US scholar Robert Reich once observed that ”œin the life of a nation few ideas are more dangerous than good solutions to the wrong problems.” Canadian policy toward the United States is particularly prone to this danger, identifying the problem as the desirable degree of intimacy or distance in the relation- ship, and seeking the solution in striking the ”œright” bal- ance. Compounding this susceptibility is the encroachment of ”œvalues” on the management of Canada-US relations. The inevitable result is a foreign policy defined by posture, accompanied by a remorseless decline in the respect accorded to Canadian interests by US decision makers and in the capacity of Canada to influence US foreign policy.
The emergence of the United States as the sole super power with most, if not all, the attributes of Empire, renders distance or closeness and the primacy of values over interest dangerously obsolete guideposts for Canadian foreign policy. In the post-Cold War and post-9/11 world, Canadian policy toward the United States needs a radical transforma- tion from posture to a position rooted in, and aimed at advancing, core Canadian interests.
The most frequent question asked by Canadians about the relationship with the United States seems to derive from an office design manual: how close or how distant should the two occupants of the common North American space be to each other? Canadian nationalists worry that pursuing Canadian interests in a smoothly functioning relationship with the United States and trying to build an international sys- tem based on the rule of law are mutually exclusive objectives. They are fearful, in the words of former minister Lloyd Axworthy, of the ”œthe unrelenting torrent of pressures which call into question our ability to choose the shape and contours of our commu- nity and how we relate to the rest of the world.” Continentalists, on the other hand, agonize when sharp differences suggest that the two countries are on divergent paths. Most Canadians, con- ventional political wisdom declares, wish the relationship to be neither particularly close nor especially distant and will punish the government for letting the relationship slide intemperately in one direction or the other.
Already two generations ago, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker played the anti-American card against Lester Pearson on the issue of nuclear weapons during the 1963 election. ”œIt’s me against the Americans fighting for the little guy,” he thundered. In the 1984 election, Brian Mulroney exploited the cross- border tensions of the later Trudeau years and promised to refurbish rela- tions with the United States. A few days after taking office, Mulroney declared that not only good relations, but ”œsuperb” relations with the US, would be the cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy. In the 1993 election, Jean Chrétien campaigned on the theme that Canadian relations had become so close that Canada had lost its capacity for independence of action. The Liberal Red Book promised that ”œin relations with the US, Canada would reject the camp-follower approach.” Ten years later, the 2003 Foreign Policy Dialogue conducted by Foreign Minister Bill Graham found that Canadians believe that ”œclose rela- tions with the United States [are] a fundamental priority.”
Prime Minister Paul Martin responded to the growing unease over the relationship by forming a Cabinet committee and appointing a parlia- mentary secretary on Canada-US rela- tions. In his address on the Speech from the Throne, Martin promised ”œto take a first step toward a new relationship with the United States.” If the pendulum has begun to swing back, the interminable dithering and dally- ing over whether, when, and in what format the prime minister would meet President George W. Bush showed how powerful the imperative of finding the right balance remains in contempo- rary Canadian politics. Although the visit occurred April 30, the intense soul searching among the PM’s advisors on how close he should be seen to be to President Bush suggests at best irreso- lution and at worst an ostrich-like approach to the management of this critical relationship.
The problem with asking whether Canada should have a close or dis- tant relationship with the United States is that the answer provides no policy guidance on any critical issue. Throughout the swings of the pendu- lum, core Canadian interests remain unaltered. Consider the three pillars set out in the 1995 Foreign Policy Review: prosperity, security, and culture and val- ues. Closeness or distance provide no guidance on the imperative of preserv- ing market access to the United States, essential to Canadian prosperity. Close or distant relations with the United States do not alter the case for seeking to protect Canadian security through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Closeness or distance provide no assistance in deciding whether cur- rent Canadian security interests warrant participation in the US ballistic missile program. Lloyd Axworthy’s view that Canada’s participation in this program is just the first step toward military integration ignores the essential point that the United States will proceed, with or without Canada. How standing aloof would enhance Canadian security inter- ests is not explained by the former minister. Canadian cultural policy sensitivities have dictated stout, if not always successful, resistance to US assaults on the protection of Canadian cultural industries.
