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An Enduring Relationship

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The United States and Canada

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird at a news conference in Washington, February 8, 2013.

Photo Courtesy U.S. State Department
Updated February 13, 2013

The first foreign minister that John Kerry hosted in his new job as U.S. Secretary of State was John Baird of Canada. That's fitting since Canada is one of the United States' closest and oldest allies.

Here is a brief look at the U.S. and Canada's diplomatic history.

Pre-Canadian Independence

Since 1867 when Canada became an independent part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, it and the U.S. have shared defense and global military interests. Of course, some of those interests had been settled when Canada was still under direct British rule.

The United States invaded Canada twice, once during the American Revolution, the other during the War of 1812. Soon after that war ended in 1814, the U.S. and Great Britain embarked on what is now close to two centuries of good relations.

In the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817, the U.S. and Great Britain demilitarized the U.S. -Canadian border and agreed to naval and shipping rights on the Great Lakes. The two also extended the border west along the 49th parallel from the Lake of the Woods to the Oregon Territory. The Oregon Territory extended both above and below the 49th parallel, and the U.S. and Great Britain agreed to hold it jointly until such time as one formally wanted to annex a portion.

In 1846, as the U.S. was culminating its westward expansion under President James K. Polk, the United States and Great Britain peacefully split the Oregon Territory along the 49th to Vancouver Island. That despite the fact that some Americans were prepared to go to war to get all of Oregon above the 49th parallel as well.

After Canadian independence, those settlements, of course, continued.

War and Defense

The U.S. and Canada have shared experiences in most of the major wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. Both were allies with the British and French in World Wars I and II. Canadian troops invaded Normandy on D-Day along with British and Americans.

Canadians participated with the U.S. in the Korean War, and they been in both the Gulf War of 1991 and the post-9/11 Afghanistan War.

Today, the U.S. State Department says "U.S. defense arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any other country." Those arrangements include:

  • The Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which provides "policy-level consultation on bilateral defense matters."
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -- both the U.S. and Canada are charter members in the post-World War II defense coalition, originally designed to protect against Communist aggression.

The U.S. and Canada also cooperate in a variety of cross-border crime and security measures.

U.S.-Canada Trade Relations

The U.S. State Department reports that the "equivalent of $1.6 billion in goods" pass between the U.S. and Canada each day, as do some 300,000 people. The department says "the United States and Canada share the world's largest and most comprehensive trading relationship, which supports millions of jobs in each country."

  • Despite popular belief, Canada, thanks to its large oil-sands reserves, is the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the United States.
  • The U.S. and Canada operate "an integrated electricity grid that meets jointly developed reliability standards."
  • Both are members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
  • The United States is Canada's largest foreign investor, and Canada is the United States' fifth largest foreign investor.

Looking To The Future

In a joint press-conference with Baird, Secretary Kerry said, "Our neighbor to the north is . . . one of our most able global partners. On issue after issue, whether it's been cooperation with NATO to promote security, stability around the world, or our shared efforts to mitigate climate change through international climate negotiations, . . . in every one of these efforts Canada and the United States are united for progress."

Kerry and Baird both discussed continuing efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "Canada shares the huge concern with respect to the potential of a nuclear Iran," said Baird. "We believe that beyond Iran's support, material support for terrorism, beyond their abysmal and deteriorating human rights record, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is the biggest threat to international peace and security."

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