In the world as we once knew it, the year 2001 would have required a sizing-up period before it became clear how the linkages between a new U.S. administration and an old Canadian political establishment would work. The U.S. foreign policy team of Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice was more than just a set of different faces: conservative Republicans are not liberal Democrats. For that matter, though both men are Liberals, John Manley is not Lloyd Axworthy. But given the norms of the last generation, we probably would have seen change within tradition. A new set of faces eventually would have bickered in the time-honored way over softwood lumber or PEI potato virus or durum wheat. Our problems would not have been existential.
But following 9/11 things are different. Canada-U.S. relations have received the kind of jolt that sends coun- tries back to an examination of basic principles. With our first confident strides of the 21st century having landed us squarely into a bear trap, just where are we headed as North Americans?
The absolute bottom line in any bilateral relationship is military security. Sometimes that is obvious, as with relations between Germany and France, Russia and Poland, or China and Japan. In this regard, a country is better, as Machiavelli put it, to have its friends near at hand and its enemies distant than the reverse. A second relevant eternal verity is that while it is much better to be rich and powerful than poor and weak, it can also be dan- gerous to be rich and weak. The oil-soaked Gulf States were like paraplegics in solid-gold wheelchairs living in danger- ous neighborhoods. That Kuwait was ”œmugged” was no surprise; in fact, it was only a question of when.
Moving away from verities to the Canada-U.S. relation- ship: although the cliché of ”œthe world’s longest undefend- ed border” has been belabored to a fare-thee-well, the reali- ty of the two countries’ benign coexistence is remarkable. Even so, Canadians remain nervous about the essence of the relationship. That’s not really surprising: skepticism is the norm in international relations and Canada is rich and weak””with all that implies. Whether our two countries are thought of as elephant and mouse or gorilla and chimpanzee, the tenfold disparity in population and even greater disproportion in wealth, let alone in raw military power, is obvious. Canada therefore views the U.S. in the same way a tremu- lous virgin might regard a burly law enforcement officer living next door. Yes, he is committed to law and order, but were he to ”œgo bad” the con- sequences could be grim.
To speak plainly, Canada has surrendered its military defense to the United States. Canadian analysis has always been straightforward but in the 1990s, following the end of the Cold War, it has been startlingly clear. Ottawa determined that it could not resist U.S. power no matter how much it spent on defense. In the same way, it concluded that any threat large enough to imperil Canada would also threaten the U.S.”” and that the U.S. would have to do something about it. Faced with the choice of being defend- ed inadequately at high cost or defended inade- quately at low cost, Canada made the logical choice to spend less and cede the defense of North America to the United States. This may not have been terribly noble, but it was good for the social safety net.
And the U.S. has defended Canada. Whether through expeditionary forces to the Persian Gulf or missile defense proposals, we have attempted to protect, yes, our interests, but also, arguably, the interests of Western democra- cy and security. Whether Canadians agree with all the policies, objectives and tactics the U.S. has adopted in its defence of North America is, to be blunt, irrelevant. We believe we are pro- ceeding properly, and Canadians need to accept the reality of our belief as part of their own real- ity when making diplomatic calculations.
There was much discussion post-September 11 about which of the changes that are coming will or will not impinge on Canadian sovereign- ty. But just what is Canadian ”œsovereignty” in real terms at the beginning of the 21st century? It is certainly not the classic political science sover- eignty described in Hans Morgenthau’s classic Politics Among Nations. In Morgenthau’s world, a nation was sovereign only if it could effectively defend its borders. Canada obviously cannot. As Richard Gwyn has put it, ”œWe’ve had to accept that militarily we are inconsequential.” In effect, Canada has put its sovereignty in escrow to the United States. It retains only ”œcomplaining rights”””permission to whine about how exactly the United States defends it. At best, such sover- eignty is denatured; at worst, it is an embarrass- ment for patriotic Canadians.
