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Canadian Foreign Policy: The Canadian Position and Role in Kosovo War


Kosovo Conflict of 1998-1999 is a significant episode in relation to Canadian Foreign Policy. In some sense, the actions of Canada were coherent with its traditional foreign policies but also brought in difficult choices for the nation as we later explain in this article. Canada played a vital role in the NATO bombings of the Serbian region during the conflict and later provided a noteworthy contribution in NATO’s peacekeeping force KFOR.

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Canada’s Role and Position in the Kosovo War

In Kosovo, the Yugoslavian commands had constantly occupied itself in atrocious subjugations right from the early 1990’s. The Canadian policy makers pronounced that it always favored the adoption of a diplomatic pathway in order to reach solutions and Canada and its allies had explored all possible diplomatic avenues and waited until all of them exhausted. Only subsequent to the failure of these approaches, did the NATO allies intervene and launch strikes in the region. The aim for such a mission was to put an end to the atrocities the Yugoslavian regime was inflicting.

To satisfy the objective Canada offered 18 CF-18s. The objective was to carry out the mission with as quickly as possible and bring the Yugoslavian subjugation on the Kosovars to an end. Canada also contributed $10 million toward humanitarian support extended to the refugees of the war, which was to be distributed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Red Cross.

The post NATO bombing period witnessed the return of various Albanian war refugees back to their homes. However, on their return they found their homes destroyed, looted, and devastated. Further, they were subject to various oppressions. This spurred the desire for revenge within them and the situation tensed up to a great degree. Sporadic incidents of killings and riots gained momentum. The graveness of situation can be analyzed by going through Barry Came’s Dangerous Peace where he quotes, “As the returning refugees stumble upon the full extent of the havoc that has been wreaked upon their homes and relatives by the Yugoslav military, police and militias, some have vented their anger in vengeance. Killings are on the upswing–there were 14 in Pristina alone last Thursday and Friday–with almost all of the victims local Serbs.” This is where the KFOR came in. Col. Mike Ward, the overall commander of the KFOR’s Canadian contingent, reflected that the Kosovo situation was different as compared to other peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Cyprus. Instead of separating warring opponents, the peacekeeping force was assigned to peacemaking tasks between two warring communities, which were more sorts of police work. The troops had to get down on the streets and had to become acquainted with the common people.

Canadian contribution to the Kosovo peacekeeping is evident from presence of the 1300 Canadian troops in various sections of the regions. The Canadian contingent comprised of 200 troops from Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment, 200 from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, 150 from the 1 Combat Engineering Regiment, 250 from the Headquarters Contingent and another 500 from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry which later joined in. Spearheading the Canadian deputation was the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment. Its units formed the eyes of the deployed troops. The primary objective set for the regiment was carrying out reconnaissance missions. The possession of an extremely technologically capable military unit named Coyote made the Strathcona’s Regiment one of the busiest deputations in Kosovo. Ottawa had set out 17 of its 203-prized possession, manufactured by General Motors in London, Ont., evaluated at a price of $884 million. The eight-wheeled Coyote was the outcome of high-tech wizardry and came fitted with one 25-mm cannon, two 7.62-mm machine-guns, eight smoke-grenade launchers. However, what made it so important in the Kosovo context were its state-of-the-art surveillance capabilities. Its integral surveillance suite comprised of a 360-degree radar that could identify targets at a distance of 24 km and two cameras, each with a 20-km range. One camera was used for surveillance mission during the hours of daylight, while the other camera was a thermal-imaging gadget designed exclusively for night use. The tensed state of affairs formed by various clashes between the Serbs and Albanians required extensive surveillance to keep the situation under control. This was the reason for the extremely demanding schedule followed by the Coyotes. The conditions were similar for the Canadian troops operating on the 15 Bisons (the other primary instrument used by the Strathcona’s) who were also subject to taxing schedules. The Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment were the first to occupy the Glogovac, a central Kosovo town. They were also the first among KFOR units to move forward north to the Serbian boundary, further than the border town of Podujevo in the northeast. They were called to aid other national contingents in various missions in addition to patrolling duties in the Kosovo capital.

In addition to eminent presence of the Strathcona’s Regiment, the Canadian air force’s ‘408 Tactical Helicopter squadron’ made the Canadian presence felt strongly. They primarily functioned from Skopje’s civilian airport in Macedonia with eight Griffon helicopters. This helicopter was another piece of high-tech gadgetry provided by Canada to the KFOR. Griffons were capable of performing nighttime surveillance duties as well. Each helicopter was fitted with a Forward-Looking Infrared Radar pod (FLIR), tools to stifle the heat signature of the twin engines and contained flares to redirect heat-seeking weaponry. Its primary duties were to perform air-borne surveillance missions to keep the tensed situation in Kosovo under control. A helicopter flitting around overhead had a daunting psychological effect on non-complying actors. Another important task this squadron was assigned was to send back data to the NATO headquarters. This data related to the type, position, and amount of damage caused on Yugoslavian military units. Such data was collected by flying observation missions over sectors, which was bombed by the NATO, and scrutinizing left back Yugoslavian units. NATO came under a lot of scrutiny after the bombing missions and it was alleged that they had exaggerated the whole effort. However, NATO representatives argued that they had inflicted sufficient damage on Yugoslavian units and finding evidence for that was precisely the job the Canadian helicopter squadron performed. Although not confirmed publicly, these mission unveiled information, which was quite contrary to the arguments presented by NATO representatives.

