The fast-changing geo-political and geo-strategic environment around the globe is pushing Canada and Germany into reinventing themselves. Each country is an integral part of a transatlantic alliance between North America and Europe. However, with the party moving out of town and old allies busy getting dressed up, the two countries need to not only save their old alliances but also actively get involved in new ones.
While these geo conundrums are not exclusive to Canada and Germany, they have the potential to become a festering and lingering dilemma for the two if not managed expeditiously. Europe’s transatlantic significance is set to diminish but it won’t go away entirely. Russia, Middle East, and North Africa remain a common interest to both sides of the Atlantic and many multilateral partnerships remain vital.
Canada’s transatlantic foreign policy has so far been pegged with two mainstays – the United States (U.S.) to the south and the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe across the pond. The policy has worked well so far and paid dividends on the trade, defence, and human rights dossiers. However, ongoing Sino-American competition and, at times, hostilities on trade, technology, investments, and geostrategic matters have irrefutably challenged the Canadian-American and Sino-Canadian relationship. Similarly, Sino-German relations have taken a step back with Germany’s ambassador at the United Nations voicing concern over events in Hong Kong, and notable German firms offending the sensitivities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) only to backpedal and kowtow to Beijing. The anchor of both American and European policies has been pivoting to the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific theaters for quite some time with China being a leading trading partner for both Canada and Germany. The Sino trading relationship also goes well beyond basic import and export, with Canadian and German companies producing locally in China to give the country a central role in global supply chains.
Possessing strong historic and cultural ties with the UK, European Union (EU), and U.S. and alignment on international objectives on files is no longer enough to thrive in a global world increasingly influenced by China and its international agenda. Nowhere is this situation more dire than in Canada. Despite jointly proclaiming 2018 as the Canada-China Year of Tourism to encourage visits and understanding between the countries, the diplomatic relationship has been cold, to say the least. The reciprocal arrests, concerns over 5G network contracts, and the recent American legislation with the potential to delist China-based firms from securities exchanges, are all interwoven as the older alliance system is being shaken up.
U.S. policymakers are actively looking to shrink their focus away from the outdated Soviet-era European alliance system – a system that was further bolstered by integrated defence and military alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). These diplomatic and political mechanisms were strategic tools built for a different global order and now seem unable to respond to modern trade and geopolitical concerns. Despite Russia remaining a relevant concern to Europe, American policy has undoubtedly seen a redoubling of focus and resource deployment towards Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific. Some analysts have stated that these and other steps are actively being taken with the policy to contain and counter the Middle Kingdom’s strong influence in Asia and world affairs.
Geo-politics and trade are intertwined. You have both or you end up risking both.
Geo-politics and trade are intertwined. You have both or you end up risking both. One need not be a CAN/U.S. policy expert to understand this given the diplomatic and trade skirmishes of the past four years under a Trump White house. Canada and Germany ought to take note as Europe has already experienced this trend. France has been busy carving out a meaningful role in the Mediterranean and Middle East with its engagement in North Africa and Levant. The UK has also expressed its intentions to join American efforts in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific with its departure from the EU sphere acting as a strong smoke signal that it intends to carve out a new space for itself. Canada, as a Commonwealth state with a parliamentary system and the Queen as the Head of State, undoubtedly will be impacted by the changes taking place across the Atlantic. In a similar vein, Germany, as a central and key European state with the largest economy, will also be impacted by the rebalancing of its Atlantic relationships, its place in Europe, and the broader world.
TransAtlantika + TransPacifica
To date, Germany in the EU and Canada across the pond have not outwardly signaled a policy direction away from each other. However, increasingly it seems like the best bet is to redouble efforts on the transatlantic side while simultaneously increasing their presence and links with Asia. Such a policy will help preserve European relationships while committing to the diversification of U.S.-heavy political, economic, trade, and diplomatic relations by allocating human and financial resources to Asia. Straddled with mounting deficits in the billions with the pandemic eating away at Canadian and German economies, such a strategy would have to be gradual. Strategically managing regional sensitivities and taking meaningful and watchful steps towards building an Asian military and economic profile will also take significant effort. The arduous task of potentially shifting global supply chains is another area that requires a significant investment by Canada and Germany in order to forge stronger partnerships with countries like India, Thailand, and Vietnam.
In the long run, a more meaningful engagement in transatlantic relations and an increase and stronger involvement in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific theaters would be an effort worth its weight in gold for both Canada and Germany.
Mohammad Rizwan is a seasoned journalist and Waqas Yousafzai is a commentator on international affairs. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors only and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of any organization. Both authors are formerly associated with Toronto-based Pragmora Institute and can be contacted via Twitter @RizToronto and @WaqasYousafzai