Friday, February 18, 2006 — A New International Body

I pro­pose that Cana­da ini­ti­ate the for­ma­tion of a new inter­na­tion­al body. Mem­ber­ship would be defined by the fol­low­ing fac­tors: 1) a pop­u­la­tion of less than thir­ty-five mil­lion, 2) a per capi­ta GNI (Gross Nation­al Income) over US$20,000, and 3) a record of ful­ly func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy for a min­i­mum of fifty years. Switzer­land, which qual­i­fies, would be omit­ted by dint of its spe­cial neu­tral­i­ty and bank­ing inter­ests. The fol­low­ing coun­tries would be invit­ed: Aus­tria, Aus­tralia, Bel­gium, Den­mark, Fin­land, Ice­land, Ire­land, Lux­em­bourg, the Nether­lands, New Zealand, Nor­way, and Swe­den. In addi­tion, I would sug­gest that Green­land and the Faroe Islands, both enti­ties semi-autonomous from Den­mark, be invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate as full mem­bers. Cana­da has a spe­cial inter­est in close co-oper­a­tion with Green­land.

There is good rea­son to bring these nations togeth­er under a roof. They are all eco­nom­i­cal­ly advanced coun­tries, with long demo­c­ra­t­ic expe­ri­ence, which must con­stant­ly move in the shad­ow of the big pow­ers. They have a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of more than 120,000,000. If they become accus­tomed to mutu­al con­sul­ta­tion and com­bined action, they can, togeth­er, have a clout equiv­a­lent to the “big boys”.

Democ­ra­cies with a pop­u­la­tion under 35,000,000 oper­ate quite dif­fer­ent­ly from larg­er democ­ra­cies, despite the for­mal resem­blance in struc­ture. Our issues and prob­lems are much clos­er to those of the Nether­lands or Aus­tralia than they are to Britain or the Unit­ed States. Coun­tries like the Unit­ed States, Great Britain, France and Ger­many are shaped by long his­to­ries of wield­ing pow­er on a large scale. For­mal democ­ra­cy, in such places, rides like a float­ing cork on an ocean of invis­i­ble influ­ences, tan­gled pow­er struc­tures and murky social forces. Reform and inno­va­tion in such coun­tries is far more dif­fi­cult than in democ­ra­cies that work on a man­age­able scale. That is why a coun­try like the Unit­ed States may have prob­lems that every­one rec­og­nizes, the solu­tions for which are gen­er­al­ly agreed upon, and yet make lit­tle progress solv­ing them over decades.

A democ­ra­cy as small as Ice­land, with a pop­u­la­tion small­er than that of Mis­sis­sauga (a sub­urb of Toron­to), is per­fect­ly capa­ble of pro­vid­ing its cit­i­zens with all the col­lec­tive ser­vices they need. Per­haps it can­not rus­tle up a space pro­gram or deploy nuclear-pow­ered air­craft car­ri­ers, but it can edu­cate its chil­dren, care for its aged, heal its sick and admin­is­ter jus­tice with greater effi­cien­cy than a super­pow­er. Small democ­ra­cies have acces­si­ble politi­cians, and effi­cient inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Issues can be under­stood and debat­ed by the pub­lic. They have the ver­sa­til­i­ty to exper­i­ment… and to reverse the course of exper­i­ments if they turn out wrong. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy works very well for a coun­try up to a pop­u­la­tion of six or sev­en mil­lion. After that, dif­fi­cul­ties begin to appear. Bureau­cra­cies become more impen­e­tra­ble and arbi­trary, indi­vid­u­als have greater dif­fi­cul­ty deal­ing with the State, the left hand starts to lose track of what the right hand is doing. At thir­ty-five mil­lion, these inef­fi­cien­cies start to take a seri­ous toll. Cana­da is at the upper lim­it of the advan­tages of scale in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy. It’s not sur­pris­ing that Nor­way, a coun­try of five mil­lion, has dis­placed us in one well-known “best place to live” list.

No mat­ter how much Cana­di­ans would like to strut in the coun­cils of the mighty, we will nev­er be one of them. We have the choice of being ignored, or of toad­y­ing to one of the big pow­ers. If we pur­sue our cur­rent habits, we will always be chas­ing after them, like a ten year old tag­ging along with his old­er brother’s gang. Our true inter­ests lie with the small democ­ra­cies. It is there that we should be cul­ti­vat­ing our influ­ence and build­ing mutu­al sup­port. The peo­ple who admin­is­ter Nor­way, Fin­land, New Zealand, and the Nether­lands do many things extreme­ly well. They deserve our atten­tion, and, often, imi­ta­tion. For our part, we have some tricks we can teach them. Instead, we fix our eyes hyp­not­i­cal­ly on the big pow­ers, and we ignore our peers. Or worse. We recent­ly found our­selves in a spite­ful and idi­ot­ic dis­pute with Den­mark, a coun­try with which we have crit­i­cal com­mon inter­ests and should be seek­ing har­mo­ny.

An offi­cial body would bring the com­mon inter­ests of small advanced democ­ra­cies into focus. These are fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from our inter­ests in small poor coun­tries, or in big­ger poor coun­tries, or in big­ger rich coun­tries, or in non-demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries, or in the inex­pe­ri­enced new democ­ra­cies. Each of these groups has its own prop­er approach. But there is a par­tic­u­lar group in which we should be con­cen­trat­ing our atten­tion, and I think my pro­pos­al iden­ti­fies it.

How­ev­er, it would not do if such an asso­ci­a­tion became anoth­er excuse for pompous cer­e­mo­ny, caviar ban­quets and jun­kets. It should exem­pli­fy, in its oper­a­tion, the strengths of small-scale democ­ra­cy. Mod­ern telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy should be employed to their fullest. We should not tol­er­ate grotesque par­o­dies of G-7 sum­mits and the squan­der­ing and cor­rup­tion of the Unit­ed Nations.

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