Friday, January 6, 2012

I Have Strengths?

One of the fun scenes in the Harry Potter series is when the fake Mad-Eye Moody asks in Goblet of Fire what Harry's strengths are, and Harry basically asks: I have strengths?  He realizes he can fly.  Oh, and all that other stuff of being brave, resourceful, flexible, loyal and all the rest.

I bring this up because I was asked by the Canadian International Council) via twitter about what Canada's strengths might be in international relations.  The CIC had a piece listing economic stability, the diasporas in Canada from elsewhere,and democratic heritage.  I was asked whether I agreed, and I said yes, and added history of non-violent dissent, strong ally-ness, steady-friendly population and resource-rich.

Let me explain and qualify, starting with the ones given by CIC and moving on from there.
  • Economic stability.  No doubt it makes Canada more influential as a trading/investing partner since no one is really concerned about the Canadian dollar or other parts of the Canadian economy.  Indeed, Canada looks great around the world right now compared to the rest of the advanced democracies.
  • Diasporas.  Their article (need to find the link) mentioned that people from around the world have relatively happy and prosperous relatives in Canada living the American Canadian dream, providing Canada with a good image back in the various homelands.  But I would not be a scholar of ethnic conflict if I did not note that some diasporic dynamics breed conflict.  As in Tamil Tigers using Toronto as a place for protection rackets to extort money from the Tamil diaspora to find violence back home.  I don't know the state of play on that particular example right now since the Tamil Tigers lost their war, but I tend to doubt that the protection rackets closed up shop.  So, diasporas can have a positive influence, but not always.  Somebody should research systematically when diasporic segments mobilize and mobilize towards extremism (ok, I am doing that.  Never mind).
  • Democratic heritage: Sure, Canada has a good democratic history of elections, alternation in parties, rule of law (outside of Quebec's construction industry), and so on.  But I guess I might back off on this a bit, as this is hardly exceptional. There are heaps of model democracies out there so this does not really separate Canada much.  Gives Canada some oomph internationally but not too much.
Ok, my additions:
  • History of non-violent dissent: In an age of Arab Spring, Canada stands out as a country that rarely has any kind of political violence.  Elements of the Quebec separatist movement tried violence once, the entire population was appalled, and it is almost unthinkable now that violence would be used to support or oppose secession.  Other than hockey-related riots, there is little violence.  As a country with diversity and political conflict, such a history cannot be under-valued, and does make Canada a model around the world.
  • Steady Ally: Canada has a history of fighting alongside its allies when the call comes.  Sure, caveats inhibited Canada early in Afghanistan and lately, but Canadians have earned heaps of credit at NATO and elsewhere for fighting in Kandahar and for fully participating in the skies over Libya and the seas nearby.  This puts Canada in a pretty small group: the Danes, the British, the French, the Australians (sort of, they are very sneaky as people will realize when the Auerswald and Saideman book comes out), and who else?  Yes, the cliche is true--Canada punches above its weight.
  • Resource Rich: How can anyone forget that Canada has heaps of water, lumber, minerals, and ... oil.  Sure, lots of controversy over how pollution-intensive its oil might be, but in a world where oil is increasingly scarce, having enough to export gives Canada some heft in international relations.  It is a strength and a weakness. 
  • Immigrant tolerance: I can count the number of countries that have a long history and largely current reality of welcoming significant numbers of immigrants on two fingers.  I may be forgetting someone, but it really is the US and Canada.  This is somewhat different that diasporic segments reaching out to the homeland.  This refers to the idea that in the world, there are two countries where potential immigrants can imagine making a life for themselves without much apprehension or fear.  Yes, there is more anti-immigration noise in both countries, but compared to the xenophobic parties of Europe and the policies being imposed, both Canada and the US (even with Arizona and the other tragic nonsense) still are the targets of the dreamers out there.  Rightly so, even with the US having less mobility in the past, as one can do well in either country as an immigrant if one can get there (yes, there are more limits now than in the past). 
I am sure there are other Canadian strengths (obsession about hockey is not a strength) that I am overlooking, but these will do for now.  Canadians are mighty proud and they ought to be, and I say that as an American who merely lives up here.  They want their country to matter in the world, and it does so even when it can be costly.*
* Of course, when I want to demonstrate the notion of "conceptual stretching," I still use Canada as a great power.  Canada has influence, but it is not a Great Power.  But Canadians should not be insulted by this.  Instead, they should realize that my comparison with Harry Potter is a very strong compliment.

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