Apart from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment and the air-force’s 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron approximately 100 engineers belonging to the army’s 1st Combat Engineering Regiment and an additional 250 headquarters, logistical and support troops were deployed in region by Canada. The engineers were mainly associated with Land-mine sweeping and rebuilding assignments. For, instance the combat engineers were assigned the tasks of clearing an abandoned airstrip just south of the Kosovo town of Glogovac, to facilitate the establishment of an forward base for the 408 helicopter squadron.

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Joining the Canadian contingent in the KFOR were 500 troops from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. They operated under the direct supervision of the Canadian Commander-in-Chief Col. Mike Ward and their operations area was carved out from the British area of operation in central Kosovo.

Thus, it is evident from the above discussion that Canada played a major role in the Kosovo war carrying out its obligations as a strong NATO ally both during the bombing phase and later in the peacekeeping operations as well.

Canada’s Foreign Policy Tradition

In this section, Canada’s approach towards general foreign policy is looked at closely.

Many years ago, it could have been said that there was no existence of a particular foreign policy, which complicated things for Canada. This did not mean that the nation did not have any relation with the foreign world. It was just that it did not have any specified and predefined pattern to deal with them. Even without an official policy, Canada engaged in foreign quests as it realized the benefits of the same. For instance, partaking in the Versailles Peace Conference and employing treaty associations with different countries were few of the Canadian ventures into the foreign relations domain. Still until 1945, Canada had no defined policy to handle external relations. However, the paramount changes brought about by the world war had turned Canada into a major industrial power in the West and left the European economic framework shattered. The changed global order forced Canada to take a closer look at the existent status quo. Thus, by 1949, this drawback was rectified and Canada put up an objective foreign strategy. It was primarily influenced and based on a quadrilateral framework formed by the countries relationship with United Nations, the Commonwealth, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and finally the United States. In this context it is important to notice the influence of the United States which was a common factor linking three of the four sides of the quadrilateral. In his 1968 election campaign, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that an appraisal of the existent foreign policy was being considered. He advocated that, a change be in order because of the shifting world conditions. However, when asked about its implications he replied it was purely for the benefit of the nation and had no other implications as such. “The new policy was not to be a simple reevaluation of the old; nor was it expected necessarily to depart dramatically from familiar lines. The review process itself could claim novelty, however, for it proceeded on a conceptual basis and tested the thesis that a modest power need not necessarily pursue a foreign policy consisting largely of empirical adjustments.” When the reviewed policy emerged it presented six distinctive but at the same time corresponding and overlapping objectives. Those objectives were to promote peace and security, a harmonious natural environment, sovereignty and independence, social justice, an enhanced quality of life, economic growth.

Currently existing Canadian defense strategies was communicated in 1969 as seeking to uphold four major concerns: the defense of Canada; the defense of North America (through NORAD); NATO obligations; and finally U.N. peacekeeping. Canada is a nation bordered by three oceans on three different sides; considering population, it ranks seventh out of the 15 NATO allies. Thus, it is impractical to imagine that Canada can or must implement a defense strategy inclined just towards Europe or on the similar levels as the superior powers. It is just as impractical, on the other hand, to presuppose that Canada is erratic or unwilling to shoulder its responsibilities. History provides evidences that Canadian forces carried out their roles perfectly in both the world wars and in Korea. The nation was involved in all the U.N. mediation and peace observation operations in addition to being a constituent of all the three International Commissions for Supervision and Control in Indochina. Examples of further participation of the Canadian Armed Forces could be found in their contribution to the U.N. Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus, the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East, the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, the Control Commissions in Vietnam and Laos, along with being involved in other operations with the NATO in Europe.

A specifically qualified and equipped regiment is kept regularly on a stand-in status in Canada, so that it is prepared to take off immediately to any place on earth in answer to an appeal for Canadian aid in global peacekeeping. It bears the expenses of these activities for most parts instead of thrusting them over to the United Nations. They have happily remunerated all the U.N. special and general evaluations. Without a doubt resisting payment as a measure of conveying aversion for U.N. guidelines or as a political instrument is considered nauseating and outrageous by the policy makers and is not the Canadian way of doing things.

Canada throughout the recent past has at all times played a more generously proportioned role than was possibly expected out of it given its demographic characteristics. The idiosyncratic features of Canada’s political individuality, only one of its kinds in the whole world, are anchored in ideologies and principles and are reflected in its foreign policies. When keenly observed, it is found that the humanitarian qualities of deference, open-mindedness, liberality and sincerity are the founding principles in which Canadian strategies towards international relations are deeply rooted.

