U.S.-Canada Trade, Defense and Border Issues since September 11: The View from Canada

Article excerpt


Closely interrelated public opinion on trade, border security, and defense issues has divided Canadians along predictable and traditional lines that reflect the persistence of certain continuities. As always, Canadians differ sharply on relations with the United States. They apply their conception of this relationship to their positions on issues of the day, as on border security after September 11, and to Operation Iraqi Freedom and missile defense in early 2003. As usual this debate is playing out inside that most Canadian of institutions, the Liberal party. (1) How the Liberals handle their differences on these matters in their ongoing leadership exercise likely will determine how Canada defines its relationship with the US in the coming years.

We can identify continuities or recurring themes in Canada's approach to the United States, and in Canadian foreign policy generally. In 1951 External Affairs Minister (and later Prime Minister) Lester Pearson observed at the height of the Cold War and the Korean War that "it is not very comfortable to be in the middle these days." (2) Pearson also conceded in 1951 that "the United States is now the dominating world power on the side of freedom. Our preoccupation is no longer whether the United States will discharge her international responsibilities, but how she will do it and whether the rest of us will be involved." (3) Here Pearson betrayed an early concern with process, or the practice of foreign policymaking. That is, he assigned importance to how decisions are made. Pearson and most Canadian political leaders since his time have expressed a preference for multilateral policymaking through institutions like the United Nations. Adapting Robert Keohane's definition, we may define multilateralism as a decision-making style or process seeking to coordinate national policies and undertake international initiatives in war and diplomacy through formal associations or institutions which countries support over time. (4)

To over-generalize, we may divide most Canadians into three groups respecting their positions on Canada's desired relationship with the United States. Nationalists and continentalists represent the two polarities. Both may be found in the inclusive Liberal party. However, appropriately for Canada's ideologically flexible pivot party, neither polarity dominates within the party or in the general population. Many Canadians, and probably the majority of non-elites, fall somewhere in between. They harbor no ideologically driven agenda, but they wish Canada to safeguard its sovereignty and distinct identity from external (in Canada this means American) assimilation forces--up to a point. (5)

Canada's nationalists, both internationalists and multilateralists on the left side of politics, believe that Canada should maintain a national image and reputation as different from the United States as possible. They worry that closer trade and border ties threaten Canada's sovereignty and endanger the survival of those differences that endure and matter to them. (6) But they confine their nationalist ardor to the relationship with the United States. They let their internationalism trump their nationalism when they eagerly surrender Canada's sovereignty to an array of multilateral institutions. Many nationalists deplore what they consider to be American arrogance, presumption, free-market economics, and great power tendencies toward unilateralism in foreign policy. By contrast, for them Canada exemplifies a diverse and multicultural "caring and sharing social mosaic buttressed by a government-sustained welfare state, a universal identity-conferring medicare system, and a middle-power commitment to multilateral resolutions to international crises through institutions like the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and through activities like peacekeeping." (7) Nationalists fear that a closer relationship with the United States saps those qualities that provide a society and values that make Canada superior to its southern neighbor. …