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Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct U.S. Power

In Dependent America?, Stephen Clarkson and Matto Mildenberger explore the extent to which U.S. power is a function of its capacity to mobilize other states’ material and moral support. The authors presented the book, and discussants commented on it.

Date & Time

Feb. 21, 2012
9:00am – 11:00am


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct U.S. Power

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Stephen Clarkson, professor of political economy, University of Toronto,
and former fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center
Matto Mildenberger, Ph.D. student, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Mikulas Fabry, assistant professor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology, and fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center
Francisco González, associate professor, Riordan Roett Chair in Latin American Studies, The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Tamara Woroby, professor of economics, Towson University, and Canadian Center,
The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

The effects of American power on other nations, including Mexico and Canada, have been studied extensively, said Stephen Clarkson, professor of political economy at the University of Toronto, at a program hosted by the Canada Institute and the Mexico Institute. Conversely, studying the sources of American power, specifically the resources the United States gets from its North American neighbors, has been neglected. Clarkson and Matto Mildenberger of Yale University set out to explore the role that Mexico and Canada play in enabling U.S. power in their book, Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct U.S. Power. The two authors were joined in their discussion by Mikulas Fabry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Francisco González of SAIS, and Tamara Woroby, also of SAIS.

The Sources of U.S. Power

Mildenberger and Clarkson proposed three ways in which Canada and Mexico construct U.S. power. The first is providing material and economic support, such as cheap energy from Canada or inexpensive labor from Mexico. The second is through both countries’ contributions to U.S. domestic security and international military obligations. Finally, Canada and Mexico both enhance U.S. power by their participation and support of global governance organizations and initiatives that give legitimacy to American actions overseas. By inverting the traditional analysis, Mildenberger and Clarkson hoped to provide new perspective on how important Canada and Mexico are to U.S. power.

Woroby provided an alternative analysis, stating that the contribution Mexico and Canada give to the United States is replaceable. She suggested that moving to more trilateral negotiations would help strengthen North America and enable Canada and Mexico to use more leverage in negotiations with the United States. Initiatives that could help bring this about include a North American customs union and a campaign to “Buy North American,” rather than “Buy American.” Mildenberger acknowledged that the United States could replace the resources contributed by Canada and Mexico but that such a replacement would be costly and inefficient, harming the United States in both the short and long term.

Fabry then looked at Dependent America? in an international relations context. To do so, he asked how the findings and predictions in the book would have been different had Clarkson and Mildenberger used a liberal conception of political power rather than a realist one. Fabry noted that Canada and Mexico benefited greatly from U.S. force projections abroad and that any contribution they made, while important, was dwarfed by the value given to them by the United States.

Gonzalez then examined a hypothetical scenario, discussing how the United States would look and act if it were surrounded by hostile powers such as Russia and Iran. He also noted that while North America was important, northern South America and the Caribbean played an important role in shaping U.S. policy as well. He also remarked that while Canada and Mexico have contributed significantly to North America, each has given up substantial autonomy in the process.

Question & Answer

Finally, Clarkson, Mildenberger, and the other panelists took questions, the first coming from the director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, Andrew Selee, who asked if Canada and to a lesser extent, Mexico, have more power than they think they do. He added that Canada and the UK are the only countries that can occasionally get the United States to listen to its demands or issues, citing Canada pushing the United States into the creation of the G-20 from the G-8 as an example. Clarkson agreed with this assessment and added that Canada and Mexico were essential to the transformation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) into the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, there was a distinct limit to these types of pressures as evidenced by the United States’ reluctance to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) or normalize relations with Cuba.

Next, an invitee asked what effect Canada and Mexico’s individual agendas played within the trilateral relationship.Clarkson responded that due to Mexico's and Canada’s mutual ignorance of one another, there was little chance that those two countries would work together without the participation of the United States.

An attendee asked about the rise of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and how this would affect future trade relationships within the continent. The panel discussed that in the short term, there would be little change in the overall structure of North America, but that in the long term, a need to take advantage of these emerging markets might necessitate a change in format and organization for the continent. The panel also commented that bilateralism was undermining international organizations and treaties that could play a large role in defining the future of international relations.

Finally, a guest asked how Clarkson saw the future of North America. He responded that there were two options: the first was a disintegration of the relationships and a continued thickening of the border; the other, and more optimistic, option was a return to Keynesian investment and cross-border cooperation to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

This program was produced in partnership with the Government of Canada.

Hosted By

Canada Institute

Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship.     Read more

Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more


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