Trump, Canada, and the Way Ahead
US-Canada relations are one of the world’s strongest, most extensive and enduring partnerships between two major nations in the world. This historically close relationship is based on shared values, temperament, ideals, and outlook developed over two centuries of peace after the War of 1812,
After that war, Americans and Canadians made a conscious choice to become fast friends and close partners. This alliance was cemented in the 20th century, beginning with Great War and then WWII. Canada’s major contributions ensured that Canadians had an outsized influence on the formation of the post-war order that has endured to this day.
Liberal Internationalism, which advances the doctrine that liberal states intervene in other sovereign states in order to pursue liberal (democratic) object was the basis of the post-war order. It was dominated by the United States, a mostly benign hegemon that played an outsized role in maintenance of world peace, ensuring international security and enabled the expansion of world trade that enriched the world.
Canadians participated in the creation of this new world order with gusto. Beginning with Louis S. St. Laurent and Lester B. Pearson, Canadians became the key architects behind institutions like the United Nations and NATO, and led initiatives like establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1970.
Trade deals, like the US-Canada Auto Pact and NAFTA that improved access to the US market for Canadian manufactures and resources, formed the basis for Canadian prosperity – until recently.
Liberal Internationalism is as obsolete today as Mercantilism was by end of the 18th century. At the turn of the 21st century, Canadians began to lose their way. Successive Canadian governments pulled back from sponsoring major international initiatives that in the past, defined Canadians.
Formerly unthinkable moves, like Canada withdrawing from Kyoto Protocol obligations, deep cuts to Canadian defence spending by successive governments, and Canada reneging on commitments and being tone deaf to public criticism, have come to define Canada of the 21st century in the eyes of the international community.
With this recent track record, is it a surprise that Canadians reacted with trepidation, fear and loathing to President Elect Trump’s mission to craft a new international order and strategy for the 21st century?
By not exercising restraint and caution when commenting prior to the election, relations between Canada and the Trump Administration have been set back.
Canadians have a lot of work to do to repair the damage from seemingly being fully invested in a Clinton victory. But it can be done, beginning with Canadian leaders and media replacing campaign rhetoric with a plausible, fair, and distinctive Canadian narrative that speaks to our shared values, outlook and interests with Americans. without the kind of fearmongering that divides us.
Post-election, Prime Minister Trudeau took the right step of publicly committing to working with the coming Trump Administration.
America is in the early stages of re-imagining the international system and architecture of a new international order aimed at solving the new and emerging issues of the 21st century. The Trump Administration’s concern with Canada will revolve around issues like border security, trade, domestic and international security, jobs, economic growth, and ultimately, alignment of foreign and defense policies as the US develops a new approach to the world. The importance of these issues dwarf longstanding irritants like softwood timber tariffs, agricultural trade, and Keystone XL.
Canadians cannot be passive players as the US transforms institutions like NAFTA, NATO, NORAD, Kyoto Protocol, etc. In order to have a respected and influential voice at the table, Canada must come to the table as a major contributor to the new architecture – as it did after WWII.
How can Canada contribute? A deficiency in the areas of security and defence can be turned to advantage as the sector presents ample opportunity for growth to quickly move towards the NATO spending goal of 2% GDP, which the US has long criticized Canada for not meeting. There are many areas of domestic security in which Canadians have done well and can put more effort into developing further.
A small defense industrial base will allow Canada to rapidly build up a state-of-the-art dual-use technical capacity that, thus far, has been lagging behind the global standard.
This is particularly the case for new and emerging threats like ballistic missile defence against North Korean missiles; and, wide area, multi domain sensor networks for the Canadian Arctic.
Both of these offer opportunities for Canada to focus on the development of technologies that have broad military and civilian applications that will find markets in an insecure and shrinking world.
Long neglected and delayed programs like acquisition of replacement fighter aircraft and Canadian surface combatants can be accelerated; and importantly, Canada’s NATO commitments fully funded beginning 2017.
Rather than applying obsolete and ineffective seeking 100% offset contracts, Canada can use defence procurements to acquire favorable licenses and access to key technologies to stimulate Canadian industry.
With preferential access to tightly held US technologies and improved access to the US market under a revitalized NAFTA, Canada can potentially build and market truly innovative products.
The US is about to redefine itself in relation to the world, and Canada has a chance to return to the table as one of America’s closest allies and work together to craft the 21st century’s institutions.
Such an opportunity may not come again in our lifetime.
Danny Lam is an independent analyst based in Calgary.