Close or distant relations have nothing to say about Canadian interests in securing a permanent exemption from the onerous requirements of the new US visitor card program. If this exemption is not secured, the consequences flowing from the massive disruption to the business and per- sonal lives of millions of Canadians will be incalculable. Indeed, whatever the state of the relationship, the efficient pursuit of a vast range of public policies, from air trans- port safety to the prevention of disease, Canada has no choice but to develop and nourish the highest degree of cooperation with its neighbour.
Clearly, the nature of the relationship can affect Canadian capacity to advance interests with the United States. As former Canadian ambassa- dor to the United States, Alan Gotlieb, observes, ”œThere are grounds to believe that our willingness to address security issues high on the agenda of the United States could have a bearing on how a president would deal with unre- lated issues such as steel quotas.” This dimension should not be exaggerated, however. The readiness of any US administration or Congress to give preference to Canadian interests over the opposition of important domestic constituencies is modest to non-exis- tent. For example, US interest in a free- trade agreement with Canada predated the Mulroney government, and its readiness to negotiate at a time when Canada was ready flowed from deep US frustration with the capacity of the multilateral trade system to meet its needs. Throughout the negotiations, the US position was driven by its com- mercial interests and owed nothing to the closeness of the relationship that had emerged between the two govern- ments in the second half of the 1980s. During the Mulroney years, Canada enjoyed a high level of influence on US foreign policy making, but made little progress on a range of issues such as US barriers on Canadian lumber exports. In short, US foreign policy toward Canada is interest-driven, and the relationship between the two countries functions at its most effi- cient when it is interests, and not the closeness or distance of the relation- ship, that inform the agenda.
Reinforcing the Canadian obsession with intimacy is the assumption that for- eign policy should reflect the values of its citizens. ”œCanada’s foreign policy agenda must reflect the nation we are … free, open, and democratic,” Foreign Minister Bill Graham teaches us in the paper pub- lished for the 2003 foreign policy consul- tations. The subtext is that Canadian values are different, better, and provide an essential point of departure for defining the relationship with the United States. While prattling about values became endemic during the later Chrétien years, the elevation of rectitude in Canadian for- eign policy to what business schools would call a profit centre, is not especial- ly new. Canadian political scientist Peyton Lyon observed in the early 1960s that Canadians ”œseem to have become convinced that we are superior to other breeds and that this is so universally rec- ognized that our national character can be considered a significant asset.” Former Canadian diplomat John Holmes, in his celebrated essays on foreign policy thirty years ago, noted the preachy quality of Canadians on the world stage: ”œCanadians concentrate a little too much on the purity of their souls.” Graham marched along a well-trodden path when he wrote that ”œa better world might look like a better Canada…shared security and prosperity, tolerance, diversity, democra- cy, human rights, opportunity, and equal justice for all.”
The transubstantiation of civic value into foreign policy principles is not auniquelyCanadiancontributiontothe conduct of foreign policy. US President Woodrow Wilson firmly believed that ”œthe same standards of conduct and responsibility [should] be observed among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilised states.” As former sec- retary of state Henry Kissinger docu- ments, American foreign policy reflects a permanent struggle between Wilsonian idealism and a rational pursuit of US national interests. Democratic presi- dents, such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, are often credited with higher moral content in their foreign policy, for example, on the priority attached to human rights issues, than Republican incumbents. However, the current Bush administration has adopted a no less moralizing tone to its foreign policy. In his introduction to the National Security Strategy, Bush states that in the 21st century ”œonly nations that share a commit- ment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and econom- ic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people.” The strategy itself is replete with statements of values that are the stuff and substance of Canadian foreign policy at its moralizing best. What distinguishes the United States from other countries in the approach to values is that the United States disposes of the unilat- eral power to implant such values while others, includ- ing Canada, have only the desire.
