Quirk: What is the best international affairs book of 2011?

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5 December, 2011
By: Paul Quirk
Phil Lind Chair in US Politics and Representation, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Here is an un-nomination:  Stephen Clarkson’s Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct US Power(University of Toronto Press, 2011) has received quite a bit of attention in the media and is likely to be esteemed in some quarters.  But it presents a cartoon-like account of North American international relations and is not to be taken seriously. Clarkson’s central puzzle is this:  If Canada were to disappear, the US would lose a sizable fraction of its national income. Why, then, does Canada have such limited influence on US policy?  His answer in a nutshell:  Canadian diplomacy is too polite.  Canadians cannot bring themselves to use threats or punishments to induce American cooperation.  Other works on Canada-US relations—well actually, just about all of them—recognize the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship:  Most things that Canada could do to punish the US would at the same time punish Canada, even more severely—and might also lead to further retaliation.  On the whole, Canadian diplomats struggle competently in inherently difficult negotiating situations with the US.  The cartoon solution—pop open a can of spinach, and get tough—won’t work.  

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