Canada, a land of deep ambivalence: understanding the Divergent response to US primacy after 9/11.

AuthorRoss, Douglas

This paper examines the Canadian response to the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 (hereafter referred to as 9 /11), and the US policy and institutional changes that ensued as well. These changes are potentially profound in terms of both domestic and regional governance and in terms of their potential impact on economic prosperity in Canada. Thus far, much of the literature on Canada after 9/11 has been reactive about what such changes may portend for the future of Canadian-US relations in long-term perspective (Netherton et al.2005). Our goal in this paper is to examine systematically which changes have occurred with respect to foreign policy, domestic security, economic and immigration policy, and the institutional adaptations that have flowed from these 9/11-induced policy shifts. There is a profound tension at the heart of contemporary Canadian governance. As continentally integrationistforces in the economy remain very powerful, a broad trend toward diverging Canadian and US identities as expressed through foreign policy, domestic laws, immigration policy and social attitudes is now being reversed (see Farson 2006).

Because our analysis is aimed at a wide international audience, we present material on Canadian history and foreign policy in context. Some background discussions among Canadian intellectuals and non-governmental groups also are included, as these reflect the wider ongoing debate that concerns adjustments Canada can and should make in response to 9/11. Finally, we include a brief analysis of the Harper government's response to the changed security environment as well as discussion about how this divergence may be bridged. The paper is based on our own analysis of primary and secondary sources, as well as off-the-record interviews with over a dozen Canadian officials across a variety of Ministries, conducted over a two week period by Anil Hira in Ottawa in summer 2006. In order to elicit the utmost frankness, unless specifically requested, we have kept our sources anonymous.

With respect to foreign policy we find a marked divergence in Canadian thinking and behavior from the global strategy developed by the Bush Administration. Canadians rejected the U.S.-driven invasion and occupation of Iraq and still strongly adhere to that view four years after the overthrow of Saddam's regime. A Canadian role in the stabilization of Afghanistan was accepted only because it has enjoyed unanimous support from NATO, and latterly significant support from the UN as well. But since Canadian casual-ties rose in 2006 and 2007, public support for the mission has fallen steadily. In a broader strategic context Ottawa has rejected US pressures to support its Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense vision, and rejected too the US approach to nuclear strategy which in the Bush era has entailed the attainment of complete nuclear primacy over all other nuclear rivals. Canada prefers to continue to support the core goal of eventual denuclearization that is at the heart of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

Regarding issues of domestic and border security, there has been much more congruence in the two national approaches post 9/11, but even here differences have been manifest. With respect to immigration and refugee policy, both countries have clearly tightened their frontiers over the past five years. But on this issue the US government continues to see Canada as a weak link in its own security perimeter (Koring 2006a), despite Canada's growing efforts to address the issue. Under both Liberal and Conservative governments, spending on the Canadian military and on internal security improvements has increased considerably post-9/11. But while the public service has understood the depth of American security fears and advocated still greater spending, at the political level successive Canadian governments simply have not been prepared to commit sufficient resources, financial and human, to strengthen the Canadian security perimeter to the degree sought by American leaders. Without additional major investments in the Coast Guard, the RCMP, port supervision and port personnel screening, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), one cannot say that border surveillance and enforcement will be able to apprehend or deter would-be terrorists aiming to harm Americans or Canadians. Accordingly the US side of the Canadian-American border is becoming harder to cross to the point where trade and commerce is being impaired. By August 2007, one commentator suggested that the Department of Homeland Security had completely hijacked Canadian-American relations by backing out of preclearance negotiations (Ibbitson 2007).

The politically constrained Canadian response has been due partly to the recognition that no amount of spending will guarantee perimeter and internal security or, more practically, be able to ensure a moderate American border response in the event of a trans-border attack coming from or through Canadian territory. Partly it may bedue to the conviction that American insecurity has been worsened by the intervention in Iraq, and the related notion that Canada's non-participation in that mission may make Canada much less of a target for radical Islamists. Finally the perception that Washington policymakers may never be able to find sufficient unity and political will to control their southern border also may lead to Canadian skepticism about the security value of vastly greater spending on the Canadian perimeter. Paradoxically, despite the adverse economic effects, some Canadian politicians may privately welcome American perceptions of Canadian security deficiencies in the belief that it will cause American authorities to be more vigilant and foster tighter American screening all along the common frontier. Canadians will do what can reasonably be expected of good neighbors, but limits have to be considered.

Thus there are serious differences of opinion about long-term security planning and short-term organizational responses to the immediate threat of terrorism that have complicated bilateral relations. By contrast, on the economic front there remains a deep and broad consensus in the business communities on both sides of the border about the necessity and desirability of maintaining a border that is as open as possible for trade, investment and business travel. The considerable tension between the economic and security imperatives cannot be resolved any time soon. It may become a major issue in Canadian federal politics.


    Historically, Canadians have had mixed feelings about major directional shifts in US international security policy, particularly when this led to intensified US military intervention overseas. It is not at all surprising that Canadians are not yet full-fledged allies in the war on terrorism, or that they have preferred to take a more pragmatic and case-by-case approach to instances of state-supported terror. Neither are Canadians interested in supporting the US's determinedly unilateralist approach to the challenges of nuclear proliferation. Canadian governments have seen a vital if not critical role for major international institutions such as the UN, the IAEA and NATO. Some unilateralist supplementary actions from time to time may make it necessary for the U.S. or Europe to deal with specific threats, but in the long term most Canadian policymakersprefer to rely on multilateral responses to major international security challenges. With respect to the special challenges pertaining to the diffusion of nuclear weapons technology for example, an issue area of major policy divergence from the current US leadership, Canadian governments have consistently upheld the validity of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's ultimate goals as stipulated in Article 6: negotiations in good faith by the nuclear weapon states towards complete nuclear disarmament, followed ultimately (and admittedly in the distant future) by the relinquishing of all weapons of war (for detailed Canadian views see Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs 2005; and Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs 1999). Current US preferences for the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons, and for their further refinement and improvement as fighting instruments sufficient perhaps to wage preventive nuclear first-strikes on Russia and China (Lieber and Press 2006) are seen by many Canadians as deeply destabilizing and therefore quite unwise. They also consider unilateral deployment of layered strategic ABM defenses especially problematic, although the Harper government has shown signs that it might try to alter this position if it were to attain a majority in the next federal election.

    In this respect, Canadian leaders have supported a transformation of world politics to be achieved through an incrementally built up multilateral consensus and a patient elaboration of universally binding international treaties, conventions and norms. Simply trying to eliminate the bad guys in world politics, the declared policy of George W. Bush's Administration, is seen as bellicose and corrosive to the effort to build and extend the reach of a global regime of arms control and disarmament. Many Canadian leaders may harbor hopes of an eventual global victory for democratic transformation, but they do not think democracy can be forced on other nations. New democracies are more likely to endure if they spring from authentic domestic roots, rather than from imposition through foreign military occupation and external fiat.

    The conflict in Iraq is not the first time that fundamental differences have arisen between Ottawa and Washington about the merits of overseas intervention. During the Cold War, Canadians viewed US military interventions in Asia skeptically or critically. Ottawa...

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