The Conspiracy’s Kernel of Truth

By Laura Carlsen

The North American Union conspiracy theory grew out of a kernel of truth, called the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” (SPP). But cultivated by xenophobic fears and political opportunism, the NAU outstripped its reality-based progenitor so fast that it has become hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. A little history helps.

After the North American Free Trade Agreement went into force in 1994, the three governments began to talk about expanding the scope of the agreement. Mexico, in particular, hoped to negotiate a solution to the border/immigration problem. However, the process was brought to a grinding halt by the attacks of Sept. 11th. In a 2005 summit of then-Presidents George W. Bush, Vicente Fox, and Prime Minister Paul Martin in Waco, Texas plans for “deep integration” between the three countries finally progressed with the official launch of the SPP. In the post-September 11th political context, immigration was definitively off the table and U.S. security interests, along with corporate interests in obtaining even more favorable terms for regional trade and investment, dominated the agenda.

The SPP established working groups, rules, recommendations, and agreements without Congressional oversight or public participation in—or even knowledge of—its proceedings. It created a “North American Competitiveness Council” that reads like a “Who’s Who” of the largest transnationals based on the continent. While the lack of transparency and the U.S. corporate and security- dominated agenda are cause for great concern, they are not evidence of a plot to move toward a North American Union. Even a perfunctory analysis of politics in the three NAFTA countries shows that a North American Union was, is, and always will be a non-starter. It began as an academic proposal and never got off the ground politically.

Among the most bizarre assumptions of NAU scare-mongers is the contention that the SPP will threaten U.S. sovereignty and erase borders. The idea of a regional union that effaces U.S. sovereignty is light-years away from George W. Bush’s foreign policy of unilateral action and disdain for international law and institutions. On the contrary, the precepts of the Bush administration’s foreign policy point to a return to the neoconservative belief that the world would be a better place if the U.S. government just ran everything.

Officially described as “... a White House-led initiative among the United States and the two nations it borders—Canada and< Mexico—to increase security and to enhance prosperity among the three countries through greater cooperation,” the SPP does pose a threat to national sovereignty, but to the sovereignty of NAFTA’s junior partners. Canadians have been the most active in opposing the SPP, not out of fear of a mythical NAU but because of real threats to their ability to protect consumers’ health, natural resources, and the environment. SPP rules would force open oil production in environmentally sensitive areas and channel water supplies to U.S. needs. Likewise, Mexican civic organizations have protested SPP pressures to privatize Mexican oil and impose U.S. security priorities on Mexican foreign policy.

As for moving toward a borderless North America, the years since the SPP began have witnessed a hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border never seen before in modern history. Fifteen thousand Border Patrol agents, 6,000 members of the National Guard and a border fence powerfully belie any suggestion that the U.S. government aims to eliminate borders.

The NAU myth obscures the very real globalization issues raised by NAFTA—job loss, labor insecurity, the surge in illegal immigration, and racial tensions caused by the portrayal of immigrants as invaders. This is convenient for both right-wing politicians and the government and business elites they attack because real solutions to these problems would include actions anathema to them all, including unionization, enforcement of labor rights, comprehensive immigration reform, and regulation of the international market. Instead, these options are shunted aside with the redefinition of the problem as a conspiracy of anti-American elites.

In this context, outrage over a nonexistent NAU should not be confused with growing criticism of the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The SPP has proceeded to change national regulations, and create closed business committees without the participation of labor, environmental, or citizen voices. SPP negotiations provide a vehicle for more of the corporate integration that has eliminated jobs, impoverished workers, and threatened the environment across borders.

It has also served to extend the dangerous Bush security doctrine to Canada and Mexico, despite its lack of popularity in those countries and among the US public. It’s latest outgrowth, the $1.4 billion-dollar Merida Initiative or Plan Mexico, would provide money, U.S. training, and equipment to the Mexican military, police, and intelligence services. This militarized model of fighting real problems of drug-trafficking and human smuggling would lead to greater violence and heightened binational tensions. It’s time to separate out false threats from real threats. A good place to start is to demand transparency in trinational talks and informed public debate on regional integration.

Laura Carlsen is Director of Americas Policy Program in Mexico City.

Spring 2008
Vol. 23, No. 1 :

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