The preoccupation with values and the ensuing solution, that values can and should inform foreign policy, is fatally flawed on both sides of the border. In a ration- al foreign policy, domestic values do not supersede the fundamental inter- ests of the state. While it may be argued that fundamental interests are advanced by the international dissemi- nation of domestic values, the opposite does not apply. The attachment of Canadians to the fundamentals of citi- zenship is neither weakened nor strengthened by the international acceptance of those tenets. Throughout most of the last century, the countries attached to Canadian values constitut- ed a small minority. Each new accession of a colony to independence through- out the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s usually added to the list of undemocratic coun- tries whose adherence to principles of tolerance and human rights was con- siderably less than that of Canada. By the same token, putting Canadian val- ues at risk to enhance the values of other countries would make a nullity of statehood. Canadians and their govern- ment may well support spreading the benefits of globalization, but it would be illusory to expect that Canadians would be prepared to sacrifice their quality of life, for example, by lowering sanitary standards to stimulate food imports from developing countries or by transferring funds intended to keep hospitals open to the aid budget. As political scientist Denis Stairs points out, the invocation of values over inter- ests bears the heavy cost of ”œa tendency to indulge in inflated and self-serving rhetoric…designed to appeal to the preferences and prejudices of a popula- tion indoctrinated by its own myths.”
This proclivity to ask the wrong question and to look to Canadian values as a policy guide combined to produce the spectacular blunder of Canadian neutrality in the Iraq war. In circumstances where the United States was plainly determined to go to war, the right question to ask was the impact of the Canadian position upon US behav- iour. There was a plausible, if uncon- vincing, answer that supporting the primacy of the United Nations was worth the cost of exclusion from any role in the post-war governance of Iraq.
It would have been equally plausible to argue that UN primacy outweighed the slaughter of Bosnians and Kosovars by the Serbs and, since UN approval of mil- itary action could not be obtained, then no practical help was possible. Such an answer, plainly unacceptable to the Canadian and other NATO govern- ments in the case of the Balkans, became the moral ground on which to criticize the invasion of Iraq. The better answer was that there were no prospects of deterring the United States, that the goal of regime change in Iraq was laud- able, and that no good would flow from isolating the United States on a matter that it considered, rightly or wrongly, vital to its national interest. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair observed, ”œIf the US act alone, they are unilateralist, but if they want allies, people shuffle to the back.” Canada’s answer was that on such matters the United States could not count on Canada and that it had no right to object to Canada’s decision.
The contention by some that standing up to the United States increases our global influence is true if you believe resigning membership in Ottawa’s prestigious Rideau Club and joining the West Carleton Rotary Club enhances one’s influence and stature. The United States now stands at the centre of world power and Canada occupies a privileged position as neighbour and sometime ally.
At the outset, prolonged discussion on the origins, nature and dura- bility of the American Empire would serve no useful purpose. The Empire has been with us since the Second World War and is distinguished in its present form solely by having no com- petitors on the near or distant horizon. With its military reach and the global dominance of American business and technology and culture, the Empire provokes the same mixture of hope and resentment in the new century as it did in the last fifty years of the pre- vious. The internal US debate on the reality, or even the desirability, of Empire is no less impassioned today than it was in the past. Nor are mourn- ful warnings about imperial over- stretch now less frequently expressed in the United States and elsewhere than they were in the past. The Pax Americana of the 1950s and 1960s seemed, in the view of many, to have been fatally weakened by the Vietnam War, the oil crisis, and the onset of a long period of recession and high inflation. In the 1980s, the rise of Japan prompted a vigorous debate about the declining power of the United States. It would also be a mistake to obsess about the strength and durability of the Empire and hope, as did the 1995 Foreign Policy Review, that ”œnew centres of influ- ence…would replace the super- power-centred world.” The prime focus needs to be the challenges in managing rela- tions with the Empire.
It is a common and dangerous conceit of policy makers that they hold the sinews of policy in their hands and may mould them into the shape that satis- fies their preferences. Humility is called for. As former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine observes, the ”œforeign office is not the control tower for the government’s international relations.” Canada’s relationship with the Empire is not the creation, still less the creature, of Canadian foreign poli- cy. The relationship is defined by fac- tors largely beyond the control of government and its most distinguish- ing characteristic is the narrow range of manoeuvre available to the govern- ment to influence the relationship.
