The North American Democratic Peace: Absence of War and Security Institution Building in Canada-US Relations, 1867-1958

By Roussel, Stephane; Jockel, Joseph T. | International Journal, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

The North American Democratic Peace: Absence of War and Security Institution Building in Canada-US Relations, 1867-1958


Roussel, Stephane, Jockel, Joseph T., International Journal


THE NORTH AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC PEACE Absence of War and Security Institution-Building in Canada-US Relations, 1867-1958 Stéphane Roussel Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004. xiv, 258pp, $65.00 cloth (ISBN 0-88911-939-2), $29.95 paper (ISBN 0-88911-937-6)

Most Canadian historians are not interested in international relations theory, leaving it to the political scientists, while most international relations theorists have no interest at all in Canada or Canada-US relations. Stéphane Roussel's The North American Democratic Peace makes a contribution to both theory and Canadian history, a rare combination that makes it an original and important work on Canada's external relations.

Why has there been no war between Canada and the United States since 1814? And why have the two countries been able to develop cooperative security arrangements in which, despite the huge disparity in power between Washington and Ottawa, Canada has largely done quite well? The answer that most often comes to mind is that there have been counterweights available for Canada: first Britain was there to protect her North American daughter; later Canada found a replacement for the fading empire in ties with western Europe, especially security ties under the aegis of NATO. In other words, as realist theorists would put it, Canada continually sheltered under a balance-of-power.

Another answer can found in complex interdependence theory. Canada and the US became so economically intertwined that war became unthinkable because it was clearly self-damaging. The US lost the capability of bringing its preponderate military power to bear in other areas of the bilateral relationship, especially economic ties. "No linkage" between issue areas became a key principle.

Roussel sets about to confront and disarm both the realist and complex interdependence arguments as they apply to Canada-US relations. "The balance-of-power hypothesis," he points out, "however superficially convincing and elegant it might be, in the end comes up short, because it simply does not rest upon a very solid empirical foundation" (5). After examining the role Britain played in North American security relations, he concludes that while the notion of a British "counterweight" may work for the period 1814-1871, and may work partially up to 1895, "the very weakness of the theory after the late nineteenth century leads to the conclusion that it must not have been the only factor at play" (117). As for the broader European counterweight that was to have supplanted the weary Britain after the Second World War, he asks, "Could anyone actually demonstrate how the European allies were supposed to be working their counterweight magic...thereby affecting the American influence upon Canada?" (47). As for the complex interdependence theory, it has a major problem: it seems to be incapable of explaining how such interdependence came into existence.

He offers an alternative explanation for the long North American peace and cooperative military relationship: the two countries' liberal-democratic orders have predisposed them not only away from war with one another but towards cooperation. …

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