The Comparative "Continentalization" of Security and Defence Policy in North America and Europe: Canadian Multilateralism in a Unipolar World?

By Haglund, David G. | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Comparative "Continentalization" of Security and Defence Policy in North America and Europe: Canadian Multilateralism in a Unipolar World?


Haglund, David G., Journal of Canadian Studies


This essay seeks to assess the comparative significance of defence and security "continentalism" in both North America and Europe. In particular, it invokes the European example to shed light on the North American one, as a means of taking the measure of contemporary Canadian defence and security dispensations.

This essay departs from, and indeed turns on its head, the traditional (mythic) conceptualization of continentalism as a dispensation that betrays internationalism and, even worse, betrays Canada. Instead, the term is employed here as a tool of grand strategy that implies the pursuit of an internationalist, though hardly altruistic, agenda through deliberate but not exclusive reliance upon cooperation within a continental setting. Nor is Canada alone in using continentalist means to obtain broader internationalist ends; European states have been doing this for some time.

Will Canada continue to be able to incorporate elements of "continentalism" in furthering an internationalist security agenda? Here there must be some room for doubt, in large part for reasons that are beyond the control of policymakers in Ottawa, as they are to be found within the domestic American context. Still, there are some things Canadian leaders can and should do to minimize the geostrategic risks to Canada implicit in a "unipolar" world.

Cet article vise a comparer l'importance du « continentalisme » en matiere de defense et de securite en Amerique du Nord et en Europe. Plus precisement, il utilise l'exemple europeen pour mieux decrire le cas nord-americain afin d'examiner les dispositions contemporaines de defense et de securite au Canada.

Cet article delaisse, pour ne pas dire inverse, la conceptualisation traditionnelle (mythique) du continentalisme comme une disposition qui trahit l'internationalisme et, ce qui est pire, trahit le Canada. Plutot, le terme est utilise ici comme un outil de strategie totale qui sous-entend la poursuite d'un programme internationaliste bien que peu altruiste en se basant deliberement mais pas exclusivement sur une collaboration dans une situation continentale. De plus, le Canada n'est pas la seule entite a utiliser des moyens continentalistes pour atteindre un but internationaliste plus vaste - les etats europeens font de meme depuis quelque temps deja.

Est-ce que le Canada pourra continuer d'integrer des elements de « continentalisme » pour realiser son programme internationaliste de securite? Des doutes surgissent pour des raisons qui n'ont rien a voir en grande partie avec les decideurs d'Ottawa puisqu'ils se rapportent surtout au contexte americain interieur. Il y a quand meme des choses que les dirigeants canadiens pourraient et devraient faire pour minimiser les risques geostrategiques implicites qui visent le Canada dans ce monde « unipolaire ».

For the past few decades, defence and security integration has been proceeding, if haltingly, in both North America and Western Europe. There are some omissions from the pattern (e.g., Mexico in North America and the European neutrals in Western Europe). You could almost say that defence and security are being "continentalized" in both places, save that in Canada the word packs a negative punch, while in Europe it appears to understate what is happening (or, better, what is thought to have been happening prior to the Iraq war of early 2003). This article assesses the two continental-integrative processes, on a comparative basis, with a view to determining the implications for Canada's declaratory security and defence policy of "multilateralism."1

In what follows, I will tackle a set of questions. I will begin with an analysis of the controversial concept "continentalism," drawn primarily from the Canadian debate, whence it seems to derive its greatest evaluative content. Then, I will ask whether defence continentalism can be expected to endure, in North America, in light of the historic developments on and subsequent to 11 September 2001, including the war in Iraq of early 2003. …

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