Director's Forum with Ambassador Chrétien | Wilson Center

Director's Forum with Ambassador Chrétien

Remarks Introducing Canadian Ambassador Raymond Chrétien
By Lee H. Hamilton
Director's Forum
April 29, 1999

I am enormously pleased to welcome Canadian Ambassador Raymond Chrétien to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

He has represented his country with very great distinction. He previously served as Ambassador to Mexico, Zaire, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and in 1996 he was appointed as United Nations Special Envoy to make recommendations for dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Central Africa. In that role he performed an enormous service to the world. He has been an ambassador in the fullest and finest sense of that title.

Importance of the U.S.-Canada Relationship

The U.S.-Canada relationship is without doubt one of our most important bilateral relationships. Our two countries share the longest undefended border in the world. It is guarded by "neighborly respect and honorable obligation," as one writer put it, and is, of course, an example to every country in the world. Have you ever thought what a different world it would be if the U.S.-Canadian border was the pattern for the world?

The United States and Canada have cooperated closely on cross-border environmental issues, regional defense, and international diplomacy; and we have the largest bilateral trading relationship in the history of the world. Canada is by far our largest trading partner, with more that $1 billion in goods and services being traded between the United States and Canada everyday.

We have had our differences with Canada, as would certainly be expected. But I have been impressed by the way that, time after time, we are able to manage and work through them with openness, civility, and mutual respect. As a Member of Congress, I participated in several U.S.-Canada inter-parliamentary group meetings, both in the United States and Canada. We often had frank discussions on sensitive bilateral issues, but I always came away with the feeling that our two countries' record of cooperation, while still keeping our differences, is a great model for the rest of the world. It is, in short, a relationship that works.

Canada's Role in the World

Canada has taken an ever more important leadership role in international affairs. Its active role in peacekeeping, its supportive diplomacy, and its strong work in humanitarian causes have been exceedingly helpful in promoting world peace and stability. It recently, for example, took the lead in the fight against landmines as part of its emphasis on human security, and it heads up key international institutions, including the World Trade Organization.

Canada has participated in almost every single UN peace operation since 1946, and it has shown an admirable willingness to commit forces to other parts of the world for peacekeeping even when its direct interests are not at stake. Even now, Canadians are flying side by side with us in Kosovo.

It is difficult to think of another country that takes its international responsibilities more seriously than Canada. The world has a safer, more secure, more prosperous face, a kinder face, because of Canada's sustained international involvement and leadership.

Wilson Center Efforts

Yet despite all of this, the U.S.-Canada relationship is not getting the attention in the United States that is at all proportional to its importance.

Too many Americans think of Canada as a vast fishing or hunting preserve, or, as Voltaire described it, "a few acres of snow." Americans who have become acquainted with Canada know the variety, the vastness and the richness of the Canadian landscape, the vitality of its democratic traditions, the liveliness of its arts, and the warm and generous hospitality of its people.

Yet Canada is—in the words of our former Ambassador to Canada James Blanchard—"the invisible world next door." That is why I want the Wilson Center to expand its work on Canada in the months ahead. At the Wilson Center we try to bring some light to some of the broader, "bigger-picture" issues, issues that may not be in the morning headlines but are nonetheless very important to our country and its future. There is a natural fit here.

We anticipate looking at, among other things, the broad cultural and political differences and similarities between our two countries; major and emerging issues of U.S.-Canada trade, including hemispheric trade expansion; and some of the future bilateral and global challenges facing our two countries five, 10, 20 years down the road.


As one of the Wilson Center's senior scholars, Martin Lipset has written: "Canadians and Americans will never be alike, but Americans can learn more about Canada, and Canadians can learn more about why Americans are as they are. And by so doing they will come to understand their own countries better."

So, Mr. Ambassador, I welcome you to the Wilson Center, and look forward to working with you and your colleagues to further this process of better mutual understanding.