The Case for Canamerica

The far-out, incredibly earnest argument for why the U.S. should merge with its northern neighbor.

Imagine, if you will, a moment in the not-too-distant future: A decades-long effort by Chinese companies to infiltrate Canadian banking and drilling firms has succeeded in securing Canada's oil and natural gas fields for pillage. At least some money from these deals trickles into Ottawa's coffers, which is more than the government can say for its oil in the Arctic, where Canada has been muscled out of its claims by extraction companies with the backing of the Russian government. A network of Chinese ports has secured the sea lines along the Northwest Passage, circumscribing Canadian sovereignty, and Canada's military, enfeebled after years of reliance on the United States, is powerless to resist. Canada effectively lapses into a vassal state, reliant on neocolonial patriarchs in Beijing and Moscow.

This dystopian scenario isn't the plot of an episode of The Twilight Zone or some modish alternate-history, sci-fi story -- it's the threat laid out by Diane Francis, a veteran business reporter and current editor at large of Canada's National Post, in her newly released book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. And while she frames the book as a "thought experiment," she believes a U.S.-Canadian union is essential to both countries' futures -- that facing economic infringement, "a merger makes good business sense." She's thought it through, down to the last dollar each Canadian should be compensated for their natural resources in a U.S. buyout.

"The Russians have thrown down the gauntlet in the Arctic.… And the Chinese have targeted our resources, along with everyone else's," Francis told Foreign Policy by phone from Canada. They're "the wolves at the door," Francis says; she frames the situation in terms of "prey and predator" in the book. "They're gaming the system," she told FP. "And I think they're brilliant. I think they're doing a great job feeding their population, frankly, and educating them, but we understand that they have an objective." Their goal is to break into the biggest, wealthiest markets: the United States and the European Union. "Canada is … peripheral to the United States, as Turkey is [to the EU], and you'll notice that the Chinese start to do business not in the EU, but in the periphery -- Bulgaria, Turkey. They just landed a big contract for their avionics, their air-traffic controls. They're building bridges; they're building roads." Canada, she says, "is a back-door entry into the main markets that they really want to get into but are somewhat prevented from."

For now, the United States and Canada are "nations in distress," falling prey to dangerous investments while their military and diplomatic power slips relative to the rest of the world's. "Without dramatic change," she writes, "Canada will remain … somewhat sleepy and vulnerable. The United States will continue to go broke buying foreign oil and cheap goods from Asia, then guarding countries that could and should pay for their own protection and, while they are at it, 'buy American.'"

"There has to be some kind of strategy," she told FP.

Francis was born in Chicago and holds dual citizenship -- but she's not some American agent provocateur. She acknowledges there is a certain paranoia about American intentions north of the border. "I think it's a function of being the little guy next to the big guy and always having to worry," she says. But there are real benefits to the merger -- "synergies," she notes in corporate terms -- especially for Canada. By erasing the border, Canada would gain a military with a stake in protecting its resources from foreign incursions, and the investment capital and people to develop oil, natural gas, and other mining projects in the country's undeveloped north. The United States, for its part, would have access to an estimated 13 percent of the world's remaining undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas. "The most obvious synergy," she writes, "would be matching Canada's undeveloped resource potential with America's money, markets, and workers."

In particular, Francis, who is a director for Aurizon Mines, Ltd., which operates a gold mine in Quebec, wants to see the United States invest in infrastructure in Canada's far north, which currently lacks the roads, ports, and pipelines necessary to make resource extraction possible. "That kind of a Marshall Plan with infrastructure and so on -- that would create millions of jobs, both sides of the border," she says. "The Americans should just roll up their sleeves and get on with it, because they've got the capital and they've got the market for the stuff. At the very least, there's got to be some kind of a joint venture, economically, and I say, 'Let's pick our partners.'"

It's a perspective that smacks of protectionism -- though Francis objects to the word. "It's protectiveness," she stresses. "I think that investing should only be done with one test in mind, and that's reciprocity. If the Chinese can buy Smithfield Foods, then the Americans can buy the Chinese company that wants to buy Smithfield -- but we can't. It's all one-way, and that's what they're doing and they're doing that everywhere. It's like, 'Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.'" In the book, she describes a "new cold war … being fought on economic grounds."

Francis imagines a half-dozen ways a merger could take place -- how the United States might buy out Canada, Louisiana Purchase-style, or set up resource funds to pay dividends to Canadian citizens. Politically, Canada's provinces might seek entry as U.S. states -- or perhaps as a commonwealth if Quebec wished to preserve a government of its own. They could form a federal union, à la unified Germany, create an overarching council (the Swiss model), or establish a coordinating government (the EU model). Francis never coins a name for her potential superstate. If Canada's provinces became U.S. states, then they would simply be absorbed into the United States of America. But as for the other models, who knows? Canamerica reads too much like a question, while Ameri-Canada sounds slightly better.

