The Case for a United North America – a misfired attempt

Merger of the Century, by Diane Francis    (Book Review)

Book website   –  Author’s website  – Publisher’s Site – (Browse Inside) – Excerpt in National Post –

I have been an advocate of a United North America, that is of the United States and Canada for nearly as long as I have lived on this continent. The case for union is, to me, self-evident, but this post is a review of Diane Francis’s book Merger of the Century.

Over the years, there have been very few books taking up the cause of continental union, and as far as I know, these were mostly low key books by relatively unknown authors. The prospect of a full length book by a well known personality, business columnist Diane Francis was therefore a cause for celebration. I bought it as soon as it was published.

Unfortunately disappointment set in right away. While thoroughly researched and footnoted, Francis’ reasoning is fatally flawed, and badly argued.

Let’s count the problems:

  • To Francis, the Union of North America seems to be primarily a matter of defending North America’s resources from rapacious foreign (read Chinese) sovereign funds, and accelerating resource development in Canada’s north. Nearly 22 pages are devoted to Chinese State Capitalism and its impact, particularly in Africa.

  • Her signature proposal to pay $500 in bonds to Canadians upon amalgamation plays to the worst stereotypes that Canadians have of Americans. The suggestion is an insult to every Canadian, and would constitute an unwarranted taxation of every American. Ms. Francis may call this proposal a ‘thought experiment’. I call it tone deaf.

  • When discussing her book on Steve Paikin’s ‘The Agenda’ last November, and asked about early critiques of her book by, for example, her National Post colleague Jonathan Kay, Francis responded to his objection to the proposed buyout by saying that he (Jonathan) had not read the book, and that she presented 5 merger models and three political options.

  • Regarding the ‘merger models’, Francis trumpets her business background as the strength of her book. In fact, the misapplication of the corporate merger model that she uses illustrates the limitations of trying to be excessively clever. A whole chapter (40 pages) is dedicated to discussing the structure of mergers as if they the United States and Canada were simply corporate entities. Of these, two are merger models, and three are deep integration models. The $500K cash payment model is in the context of what she calls the ‘Project Great Lakes’. The other is a ‘Mining model’, under which Canadians would receive a disproportionate stream of the ‘merger profits. Three other ‘Merger models’ are not really about mergers, but about limited bilateral integrations or joint ventures.

  • As to the political merger models, they are

    • West Germany amalgamating East Germany,

    • The European Union,

    • The Swiss Confederation

Clearly, bar an environmental calamity or strategic catastrophe (Quebec separating, and the Rest of Canada dissolving) Canada is not East Germany. The governance of the Swiss confederation and its rotating presidency has zero relevance to the requirements of the megapower that a United North America would be. In fact, the European Union model is the only relevant model. Basically, the incremental harmonization and coordination of standards, policies and practices as practiced in Europe is the only reasonable model for North American integration. The difference of course is that Europe is a collection of over 40 very different states and the pursuit of political union as end state is not in the cards. North Americans, by contrast share the same culture, with regional differences. Most regional cultures in North America straddle the 49th parallel (or the lower latitudes that constitute the US Canada border in all important Ontario). See for example ‘The Nine Nations of North America’ (Joel Garreau, 1981). and the more recent ‘American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America’ (Colin Woodard, 2012).

Hence, whereas the European Union model is probably the end state for Europe, that is no reason for this limited model to be the end state for North America, once the benefits of a full merger become apparent. From that standpoint, the European Union model and the full-on German style merger models are not alternative options, as much as different stages of the integration process.

Francis discusses the politics of union, but in very simplistic terms: The United States would acquire 30 million Democrats, southerners and social conservatives would be shut out, environmentalists who are slowing down pipelines will have the rug pulled out from under them, and a union will not tolerate the endless negotiation of aboriginals treaty claims. As if!   Maybe an unfair summary, but that is the impression that a quick read brings.

As to real political challenges that would fuel opposition by Canadians and Americans to a merger, hardly anything. Health care? Just give Canadians a smart card giving them free coverage in the original 50 states. Gun control, well, its patchwork anyway, so a merger will just add 10 strict gun control states. Here is the pattern: a breezy discussion of serious obstacles, and endless anecdotal distractions on matters of tangential relevance. Did you know that Professor Walter Mead proposed to President George H.W. Bush to buy up Siberia from Russia for $2 trillion? What about South Korea’s preparations for re-absorbing Korea’s northern provinces once the Pyongyang regime collapse?

In fact, reading the book, one is not sure whether the objective she is proposing is further and deeper economic integration, or a political merger as the title promises. Francis makes a compelling case of the need for deeper economic integration, but she is unable to move the case along for the political merger that she (and I) champions, or to outline or set out a scenario for how the political could be kickstarted.

