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“America First” and U.S.–Canadian Relations

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Canada–US Relations

Part of the book series: Canada and International Affairs ((CIAF))


A foreign policy of “America First” seems to pose a significant challenge to the liberal international order and perhaps to U.S.–Canadian cooperation. This paper investigates the bilateral relationship in light of developing disagreements about the status of longstanding international agreements. Will Washington’s new emphasis on placing America First threaten major institutions and the future of cooperation? Can multilateralism and the liberal international order endure without American leadership or, at minimum, a firm commitment to various institutions? Research will explore Canada’s responses to ongoing U.S. attempts to alter or eliminate NATO, free trade agreements (NAFTA and the WTO), and the Paris Climate Accord.

Previous versions of this chapter were presented at the Canada Among Nations (CAN) Workshop, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, June 25–26, 2018; and the Annual Meeting, International Studies Association, Baltimore, MD, February 22–25, 2017. The author is grateful for feedback from Fabrizio Coticchia, Inger Weibust, and various participants in the CAN Workshop. Travel support was provided by Carleton University.

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  1. 1.

    In the recent NAFTA negotiations, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (quoted by Gordon and Lawder 2018) declared that a “win-win-win agreement is within reach” for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

  2. 2.

    Over the last decade, U.S.–Canadian trade has been nearly in balance, with the U.S. achieving modest surpluses 2015–2017. Both countries protect their domestic dairy industries.

  3. 3.

    Araud later deleted his tweets.

  4. 4.

    Critics like Nedal and Nexon (2017) point out that Trump’s mercantilist vision “has been out of style for over 200 years”.

  5. 5.

    Other analysts argue that Trump’s assorted tactical and transactional foreign policy ideas do not amount to a coherent grand strategic approach (Zenko and Lissner 2017).

  6. 6.

    Walt (2016) has also acknowledged the Trump “combined these sensible notions with a lot of divisive, ignorant, and dangerous nonsense.” For example, Walt (2016) worried about “the possibility that Trump (and Trumpism) poses a long-term threat to our traditional constitutional order”.

  7. 7.

    Likewise, the Trump administration has reaffirmed the long-standing U.S. “one China” policy. This public stance can be markedly contrasted to the position implied by a phone call the then-President-Elect had with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan in early December 2016. Observers interpreted this as Trump backing down on his previous position and thus producing a victory for China (Perlez 2017).

  8. 8.

    Under the 2006–2015 Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canadian foreign policy also reflected significantly less internationalism (Nossal et al. 2015). Indeed, Nossal (2014: 257) argues that “‘old habits’ in Canadian foreign policy”—such as multilateralism—were “reconstructed as ‘bad habits’ by the Conservative government, and, like all bad habits, have to be kicked”.


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Correspondence to Rodger A. Payne .

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Payne, R.A. (2019). “America First” and U.S.–Canadian Relations. In: Carment, D., Sands, C. (eds) Canada–US Relations. Canada and International Affairs. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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