What would a united Ameri-Canada look like? In terms of acreage, it would be the largest country in world -- surpassing Russia, even all of South America, in size. Its economy would be larger than the European Union's. Since each country is the other's largest trading partner, trade deficits would shrink. Canadian oversight at the Fed would bring stability to American banking. With all its energy needs met domestically, Ameri-Canada would be a lucrative petrostate, exporting oil to the developing world.

For all the benefits -- energy self-sufficiency, secure borders, a cross-border maple syrup pipeline if we're lucky -- the merger would not be without consequences. Francis bets that the long-term economic incentives would outweigh the baggage Canada brings with it. But is that really the case? Would it be worth grappling with how to integrate U.S., Canadian, and Québécois laws, or trying to standardize health care across the two countries? Would Washington ever want to inherit First Nations land disputes, Quebec separatists, or Justin Bieber? And would Canadians want Washington, especially after such a case study in dysfunction this week?

They're questions that probably won't need to be asked -- and not just because the Republican Party would never allow it. (If Canadians were to vote in the presidential elections, the GOP would never take the White House again, Francis speculates.) The reception to Francis's proposal has been something between knee-jerk reactionism and hand-waving dismissiveness. Jonathan Kay, a managing editor for the National Post, where Francis also works, described the book with prototypically Canadian polite understatement: The book is Francis's "most ambitious. Perhaps a little too ambitious, many readers might conclude."

It's creating "a huge emotional stir," Francis says. "The idea of the book is to start a conversation.... The conversation isn't that enlightening yet, but it will be." And she knows it's ambitious: She never shies away from the biggest parallels she can draw -- there's that "Marshall Plan" for investment in Canada, and comparisons to German reunification or potential Korean reunification abound.

But there's an analogy Francis doesn't make. In 1985, Ibrahim Ibrahim, then a professor at Georgetown, presented a Cassandra-like proposal. With economic challenges looming in North Africa, Ibrahim suggested a three-way merger of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan. Egypt's abundant population and technological development could provide the impetus to turn Sudan into a "breadbasket" for the region, Ibrahim argued, and Libya could find political unity and integration, lest it be "abandoned to the wiles of history." The plan was similar to the one Francis proposes: "Initially, a common market would be created among the three, one in which free movement of labor and capital would be guaranteed.... In the second phase of the common market, the three countries would establish a formal political confederation, allowing for free trade, the integration of production, and technical integration. Only then can the three embark on a systematic, long-term plan of investment for the twenty-first century."

Like Francis's proposal, the plan was politically outlandish but economically sensible. Twenty-eight years later, after political and economic desperation have brought revolutions in Libya and Egypt, and with Sudan now partitioned but still underdeveloped, was this period of decline inevitable? The sensational, possibly hyperbolic future Francis envisions, of rising powers whittling away at Canada's -- and ultimately America's -- resources and sovereignty, is similarly dire.

"It doesn't have to be," she tells FP. "I'm not trying to be alarmist, or paranoid, or conspiratorial. [China and Russia] are just doing business, except that they're big and organized."

In many ways, Ameri-Canada is already a reality. "We're merging in some ways," Francis says. "We're merging in investment and ownership and people traveling," and she points out that three million Canadians live in the United States, and another million Americans have headed north. "But this border is really thickening," she says, pointing to immigration disputes since Sept. 11, 2001 and a growing cross-border drug trade. Since negotiations ended on the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement on Oct. 4, 1987, "we haven't moved one nudge up from just taking down a few tariff barriers." It's time for that to change, she says, so she's "starting a conversation."

Francis wants to see the two countries go all the way. "We're dating heavily -- let's think about common law, maybe marriage," she explains. More likely, though, is something less formal, more gradual. "Perhaps this glacial drift from sovereignty," she writes, "will be the chosen path of Canadians and Americans -- a tacit, unacknowledged coasting into one another's arms."



The Quiet Revolution

Technology is changing the way we fight war. But it's also changing the way we make peace.     

This is the first installment of PeaceTech, a series on FP's new Peace Channel, in collaboration with the U.S. Institute of Peace, that will regularly report on innovative uses of technology to bring security and stability to communities around the world.

While much attention has focused recently on debating the role of social media in high-profile events like the Arab Spring and the war in Syria, a quieter revolution has been happening around the globe. It's a revolution in innovation, information, and communication. And it could have big implications for the lives of people from Colombia to Egypt, Kenya to Afghanistan.

This revolution is in the way technologies are being used at the community level to mitigate causes of violence. It's difficult to think of a single issue in the conflict-management field -- election violence, interethnic hatred, land disputes, gender violence, and so on -- in which there hasn't been an effort to use digital media and technology-enabled networks to inflect the causes of conflict.

