Improving US-Canada Relations

It’s all about Leadership, at all levels, across disciplines ...

And there is no time like the present.

As a people, Canadians and Americans share many of the same values. As sovereign nations our interests are, more often than not, in concert and mutually supportive. Among other things, we are each other’s most important trade partner, and we have been partners in national defense since the Ogdensburg Declaration of 1940.

Political and other differences will occur from time to time – this is to be expected especially in the post September 11, 2001 environment. But we should never lose sight of the key issue – the “overall relationship” between our two nations. The resilience, the importance and the spirit of our relationship has always, and will always bring us back to being good partners.

Canadians and Americans have developed a working relationship, a modus operandi, that has fostered a cooperative bilateral relationship that is among the closest and most extensive in the world. It has traditionally been based on defense and trade.

U.S. defense arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any other country. The Permanent Joint Board on Defense, established in 1940, provides a mechanism for policy consultations on bilateral defense issues. We share NATO mutual security commitments. American and Canadian military forces have cooperated since 1958 on continental air defense through NORAD. A Binational Planning Group, established in 2002, develops joint plans for maritime and land defense, and for military support to civil authorities in times of emergency.

The U.S. and Canada have the world’s largest trading relationship. Through our free trade agreements, two-way merchandise trade and services between us have grown by 142%. The U.S. is Canada’s largest foreign investor and Canada is the leading export market for 39 of the 50 U.S. States.

The modus operandi that has evolved from our mutual management of defense and trade issues must now be applied to a new dynamic – security and trade. This emphasis on security refers to the terrorist threats to both nations and how best to protect borders, harbors and infrastructure without impeding trade.

September 11, 2001 changed U.S. priorities, placing security above all other concerns, including trade. The resulting nexus between security and trade requires a reconsideration of how best to manage the future of U.S. – Canada relations. Security and trade have become the current center of gravity in the bilateral relationship. The U.S. and Canada must work together in the broadest sense, learning from the past – extrapolating for the future – in law enforcement, intelligence, border management and the protection of common infrastructures.

Supplementing over a hundred years of modus operandi, is the complimentary modus vivendi (style of living together) that has evolved between Canadians and Americans. We are more than neighbors – we are friends. We share much in common – common heritage, shared values, shared principles, shared character; each culture with its own uniqueness that ­transcends policy differences. The United States’ relationship with Canada is so unique, so mutually important, and so mutually beneficial that somehow we manage to deal with our differences.

At the end of the day, the overall relationship between both nations is bigger than any differences that arise in the day-to-day management of diverse national interests.

North Americans have a track record of working together, applying practical solutions, through an evolved management style, to dealing with our individual and mutual national interests, despite ­policy differences, political or otherwise, that arise between us from time to time.

Like so many others, I believe that history is prologue. Relations, matured since Ogdensburg, have undergone a number of changes since 9/11. And now is the time for leaders on both sides of the border, at all levels and across multiple disciplines, to actively pursue, within their area of expertise, ways to enhance U.S.-Canada relations.

Leadership is a privilege that must be earned and must be exercised often, proactively with good purpose and focus. This is not the time to sit around and wait for others to act. As we start this new year, leaders in positions of responsibility, across many disciplines – government, military, political, business, social, academic and others, must objectively focus on impediments to the security and trade relationship between both nations.

As a businessman, my action items this coming year include a commitment to working through the Canadian American Business Council (CABC) and the Canadian Defence Industries Associa­tion (CDIA) to develop solutions that enhance the business aspects of defense and security that also remove impediments to trade. There is a key role here for the business community in Public Diplomacy.

Working individually, or collaborating as colleagues, we have found solutions to past problems, and we have precedent, methodology and incentive to confront the challenges facing U.S.-Canada relations today and in the future.

A retired U.S. Air Force officer, Ron Covais is President, The Americas at Lockheed Martin Corporation, responsible for business development in Latin America, Canada and the Caribbean.  With 22 years of Washington experience, Ron is also responsible for government relations and policy issues in the Washington arena.
© FrontLine Defence 2005