Does the United States take Canada and Mexico for granted? The United States is in a unique geopolitical position, a position never before enjoyed by any great nation in the history of the world. The danger is that by taking our two peaceful and weaker neighbors to the north and south for granted, we endanger our own existence.
We are bordered on the east and west by two great oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific. These oceans have had a huge influence upon our national security. In both World Wars I and II, our nation was not existentially threatened. For most of our history the United States has been free from fears of invasion. Even with the reality of mutually assured destruction in the case of a nuclear attack, the United States has enjoyed over 50 years of peace.
As a result of our peaceful neighbors, the United States was able to develop into the pre-eminent world naval power. We have not had to fortify our borders from attack like almost all the other major nations on the planet.
As Geopolitical Futures CEO George Friedman has noted in his article, “Canada, Mexico, and America’s Reality”, “This happy condition is the foundation of American power…. This is such an obvious fact that it tends to get neglected.”
One instance came during World War I in January 1917 when the German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman tried to convince the Mexican government to attack the United States. Zimmerman promised to help the Mexicans regain the American Southwest, which had been lost in the Mexican American War of
This one event was the major trigger for the United States to declare war against Germany. In this case, Mexico posed an existential threat to the United States and Germany was the cause. The U.S. had no patience for such a proposition.
In the 1960s, Quebec’s independence movement proved a threat to our national security. Fortunately for the United States, the referendum failed, but by a narrow margin. An independent Quebec could have posed major concerns to American security. We are fortunate that neither neighbor nation has wanted to ally with any of our enemies.
During the Trump administration, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement put a great deal of pressure on our neighbors and created a great deal of anger. Both nations submitted to most of what the United States wanted, but President Biden recently met with the leaders of both nations to restore good relations and repair the damage.
Immigration through Mexico is of deep concern to Americans, but not so much for the Mexicans. According to Friedman, Mexico sees its problem coming from its border with Guatemala. Mexico has been demonized over the immigrant issue, but the U.S. has refused to come to Mexico’s aid in closing its own southern border. The Mexican government has asked for aid, only to be brushed off.
Canada obliged the United States by arresting and detaining the Chinese Huawei chief financial officer. China punished Canada by arresting and convicting two Canadian citizens who were in China. It has baffled me why Canada just didn’t hand over the Huawei executive to the United States. It probably would have angered China even more.
As Friedman noted: “Therefore, in any discussion of American strategy and of its strategic priorities, the most important issue is not the South China Sea or NATO but the maintenance of relations with Canada and Mexico.” It’s true for Canada and Mexico as well to desire to have good relationships with the United States. It is also true that the U.S. could invade and conquer both countries. But such wars with neighbors are expensive and exhausting.
The United States needs Mexico and Canada for its own national security. Offering concessions to our neighbors is a low-cost-high-benefit proposition. America needs to treat its neighbors with respect. Friedman stated it best: “The most interesting part of geopolitics is that a current state of affairs feels eternal. Nothing in geopolitics’ past should give anyone that confidence.”
Just like treating one’s own neighbors well is good personal policy, it is also true on the international level. Pride and arrogance can make us vulnerable to a fall.
Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.