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Canadian Foreign Policies in the context of the Kosovo War

On March 24th, 1999, NATO Aircrafts, including four Canadian CF-18s operating out of Aviano, Italy, struck against Yugoslavian targets. For 79 days and nights, a total of 18 Canadian CF-18s were operational, flying 678 combat sorties, 2600 flying hours and dropping 532 bombs containing about 500,000 pounds of explosives. However, prior to the Kosovo crisis, Canada pursued a friendly association with the Yugoslavia in terms of strengthening economic ties. However, after the “rough handling” of the Kosovo situation, being a strong NATO ally, it had to engage in the air strikes launched on Yugoslavia by the strong western alliance. However, its engagement in the NATO initiatives came under strong criticism as it joined in with no genuine debate in the House of Commons. Policy makers argued that it had explored all diplomatic tracks before taking this decision. It had through various talks tried to arrive at a solution on the table, but its efforts met with little success. However, clearly “the unrestrained assault by Yugoslavian military, police and paramilitary forces on Kosovo civilian has created a massive humanitarian catastrophe and threatens to destabilize the surrounding region” was the argument, which Canadian leaders presented for the intervention.

On the other hand, such actions set in deep implications for the Canada-NATO relations. It was entangled in some unanswered questions. “What is Ottawa’s plan if the conflict drags on for weeks or months? What if NATO decides to call for allied ground troops? What happens if the NATO coalition erodes, as it already shows signs of doing? While Canadians support their fellow citizens in combat, many yearn for some better understanding of why, last week, their country went to war.” This exposed the incongruity in the Canadian foreign policies. For a quite some time, Canada had been trying to bring about a sense of balance between its obedience of the United Nations system and commitment to the NATO. It tried to incorporate perspectives of both the bodies on which its foreign policies were strongly based. “The war opened up by NATO’s bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in direct violation of the U.N charter, as well as NATO’s own charter, has brought the fissures between Western Military might and the global strategies of the United Nations into the open.” On the one hand, where the U.N sought harmony by means of international conformity and law, NATO’s aggressive policies sought peace by superseding those criteria. However, like all other NATO allies, by deciding to not only support but also part take in the NATO initiatives, Canada could not help but preferring to uphold its alliance with the NATO to the adhering of the U.N. charter. The humanitarian arguments in favour of the case of taking military action on Yugoslavian forces ascertained the fact that it is not just the U.N. Security Council, which could launch such initiatives on non-complying aggressors.

The Kosovo episode raised the question of U.N.’s weakness in relation to such issues. However, that had serious implications for Canada as well. Canada would certainly make efforts in order to strengthen the U.N.

However, at the same time, it brings in the difficult choice of choosing NATO or U.N. in cases of NATO’s prevailing over U.N. policies in the future. Kosovo war forced Canada to contemplate the extent up to which it should stick to NATO even after it repeatedly presents itself as a principal device by means of which the U.S foreign policy operates. Repercussions of this episode are certain to effect future Canadian Foreign Policy. Answers to the above questions can be answered only by the Canadian think tanks by contemplating the present conditions impartially.

Shift in the Canadian Stance

In April 2005, the Canadian government released its much-appreciated International Policy statement. “The statement represents the first fully integrated, government-wide approach to international challenges and opportunities Canada faces. It presents a vision of a globally engaged Canada anchored in North America, with a realistic roadmap for achieving our foreign policy goals.” Post Kosovo incident period brought in serious contemplations for the Canadian government. It definitely brought about a change in the thinking of the policy makers. They realized that blind NATO support by committing military forces to NATO initiative could lead to serious consequences on other fronts.

Thus in the process of recent review and release of the new International policy statement important questions were raised. How Canada could shoulder responsibility in the emerging multilateral world to aid and protect was analyzed thoroughly. Canada realised that operating in a sensible and realistic manner did not stand for doing a lot ubiquitously. It denoted operating well within its capabilities and acting cooperatively based on a framework of widespread compassion. This calls for the responsibility to refute, the responsibility of deference, the responsibility to construct, the responsibility towards the upcoming and the vital responsibility, the “responsibility to protect”- the obligation of all sovereign nations to defend its populace against foul human rights infringement and, if the nation is unable of unwilling to do so, the right of the global community to interfere in order to avert a humanitarian misfortune.

It would commit it is military force only if it meets the above criteria. In addition to that, multilateral restructuring is also critical in realising Canada’s international goals, and consequently they are fostering a new multilateralism pertinent to the international challenge presented by today’s world. The new ideology professes that the lone connection to the theory of multilateralism and to the principle of cooperative action not sufficient. It suggests that in order to avert and settle divergences, encourage sustainable growth, and develop the quality of existence of the unfortunate, multilateral collaboration should focus on the achievement of positive results.


Kosovo war was one of the most significant chapters in Canadian Foreign Relations initiative. It raised many serious questions, which on contemplation had the potential to change the course of the future and did exactly that in some sense. Canada realizes that a broader view of the state of affairs is necessary in order to pursue its goals concerning international relations.

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