With the US election rapidly approaching and intense jockeying between President Bush and Senator Kerry continuing apace, Americans are focused on little outside their country with the exception of Iraq. Canadians on the other hand ”” not unlike most citizenries around the world these days ”” are almost as intent- ly focused on the election outcome as their neighbors to the south.
And with good reason: Canada has a considerable amount at stake. In terms of Canada’s national interest, who walks away victorious in November matters. Indeed, it stands to reason that Canada’s national interests will be better served if Kerry were to win, as it is difficult to argue that some sort of perpetuation of the status quo would be more advantageous.
At the top of the list is of course the Bush Doctrine. The Bush adminis- tration’s self-avowed right to intervene militarily in pre-emptive fashion has changed the course of world politics (as has the declaration that the US would use any means necessary to pre- vent being knocked off its unipolar perch, albeit more subtly). Acting on this right, first in Afghanistan but more particularly in Iraq, has proved so costly that the initial military victo- ry in Baghdad soon took on a pyrrhic character.
This policy has considerable conse- quence, not only for the safety of Americans but also for Canadians. An unstable world in which unrealized mili- tary threats are used more regularly by countries as a justification for an overall increase in warfare around the globe affects everyone. Already there is wide evidence of emerging arms races and numerous countries vying to become nuclear powers (e.g. the recent evidence in South Korea). Furthermore, a global atmosphere marked by grievances rang- ing from harmed Arab pride to elusive peace across the Middle East increases the threat of terrorism everywhere. Even if Canada is not as threatened by militant Islamic terrorists at home as it otherwise would be ”” had it joined wholehearted- ly in the US-led coalition ”” it needs to remain vigilant, with the economic and social costs it involves.
A President Kerry, based on his record in public life as well as his cam- paign rhetoric, is likely to reserve the right to act preemptively while in prac- tice refraining from doing so. In compar- ison to President Bush, he is furthermore likely to be more of a multilateralist than a unilateralist, including relying more on the UN, consulting allies more avidly, and building more stable, enduring coalitions to address international prob- lems. A Kerry administration is also like- ly to engage in treaty-based agreements more often and invest in international institutions more heavily. For example, without question Kerry would re-sign the Rome Treaty and make the US a full- fledged participant in the International Criminal Court (much as he would like- ly sign the Kyoto treaty in the environ- mental sphere and, near and dear to Canada, the treaty banning the use of landmines).
Will a Kerry administration lead to greater protectionism? Traditionally, of course, Democrats are far more prone to do the bidding of labor unions, and Kerry himself certainly talked a lot about outsourcing and ”œBenedict Arnold CEOs” earlier in the campaign. However, such rhetoric proved fleet- ing, and Kerry has solid if not wholly impressive free trade credentials. Ironically, there is a mild likelihood that he may be less protectionist than Bush has turned out to be, with sub- stantial non-tariff barrier augmenta- tions in the areas of steel and agriculture showing the president’s fre- quent statements about free trade to be something of a chimera.
It is hard to predict whether the ongoing trade disputes over fish- eries and soft lumber are more or less likely to be resolved if Kerry becomes president. But progress in either dis- pute is unlikely if Bush is victorious. If there is a single thread running through most foreign policy deci- sions since 2000, it is a pronounced disinclination to be hemmed in by international commitments ”” be they treaties or alliances or interna- tional law. A Kerry administration would certainly come under greater domestic pressure to continue to take a hard line; however, prospects would be just slightly rosier for Canada in light of Kerry’s penchant for working with allies.
Far more clear is a strong likeli- hood that bilateral relations between Canada and the US would improve with a Bush defeat. Canadians were rightfully disappointed when the Paul Martin charm offensive seemed to have little effect on George Bush or overall relations. A vast improvement over the practically anti-US Jean Chrétien ”” at least in bilateral terms ”” it stood to reason that the arrival of Martin would begin to pay relational dividends. Certainly the various anti-Canada snubs would come to an end with a Kerry administration, case-in-point being Ambassador Paul Cellucci’s ”œcol- orful” comments of recent.
In summation, it is fairly difficult to identify an area of US-Canadian relations that would not stand to improve if Kerry is victorious in November. Certainly the relationship could be in far worse shape, but in truth the status quo benefits neither of these long-friendly countries that share a vast array in cultural and historical terms. A correction is called for on the part of US behavior vis-aÌ€-vis Canada; but it is unlikely to come to pass if President Bush wins re-election.