Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Canada Has Interests?

Roland Paris asked folks today via twitter whether Canada has gained any influence under the current government.  I responded that it depends on whether one is thinking about the Harper government in general or just since it has become a majority government.  If the former, then having the head of the Libyan campaign be a Canadian officer, Lt.Gen Bouchard, would be at least one indicator of influence.  Roland replied that this was not really a sign of achieving goals, so the real question that needs to be asked first is: what are Canada's goals?  What would we consider to be Canada's national interests?*
*  I am not sure Canadians think that they do have national interests.  When I suggested in an op-ed that Canada's effort in Afghanistan might give it influence to pursue its interests, well, folks didn't like that--either interests or the pursuit of influence. But there is much selection bias in who responds to op-eds.

This was the second time I started thinking about this today since I was talking with an Aussie PhD student about the CA and AUS missions in Afghanistan.  So, let me repeat: what are Canada's national interests?  I have lived here ten years, and I have some guesses, but I don't think I really have heard Canadians articulate their view of the national interest much.  Perhaps it sounds too selfish.  Anyhow, here is my set of guesses and the readers can add/subtract/object:
  • Security from external threats.  Basic for everyone.  Canada is a huge country with heaps of resources but with only one land neighbor (with a long border) and other countries are very far away by air/sea.  
    • So, managing the US relationship is a huge priority--the US is the biggest threat to Canada.  But the US has no real hostile intent.  Differences arise but nothing that is very hostile.  The big arctic sovereignty dispute is over the US principal to drive through any and all straits, with Canada seeking to control parts of the Northwest Passage.
    • Arctic sovereignty is also focuses on other poachers in the arctic--namely Russia (the disputes with the Danes are negotiable).  Russia has made heaps of noises about expansive definitions of its territory.  Best way to deal with the Russian threat--working closely with the US.
    • Terrorism is a moderate threat--Canadians and Canada has been targeted but not as enthusiastically as US, UK, etc.
  • Free flow of trade.  Canada has resources to sell, and is deeply embedded in the international economy.  9/11 disrupted Canadian trade by closing the border with the biggest trading partner.  Actually, the reaction to 9/11 had that impact.  So, Canada has a strong interest in limiting the terrorist threat to the US since future overreactions will do heaps of damage to the Canadian economy.
  • Multilateralism.  As a "middle power," Canada cannot exert much influence on its own, especially in bilateral relationships.  Multilateralism is both a means and an end.  To get what it wants (which I still haven't figured out, other than security and trade), Canada needs to work through international institutions like NATO, the UN, IMF, etc. 
    • Indeed, I would think that multilateralism is a key way to manage the US relationship--better to have the elephant tied down a bit so it does not accidentally step on the beavers or moose nearby.  On the other hand, if Canada thinks it can influence the US, then working through multilateral institutions can dilute that.  Some Canadian military officers expressed to me a preference of working bilateraly with the US rather than through NATO since Canada is just one of 27 or so voices.
  • Promoting Canadian values.  This is part self-esteem, part living in a more compatible world, and part a sense of righteous. What the hell do I mean?  Good question.
    • People generally want folks elsewhere to think/behave like them.  Why?  It makes them feel good about themselves.  If more people around the world buy into Canadian values, then Canadians will feel better about themselves (except for those folks who always hate being in the mainstream: "I liked Nirvana before everyone else did, now I hate them."
    • It is an easier world to live in if others more or less buy into the same values.  Fewer conflicts of interest, easier to negotiate when there are disputes.
    • Righteousness: Canadians believe in certain values because they are the right way to live/believe.  Others should follow suit.  Example: Afghan women should be educated.
    • What are Canadian values?  Besides bags for milk?  Democracy, multiculturalism, tolerance, maple syrup, equity, fairness?  If I paid more attention to my daughter's CA history textbooks, I might have a better grasp.  
To answer Roland's question about whether the Harper government has moved forward or not, I think these are the major things to keep in mind.  You can tell me whether Harper has done stuff that have advanced or hurt Canadian national interests.  And I can ponder that topic for a post down the road.

1 comment:

Barett 50 Cal. said...

I believe as you do Canadian values ar International or indeed Universal values though I remember some of my Sociology classes even those of us Native to this soil had a hard time expressing what those values were, In the Nazi Death Camps the best quarters for prisoners was called "Canada" that sums it up we are Philosophically Morally Spiritually Materially Politically THE BEST in THE WORLD, In fact we combine these traits so well I believe the first colony on Mars should be Canadian for that will set an Interstellar precedent to the rule of Law that shall last for thousands of years and guide Mankinds destiny beyond this lone sphere.(heaps was used too much)