It did not have to be this way. At the end of World War II, Canada had probably the fourth most powerful military in the world: a battle-test- ed army, a massive air force, a powerful navy and the material resources and scientific know-how to build nuclear weapons. In an alternative histo- ry, Canada could have chosen the French route toward national sovereignty. France remains one of a handful of states able to build nuclear weapons, modern ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines, main battle tanks, first-line jet air- craft and aircraft carriers. In the late 1960s, it pro- fessed an ”œall azimuths” defense concept, which implied that it had neither friends nor enemies but interests. While recognizing that she could not survive a nuclear exchange with the USSR, France created a deterrent force that could ”œtear off an arm” and hence, theoretically, dissuade Moscow from threatening Paris. This was expen- sive, to be sure, but it means France remains a player in international affairs, even if 50 years ago it had less weight than Canada. Nor do Frenchmen appear appreciably less free or afflu- ent despite their country’s defense expenditures.
But a comparable construct for Canada is science fiction. Ottawa will not pay the fiscal price and lacks the political will (or the domes- tic support) to climb its way back up along the long trail to military relevancy. The spate of recent studies by the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, the Conference of Canadian Defence Associations and the Royal Canadian Military Institute all come to the same conclu- sion: money, lots more money is required. But it is a safe bet it won’t be spent.
The United States regrets this and sympa- thizes with the Canadian military’s attempt to make bricks without straw””or, many days, even clay. The Prime Minister’s and Defence Minister’s comments to the effect that if any serious fighting erupted in Afghanistan Canadian forces would be withdrawn marked a new, pathetic low in post-war policy. The bot- tom line therefore remains brutal. Canada’s lack of military weight renders it a peripheral player in international affairs and commensurately mutes its voice in any discussion about the secu- rity of North America.
Which leads us to the current struggle against terrorism and its corollary policy: perimeter security or ”œzone of confidence” or whatever is the buzzword for the day. Imagine for a moment that North America is a house, with Mexico its basement and Canada its roof. Most homeowners worry less about their roof than their basement, where water and other harmful things can get in. Like a homeowner, the U.S. has struggled with our southern border problem for much of a generation, trying to con- trol immigration and narcotics smuggling. As the number of illegal immigrants (or, to use the approved term, ”œundocumented aliens”) has risen, our border control efforts have expanded. We have directed no comparable attention to our border with Canada. However, the problem of Canadian illegal immigration was regarded as largely irrelevant””after all ”œyou’re just like us””” and the number of third-country citizens using Canada as a transit point was dwarfed by those attempting entry over the Mexican border.
But now the ”œroof” is getting a comprehen- sive inspection””and we don’t really like what we see. There seem to be significant holes, and storms are in the offing. Thus, when Minister Elinor Caplan suggested there is nothing wrong with Canadian immigration or refugee policy that a lit- tle tweaking won’t cure, the typical American response was skepticism. Any policy that loses track of a reported 27,000 individuals is seriously flawed. In just one instance, during the summer of 1999 when several boatloads of Chinese arrived on Canada’s west coast, the initial arrivals claimed refugee status and were largely released without bond. Where are they now? They have largely dis- appeared. Speculation has it that they had entered the U.S illegally. For the most part, Canadians did- n’t and don’t seem to care. Ottawa’s ignorance about who is in the country and where is hardly unique, but U.S. failures along these lines are being remedied, and Canada must be””and must be seen to be””equally vigilant.
Ottawa was quick to point out that none of the 19 September 11 terrorists entered the United States through Canada. Yes, but… Even if that is true, should we infer that Canada is currently ter- rorist-free? Frenetic post-September 11 counter- terrorism reviews have pulled all sorts of dubious characters out of the woodwork. And what about the documents uncovered in Kabul linking Canadian residents to Osama bin Laden? Does Minister Caplan expect that our good fortune in intercepting long-time Montreal resident terrorist Ahmed Ressam on his way to blow up Los Angeles International Airport to celebrate millen- nium 2000 can be replicated as required, on demand? Frankly, we were as blindly lucky in catching Ressam as we were blithely incompetent in failing to garner even an inkling of impending September 11 terrorist strikes. Can even the most credulous conceive that Ressam is an aberration? Happily, he and his buddies never got around to obliterating parts of downtown Montreal, which they once hypothesized might be a nice parting touch before leaving the city.
The niceties of the caveats offered by Minister Caplan and other defenders of civil lib- erties are principled but miss the point. Such statements leave the impression that those who make them are more concerned about the legal rights of illegal immigrants and ”œrefugee” claimants than the lives of Canadian and U.S. citizens. That simply is not good enough.
