure of Canada's German and European Policy, 1955-1995,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,