"Who's Afraid of the Hyperpower?" by Alexander Moens, The Washington Post, Saturday, May 14, 2005

You can find numerous books, newspaper articles and academic conferences dedicated to the theme of American primacy, hegemony or even imperialism.

In many of these you are led to believe that the "neocons," having conquered Washington, are making the world ready for American primacy. In almost all of these accounts this development is painted with the brushes of fear and woe. A terrible future scenario is unfolding in which the world as we know it will succumb to a frightful new order.

Since we Canadians live so close to the United States, this business about American primacy should worry us more than most. In fact we have experience with the phenomenon and should reveal its ugly face to the rest of the world. It is fair to say that since the end of British-American rivalry in North America around the late 1860s, Canada has been firmly entrenched in a sphere of American primacy. Few people will challenge the premise that in the past 100 years or so, American power has risen steadily, with Canada on the immediate receiving end. So what does American primacy really look like?

First of all, with such enormous military, economic and demographic power, the United States surely must have found it irresistible to conquer and occupy pieces of the vast Canadian territory, seeing that we have so many valuable mineral and renewable resources. But oddly enough, it never did. The border between the weakest and strongest has been respected all those decades.

Then surely this hungry power must have played "divide and rule" with Canada's internal factions to maximize its interests -- say, by reaching out and assuring the province of Quebec that it would have U.S. security guarantees and trade privileges if the separatist Parti Quebecois won a referendum. And yet, amazingly enough, the hegemon kept its nose out of this business.

But I am not subtle enough. U.S. power must have forced Canada to adopt similar fiscal, welfare, health and social policies. Well, no. Anybody who has ever compared these policies in the two countries will find them astonishingly different. Canada has taken its domestic policies from Europe and largely ignored the U.S. model. The Americans in turn have hardly noticed, let alone cared.

Well, then, the hyperpower must have imposed an unequal trade system on its vassal state. But in fact the North American Free Trade Agreement is remarkably fair across the table. Canada's problems with its imperial southern neighbor involve trade disputes and protectionist surges -- just as if we were equal partners.

I must be looking in all the wrong places. Perhaps America lets us have our domestic policies and trading relationship because it really has swallowed us up, made us just another state in the union, and thus holds our foreign and defense policies firmly in its grip. Except that in the U.N. General Assembly we vote against the U.S. position more than do most Western nations. We have spearheaded a long list of international treaties and ideas such as those concerning anti-personnel land mines, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol and a try at a small-arms accord, all of which were squarely opposed by the United States.

But then maybe foreign policy is, when you get right down to it, mostly talk and paper. The real crunch comes in defense policy, and here, surely, American primacy demands a close alliance. Not really. Washington allowed Canada a free ride for the last three decades of the Cold War. Since then we have been coasting our military into oblivion on a 1-percent-of-GDP defense budget. We can now send about six CF-18 fighter jets into a foreign operation. When the hegemon staked its national security on getting rid of Saddam Hussein, we turned it down. When America sets out to defend North America from rogue-state missiles and Canada says, "Count us out," the dire result for our nation's leader seems to be another lunch at the ranch with President Bush.

If this is primacy, what a frightful future we face.

The writer, a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, is the author of "The Foreign Policy of George W. Bush."

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