The next brigade of terrorists may well not use suicide airliners as their weapons of choice. But failing to insist on the most stringent rules regarding flight safety and passenger control would virtually dare terrorists to replicate September 11. Thus the average American has great difficulty understanding Canadian offi- cials’ almost pathological rejection to a ”œsky marshal” program. We can appreciate and even respect the socio-political differences that mark our national differences toward gun control. But we have difficulty understanding the visceral reaction to a highly effective security program that apparently is objectionable only because it involves firearms. Do Canadians think their mil- itary forces stormed Juno Beach with Robert’s Rules of Order? Crude reality does occasionally impinge on never-neverism, however. Washington said, ”œNo armed sky marshals? No landings at Reagan National.” With that eco- nomic imperative in mind, Canada’s political bureaucracy accepted U.S. imperatives. Of course, all other Canadian flights still remain vulnerable, and the Sears Tower in Chicago is but short flying time from Toronto.
Although relationships between countries are supposed to be governed by vast impersonal historical forces, they are sometimes influenced by the personalities of the people countries assign to conduct them. The requirement for the unparalleled Canada-U.S. economic bilateral partnership to continue relatively smoothly remains overriding. Our periodic problems over items such as softwood lumber, border controls and so on almost certainly will be worked out: it is too expensive for them not to be. In short, we are each other’s best friends ”œlike it or not.” Whether Prime Minister Chrétien loves Americans or President Bush is marginal. Marginal, but not unimportant. And so far the auguries are not good. If the Clinton/Gore relationship with Canada was hand-in-glove, the Bush/Cheney relationship is more like shoes that pinch. One wouldn’t throw them away while traversing rough terrain, but the comfort level and style are less than perfect.
”œYou only get one chance to make a first impression,” as the saying goes. In this regard, Prime Minister Chrétien seems to be rivaling Yasser Arafat’s ability to ”œnever miss a chance to miss a chance.” Recall Ambassador Raymond Chrétien’s unguarded statement of Canadian (and presumably the PM’s) preference for a Gore government. Even more ineptly, the Prime Minister echoed this sentiment in remarks at Duke University in North Carolina on December 3, 2000, when our election was still undecided. The only possible conclusion the Republican administration-in-waiting could have made was ”œThese guys don’t like us very much.”
The hurried, indeed frenzied Canadian effort to be the first head of government to meet with President Bush barely put a patch on the tear. To show their ”œaw, shucks” just-us-guys camaraderie, the President and the Prime Minister chatted about baseball and Alex Rodriguez’s mind-boggling salary, but their body language was stiff, and one Canadian diplomat privately predicted their relationship would not go beyond polite correctness. Confirmation of that is to be found in the fact that the Prime Minister has not yet been to the Texas ranch, while the President’s sole Canada trip was to the Quebec City Summit of the Americas conference where more tear gas than champagne was in evidence.
In fact, the Prime Minister did have a second chance to make a first impression. It has now been repeated so often that it has almost lost its weight, but September 11 did create a ”œwipe-the- slate-clean” opportunity to recalibrate relation- ships. This chance was not lost on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seized the occa- sion to illustrate terrorism’s ”œworld turned upside down” power. But even to long-time observers of Canada, the Prime Minister’s reac- tion was puzzling. It was as if he knew what he should say, but, uncharacteristically, was operat- ing at an intellectual rather than a visceral level. He sang the right song, but somehow was a half beat slow. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had, if anything, even less interest in George Bush becoming president than Mr. Chrétien did. As a well-known ”œfriend of Bill” (Clinton), he proba- bly has even less intellectual sympathy with a Texas oilman and baseball enthusiast than does Mr. Chrétien, who at least can discuss baseball with Mr. Bush. But Mr. Blair knew, apparently instinctively, just what to do, where to be and what to say. He may be a socialist twit so far as U.S. conservatives are concerned, but he is now ”œour” socialist twit. And Britain is better off for it. These days, Mr. Blair could ask for the White House chinaware, and the Administration would deliver it on Air Force One. And Mr. Chrétien’s reaction is to sneer at him as ”œTory” Blair?
