Sovereign Quebec and U.S. National Interests

By Morici, Peter | American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview
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Sovereign Quebec and U.S. National Interests

Morici, Peter, American Review of Canadian Studies


The United States and Canada have one of the most intense political and economic relationships of any two nations in the world, and Americans have benefited greatly from it. A sovereign Quebec has the potential to radically disrupt this order; however, whether Quebec sovereignty would fundamentally damage it would depend in part on U.S. actions prior to a sovereignty referendum and during the negotiations between Ottawa and Quebec to establish a new constitutional arrangement. In this paper, these two periods are referred to as the campaign and the transition.

U.S.-Canada cooperation is built on many economic and security arrangements, such as the 1965 Automotive Agreement, NAFTA, and NORAD, and U.S.-Canada cooperation in multilateral fora such as NATO, the UN, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The effective assimilation of Quebec into these structures would be critical to maintaining the benefits the United States currently enjoys from its relationship with Canada. Whether Quebec is to assume the status of a sovereign nation is clearly a matter for Canadians to decide--without American interference. However, once a transition began, the United States would have a significant interest in ensuring that a newly independent Quebec would be properly integrated into North American and multilateral structures.

To examine how U.S. policymakers should react to a Yes vote in some future referendum, we must ask what the question would be and what the new constitutional arrangement might look like. Quebec sovereigntists have established the goal of continued sharing of some national responsibilities between Ottawa and Quebec City; however, the ultimate scope of shared responsibilities is difficult to predict. The first part of this paper briefly addresses these questions. The transition would be a highly charged environment, and the interests and actions of principal actors in the Rest of Canada (ROC), Quebec, and the United States would be affected both by forces specific to the campaign experience and by circumstances external to North America. The second part discusses the salient global and regional forces that would affect the actions of North American leaders during the transition, while the third part analyzes what actions the United States should take as a supportive neighbor and to serve its own national interests during the campaign and the transition.

What Are We Talking About?

The editors' charge to the authors here was to analyze the consequences of a sovereign Quebec; therefore, without speculating about probabilities, this paper assumes that a referendum with a question similar to the one posed in 1995 is held and a majority of the residents of Quebec vote Yes. How much of a majority? Enough that Ottawa feels compelled to negotiate a radically altered constitutional arrangement or, if Ottawa balks, then Quebec has enough of a majority to issue a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) that is seen as legitimate by the international community.

Under these conditions, the two scenarios suggested by Remi Hyppia offer a good framework for analysis. They might be best viewed as end-points on a continuum. Under the soft sovereignty scenario, ROC and Quebec would agree to partnership in foreign and security policy. This could even include well-integrated armed forces and joint participation in security alliances; however, for Quebec to be the master of its economic and cultural future, it could determine that this should not include international economic policy, such as the terms and conditions of its participation in NAFTA and the WTO.

Under the hard sovereignty scenario, Ottawa takes a hard line, negotiations fail, and Quebec issues a UDI. Again, since the purpose of this paper is to analyze the consequences of sovereignty, it is assumed that Quebec succeeds in securing control over its borders and exercises the powers of a sovereign state; however, it is left with the daunting task of establishing all of its international relationships--including its ties with the United States--from scratch and with little support from Canada.

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