Canada Alone Kim Nossal

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‘Canada Alone’: A Stark Warning About a Very Different Future

Canada Alone: Navigating the Post-American World

By Kim Richard Nossal

Dundurn Press/September 2023

Reviewed by Colin Robertson


‘Canada Alone’: A Stark Warning About a Very Different Future

There is a stark message in Canada Alone: Navigating the Post-American World. Should Donald Trump regain the US presidency, warns Kim Richard Nossal, we should be prepared for him to abandon America’s role as leader of the West. Without American leadership of the rules-based order, Canada would be “for the first time in its modern history, alone in the world.”

To assume that “Trump or Trumpism is behind us”, warns Nossal, professor emeritus at Queens University, ignores what is happening in the United States. The shifts in American politics are likely to persist beyond Trump. Moreover, says Nossal, the political dysfunctions in the United States will have a northward impact, reshaping politics in our country.

One immediate effect, says Nossal, is that Canada’s insurance premiums for defence and security will rise exponentially. This has as much to do with changing geopolitics as with US politics and the already-apparent consequences of climate change. Both have had, and will have, particular impact on our Arctic.

With both Democrats and Republicans now committed protectionists, our preferred market access to the United States is at risk. The US remains the number one market for Canadian companies, big, medium and small. Diversifying our dependence makes sense but it hasn’t happened despite efforts by successive governments.

The Trudeau government’s ‘Team Canada’ outreach campaign to inform Americans of our mutually beneficial trade relationship and protect our preferred access is the right step, but it needs to go beyond its current commercial focus to incorporate American defence and security concerns.

As Nossal reminds us, Trump believes countries like Canada are “just pretending to be friends and allies while eagerly ripping off long-suffering Americans through unfair trading practices and refusing to spend enough on defence.”

Within the U.S. conservative-nationalist movement, writes Nossal, there is “a persistent skepticism about international institutions” that means “seeking to ‘win’ …never yielding to adversaries, always rejecting concessions to others.”

For Canada, writes Nossal, “clubs are trump” but he warns that multilateralism, the balance to our preponderant US relationship will come under severe strain. If Trump returns to power we would have “a global system dominated by three great powers, none of whom think of smaller powers as having an appropriate role.”

To prepare, we should be rebuilding our relationships with like-minded democratic states, starting with our Nordic neighbours who have a shared interest in the Arctic, with our NAFTA partner Mexico and our neighbours in Latin America, and with Japan, Korea and ASEAN nations with whom we want to expand trade.

A ‘Canada alone’ is not inevitable. This book is, however, an articulate warning, based on scholarly research, of what could be.

More dangerous for Canada is “if we have an administration in Washington that is committed to prevail in every single conflict that it comes across, then all of a sudden that level playing field that was there for so much of the 20th century is simply not going to be in place.” Canada got a taste of this when Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, declared at the outset of the NAFTA renegotiations that it was for Mexico and Canada to give and the US to get.

Canada occupies valuable real estate. We possess energy, food, water and the minerals critical to the green transition. But we are vulnerable without American protection. Virtue-signalling won’t stop our current drift and the risk of eventual disintegration. If we are to avoid irrelevance, Nossal says, we will need to be creative in our thinking, reinvigorate our diplomatic skills, replenish our development assistance, and invest more in hard power.

So, we face some hard decisions. We can try to actively diversify our trade while building new relationships with like-minded democracies. This will require investing significantly more in defence, diplomacy and development. As Nossal told me in a recent interview, it is also “being willing to belly up to the bar with actual resources, to do things that are useful to friends and allies.”

A ‘Canada alone’ is not inevitable. This book is, however, an articulate warning, based on scholarly research, of what could be. Sobering in its analysis, Canada Alone should be read by policymakers and those concerned about what a post-American led world will mean for Canada and Canadians.

Nossal acknowledges that the inspiration for Canada Alone came from a speech given in 2020 by the University of Ottawa’s Roland Paris. Over the course of his distinguished career, Nossal has established a reputation as a scholar who aimed to produce research that was useful and relevant. Canada Alone achieves this objective.

We would benefit from more such studies.

Unlike their American counterparts, Canada’s scholarly community has never achieved the ease of movement in and out of government. It’s too bad, as our current circumstance requires that we take full advantage of our best minds in developing research with practical application.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a fellow and host of the Global Exchange podcast with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.