Canada's Nationalistic Internationalism
To be sure, Canadians are different from Americans in subtle ways, as I’ve discovered over the past two weeks. It turns out that the average Canadian really does like donuts, hockey, and the phrase “eh?” more than even Americans from New England. Canadians also have seamlessly adopted the metric system and the Celsius temperature scale. Young Canadians appear to speak French in alarming numbers. Oh right, they are in love with their government-guaranteed health care system and cheerfully fork over sales, income and property taxes at levels that would cause populist revolts in most American states.
Most importantly, from an international relations perspective, Canadians do not exactly follow an aggressive or muscular foreign policy (their recent ridiculous kerfuffle with Denmark notwithstanding). Canada has a long and glorious military tradition joining up with Britain in the First and Second World Wars and following the U.S. lead into Korea and NATO. Modern Canada, however, is very suspicious of foreign adventures, especially adventures led by Americans. Indeed, the biggest foreign policy difference with its neighbor to the south is almost certainly Canada’s instinctive faith in liberal internationalism and international institutions.
Unlike the U.S., Canada is a founding member of the International Criminal Court, a party to the Kyoto Protocol, and a vigorous supporter of the U.N.’s peacekeeping missions. Canada balked from joining the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq (and its usual partners the U.K., the U.S., and Australia) largely due to the lack of U.N. authorization (in contrast, Canada has sent troops to Afghanistan pursuant to both U.N. and NATO resolutions).
In other words, Canada is the liberal internationalist country much of the rest of the world (or at least much of the international law world) wishes the U.S. would become.
What is interesting about Canada’s internationalism, however, is that it co-exists with a surprisingly fierce nationalism as well. Canadians are very proud of being Canadian, even if they are not sure what that means, as long as it means they are not Americans. There is no quicker way for an American to annoy a Canadian than to lazily suggest that Canada is just like America. Although the American is thinking that he has just paid the Canadian a compliment, he is more likely to have offended him.
In other words, Canadians don’t seem to mind giving up some measure of sovereignty, as long as that sovereignty is not being transferred to their irritating Yankee neighbors. In fact, the best way to understand Canada’s love affair with liberal internationalism is as the result of Canada’s never-ending quest to remain something other than America. Ironically, then, it is Canadian anti-American nationalism that is the ultimate source of its relentless internationalism today. And I don’t think this dynamic of nationalistic internationalism is limited to Canada. Other countries like France or China play this game as well, with far more dangerous consequences.