While it is clear that in the short run, many Canadians oppose deeper integration, and most would oppose a merger these are two different constituencies. In fact, a large number of Canadians who would support deeper integration with the United States, would still oppose a political merger. Francis should have tried to address this conundrum: how to sway these Canadians to favor the full-on merger? How about swaying the many Canadians who are simply comfortable with the status-quo?

The cogent case for union is yet to be set down by a more visionary champion. But for now, the best advice for proponents of a seamless and united continent is to openly acknowledge their support for a United North America, and to explain that they base their support on their considered belief that the union would benefit the majority of both present day Americans and Canadians, and would make two great nations an even greater one. ‘Merger of the Century’ at least starts that conversation.

Ninety-nine years ago, why did a world war start? A book review

July 1914, by Sean McMeekin,

I am not a historian, and the 1914-1918 World War is, to me, remote, both culturally and in time. I never had a particular interest in, or knowledge of that that war, save for historical documentaries depicting the carnage of trench warfare, or being in Canada, Vimy Ridge, which commemorates  a battle where Canada is said to have come of age.  Yet, unlike the Second World War, whose causes and origins are generally known to most well educated or historically aware North Americans, the origins of the earlier world war are mystifying, and shrouded in a historical fog.  Why would Germany and Britain and France and Russia and Austria-Hungary have gotten into this mess?

What intrigued me to read this book was a joint book review in the New York Times of July 1914, and The Sleepwalkers. The review by Harold Evans, former editor of the Sunday Times, sparked my curiosity by focusing on the origins of that war that turned the world upside down. How could a world at peace in June 1914 turn into a catastrophic war by August 1914?

In July 1914, McMeekin gives a day to day account of the chief actors of the participating countries from the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian heir to the throne on June 28, to the beginning hostilities on August 4. From that incredibly detailed reconstruction of the events,  it would seem the parties were not merely sleepwalkers (as the title of the other book reviewed by Evans implies) but cogs in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine with no off switch.  Each of these countries had a war party pushing for brinkmanship (or worst), but none willed a world war.  All these countries had parties that wanted to pull from the brink, but were unable to. Why unable? Not because their respective war parties prevailed upon them, but merely because they were instrumental in setting in motion processes that they would not, or could not reverse.  There are moving depictions in the book of diplomatic envoys breaking into tears after presenting their host countries declarations of war.

Two things about that epoch strike the contemporary mindset as particularly distant. The first of these is the importance of something called the “monarchical principle”. Germany’s envoy to St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital at the time, appealed to the Tsar to back down from pursuing policies that would lead to the war, on the basis of that it would undermine this “monarchical principle”. But what exactly was the monarchical principle? Save for the French Republic (whose alliance Romanov Russia counted on, in spite of France being viewed by the Tsar as an “atheist republic”), all other countries of Europe were monarchies including Serbia which provided Hapsburg Austria with its casus belli. So, what exactly was the “monarchical principle”? As far as I understand it, it went beyond the protection of the ruling monarchies and was a belief that Europe’s monarchs, their kings and emperors, Germany’s kaiser and Russia’s tsar, were entrusted with the stability and peace of the continent of Europe, or maybe even ordained as custodians of European civilization.

The second thing that grates on the modern sensibility is the importance of “mobilization”, as in “war preparation”, to strategic thinking at the time. Basically, “mobilization” was tantamount to war. Once Russia’s mobilization had commenced, it was just not feasible for the powers that be to reverse course, even if chances for peace presented themselves.

A discussion of “mobilization” segues easily into a discussion of technology, and in particular communication technology. Arguably, the countdown to war in July 1914, could not repeat themselves in today’s world. Why? Because then, communication technology was so primitive that essential communications between the leaderships of the countries that would eventually fight each other took hours, if not days, to reach their destinations. Slow communications contributed to opaqueness about what adversaries were up to, and therefore to distrust of the other.

Readers may object to my stating that the events of July 1914 would be unthinkable today. Of course, war is not a thing of the past. But today, communication technology is pervasive, and if, or when, countries fight, it is in spite of instant communication, not because of communication failure.

One more point to note: the author, Sean McMeekin, an American professor at a Turkish University, anticipates some readers comparing the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, with the 2001 US ultimatum to Taliban ruled Afghanistan: hand us Bin Laden, or bear the consequence.  But the difference is critical: Serbia responded positively to Austria  and seemed to be open to allaying its concerns, to the Talibans hospitality for, and loyalty to Bin Laden was paramount.

It may seem disconcerting to finish a review of a book describing events that are nearly a century old by bringing up Afghanistan and its Taliban parasites. It shouldn’t be. History at its most interesting and riveting, is when it clarifies, and maybe explain the present.