The first factor is the nature of the two countries that have emerged in North America. Both Canada and the United States are settler societies, essentially European transplants on an aborig- inal base absorbing and assimilating sub- stantial influxes of non-European immigrants. Both countries are constitu- tional democracies and market economies. The basic values and prefer- ences that define the character of these two societies are fundamentally compat- ible. As Canada’s first full-time minister. of External Affairs, Louis St-Laurent, remarked in 1947, the United States ”œis a state with purposes and ambitions simi- lar to our own.” In their lifestyle choices and public policy preferences, Canadians invariably benchmark themselves and their country against the United States.
No other country resonates with Canadians. US and Canadian societies may be diverging, as Michael Adams contends in Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, and many of the 250,000 Canadians who live in the New York area are homesick because Canadian values are different, as journalist Michael Valpy asserts, but Canadians’ choices are nevertheless set in the United States from fashions and fads to public policy. The most recent public policy example is the commitment of the Martin government to move some way toward the US system of advise and consent for the appointment of Supreme Court judges, the heads of Crown corporations, and others.
More prosaically, if Toronto needs a boost, aging British rock groups and vulgar American talk show hosts are paid immense sums of money to put the city on the US map. If Canadian foreign policy reflects, as the dialogue paper believes that it should, Canadian values and preferences, then the basic principles of Canadian foreign policy must necessarily be closer to those of the United States than any other coun- try. Hence, the goals of global liberty, democracy and the rule of law enunci- ated in the US National Security Strategy could comfortably find a place in any statement of Canadian foreign policy. The differences between Canadian and US policies that emerge on global political issues such as Iraq or Cuba are differences in tactics, not strategy. While Canadians are much less prone to military solutions and lack, in any case, the means for such solutions, there are few voices in Canada that support Baathist or Communist models of governance or would regret the emergence of democratic government in those countries.
The second factor is the North American resource endowment. The Canadian and US economies are complemen- tary. They enjoy the same com- parative advantage in global and domestic markets. They face the same pain and gain of adjustment to the rapid changes in global trade and investment pat- terns. There is a remarkable degree of regulatory convergence and harmonization between the two countries across the whole of the interface between the private economy and pub- lic policy. Where differences exist, they lie in administration, not fundamental approach. Over the last 50 years, the Canadian economy has become pro- gressively more integrated into the US economy as the product of the push of private economic forces and the pull of sustained Canadian efforts to open the US market to Canadian goods and serv- ices. In neither country is there any sen- timent that the government should interfere in private business and invest- ment decisions to change the logic of resources, geography and private choice that underpin economic integration.
For Canada, trade and investment relationships with other countries will be important only at the margin and cannot substitute for the relation- ship with the United States. Whatever opinion Canadians or their govern- ment harbour about US foreign policy, any attempt to devise a trade and investment policy to match the posing and posturing of an independent for- eign policy would bear a heavy eco- nomic cost. Any government that implemented such a policy would be hurled from office.
The third factor is the intersection of security with geography in North America. The common geography and the intensity of cross-border human and commercial contact mean that Canadian and US security are indivisi- ble. The formal security arrangements, embodied in the Permanent Joint Board of Defence and NORAD, recognize that the security threats from hostile powers are common to both countries. The vast range of informal arrangements, from the Smart Border Accord to shared intelligence and police cooperation, recognize the security challenges aris- ing from $2 billion in daily trade in goods and services, 200 million annual individual border crossings, and 30,000 daily truck crossings.
There is a false dichotomy drawn between Canadian trade interests and US security interests. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would mean that Canadians are indifferent to US securi- ty challenges except to the extent that they impede trade flows. It also sug- gests that Canadians are or should be ready to address US security interests only to the extent that the United States is responsive to our trade inter- ests. There is no option available to Canada to mitigate the security threats arising from geography and human contact. The choice is whether to enhance Canadian security through more intense cooperation with the United States or to accept a higher degree of risk by reducing cooperation. Seeking to assure Canadians by cooper- ation with other countries or through unilateral measures is not an option.
