Deeper North American integration will help Canada increase its international clout

  • National Newswatch

The result of the United Kingdom's “Brexit” referendum has revealed a country that is divided regionally as well as by class. A fundamental discord between cosmopolitan-capitalist elites and a nativist-nationalist backlash has now boiled to the surface across much of the Western world.Canada – a peaceful and successful model of multiculturalism – appears to be largely exempt from this phenomenon. Now is an opportune moment for it to build on its assets, craft a long-term plan to increase its international clout, and take on a more active and vocal role in shoring up world order.But first, our country needs to secure its home base.Just as membership in the European Union allows for countries to pack a bigger punch on the world stage, deeper North American integration could act as a power multiplier for Canada. The leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico are meeting this week in Ottawa to discuss how to do just that, with a focus on cross-border trade and environmental policy.Parag Khanna, in his recently published book Connectography, calls for the creation of a “continental superpower” in North America. Unlike the political nature of the European Union, in which member states pool their sovereignty, Khanna suggests that the three countries focus on “optimal service areas” and improving “public and private functionality”.One example of this, he suggests, could be a collective push to ensure that North American goods are sufficiently competitive in Asia, including Mexican-made cars and Canadian and American energy exports. This isn't pooling sovereignty, but it certainly is pooling resources and efforts. The diminution of Washington to one voice among three cohesive ones could do much to legitimate and amplify the clout of North American states on the world stage.With President Donald Trump possibly on the horizon, there is a fear that continental integration could take a massive hit. Khanna acknowledges that some of the elements necessary to make North American resource pooling effective – such as facilitating greater labour mobility between the three countries – are controversial, and thus could take time. But he rightly points out that integration does not have to proceed uniformly between all three countries simultaneously.As Chinese labour becomes less competitive and America's demography turns increasingly less white, the obstacles to greater economic and cultural integration between the United States and Mexico will become fewer and fewer. European integration has proceeded slowly, decade by decade, and there is no reason why North American synchronization need move any faster, particularly when one takes the power imbalance between our continent's three countries into account.A common labour market, an encompassing environmental policy and a broader security infrastructure are all feasible propositions over the coming decade, which could include the expansion of NORAD and the adoption of a single greenhouse gas-reduction mechanism for the entire continent. These goals do not include monetary, fiscal or political integration, and therefore should not be too politically explosive.Carlo Dade, writing in Policy Options, has outlined why the Three Amigos are unlikely to agree on a larger vision for North America any time soon. The three countries' interests and preferences may be diverging even as the continental power balance continues to evolve, but the advent of Brexit should change our foreign policy calculus. International integration and liberal order are at stake, and a united North American voice backing trade and open borders would be a powerful and truly global one.The primary ideological challenges to liberal world order are emanating today from Moscow and Beijing. Both Russia and China are important partners for Canada this century, the former more geo-strategic and the latter more economic. Deeper North American integration can provide Canada with the power base necessary to interact more substantially and consequentially with these two non-Western powers.The European Union possesses a single economic market, but many of its members have adopted differing foreign policy approaches to dealing with Moscow, with Berlin acting as the continent's strategic pivot. Similarly, North American integration could lead to our continent's three countries speaking with a common voice on economic and environmental matters, while Ottawa uses its resulting enhanced clout to establish itself as a trusted interlocutor on diplomatic matters related to the Arctic, the Asia-Pacific or other regions.Sustained political will and vision must triumph at this important juncture in post-Cold War history. We must develop the resolve to overcome the obstacles to deeper integration, even if it proceeds slowly. With Canada now more confident in its identity and global events becoming increasingly complex, now is the time to begin creating a continental superpower.Zach Paikin (@zpaikin) is a PhD candidate in international relations at the University of Kent in Canterbury, United Kingdom.