Since the end of the Second World War, military assistance has emerged as an important instrument of international diplomacy. Initially employed by the United States in Europe, Latin America and Asia for a variety of economic and political reasons in the mid-1940s, by the end of the decade American military assistance had been fashioned into a coherent program “whose principal goal was the containment of Communist expansion.” By the mid-1950s, both the Soviet Union and Communist China had responded with their own assistance programs designed to woo the developing states of Asia and Africa. As Britain and France dissolved their colonial empires in the late 1950s, they too chose military aid as an effective way to maintain their links with the post-colonial state and to demonstrate their continued capacity to pursue independent global initiatives. Other states were also attracted by this kind of aid. West Germany, for example, began distributing military assistance in 1960 as part of its efforts to garner international support for its claim to sovereignty.

Canada’s decision to supply small amounts of military assistance to the developing world owed relatively little to the cold war calculations of the superpowers and the considerations of national prestige that motivated other donors. Though Canadian diplomats recognized the benefits that military assistance might bring to the western world in the early 1950s, they were not especially anxious to divert scarce resources away from Europe towards the handful of small African and Asian states requesting aid. This was particularly true when any Canadian venture was likely to duplicate Washington’s substantial efforts to secure regional allies with promises of military assistance. As a consequence, the Department of External Affairs wasted little time and effort in convincing a reluctant Department of National Defence to accept military assistance as part of its mandate.