Managing Alternate Realities: 'Autonomy' vs. 'Relevance'? Engaging Us Foreign and Security Policies

By Hale, Geoffrey | Canadian-American Public Policy, August 2007 | Go to article overview

Managing Alternate Realities: 'Autonomy' vs. 'Relevance'? Engaging Us Foreign and Security Policies


Hale, Geoffrey, Canadian-American Public Policy


1. INTRODUCTION

Canadian foreign policy circles continue to debate how much the need for a cooperative relationship with the United States on issues of central importance to Canada circumscribes Canada's security and foreign policy options. A related question addresses Canadian governments' capacity to influence American foreign and social policies, whether explicitly towards Canada or more generally in their interaction with international institutions and security alliances.

Advocates of a more "independent" foreign policy sometimes argue, often on a variety of normative grounds (Clarkson 2002, Axworthy 2003, Byers 2007) that Canada should not only distance itself from US policies but challenge them when required by Canadian interests, "values", or goals of a norms-based international order. Supporters of closer policy cooperation may also argue on normative grounds rooted in shared western democratic values. However, they usually contend that Canada can expand its interests and international influence by showing its ability to influence US policy choices as a trusted ally. (Granatstein 2003, Burney 2005, Rempel 2006) More nuanced analyses suggest that, particularly for smaller powers, the very concept of foreign policy "independence" is relative and contingent in a world of complex interdependence--"a rhetorical point of reference than a realistic basis of action." (Chapnick 2006: 69. Also see Hillmer, Hampson and Tomlin 2005: 10.)

Bilateral US-Canada relations are characterized by a high degree of asymmetry of relative size and power within the international system, of security commitments and capacity, and of the relative importance and attention each government attributes to the relationship--in each case irrespective of partisan or ideological orientation. Canadian policymakers and commentators pay close attention to American policy decisions and priorities. They balance competing political pressures to cooperate with or distance themselves from their giant neighbor. At the same time, US political and security relations with Canada mix benign neglect, occasional irritation, and the routine cultivation of political and administrative contacts to manage the broad range of bilateral issues that often blur distinctions between foreign and domestic policies.

The wide range of issues engaged in the course of US-Canada relations, and the diverse sectoral, domestic and international contexts which shape policy decisions on these issues, lead policy observers in both countries to note that neither the United States nor Canada has a consistent set of strategic policies towards the other. Rather, disparate sets of policies informed by the diversity and decentralization of political, economic and societal relationships characterize bilateral relations. These in turn are shaped by different mixes of domestic political considerations, bureaucratic politics reflecting competing institutional interests within each government, and the personal agendas of senior policymakers. Interviews with a cross-section of officials with varying levels of seniority in both Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) and the US Department of State (DoS) conducted at intervals between November 2005 and mid-2008 have reinforced these observations.

Security relationships, whether conducted through political or military channels, tend to focus mainly on issues related to the defense of North America, given the huge disparity of resources devoted to defense by the two countries. More recently, security relations have centered on questions of "homeland" and border security. We may characterize US dealings with Canada on wider foreign and security policy questions as relatively minor variations on broader strategic or regional US "policies towards allies." These serve as part of a broader typology of American policies towards Canada suggested by Mahant and Mount (1999) that will be discussed below.

This paper examines the nature of bilateral political and security relations in the context of a wider study of Canadian efforts to influence American policies towards Canada. …

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