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History Repeats Itself (Let’s Hope Marx Was Wrong)

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29 July, 2011
By: Jennifer Jeffs

Past President of the Canadian International Council (CIC).

Were it not for the two world wars, this moment may have occurred much earlier in history: Germany is now the centre of Europe. As OpenCanada’s Think Tank piece, “Will Germany Kill Europe?” suggests, the future of Europe is largely in German voters’ hands. This piece, drawing on the European Council on Foreign Relations report entitled “What Does Germany Think About Europe?” achieves one of the principal objectives of the Think Tank section of the OpenCanada site: to bring important content produced around the world into Canadian discussions.

It is this context that brings the contrast between the trajectory of Europe and that of the Americas into focus: While European power increasingly drifts toward one central pole, the powerbase in the Americas seems to be drifting apart.

It is not just the debt crisis that is compromising the United States’ status as the American unipole; as Jean Daudelin perceptively noted in a recent blog post, for many states in the Americas, “The U.S. matters, but along Europe and especially China.” Daudelin writes in response to the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee’s recommendation to suspend its contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS), a withdrawal of support that has serious implications for the activities, if not the very existence, of this regional body.

What is striking is not the impact of such a decision, but the lack thereof. The OAS is largely considered a U.S.-centred organization – yet, today, the U.S. is no longer the exclusive foreign policy concern of South and Central America. Consider Mexico’s recent announcement that its dependence on the American market is on the wane, and China’s rapidly increasing investment in the region.

In Canada, similar momentum is afoot. John Baird’s recent visit to China signaled a new turn in Canadian foreign policy. Around the same time, it was announced that Canada exports more softwood lumber to China than it does to the U.S. In British Columbia, the government’s significant investment in the port in Prince Rupert, as well as developments related to the Gateway pipeline, point to a renewed Pacific focus.

This week, our Rapid Response question asked, “What’s the ultimate objective of Stephen Harper’s softer stance on China?” Though our respondents disagreed on the ultimate objective, they concurred on one issue: The Asia-Pacific is crucial to Canadian prosperity. Drawing on International Journal’s recent issue (“Canada, the U.S., and China: A New Pacific Triangle?”), OpenCanada plans to produce a series of Think Tank pieces that further probe the implications of the rise of China for Canada.

Early in the last century, the Canadian national interest underwent a major change, shifting its focus from Europe to the United States. Only a couple decades earlier, following its victory in the Franco-Prussian War, Germany appeared to be claiming its place at the centre of Europe. As the Canadian national interest witnesses another critical reorientation and Germany asserts its power in Europe, we must hope that Karl Marx was wrong when he said: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

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