The fourth factor is Canada’s exten- sive network of club memberships. There is scarcely a multilateral or regional organization of which Canada is not an active member, and hardly any, apart from the Commonwealth and la Francophonie, in which the most important member is not the United States. Through its club mem- berships, Canada has developed a long tradition of encouraging the broaden- ing and deepening of commitments to constrain the sovereign choices of states. In each, Canada has made com- mitments to policies and patterns of behaviour that reflect the foreign policy impulses emerging from the fundamen- tal interests of the country. Given the basic similarities between Canada and the United States, the policies advocat- ed in these clubs by both originate in the same conceptions of governance. In international economic and political forums, there is often little to distin- guish Canadian and US positions. It is inconceivable that Canada would express support in the G8 for non-dem- ocratic governance, advocate in the UN the abuse of human rights or the sup- pression of diversity and tolerance, or press the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to invest in cen- trally planned economies. As in the case of global political issues, the differences are tactical, not strategic. To elevate, as some Canadians do, Canadian ratifica- tion of the Kyoto Accord in contrast to its rejection by the United States, Canadian support for arms control in contrast to the US withdrawal from the ballistic missile treaty, or Canadian backing for UN family planning pro- grams as opposed to US hostility to them, is to celebrate the narcissism of small differences.
It should be beyond debate that the task of Canadian foreign policy out- weighing all others is to manage the rela- tionship with the United States. Forty years ago, scholar and former official Doug LePan, observed that Canadians naturally hanker after a world where they could pur- sue more independent for- eign, defence and economic policies without sacrificing any advantage from the close association with the United States, and added ”œif wishes were horses, Canadians would certainly ride off in all directions.” Wishes are not policies, still less are they a substitute for strategic vision. Devising a strategy for the relationship should be the most urgent task of the Foreign Policy Review. Twenty years ago, Brian Mulroney came to office with a clear US strategy. Much criticized at the time, a great deal was accomplished, from the Free Trade Agreement to the reduction of acid rain emissions, combined with an unprecedented degree of influence on US decision-making. Throughout the Chrétien years, there was no discernible strategy to deal with the United States except a knee-jerk contrarianism. The result was drift in the relationship, gen- erating growing criticism from both the left, alarmed about the pace of integra- tion, and the right, anxious that the gov- ernment had no strategy to harness the forces of integration to Canada’s benefit. The United States is entitled to ask seri- ous questions about the Canadian strat- egy for the relationship. By the time that a renewed Bush or a Democratic admin- istration takes office in January 2005, Canadian interests require that some coherent answers be offered.
The malaise afflicting the manage- ment of Canada-US relations reflects a larger malaise in Canadian for- eign policy arising from a failure to understand and act upon the funda- mental changes in the global environ- ment wrought by the end of the Cold War and September 11. Foreign policy has lost sight of its object and purpose ”” the security and prosperity of the state’s citizens ”” and has reverted to colonial preoccupations with sovereign- ty and independence. John Holmes’ observation 30 years ago of the ”œlinger- ing colonial mentality” of Canadian for- eign policy seems as apposite today as it was then. The outward manifestations of this mentality are a reliance on pos- ture and declaration and an inability to deploy hard instruments of foreign pol- icy. Critics like the journalist Andrew Cohen document a sorry tale of the denuded military, reduced development assistance, and declining diplomatic resources available to advance foreign policy interests. The problem is, however, deeper. The allocation of the necessary resources to restore the sharp end of Canadian diplomacy would avail the country little without a funda- mental reorientation of policy back to the pursuit of Canadian interests.
It seems to need repeating every gen- eration that the Canadian relation- ship with the United States is an asset, not a liability. It is, moreover, the most important constant in Canadian for- eign policy and the management of this relationship its most important task. No relationship with any other country has as much impact on the object and pur- pose of foreign policy. If this reality has been glaringly obvious to all but the purblind for the last quarter century at least, it has been cemented into place by the end of the Cold War and the consequences of September 11.
