“The Worst-Case Scenario, and How We Could Get There.”

The most serious source of conflict in Canada-U.S. relations in 2015 will be the Canadian response to American foreign policy. This essay will argue for the plausibility of the worst-case scenario, described in the fictional article below. Such a scenario would make Canada choose between economic devastation and participation in a highly unpopular war.

The Global Post and Mail
November 21st, 2015
“Border Remains Closed”

The Canadian-American border remains closed, 10 days after a biochemical attack on Chicago killed 400 Americans. Vehicular traffic is backed up as much as 100 km behind border crossings, massive factory layoffs have begun, and Canadian stock markets have plunged.

A top American official today reiterated a call for a Canadian troop commitment to the War on Terror. “You’re with us or you’re against us,” said Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz. American forces are now building around Libya, where the Chicago terrorists are alleged to have been trained. “America has for too long shouldered alone the burden of protecting Canada and other nations,” said President Tom DeLay. “In the absence of a substantial Canadian tro=op commitment to the War on Terror, it will be difficult to justify reopening the border.”

Canadians and their politicians are sharply divided. Prime Minister Anne McLellan, whose Liberals are supported in a tenuous minority government by the NDP, declined to comment on whether Canadian troops would be sent. “All Canadians extend their heartfelt sympathies to the victims of these horrific attacks. We fully support the War on Terror, and are considering our response carefully.” A recent poll suggests that Canadians oppose fighting abroad by a 2:1 margin […]

The current foreign policy chasm between Ottawa and Washington represents a deep divergence of public opinion in the two countries. An intensification of this divergence, combined with further terrorist attacks in the United States and yet more American-led pre-emptive wars, could easily bring about the worst-case scenario. Three arguments against the likelihood of the scenario – the historical ability of the two nations to “disagree agreeably”, the Americans’ reliance on Canada for energy, and potential changes in government – are unconvincing. Canadian foreign policy thus needs to focus on precluding the appearance of an article similar to the one above.

Canada-U.S. relations took a marked turn for the worse in the middle of 2002. The initial harmony following the 9/11 attacks grew dissonant as the American campaign against Terror became more aggressive. The Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy emphasized American military predominance and argued for the legitimacy of pre-emptive war in defence of American security. The first target of this new “Bush Doctrine” was Iraq, which was invaded by an American-led coalition in March of 2003. As the American military budget has continued to expand, some commentators have suggested that wars against countries such as Syria and Iran may soon be in the offing.

Canada has rejected both the Doctrine and the war, continued to prioritize social spending over defence, and emphasized multilateralism abroad. In October 2004, as George Bush ominously warned of apocalyptic terrorist threats, Paul Martin cheerfully toured Europe touting a whimsical campaign against over-fishing and proposing yet another multilateral workshop for world leaders. When it comes to foreign policy, it seems the two leaders now have pitched camp on opposite sides of a canyon.

Polling data suggests that their respective electorates have followed them in this divergence. Canadians and American attitudes are far apart on terrorism, security, and foreign policy. After three years without an attack on American soil, 18% of Americans still identify “terrorism” as the most important problem facing the United States. In contrast, just a few months after 9/11, “terrorism and security issues” were the top concern of only 3% of Canadians. This remains largely unchanged: during the 2004 election campaign, there was no evidence of renewed interest.

Canadians are also less supportive of military counter-terrorism in general, and of the War in Iraq in particular. When asked recently about foreign policy spending priorities, Canadian respondents said that “fighting terrorism in other countries” should receive less funding than it does currently. Moreover, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, only half as many Canadians as Americans supported going to war without a UN Security Council resolution. The war remains substantially more popular in the United States than in Canada.

While Canadian policy decisions are irrelevant to most Americans, American policy is an increasing source of concern for Canadians. Two-thirds of Canadians disapproved of President Bush’s role in the world in the aftermath of the Iraq War. As early as December 2002, a startling 38% of Canadians believed that George W. Bush was a greater threat to world security than Saddam Hussein.

Contrasting foreign policy opinions may point to deeper divergences in values. The Pew Centre recently argued that Canadians are generally more “internationalist” or “multilateralist” than Americans. Michael Adams’ Fire and Ice uses polling data to argue that Canadians and Americans constitute “two distinct societies.” While Adams does not use his statistics to explain government policy, they may suggest how Ottawa and Washington have ended up so far apart.

For example, Adams reports that religion is considered “important” by 59% of Americans and only 30% of Canadians. In addition, 20% of Canadians and 42% of Americans agree that “the father of the family should be master in his own house,” a statement which indicates deference to traditional authority. Moreover, twice as many Americans as Canadians believe that “violence is a normal part of life.” It is not surprising, therefore, that the Americans – who are more religious, more deferential to authority, and more tolerant of violence than Canadians – were twice as likely to heed a call to arms couched in religious rhetoric from a strong male father figure.

Adams argues persuasively that the “startling dissimilitude” between Canadian and American values is intensifying. If the divergences in values that underlie foreign policy differences are more pronounced in 2015 than they are now, it is not difficult to imagine events that would be even more divisive in Canada-U.S Relations than was the War in Iraq. Another Terror attack on American soil could bring about yet another pre-emptive war, especially if such an attack could be linked to a “rogue state.” Following its values, Canada would instinctively abstain from such a war, thereby evoking further hostility from Washington. Evidence linking Terror suspects to alleged Canadian security failings would add fuel to the fire.