Perhaps Mr. Chrétien understood, even more clearly than the most patriotic Americans, that extensive, bloody and persistent counterat- tacks must be made against terrorists. Maybe he realized that the attacks could just as easily have fallen on Toronto or Parliament Hill had the ter- rorists desired it. Maybe he too believed that for one day at least, every democratic, civilized per- son in the world was an ”œAmerican.” But if so, he too could have been seated in a place of hon- our with Prime Minister Blair when the President addressed Congress, and with a few straight-from-the-heart ”œpea souper” words won U.S. affection forever””and simultaneously made a positive resolution of the softwood lum- ber dispute more likely.
It remains unbelievable””literally unbeliev- able””that Mr. Chrétien”˜s high-powered private office, DFAIT professionals and the Canadian embassy in Washington were unable to per- suade Mayor Giuliani to permit a stop at Ground Zero on the day of Mr. Chrétien’s White House visit. There had been visits at much high- er-stress earlier dates by Mr. Blair, by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and by French President Jacques Chirac, who also prob- ably sees Mr. Bush as an uncultured intellectual lightweight but who has outstanding interna- tional political instincts. How could Mr. Chrétien fail to make an early visit to the site where, except for the Air India disaster of 1985, more Canadians died than during any other act of terrorism? Was the Liberal fundraiser in Toronto that evening really more important? The Prime Minister’s subsequent visit to New York and his participation in the ”œCanada Loves New York” trip on December 1 had absolutely zero visibility outside NYC, and for that matter very little within the city. For example, the Washington Post‘s Dec. 2 edition made no men- tion of the effort””let alone Mr. Chrétien.
For his own reasons, President Bush decided to bail out Mr. Chrétien with a series of gracious comments regarding Canadian and U.S. broth- erhood and mutual support. Some stroking was obligatory when Canadians went into a hissy fit over not being mentioned in Bush’s address to Congress. The average sixth birthday party involves greater decorum than the Canadian public reaction to this perceived slight””which almost certainly was not deliberate, despite the presence of Canadian neo-con David Frum in the White House stable of speechwriters. What was the French reaction to the absence of spe- cific mention despite President Chirac’s recent visit? Not even a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. The French presumably know their merit with- out having it mentioned.
In sum, Mr. Chrétien seems to have com- bined perfect pitch for domestic politics with a tin ear for foreign relations. That is unfortunate in any national leader, but in this case the Prime Minister also appears to have combined an innate disinterest in foreign and defense issues with a poorly concealed skepticism and resent- ment about, if not hostility toward, the United States. Washington will not waste time worrying about this, however: it understands Mr. Chrétien will be Prime Minister as long as he desires; no more palatable government is on the horizon.
The largest recent plus in Canada-U.S. rela- tions has been the ascendancy of Foreign Minister, now Deputy Prime Minister John Manley. To be blunt, by the end of his term Lloyd Axworthy no longer had a U.S. audience. He obviously had every right to express his views and criticisms of our policy; but we exercised our right not to listen. When you publish your criti- cal views of U.S. nuclear weapons/ defense policy in a Swedish newspaper””national missile defense, he wrote, would ”œset loose the demons” of a nuclear arms race””it’s clear you no longer are even trying to influence U.S. policy-makers but are playing to another audience entirely. Mr. Axworthy’s retirement to the Liu Center places him, appropriately, in an ivory tower from which he can preach to his political choir.
The Manley image is different. If Mr. Axworthy projected the air of an academic ideo- logue with a flair for the grandiose, Mr. Manley is a ”œgamer”: he knows his briefs. His short tenure at DFAIT did not so much change the substance of Canadian policies as alter the tone in which they are presented. Mr. Manley is a marathoner (a point not lost on the fitness-con- scious Republican administration) and as a long-distance runner knows that patience, tac- tics and endurance count far more than flashy speed. It remains to be seen what influence he will have on his successor at DFAIT, the Hon. Bill Graham, whose initial statements about the U.S. seem to be in a more traditionally Canadian idiom. Mr. Graham may be an Axworthy with a stiletto rather than a broadsword.
After September 11, Canadians were reminded that when a superpower starts worry- ing about its security, everyone in the vicinity had also better worry. The United States has tried to be polite about its requirements but we have also been very clear about the limits of our patience and our tolerance for prevarication. For Canada a policy of ”œdon’t worry, be happy” would be much more expensive than taking preventive action. In the effort that is required, however, we have been fortunate to have calm foreign-service professionals address our bilater- al differences. There is every chance we will work through this difficult passage every bit as successfully as we have managed past crises.