The dissolution of Cold War ortho- doxies did more than destroy one superpower and make the other, happi- ly our neighbour, the unchallenged hyper power. During the Cold War, a safe anchorage in the Western alliance created opportunities for diplomatic initiatives that directly advanced Canadian interests. For example, during the Suez crisis in 1956, the Canadian initiative was driven by the need to heal the dangerous rift between Canada’s closest partners, the United Kingdom and the United States. Similarly, the deployment of Canadian troops in Cyprus in 1964 owed much to the threat to the NATO alliance arising from the prospect of war between Greece and Turkey, and earned high gratitude from the United States. As Denis Stairs points out, during the Cold War, Canada could occasionally play some interesting transatlantic politics as a member of the team. Those days are gone. In the new environment, the United States has little patience for alliance relationships or multilateral institutions that pose an impediment to the pursuit of US interests. Following September 11, the readiness of the United States to make its interests hostage to the preferences of other countries is virtually zero. Whatever the current uneasiness in some parts of US opinion about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US foreign policy is likely to be characterized by an aggressive, single-minded, America-first approach for the foreseeable future.
In this new environment, the uses of multilateralism, inside or outside the UN, as a means to influence US policy, are much diminished. No amount of revivalist chanting of the virtues of multilateralism or hoping that a Democratic president will set aside US national interests for multi- lateral action will return multilateral- ism to its glory days. A first step to devising a workable relationship with the United States would be to remove multilateralism from its pedestal as the prime means, often the end, of Canadian foreign policy, and consign it to its proper role as a useful tool in certain circumstances. This will be uncomfortable because it is inevitable that as the smaller partner in the rela- tionship, Canada will find its influ- ence on the United States greatest when it plays in the game that the United States wants to play. In circum- stances such as post-war Iraq, where the United States may be ready to entertain a serious UN role, Canada should be ready to cooperate. To insist, however, as Canada did in the case of Iraq, that multilateral authority con- veyed by the UN Security Council is a condition precedent to action to defend national security, is a recipe for irrelevance. High-minded internation- alism, such as the International Criminal Court, doggedly pursued by Canada in the face of strong US oppo- sition, breeds cynicism and resentment toward Canada among US decision makers. Nor can it be expect- ed that such initiatives, in the absence of US support, will long endure.
In its February 2004 Speech from the Throne, the Martin government promised to undertake a comprehensive foreign policy review. In the govern- ment’s view, ”œCanadians want their country to play a distinctive and inde- pendent role…They want to see Canada’s place of pride and influence in the world restored.” Such a review pres- ents a rare opportunity to restore bal- ance and perspective to foreign policy and rid it of its lingering colonial men- tality. The best chance of producing a review that will guide Canadian foreign policy is to ask the right questions about the relationship with the United States.
Previous foreign policy reviews in 1970, 1985, 1995, and 2003 share a common feature: they do not discuss in any detail, still less do they offer any guidance on, this relationship. The 1970 review acknowledged the conundrum of drawing economic benefit from the relationship, while being mindful of the constant danger it posed to sovereignty, independence and cultural identity. While it reviewed in some depth Canadian relationships with Europe, Asia and Latin America, it had nothing to say about the United States. The 1985 review similarly had no insights on the relationship except to highlight the implications for sovereignty and independence of negotiating a bilater- al free trade agreement. The 1995 review treated the United States as an important world power and acknowl- edged the United States as Canada’s pre-eminent economic partner but its recitation of the challenges and opportunities facing Canada make no mention of the relationship. The 2003 dialogue managed to accord three paragraphs to the relationship, reminding Canadians of its impor- tance, but unlike other themes on which it sought views, it asked no questions about the relationship with the United States. This congenital avoidance of the most important and constant factor in Canadian foreign policy needs to be overcome if the new review is to be more influential than its predecessors in guiding for- eign policy.
The Martin government wants for ”œCanada a role of pride and influence in the world, where we speak with an independent voice, bringing distinc- tive Canadian values to international affairs. It is time to take our place, meet our responsibilities, carry our weight.” Fine words, if followed by bold deeds. The journey to this new place should begin by asking the right question.
Bill Dymond is senior executive fellow at the Centre for Trade Policy and Law at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. Michael Hart is the Simon Reisman Professor of Trade Policy in the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University and a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Trade Policy and Law. Both are former federal officials with extensive experience in dealing with trade and foreign policy issues. Their article in the December-January Policy Options, ”œThe Potemk in Village of Canadian Foreign Policy,” has been nominated for a National Magazine Award in the public policy category.