Maple Leaf Ragging

Class of ’63 | By the time David Jones C’63 G’64 arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa in 1992, he had done enough homework to allay what he calls his “profound” ignorance of most things Canadian. Even so, he notes, “it was akin to knowing the ‘ice’ on a frozen pond, where the ice is your knowledge but you are deeply aware that the water beneath is your ignorance.”

Since then Jones has done a lot of learning, and more than a bit of writing. He is now retired from the State Department, having served as a foreign service officer for almost 30 years, focusing on NATO and arms-control issues before his four-year posting to Ottawa as a political minister counselor. This past fall, he and his Canadian colleague David Kilgour (a former member of Parliament who had served in both Conservative and Liberal governments) published a book about U.S.-Canada relations titled Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs: Canada, the U.S.A. and the Dynamics of State, Industry and Culture (John Wiley & Sons). In it, the two authors lay out their sometimes-differing approaches to a broad range of shared problems, from health care and education to defense and foreign affairs. “It is not an ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ exposition,” Jones notes, “but rather an examination of how we have gotten to where we are—and what might be learned from our separate, often parallel but sometimes divergent, paths.”

Jones recently answered some questions about Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs from Gazette senior editor Samuel Hughes.


How much did your time in Ottawa change—or reinforce—your impressions of Canada?

U.S. officials are well aware that saying “you’re just like us” is not regarded as a compliment by Canadians. I never made the mistake of saying such; nevertheless, the similarities (high-tech, First World, English-speaking) appeared dominant in our relationship. However, the more time that one spends living in and studying Canada, the more that one concludes, “We are very different.” And Canadians should spend less time defining themselves as “not Americans”; they aren’t and shouldn’t worry about it.


How important has it been to both nations to have such a relatively friendly and similar nation on their border?
A 3,000-mile border with few obvious geopolitical divides could be a recipe for disaster.

I have regularly said that the U.S. and Canada share a “3,000 mile undefended cliché,” as many dinner speeches seem to light upon that fact as defining. To be sure, it is historically rare that countries can share extended borders without animosities—or at least tensions—predominating. To an aggressive foreign power, Canada might appear to be the equivalent of an invalid in a solid gold wheelchair—a virtually defenseless and profitable prize. In reality, the cooperative, essentially congenial relationship reflects the basically peaceful nature of the United States. It is also far more profitable to have friends and partners close to home than to have tension as the norm.


You note that the U.S. has shouldered most of the burden of defending North America from possible attack. How does that affect U.S.-Canada relations?

The truth is that Canada has become a freeloader so far as defense/security is concerned; since the end of WWII—during which Canada definitely “punched above its weight”—Canadians have done as close to the minimum in defense expenditure as they can. In a “green eyeshade” judgment, they concluded that they could never defend themselves against an aggressive United States, but that any enemy powerful enough to attack Canada would also be a threat to the U.S.—and we would have to address it. Hence, Canada could be inadequately defended at great expense or inadequately defended at little expense, and it chose the latter. Not heroic, but cost-effective.

After decades of attempting to prompt greater Canadian commitment to defense, the U.S. has implicitly given up. If Canada commits more to defense, fine; but more is not expected, and we don’t count on it. What is resented is Canadian criticism of virtually every dimension of U.S. action in defense/security, even on topics where the U.S. stake in the outcome is infinitely greater than that of Canada, for example, the International Criminal Court and the Antipersonnel Landmine Treaty.


You write that “The United States has emphasized (and is willing to enforce) unity; Canada has tolerated an almost unprecedented level of disunity and has remained one country.” What are the implications of those differing outlooks for our respective foreign policies?

Without question the United States enjoys a major advantage in international relations by being essentially free from national-unity issues; indeed, this circumstance was a result of a civil war so catastrophic that there is no desire to revisit the issue. In contrast, many major states (Russia, China, India) have significant unity questions pending and, for many other countries, separatist movements and rebellions are their defining social and political concern.

Canada has successfully maintained national unity, but the political and social cost has been and remains a constant concern. Ostensibly national-level decisions on energy/environment or language rights are constrained by concerns over the reactions of specific provinces. Enormous amounts of political and social energy are devoted to managing national-unity issues. At the same time, “Canada” has been deprived of the talents of a range of exceptionally talented Quebeckers who devoted their lives and careers to creating an independent Quebec.


What are the most important foreign-policy ideas that each nation can learn from each other?

Canada needs to appreciate that there are a wide variety of foreign-policy issues on which the United States is prepared to act alone. Neither unilateral nor multilateral is by definition virtuous or moral. It is our preference to act in consort with “willing” friends and allies; however, we will act alone. Canada’s professed preference is to act only with United Nations endorsement in any exercise of force; we decline to hitch our ox to the U.N. plow.

Conversely, the U.S. could profitably spend more effort examining the management style of Canadian foreign policy past and present. Ottawa is acutely aware of the limits of a middle power and appreciates that it must pick issues (such as apartheid in South Africa or stabilization in Haiti) where it has a chance to make a serious contribution. Every protruding nail need not be hammered. Washington can usefully employ Canadian diplomatic and foreign-policy efforts where they coincide with our own—but which, if we endorsed them openly, would be damaging rather than helpful.


If you had the power to change one aspect of U.S.-Canadian relations, what would it be?

There is a strain of reflexive, almost axiomatic anti-Americanism that dominates significant elements of Canadian society. This attitude goes beyond the politics of a given U.S. administration and has been a historic constant.  The phrase that we are “best friends—like it or not” epitomizes that view—a grudging Canadian acceptance that its 10-to-one demographic and economic disadvantage requires attention. Unfortunately, their anti-Americanism is a waste of Canadian political and social energy, and distracts from their interests without affecting our actions. However, if they work hard enough at it, they may yet transform us, if not into an enemy, into a very cranky neighbor.

Profiles : Events :
Notes : Obituaries

Ed Stefanski W’76 is the Philadelphia 76ers’ new GM
Toomas Hendrik Ilves G’78 is Estonia’s president
David Jones C’63 G’64 can tell you a few things about Canada
David Richter EAS’87 W’87 L’92 does construction on a grand scale
Karen Falk C’84 G’84 has the map to Sesame Street

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