The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization is available now on Amazon worldwide.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to have a long and private conversation.
My family was on vacation and our excursion took us in proximity to someone who I had been fortunate enough to cross paths with. This is an individual whose reputation is known on an international level, and I don’t think I would have ever imagined being in the same room as them in a million years. As luck would have it, we had some friends in common, as well as some general shared interests.
Not only did I get that opportunity to meet, but it became a private one-on-one chat that lasted for two hours.
It was one of those conversations where you remember everything – and nothing. You know it was substantive and thought-provoking, but you are hard pressed to remember specifics.
In this case, I remember one thing I said, and only because I felt self-conscious about making such a bold comment.
I had expressed my apprehension about the future – including Canada’s. When asked to explain, I glibly said that for nearly 500 years, our country had been like Blanche Dubois – the character from the Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” – insofar that we depended “upon the kindness of strangers.”
I explained that from the time Jacques Cartier dropped anchor in 1534 to the present, we had always acted as part of something bigger – first as a colony of France, then a colony of Britain, later evolving into a dominion within the British Empire. From that, we went on to becoming a constituent part of the American sphere of influence. At no point during all this time did we act as a wholly independent power in the world.
We were always part of something bigger, or allied to someone bigger.
My point was that I saw a world where this would change dramatically. Those who are seized by the current spate heated rhetoric around the presidency of Donald Trump and sentiments beyond the US forget that things were no less tense when Canada decided not to join the US in combat in Iraq. Indeed, before my wife and I embarked on our 2003 road trip to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, we wondered whether or not we would get a hostile reception like those we had heard others claim to have. Of course, we did not – but it was in the back of our minds nevertheless.
In that environment, you wonder about a world where Canada and the US were not on the same page, and where Britain and France – no longer imperial powers – were more fixated on European integration than on anything beyond their region.
The book on Commonwealth Free Trade that I completed in 2004-2005 was due, in no small part, to that concern – of a world where, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we would hang separately if we did not hang together.
My sense was that the world was changing in a direction that required a rethink on how we formed alliances and spheres of common interest. The existing network within the broader Commonwealth family, along with the data that showed intra-Commonwealth trade was more robust and efficient than would otherwise have been, made me believe (and I still do) that a path to the future lie in this direction.
With the aggressive behaviour of Russia, the bullying and posturing of China, the quixotic nature of the current American administration, and the introversion of Europe, things have not improved in the past decade. They are patently worse.
The greater tragedy, however, is not the challenging time we live in, but the fact that we have not risen to that challenge. Through two world wars, a Great Depression, and the Cold War, we prevailed because the best and brightest among us faced those threats and dangers head on, fearlessly and intelligently.
Those who inherited the legacy of Roosevelt and Churchill, of Acheson, Kennan and Kissinger, offer no plan to meet today’s significant challenge. Instead, we are presented with predictions that are often invalidated before they appear in print, and followed up with bitter rejoinders on news channels that focus more on the indignation of having been questioned or challenged by those they deem to have inferior minds.
The world cannot wait for them to overcome their feelings and emotions from having their confidence and stature shaken. Nature abhors a vacuum, and their retreat is an invitation to alternatives – both good and bad.
China and Russia represent collectively 1.57 billion people, a nominal GDP of approximately US $15.7 trillion, and militaries that have a full compliment of capabilities, including nuclear and space programs.
A geostrategic partnership between CANZUK, India, the United States and Japan would collectively represent over 1.9 billion people, have a nominal GDP of US $34.6 trillion, and possess an even larger and more diverse compliment of conventional military, nuclear and space capabilities. Beyond that, this partnership is further scalable when potential associations with other Commonwealth nations and others are taken into account.
If NATO was the bulwark against the expansion of Soviet totalitarianism, this new partnership could be a potent force – not only to respond to a newer, increasingly aggressive totalitarian axis, but to give the western liberal international order a new lease on life. In short, to save globalisation and the liberal international order from its current state of ennui.
A bold suggestion? Yes. A difficult challenge? Of course. Impossible? Not at all – we’ve accomplished much harder things in our history.
In the absence of any alternate vision from the Davos set, we can sit back and allow Beijing to become more powerful, more assertive and more unrepentant – or we can try our hand at this.
I can only ask critics and naysayers to follow the news regarding Beijing’s behaviour of late, then ask themselves if they prefer a future where that regime is primus inter pares in the world.
No more excuses. Time to choose.