Canadian National Security Culture: Explaining Post 9/11 Canadian National Security Policy Outcomes

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Stephenson, Alan James




This dissertation examines how Canada views national security in the post 9/11 world. The hypothesis asserts that Canadian national security policy decisions post 9/11 resulted from policy choices that were limited and constrained by domestic institutional structures and a contemporary Canadian National Security Culture that perceives security broadly and endogenously as a value to be weighed against other competing values. Although initial policy decisions were shaped by domestic security norms, variation in final security policy outcomes were determined by the interrelated contestation of three intervening variables, identity, cultural-institutional structure, and interests.

Drawing on constructivist theory, this dissertation develops a novel concept of national security culture by adopting Wolfers’ notion of national security as the preservation of acquired values to explain preference formation and applies it to the Canadian society-polity nexus as the referent object. Within this framework, a distinct Canadian National Security Culture is established and shown to have evolved through the historical and sociological construction of Canadian society and polity around the one omnipresent existential threat to Canada’s sovereignty and independence, the United States. This process resulted in unique national security concerns over the protection of acquired values, the articulation of dangers, and behaviour of actors.

To test how social factors shaped and determined post 9/11 Canadian national security policy outcomes, three separate, but interrelated cases were examined from 2001 to 2015: the 2004 National Security Policy statement; the establishment of Marine Security Operations Centres; and the role of NORAD. This research found that the national security policies that Canada instituted following 9/11 exposed a contemporary Canadian National Security Culture that viewed 9/11 as a criminal act. Risk managing the Canada-US relationship meant quickly ameliorating legitimate US insecurities, while using time and space to determine the optimal means for the preservation of Canadian acquired values, thus privileging social factors in determining final outcomes.

This dissertation concludes that Canada views national security as a domestic-centric continuum with its focus on the protection of Canadian society and its acquired values. Understanding the social underpinnings of national security in Canada is crucial to insightful analysis and policy prescription by national security practitioners.


Canadian Studies




Carleton University

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Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Political Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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