Gertrude Stein is famously remembered for saying of Oakland, California, ”œthere is no there there.” The same might be said of Canada’s strategic and defence interests in the Americas, outside of its alliance with the United States. There has been an evident lack of preoc- cupation with anything beyond Canada-U.S. links. But recently there have been some significant developments in hemispheric defence and Canada’s involvement in it. In short, Canada does have strategic hemispheric interests out- side its relationship with the United States and those inter- ests are expanding.

Canada’s defence interests in the Americas are deter- mined by two imperatives. First, of course, is the U.S. rela- tionship, the primary trajectory of Canadian defence policy. But there is also the Canadian tradition of multilateralism”” our history of working with other partners in order to forge a more independent policy.

Acting unilaterally to exert foreign policy influence is usually not an option for Canada. That leaves the alterna- tives of working with great powers bilaterally or many pow- ers multilaterally. Independence is crucial: we don’t merely wish to establish a foreign policy position; we want to do so in an autonomous manner. This is particularly true of secu- rity matters, where, despite this hankering for autonomy, Canada’s alliance with the United States so often conditions the substance of our policy-making. The upside of that con- straint is that Canada has a greater degree of access to and input in decision-making in the United States, which allows””at times””for greater influence in international affairs than we would otherwise have.

Canadian strategic foreign policy has been created and sustained largely in a broader multilateral context. Notwithstanding the importance of close relations with the United States, the defining elements of Canadian strategic concerns are of a wider, multilateral pattern. Our role has largely been determined by the context of our multilateral relationships””that is, by whom we are dealing with””and by the functional capacity of which Canada is capable.

Decisions made by parties to a multilateral arrangement are the product of a conscious coordination of national poli- cies, usually within an international political structure or organization. States employing multilateralism do so in the expectation that such behaviour will reap gains that could not be achieved through unilateral action. Multilateralism is not merely the interaction of states in the inter- national arena, but involves the assumptions of shared benefits, reciprocity among participants, and a regulated environment. It involves several areas of interaction among parties. There is a degree of integrated decision-making, in order to account for the views and concerns of allies. There is at least some coordination of policies so as to avoid or at least reduce negative effects felt by participants. And there is cooperation in the actual alignment of national policies so that mutual benefits may be maximized. Finally, in its most extreme representation, multilateralism may also include integration of policies, creating common objectives and goals among several states.

Multilateralism is not necessarily a threat to great powers. After all, the U.S. itself is part of many multilateral arrangements, and as such is able to better coordinate policies with allies with- out having to resort to coercion. Moreover, mul- tilateralism allows the U.S. to legitimize its broad- er foreign policy interests””assuming it is willing to permit flexibility on particular issues. Even for powerful countries, multilateralism creates an environment for collective action where other- wise unilateral action would be challenged or even disdained.

By acting multilaterally, Canada is in a better position to shape and influence the policies of the states with which it associates. By maintain- ing favorable multilateral memberships, Canada can affect international affairs in ways it could not through individual action. Canada has had a unique experience in this regard, maintaining close relations and influence with both of its great power partners (the United States and Great Britain) during the 20th century and also secur- ing foreign policy objectives through multilateral action. Canada’s emphasis on multilateralism, in concert with its middle power status, brought about a distinctive state of affairs for Canadian foreign policy: the ability to have its objectives achieved in the international system, even with- out being a ”œgreat” power.

Canada’s strategic relations within the American hemisphere highlight the incon- sistency of its regional foreign policy. Canada does consider itself an American nation; its home region is the Americas. But Canadian strategic interests have emerged either from its transat- lantic connection or from its sharing of the North American continent with the United States. Unlike the United States, it has not maintained a parallel emphasis on a hemispheric pres- ence. There are indications, however, that this may be changing.

During the Cold War, Canadian policy in the hemisphere was tightly connected to U.S. policy. The Americans led the region via the Organization of American States (of which Canada was not a member until 1990), the col- lective defence mechanism of the Rio Pact of 1947, bilateral links with hemispheric states through the Mutual Assistance Pacts (MAPs) in the 1950s, and their pre-eminence in the Inter- American Defence Board (IADB) and the Inter- American Defence College (IADC).

Not surprisingly, Canadian involvement in hemispheric affairs was a logical offshoot of a deepening commitment to economic and com- mercial relationships. However limited, this engagement with the hemisphere has been root- ed in economic self-interest. The extension of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement to Mexico in 1994 appeared at first blush to bear out the argument that increased trade and commer- cial attention (through NAFTA) had a fundamen- tal effect on political and military matters. Yet Canada did not initially envision Mexico as part of a free-trade zone, and sought free trade with that country only after U.S.-Mexico trade talks were set to begin. Moreover, Canadian sugges- tions that Chile join the NAFTA have not result- ed in the inclusion of that country in the free trade bloc.

