Dispersed Relations: Americans, Canadians, and North America's Perforated Border
Reginald Stuart opened with a recurring question he had heard in Washington. "How are Canada–U.S. relations?" His response, "A little more everyday ... but a better answer is, it depends on what you are talking about."
Stuart's project proposes a new framework for examining how the two countries and their peoples interrelate. They do this, he argues, in four broad realms: cultural, social, economic, and political/diplomatic. And while disparities in size, wealth, and power make the smaller party seem always at a disadvantage, the principle of "asymmetrical interdependence" suggests this is not always so.
Stuart pointed out that these perspectives invert the customary view that relations begin between Washington and Ottawa and then ripple into the other realms. The linkages range among bi-national financial institutions, law enforcement cooperation (through Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, for example), kinship groups, to shared mass entertainment systems. The principal initiatives of these linkages are found in cultural, social, and economic realms. For the most part, he believes, the politicians and officials struggle to keep up with these rather independent initiatives, troubleshoot when jurisdictional differences create problems or disputes, and so manage this highly dispersed relationship.
Stuart discussed continental fiscal integration, common social issues with divergent policy solutions, shared mass entertainment, and aspects of security to link the past and present to see how dispersed relations developed. Both Canadians and Americans often fall into mental traps about the other, which must be avoided in order to follow clear-headed lines of policy development and implementation.
William Watson commented that Stuart's project presented a rich and deep analysis of the relationship. Watson suggested the project needs more empirical data and more discussion of the effects on policy this new framework will have. He commented that Canadians should invert Pierre Trudeau's elephant and mouse analogy and focus on the mouse. Watson perceives today's mouse as narcissistic, passive aggressive, and in search of rodent allies to help control the elephant. He also suggested that Canadians do not really want a truly open border, but prefer a semi-permeable border that allows trade out but not in.
Drafted by Marcia R. Seitz-Ehler, Program Associate
David N. Biette, Director, Canada Institute