Moreover, as the security case for the invasion of Iraq has collapsed, the White House has increasingly invoked moral and humanitarian arguments. Many Americans seem to agree with President Bush that pre-emptive wars are justified not only by American security interests, but also by a moral calling to protect the world from Evil. The emergence of peace and democracy in Iraq and the withdrawal of American troops would add substantial weight to this case.

If such arguments become decisive, Iraq will be only the first of the Bush Doctrine wars. American body bags and deficits will steadily accumulate. Eventually, Americans may refuse to bear the burden alone. If deposing vicious dictators and neutralizing terrorist threats benefit the entire civilized world, why shouldn’t the rest of the civilized world share some of the cost? Shouldn’t some economic pressure be applied to remind allies of their duties? Why not start with a wealthy country that benefits directly from American protection and that is also dependent on unrestricted access to American markets?

A combination of such arguments and eventualities could easily combine to produce the worst-case scenario. Some commentators have nonetheless found reasons to Remain Calm. Maria Banda notes, for example, that Canadian divergences from American policies over Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s did not undermine generally amicable bilateral relations. Why should it be harder to “disagree agreeably” now than it was during the Cold War?

To explain why is beyond the scope of this essay. It is sufficient to note that the United States seems markedly less tolerant of our dissent than it was in the 1960s. Martin O’Malley points out that Washington refrained from scolding Ottawa about the Vietnam War, even after our country welcomed thousands of draft-dodgers. Yet, in 2003, despite extensive efforts to comply with American security needs and a troop contribution to Afghanistan, Canada received a stern public rebuke from Ambassador Paul Cellucci for not joining the war in Iraq. Canadians should not assume that the Hegemon could be gainsaid as flippantly as it once was.

Banda also suggests that the United States is dependent on Canada for prosperity and security. Americans, she argues, need our exports, our markets, and the legitimacy that the Prime Minister of Canada can confer on military interventions. It is certainly true that the U.S. would lose a great deal from an interruption of the trading relationship (especially in border states), yet the American electorate seems to be either ignorant or apathetic about economic costs associated with national security and foreign policies. Neither the Iraq occupation’s estimated cost of $3,415 per American family, nor the $400 billion federal budget deficit (which is largely funding security and the military) figured prominently in the 2004 Presidential campaign. Given the Americans’ complacency in accepting economically harmful protectionist policies like the 2002 steel tariffs and Farm Bill (which had no national security rationale), punitive sanctions against Canada would likely not be politically problematic for a wartime President, regardless of the cost.

As for Banda’s suggestion that Canada is empowered by Washington’s need for diplomatic legitimacy, the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war would seem to suggest the contrary. Canada and other minor powers busily sought a diplomatic solution that would enforce disarmament in Iraq, give Washington a diplomatically legitimate coalition, and preserve the peace. But Washington wasn’t interested. Multilateral diplomatic “legitimacy” was of so little value to the White House that not even the prospect of a casualty-free disarmament of Saddam Hussein could dissuade the hawks from going it alone.

Frank Harvey effectively rebuts the notion that terrorist threats will make the United States embrace multilateralism and reach out to countries like Canada. Insecurity from terrorism, he argues, tends to make American policy more “autonomous, self-directed, sovereign, and unilateral.” The strong American unilateralist urge will thus find expression in policy toward countries like Canada, even if in reality the United States can only find security in alliances. The “futility of unilateralism is not entirely relevant,” Harvey suggests, because Americans will pursue it anyway.

A third objection to the worst-case scenario is that current tensions are a function of the ideological incompatibility of the Liberal administration in Ottawa with Republicans in Washington. But how much really depends on which parties are in power? Would a Conservative government in Ottawa be naturally more sympathetic to American security concerns? Would a Democratic Administration embrace dovish multilateralism in order to placate Canada and other allies?

A comparison of the 2004 electoral platforms of the Democratic Party of the United States and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) suggests otherwise. “Security” is the first and longest chapter in the 2004 Democratic Platform. The Democrats propose to expand active duty forces by 40,000 soldiers (a 20% increase) and double America’s Special Forces capability. As Edward Luttwak recently argued in the Globe and Mail, to support John Kerry “in the hopes that U.S. military policy would shift toward the left — even a little — is simply absurd.”

The table of contents in the 2004 CPC Platform ranks “Security” at the bottom, as do Canadian voters. The few references to terrorism relate it to crime control and refugee policies rather than to foreign policy. The Conservative proposal to modestly expand military spending was soft peddled throughout the 2004 campaign in the face of general public apathy (if not hostility).

American doves now out-hawk Canadian hawks by a substantial margin. The chasm between Ottawa and Washington may be even deeper in the likely event that Republicans and Liberals continue their historic dominance in their respective capitals. However, the risk of the worst-case scenario does not depend on the outcome of elections.

The worst-case scenario is the most serious challenge to Canada-U.S. Relations in the next decade. The tensions, which have been obvious since 2002, represent deep divergences in core values. Canada must avoid complacency and recognize that, unchecked, these divergences are likely to widen and deepen to the point of crisis.

However, the worst-case scenario is not inevitable. A clear-headed perception of the danger, and a commitment to reconcile with Washington can forestall it. The United States is a source of both security and insecurity in Canada. Bridging the chasm between Ottawa and Washington must therefore be our first foreign-policy priority.