Building North America: Diversity and Community. (End Paper)

By Haynal, George | Harvard International Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Building North America: Diversity and Community. (End Paper)


Haynal, George, Harvard International Review


There is a "Europe." The European Union is an entity through which 15 states now share elements of sovereignty. A European identity is being forged, most powerfully expressed by a common currency. No analogous identity exists in North America. It is a continent of three countries: the world's dominant power, a mid-level industrial democracy, and a large, emerging developing country.

These three partners have four relationships between them, three that tie them bilaterally and a fourth embryonic relationship that includes them all. Are they likely to form a North American Union to match the European Union? Not for a while, but a different kind of community is developing, based on the shared interests of three very different partners. This community will emerge from and reflect a complex set of ties between the three societies.

North American Relationships

The United States and Canada have a relationship of implicit mutual confidence. Their converging histories, complementary values, and compatible institutions have helped to build what can best be called neighborliness. There are, of course, bound to be tensions in this asymmetric relationship, but whenever shared problems arise, such as international terrorism today, the default reaction is close cooperation. Mutuality however, requires constant attention, particularly on the Canadian side. The US relationship is a focus of Canadian political discourse, and its management always has been a matter of state policy. On the US side, the Canadian relationship receives minimal high-level management.

US-Mexican relations are of a different character and have been shaped by a more troubled history. There are differences in language, politics, legal and economic systems, civic culture, and social structure. Until recently, keeping a distance from the United States was an important pillar of Mexican foreign policy. The two societies are now, however, increasingly bound together by trade, investment, and people. Today 20 million Mexicans live and work in the United States.

Canada and Mexico have a relationship with little history prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1993. They share a deep interest in maintaining strong relations with the United States and are becoming economic partners. The governments are cooperating actively as Mexico becomes more integrated and Canada builds a larger role in the Americas. The two societies are engaged in building the kind of relationship both share with the United States.

NAFTA has helped the three build an unprecedented measure of shared prosperity. Their growing interdependence also brings with it new vulnerability. Any disruption in free access to the US market has severe consequences for Mexico and Canada. Their economic viability relies on guarantees that the US market will never be closed to them. The US economy is also vulnerable to a disruption in North American flows, but to a lesser degree. The United States, however, has the paradoxical vulnerability of power. Mexico and Canada are so deeply committed to the North American economy that it is within the United States' capacity to beggar its neighbors. Doing so, however, would create serious problems for the United States. The three countries share physical infrastructure, a fragile environment, and industrial production chains, and the United States relies on its neighbors for secure markets and critical resources. They are also buffers that help guarantee US security. For the United States, now exercising global lea dership, the best neighbors are strong, self-reliant partners. Its own vulnerability would grow if either one faltered. In sum, Mexico and Canada need the United States, but the United States also needs its neighbors, and all three countries have a stake in the dynamic stability of North America.

North American Cooperation

North American stability is now built on NAFTA and bilateral ties. …

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