The catalyst for this quiet revolution comes down to a single reality that is both commonplace and incredible: For the first time in human history, people everywhere -- including in impoverished conflict zones -- have the ability to take photos, push data, publish text, and send information around the world or down the street with the click of a button. We are all social-media makers now, and the extent to which we see this at work in the peacebuilding field every day cannot be overstated. With well over 6 billion cell-phone subscriptions in the world, and over one-third of the world's population online, we've seen a striking expansion in the tools that peace-builders have at their disposal. Crowd-sourcing, crisis-mapping, micro-blogging -- in less than a decade, these have become essential to analysis and decision support across the entire conflict cycle, from prevention to post-conflict stabilization.

Here are just a few examples from what can be dubbed the "PeaceTech" revolution:

Fostering inter-communal  dialogue: In Iraq, there is a strong conflict-resolution curriculum underpinning the (Peace Youth) online network, TV program, and Facebook group of about 30,000 active users -- with research showing shifting attitudes about ethnic tolerance among them. There is also a larger, 200,000-member YaLa-Young Leaders network taking shape among Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the Middle East, actively campaigning against violent conflict.

Managing elections: Virtually every election these days includes active monitoring of everything from violence to fraud using a range of social-media platforms. In Kenya and South Sudan, for example, recent referenda were considered successes in terms of violence prevention, and social-media networks were key parts of the civil-society toolkit.

Preventing gang violence: Twitter penetration in Brazil is among the highest on the planet, making it a valuable and much-used platform for individuals and community organizations working on campaigns aimed at fostering citizen security. Similar initiatives on other social networks have also been widely used in Mexico and Colombia. 

Preventing resource disputes: Early-warning networks like the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) in sub-Saharan Africa try to leverage social media, along with satellite information and traditional media reports, to prevent conflict over land, water, and other resources.

Constitution-building: We've seen efforts to use social media in transitional nations like Egypt to help create constitutions with public input. It wasn't very successful in Egypt, but there, as in Morocco and Iceland, to provide two more examples, the experience has allowed communities to learn about crowd-sourcing. That process will certainly continue.

Protesting violence: By now, many have heard of the 2008 Facebook campaign "A Million Voices Against the FARC," which was used to rally people across Colombia and around the world to protest the violent tactics of the Revolutionary Armed Forces guerilla movement.

These are just a few of the ways that technologies are being adapted and adopted for conflict-mitigation efforts. Success has been mixed, to say the least, for a host of reasons, from the newness of the technologies to the fact that most violent conflict is deeply rooted in complex human dynamics. Addressing the underlying problems of conflict require far more than any single technological tool can deliver, which is why many of the initiatives listed above delivered limited results. Nonetheless, they and other programs offer hope for the future.

At the heart of it all is the unprecedented data that is generated by communication and captured using new digital technologies. We often hear about  "Big Data" and read stunning figures about how Facebook receives more than 300 million new photographs every day, YouTube uploads 72 hours of video each minute, and almost unfathomably, in a single year, humans transmit more data than in all previous years combined.

But for those of us working in conflict zones, the real excitement is not about the quantity of data but about the unprecedented insight that this data offers into the human experience. Not only are unprecedented volumes of information about human dynamics and sentiment  -- the DNA of conflict, so to speak -- being shared on social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, Tumblr, Google Plus, and YouTube. The technological capabilities to analyze this vast treasure trove of information are also becoming cheaper and more effective. We've already seen, for example, mobile-phone data being used to anticipate large-scale refugee movements, an analysis that can obviously be valuable in saving the lives of people affected by war.

We are still unable to use these kinds of tools and datasets to predict violence before it erupts. As political scientist Jay Ulfelder, part of a team from the U.S. Holocaust Museum working on developing a forecasting model for atrocity prevention, writes: "[W]hen it comes to predicting major political crises like wars, coups, and popular uprisings, there are many plausible predictors for which we don't have any data at all, and much of what we do have is too sparse or too noisy to incorporate into carefully designed forecasting models." Moreover, as many other experts in the field have noted, history teaches us that early response does not necessarily follow early warning. But even with those caveats in mind, it is clear that, by strengthening and expanding our access to information about individuals and communities at risk for violent conflict, technology provides an environment in which, increasingly, both early warning and early action can occur.

Of course, it would be wrong to conclude without acknowledging the extent to which digital media and technology have also been enablers of violent conflict. Hardly a day goes by when we don't see a news story about the use of media and other technologies by al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations for recruitment, for fundraising, for detonating bombs, or for the coordination and execution of attacks like the recent one on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

But this is really the point -- the untold story of technology and peace: When the Westgate Mall was attacked, the gruesome, boastful Twitter messages of al-Shabab's gunmen rocketed around the world's media. But how many of us heard about Philip Ogola, who tweeted non-stop from Kenya's Red Cross social-media command center, steering help to where it could save lives throughout the violence?

It's time to tell this story loudly, to shine the global limelight on the quiet, PeaceTech revolution.