After the Catastrophe: Canada's Position in North America

By Clarkson, Stephen | Behind the Headlines, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

After the Catastrophe: Canada's Position in North America


Clarkson, Stephen, Behind the Headlines


Let us begin with Harold Innis's famous warning from the 1930s that any statement by an economist analyzing a problem with perfect clarity is certain to be wrong. This admonition may be reassuring if, in the aftermath of the terrorist coup against the United States, we find clarity elusive. As we try to understand our own emotional responses and to make sense of the policy developments that have radiated from that disaster, concerned citizens in Canada can surely be excused for being fundamentally confused.

Confusion is rife when diametrically opposed statements can be made about the most basic aspects of the post-catastrophe situation. In the paragraphs that follow I will try to shed some light on the divergent assertions that characterize the debate about North America, Canada, and its place in the world after 11 September. Without expecting to generate perfect clarity, I hope to set down some markers to illuminate both the extremes and the centre of the discussion in which we are engaged so that we may better grasp the significance of events as they continue to unfold. I will address four areas of concern to Canadians. Starting with the putative shifts that have occurred in the global balance of power, I will move on to the resulting stakes for the United States and their implications for Canada and, finally, for North America.

THE GLOBAL BALANCE OF POWER

There is radical disagreement about whether 11 September changed everything or nothing in the international system. What you think about this depends largely on where you are located.

Nothing is different

When viewed from far away, say from most European countries, the human tragedy suffered by workers in New York's twin towers and by military staff in the Pentagon changed nothing. As they counted and mourned their dead, Americans lost their innocence and joined the club to which everyone else already belonged. The vulnerability of all societies under conditions of technological integration had been well established. The three successful and one aborted suicide missions were only spectacular dramatizations of globalization's well known dark side, which includes the destructive power of small groups whose technical sophistication and discreet fanaticism can elude detection by intelligence agencies.

Nor is there anything new about terrorists whose targets include innocent civilians, as was seen, for example, in the relentless bombings in Northern Ireland through the 1990s or the indiscriminate violence of the red brigades in Italy in the 1980s or the occasional killings effected by the Front de Liberation du Quebec in Montreal up to 1970. As for the anti-American rage seething in many countries of the Arab world, jihad has long been in our vocabulary to mean a martyr-led holy war that Muslims might wage against the US infidel. The terrorist menace has for years been discussed at the annual G-7/G-8 economic summits whose powerful members have repeatedly committed themselves to containing the problem, as did Ronald Reagan when he was president of the United States.

One might even maintain that President George W. Bush's declaration of a war against terrorism connected us to the state of global affairs that existed before the Berlin Wall came down, namely a cold war that rallied the forces of light against an evil empire. Since these forces are led by the United States, Canada finds itself once again in the familiar position of sitting directly on the defence perimeter of its superpower neighbour.

Everything has changed

On closer examination, the comparison with the cold war yields differences that are as instructive as the similarities. If Canadians are now worried about their security, it is not because of Soviet imperialism but because of American imperialism. The CIA gave Osama bin Laden's men basic guerrilla war know-how and supplied them with missiles to help push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. …

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