Monday, October 09, 2006

Death by Bilateralism by Louis Evan Palmer

The Delicate
Art of

Countries like Canada, so-called middle powers, have a tendency to get deeply immersed in the various tints and hues of diplomacy and tea leaf reading.

Because of Canada's peculiar geography, it has only one direct neighbour, America, and one, Russia, at a slight distance but with the Arctic expanse as a buffer. This tilts what would be the normal stance of the smaller, less powerful, neighbour keeping the other at arm's length. As a result, it has created a dangerous dynamic of cyclical relations with their potential for getting seriously out-of-synch. Cyclical by its nature is riskier than steady state.

It's safe to say that bilateralism is the preferred mode for a powerful state. It then has the upper hand in every dealing and derives the maximal benefit for itself. Conversely, the less powerful nation should avoid bilateral agreements like the plague as they entice with the sweet allure of a special relationship and a permanence when in reality neither loyalty not longevity is possible in international relationships.

Canada has tried to be particularly clever in weaving both bilateral and multilateral agreements and has somehow failed to notice that the bilateral agreement will have precedence. The powerful country, in this instance, the USA, will always push for bilateral relationships for the simple, obvious reason that it can better dominate and dictate in that relationship than in a multilateral one.

Another disadvantage for the less powerful partner in a bilateral relationship is that it can impede and retard relationships with other countries. Other countries may come to regard the junior partner as irrelevant and negotiate with the stronger partner regarding both countries. Or, it may feel that the stronger country has a veto over the less powerful country. Or, it may view the less powerful country as a proxy for the more powerful country and therefore as threat and a potential enemy.

A significant insight that Gwyne Dyer presents in the latest edition of his classic "War" is that the strongest nations are at war the most and suffer the highest losses. It's a bit of a debunking of the peace through strength argument although it may just as well be highlighting the workings of the national psyche of a powerful nation in that it is more willing to resort to a military solution because it thinks it will win it; or, more popularly phrased as "Might makes Right".

What does all this lead to for countries like Canada?

That multilateralism is the way and has really always been the way both from a logical perspective and a practical, empirical one.

In addition, Canada should be actively looking at making its trade flows more evenly spread out between rest of North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. There must be targets like 20% of exports to the rest of North America, 15% to South America, 10% to Africa, 30% to Asia, 25% to Europe. Hard targets with hard dates. This is the type of planning and action that can save a country if extreme hardship hits one part of the world.

The same logic applies to defence, to trade, to immigration.

Tying ourselves so deeply and inextricably to the United States, or any country, through FTAa and NAFTAs and NORAD/NORTHCOM is a recipe for disaster.

Death by Bilateralism, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,

Copyright Louis Evan Palmer 

He lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have been published in numerous publications. 


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