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Mexico-Canada: Building North America’s security framework

Raúl Benítez Manaut

Security relations between Mexico and Canada remain weak, and are limited to specific areas such as co-operation on intelligence, defence, assistance programs involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and different Mexican police forces, and developing common issues in multilateral diplomacy. However, if both countries could effectively face challenges in strengthening their bilateral security relations, they would play an important role in the creation of a North American security framework.

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, Canada and the United States were optimistic; there was talk of reactivating co-operation programs that could be expanded to include Mexico, such as the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). Indeed, there was a general perception that the era of Mexican nationalism was over and that the country would overcome the isolation it had long been prone to in matters of foreign policy, especially on security and defence. However, as NAFTA was being implemented between 1994 and 2000, Mexico underwent the Zapatista uprising, and the country’s security policies turned inward again. Many Canadian non-governmental organizations supported the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN in its Spanish acronym) and the indigenous cause, and the Canadian government repeatedly mentioned that human rights needed to be respected. This did not please the Mexicans.

With Mexico’s 2000 wave of democratization, it was assumed that the country would change its autarchic and nationalistic foreign policy. This did not happen. Canada offered assistance in the area of peacekeeping operations, making the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre available to Mexican military students. Members of the Mexican military took courses there, but the Mexican government declined to send its soldiers to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2004 when it could have been done at the request of the United Nations.

On the matter of security, the U.S. factor has determined the relationship between Mexico and Canada and has led to a rapprochement since 2001. Canada and Mexico share a common issue: border security with the United States. After the terrorist attacks in the U.S., Canada signed the Smart Border Agreement in December 2001; Mexico followed suit in March 2002. These very similar agreements are the first elements of what could be called a security framework for North America.

At the domestic level, the United States redefined its command structure and, as part of its new antiterrorist policy, it created the Northern Command, which covers Canada, Cuba, Mexico and part of the Caribbean. The Northern Command is based in Colorado Springs, as is NORAD, and the confluence of Canadian and Mexican military officers is leading to the development of inter-agency defence co-operation.

In 2005, Mexico, Canada and the United States signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP), which included security co-operation in many areas, including energy security and human security. An example of such co-operation took place during the H1N1 epidemic in Mexico in April 2009 when collaboration between health ministries proved strategic and the relationship between Canadian and Mexican scientists was decisive.

A current and important challenge concerns the criminal actions of drug cartels in Mexico. Felipe Calderón’s government admitted in 2006 that the country’s resources were not sufficient to fight this national security problem. Consequently, Mexico negotiated with the U.S. government the launch of the Mérida Initiative, with a budget of $1.4 billion over three years. Mexico is also receiving help from a significant number of European countries. Given this new Mexican reality, the Government of Canada could expand its co-operation programs in the areas of intelligence, assistance for justice sector reform and training provided by the RCMP to a number of Mexican police forces.

With Mexico, Canada can also draw on its experience of security co-operation with other countries in the hemisphere. Canada has a wealth of experience in organizing military and defence summits. It hosted the Conference of American Armies in 2003, and defence ministers met in Banff in 2008. Canada is helping the Government of Bolivia organize the ninth Defence Summit in 2010, and it appears that Mexico will organize the 10th Defence Summit.

In order to build on these openings, Mexico needs to “de-bilateralize” its foreign security relations; right now, these relations are taking place almost exclusively with the United States, but Canada presents a wealth of opportunity.

Since drug trafficking is a global phenomenon and North American countries are interdependent in matters of security, the existing North American co-operation framework offers room for the growth of bilateral Mexico-Canada programs.blue square

Raúl Benítez Manaut is a researcher at the Research Centre on North America (Centro de Investigaciones sobre América del Norte) in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. He is also the Chairman of Collective for the Analysis of Security and Democracy (Colectivo de Análisis de la Seguridad con Democracia, CASEDE),www.seguridadcondemocracia.org. His latest books areAtlas de la seguridad y la defensa de México 2009 (“Atlas of Security and Defence in Mexico 2009”) and Crimen organizado e Iniciativa Mérida en las relaciones México Estados Unidos (“Organized Crime and the Mérida Initiative in Mexico-United States Relations”). The author can be reached at manaut@servidor.unam.mx.

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