Moving through the 1990s, Canada began to concentrate more on military and defence mat- ters in the hemisphere. For some large states in the region, such as Mexico, Brazil and Chile, this was not too startling, given their traditionally strong trade and commercial relations with Canada. Other, smaller states have been surprised by Canadian interest in the hemisphere. They shouldn’t have been. Canada has had long-stand- ing military and defence concerns surrounding several compelling issues. Narcotics trafficking, illegal immigration, peacekeeping, prohibited arms transfers and natural disaster response are all aspects of inter-American security in which Canada has played a role, either with its armed forces or through diplomatic channels. The human security agenda is of particular interest here, since concerns about crime continue to grow in the Americas, even as external threats relating to war decline. In 2000, the OAS General Assembly held a plenary dialogue and passed res- olutions concerning human security in the region. An issue mainly of academic debate here in Canada, human security is invariably seen as a real security issue in Latin American states. Canada has in recent years set in motion initia- tives for human security, and has been increas- ingly active within hemispheric military institu- tions. For example, it has been involved in the current development of the Conference of American Armies (CAA), a multinational organi- zation created in 1960 to generate dialogue among the armies of American states. Canada will host the CAA from 2002-2004, and occupy the seat of Permanent Executive Secretary. This is more than a ceremonial role, and Canada’s lead- ership in this organization is crucial at a time when the armed forces in American states are beginning to be seen by their citizens””and their governments””as more legitimate than in the past.

Canada has also recently expanded its com- plement of military attachés in the hemisphere. In addition to existing attaché positions in Mexico City and Buenos Aires, Canada has creat- ed two new positions in Bogotà¡ and Brasilia. And, with the U.S. decision to allow a rotating chair within the IADB, there is serious speculation that Canada will join with the Board’s 19 other mem- bers in its work on humanitarian concerns and confidence-building measures and its support for the hemispheric security goals of the OAS.

A part from our experience with multilateral regimes, Canada brings to the table several sorts of security and defence proficiency. American states understand and appreciate Canada’s peacekeeping history. We are also known for competence in policing and domestic security, a reputation that is a spin-off from our peacekeeping ability.

There can be no doubt that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, delayed many developments in defence and military affairs in the hemisphere. Attention to migration and traf- ficking, for instance, have either been suppressed or folded into the United States’ new anti-terror- ism program. But inter-American efforts on mili- tary and defence issues have not been complete- ly abandoned. Rather, with increasing attention being paid to ”œhomeland” and continental defence in the United States, now is clearly the time for Canada to pursue effective multilateral initiatives in order to consolidate its interests in the region and to further peace and security in the area.

Whereas Canada’s concerns were largely non-military until the 1990s, there are clear indications that military and defence matters are finally getting more attention in Ottawa. Although Canada’s enlarging agenda in the Americas is still balanced by attention to other regions (such as the Asia-Pacific), Hal Klepak is right that Canada is ”œturn[ing] its back on a cen- tury of aloofness.” It may not be a sea change in Canadian hemispheric policy, but it does repre- sent a general expansion of Canadian interests in the region.

Such interests will continue to be framed by Canada’s natural alliance with the United States, based on long-standing geostrategic and interde- pendent concerns. But Canada’s experience with- in the OAS, for instance, is an example of how multilateral bodies permit alternate ideas and forums for debate. Canada has argued against the opinion of the United States within the OAS, notably in 2000 on the matter of human securi- ty. This willingness to speak out in opposition to the United States is recognized by other members of the OAS, which are often unable to take such a position.

In a relatively short period of time, inattention in the American hemisphere has given way to a new outlook for Canadian regional policy. Whereas Canadian interests in the region were once almost entirely defined either by United States strategy, or our own limited trade and com- mercial links, Canadian security policy in the hemisphere has taken on a new role of more active involvement, and deeper membership.

Canada’s ”œtraditional” linkages were largely formed on the basis of history. The Commonwealth, la francophonie and our bilateral relationship with the United States are all func- tional representations of our history, and our political development. The American hemisphere offers something different for Canada. With no common history and little in the way of conver- gence regarding political and economic develop- ment, the hemisphere provides a regional alter- native and a ”œhome” for trade, commercial, polit- ical and security affairs that would better reflect Canadian interests and strengthen our bilateral relationship with the United States, to say noth- ing of NAFTA. In short, the extension of Canadian economic and security interests south of the Rio Grande is both a reflection of U.S. eco- nomic and security interests, and also a manifes- tation of Canadian desires to stake out an inde- pendent role in the region.

For Canada’s new security agenda, the Americas offer a growing and increasingly stable environment for economic development, democratization and the pursuit of peace. But the region requires more attention to matters of defence and security. In this domain, given our strengths and our close connection to the United States, Canada may have a key role to play. Military and defence relations in the region will require more modernization, more interoperability and added transparency. The United States will undoubtedly take the lead in forging these developments, but as the United States’ closest military ally, Canada must also assume a fundamental position. As armed forces in the region take up non-traditional challenges ranging from drug trafficking enforcement, to border controls, to armed forces’ interoperability, Canadian experience could help stimulate a new hemispheric defence and security policy, particularly in light of our close affinity to the United States.

We should not seek a broader role in the hemisphere simply as a counterweight to our bilateral relationship, but rather as a logical off- shoot of it: as the United States intensifies its position in the Americas, it is incumbent on Canada to do so as well. To do otherwise would be to lose influence in the region, and also with the United States.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License