Canada’s Relationship with the U.S.: Turning Proximity Into Power, An American Perspective

Susan E. Rice
Susan E. Rice Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow - School of International Service, American University

February 1, 2004

Reproduced by permission of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies.

Remember the shy, admiring boy who gets all spiffed up to win the heart of his dreamboat, and she doesn’t even know he exists? At the high school dance, he follows her every move, checks his bow tie constantly, knows her perfume instinctively but just can’t seem to hold her glance, if ever he catches her eye.

That, I am afraid, sums up the state of the relationship between Canada and the U.S. Americans, outside the border states, know very little about Canada. They wish Canada no ill. With the exception of those in the salmon or soft wood lumber industries, most Americans see Canada as benign, kind and irrelevant; the ‘well-meaning Boy Scout’ Dr. Ignatieff refers to in his essay. In short, Americans take Canada for granted.

NAFTA and other trade issues aside, Canada figures on U.S. foreign policy-makers’ radar screens in rare and specific circumstances. These include: when Canada chairs the G-8; hosts APEC; holds a rotating seat on the UN Security Council; when the Commonwealth is engaged, or; when Canada takes an active interest in an issue and brings resources to bear, as in Haiti, former Zaire and Afghanistan post-9/11. The U.S. takes account of Canada in the Organization of American States, but hardly gives Canada a second thought in NATO. Canada is not a player in other transatlantic fora. In many ways, being neither European nor Latin American, Canada falls through the policy cracks.