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Chicago sits in the middle of the United States, but these days it seems like it has moved to Mexico’s side of the border. In the first eight months of 2012, CBS News reported, there were 351 violent murders in the windy city: the head of the regional DEA office said that the sharp increase was due to Mexican drug cartels.
The drug war that has devastated border cities like Juarez and Tijuana has come to Middle America.
This should not be a surprise. Mexican drug cartels have become huge multinational enterprises, employing hundreds of thousands of criminally active gang members throughout North America. In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an operation that led to 2,266 narcotics-related arrests of Mexicans and Americans in 16 U.S. states and the seizure of 74 tons of illegal drugs and hundreds of firearms.
These organizations and their connections with the U.S. are the criminal equivalent of multi-national corporations like Wal-Mart, the largest employer in North America. Wal-Mart is not in the business of violence, of course, but it reportedly has broken laws by bribing local, state and federal officials in Mexico.
The point is that illicit enterprises, like legal companies, are now multinational. While some Americans think of corruption or illicit drugs as Mexico’s problems, the truth is that we share responsibility, as well as the consequences, for both. So instead of blaming Mexico for drug violence in American cities, we ought to acknowledge we are a part of the problem. We need to devise new ways to collaborate with Mexico and our neighbor to the north, Canada, to address the drug war as well as the many other challenges that ignore the borders and fences we build.
Some in the U.S. oppose integrating law enforcement with Mexico and Canada as a betrayal of American sovereignty. I personally have been attacked as the “architect of the North American Union” because I’ve proposed new approaches to cooperation in North America even though I do not favor a union. When I speak or write an article about North American cooperation, my e-mail box fills with invective: “You are an ENEMY of USA and should be hung for treason.” This particular message was signed by Tom Neighbors, who concluded with a graphic expletive. Some neighbor.
If we reject collaboration, we only hurt ourselves. No two markets are more important to the U.S. than Canada and Mexico. Trade among the three nations of North America totals about $1 trillion. Together, their domestic markets account for almost one-third of the world’s productivity.
We’re already integrated in terms of energy. Many think that our two largest sources of energy imports are Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, but Canada and Mexico are more important. In a new proposal, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recognized the importance of our neighbors and called for continental energy independence, a more feasible solution than national independence, although the proposal would be enhanced if it were linked to a coordinated strategy to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
North America is already a significant regional group. But since 2001, the level of integration has declined and our ability to manage continental issues like drug-trafficking, the environment and energy has also shrunk.
The future requires that Mexicans, Canadians and Americans change the way they relate to each other. We are trading fewer products; today, we are making more of them together. We are not competing with each other as much as we are all competing with China. But we are also not building new mechanisms to increase our continental competitiveness. We are not coordinating trade strategy against China or Europe.
We need a new North American idea that will help us recognize that the best way to deal with drug cartels is to collaborate at all levels. The best way to reduce carbon emissions is for all three governments to do it together. The best way to compete against China is for the three governments to forge a common external tariff and create a seamless market for the continent.
We should start by encouraging our students to study in each other’s countries, to support regional centers on North America as we already do on Europe, Africa or Asia. We then need to unleash our imaginations and create a North American response to climate change, border security, infrastructure and transportation, education, and energy.
Robert Pastor is Professor, Founder, and Director of the Center for North American Studies at American University in Washington and the author of The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future. He was National Security Advisor for Latin American and Caribbean Affairs in the White House during the Carter Administration.
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