When the Presidential and vice-Presidential hopefuls talk
foreign policy, they look every which way --- towards the Middle East, Russia,
Europe, Asia or Africa, but they largely ignore our own backyard.
In the next decades of the 21st Century, our policymakers will need different priorities. When looking for our closest allies, we may well need to look away from current entanglements in unfortunate, far away places and towards a stronger relationship with countries --- notably Canada --- with whom we share so much.
This requires some understanding of where we are today. The breathless talk of an "end of history" and inevitable democratization that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union should be swept aside by now. Instead we need to understand both a greater diversity in national systems and, increasingly, a trend towards ever more authoritarian regimes not only in Russia and China but throughout the developing world as well.
The influence of authoritarian countries, particularly China, in the developing world is also growing. Many see the so-called "Beijing Consensus" --- placing economic development ahead of even modest democratization --- as more appealing than the inherent inefficiencies of popular control, not to mention American hectoring and self-righteousness.
Even our closest historic allies in Europe are increasingly asserting their own notions of what is best for them. With a rapidly aging, even declining population, these countries do not share the basic American need for sustained, vibrant economic growth over the next few decades. Instead they likely will continue to embrace a conscious policy of slow growth and stability. This will not change even when the hated George Bush is gone --- despite a possible flurry of post-election Obamamania.
How to respond to these trends? Flex our muscles? Been there, done that and what has it gotten us?
At the same time, none of this means that we should accept the fashionable notion of American decline. Although obscured by the current financial crisis, our unique demographic, economic, and even political strengths remain very much intact. An aging Europe, the favored candidate for preeminence among many east coast policy wonks --- does not share these assets.
China, India and Russia and other rising powers of today also face enormous demographic and economic challenges. All have large populations of poor people once you leave the westernized cores. Russia's economy is overly dependent on commodities; China and Russia face demographic declines equal or even worse than the EU.
So where can we find our best allies? We look to those countries who share our demographic vitality, our fecundity and common values --- Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Like the United States these countries are also "countries of aspiration." They remain enormously attractive to both skilled and unskilled immigrants, including those from Europe and Asia. If there's a brain drain in the world, it's mostly to the US, Canada and Australia.
Bolstering ties with Canada represents by far the greatest opportunity. High energy costs mean proximity matters more than ever. Canadian and American firms need to share adjacent markets. This will strengthen even more the strongest bilateral trade relationship on the planet.
Perhaps even more important are family ties. Canada remains the largest source of visitors to the United States and vice-versa. Some 800,000 Canadians have settled permanently in the United States; 200,000 Americans have moved north to Canada. Many have dual citizenship. (A quick disclaimer: my wife is a native of Quebec and a dual citizen).
Building on these natural ties will take some psychological changes in both countries. A strong alliance requires both a confident Canada and a respectful America. Americans need to stop thinking of Canada as a kind of northern icebox that we raid for resources when hungry. Canadians, for their part, should no longer regard themselves as America's poor cousins but as equal partners with enormous resources, both human and material.
Of course, none of this likely will excite the policy elites in Washington. They are already atwitter with ideas for how the President should address our relations with Pakistan, Russia, China or other troublesome distant place. It would be refreshing instead if perhaps Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain, on taking office, might first consider to build stronger relations with a neighbor who shares not only values and family ties but also this vast, rich and blessed continent.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com as well as a presidential fellow and director of the Urban Futures Program at Chapman University. He has written seven books including the best-selling "The City: A Global History."
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Mark Brzezinski & Lanny A. Breuer: Repairing America's Image Abroad Will Take Time
- Anna Wojnilko: The Shift in Global Power Calls for More Burden Sharing
- Francisco J. Ruiz: US, EU, Russia: Not a Zero-Sum Game