Academic journal article Canadian-American Public Policy

Globalization and a Unipolar World: Canada and U.S. Relations at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Academic journal article Canadian-American Public Policy

Globalization and a Unipolar World: Canada and U.S. Relations at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Article excerpt


In preparing a short analytical study on Canada-United States relations within a specific and brief time frame, one cannot help but recall some of the stereotypical catch phrases often cited in such endeavors over the years, i.e., "the longest undefended border", "a special relationship", "a special friendship". They have often led us to believe that the two nations have had an international relationship unlike any other, where national interests were abandoned and replaced by enduring friendship and continuous harmony. However, John Herd Thompson and Stephen J. Randall contend that such "platitudes belie the dissonance of the 19th century and exaggerate the harmony of the 20th. They are more useful for saccharine speeches at bi-national gatherings than for a professional understanding of the bi-national relationship." (1)

Since 1945 the Cold War has served as the overall backdrop to the relationship between Canada and the United States. During this period there existed moments of stress--i.e., the Cuban situation (which still persists thanks to the Helms-Burton Act), and the Trudeau/ Nixon era generally to name just two. However, the interaction between the two countries was nevertheless constructed upon a common understanding that there was an alliance between these two democratic nations. Based on the defense of democratic capitalism and the advancement of each other's national economic interests, the Canada-U.S. alliance also served to bolster resistance to the Soviet threat. Nevertheless, in pursuit of multilateralism and constructive engagement Canada at times adopted foreign policies different from those of the United States. Rather than weakening the bilateral relationship, these differences actually strengthened it. In many ways Canada's unique approach to the Cold War tensions eased and counter-balanced the more forceful and direct methods employed by the ally to the south. These complementary approaches actually solidified the foreign policy relationship between the two neighboring North American democracies and fostered spillover effects in other areas.

At times Canada's more inclusive approach did create certain stressful situations. Yet the United States knew that its ally to the North could be relied upon to defend North American values, even though at times Canadian policies diverged from American positions. Over the years, then, U.S. foreign policymakers came to regard Canada as the "taken-for-granted northern cousin." However, what simultaneously developed in Canada as a result of this Cold War alliance is a society which assumed that the United States would always take into account Canadian sensibilities when determining its own domestic policy, economic interests, and foreign policy relationships. As U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson forewarned in one of his encounters with Lester Pearson, Canada's Minister of External Affairs, "If it (i.e., a good Canada/US relationship) is to achieve success, Americans must not take Canadians for granted. But something more is needed. Canadians must not take Americans for granted either." (2) In many ways Canada believed more profoundly than the United States in the illusionary rhetoric of enduring friendship, special relationship, etc.

The author does not intend to prepare a White Paper on the new realities of the Canada/United States relationship at the opening of the 21st century, even though such an exercise might be worthwhile. Because of recent destabilizing events (to put it mildly) in the relationship, and despite the claim made by the current U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, during a June 19th, 2003, visit to Halifax that "everything" was back on track, this paper will endeavor to highlight structural changes in what has been called the New World Order that has put pressure on the Canada-U.S. relationship and has begun to transform its nature.


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