CHAPTER SIX

North America


This chapter differs from the others in the major-powers section in that it does not discuss developments within the major power, which in this case is the U.S. We assume that our readers are familiar with trends inside the U.S. and that they have readily available other sources on the U.S. domestic situation.

This chapter is similar to the others within the major-powers section in that it discusses potential flashpoints on the periphery of a great power. Furthermore, as with most of the flashpoints analyzed in the major-powers section, many of the threats to stability discussed here are of a low order of probability, but were they to occur, they would be of considerable interest to the U.S., even if they are of small scope and scale.

There is little prospect in the near term of a crisis in North America that would require U.S. military involvement. One reason is that the primary U.S. reaction or intervention in case of a flashpoint in the North American region will be political or economic first. However, there are some political developments that bear monitoring for the implications they would have for the U.S. military. For instance, were Quebec to separate from Canada, that would affect a host of bilateral U.S.-Canadian accords. Similarly, the end of the Castro regime in Cuba could lead to unrest or a wave of migrants to the U.S. Haiti has proved a difficult problem of domestic governance, one that has historically unleashed waves of migrants into south Florida, as discussed in the chapter on migration and population. Unlike the other potential flashpoints discussed in this chapter, Haiti has evoked a military and diplomatic response from the U.S., and will continue to do so in the future. However, these problems in no way threaten the territorial integrity or even the way of life in the U.S., and they are thus small-scale problems.

Background and Trends

As part of the global trend toward economic integration, North America has evolved in recent years into the largest single trading bloc in the world. The most evident manifestation of this is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), integrating the trade of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for a combined annual production of over $7.7 trillion and over 380 million consumers. The attendant increase in interdependence has reached a level where disengagement would exact a tremendous cost, both in lost trade and jobs as well as in increased instability and insecurity in all three countries.

This interdependence has made it difficult to draw the line between domestic and foreign interests within North America. U.S. trade issues with Canada, for instance, affect domestic markets, translating into political pressure. Different approaches to the Cuban situation cause a domestic uproar in southern Florida and New Jersey. Labor-regulation issues with Mexico are indistinguishable from U.S. domestic labor issues. It is thus impossible to separate national discussions of North American issues from domestic policy in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The possibility of domestic repercussions makes it difficult for policymakers to deal with regional issues. Conversely, it is difficult to make domestic policy when there is a significant foreign impact to consider.

Trade as the Largest of Unifying Factors

The forces in the region that facilitate integration include such issues as:

In addition to the above considerations, many bi- and multilateral agreements have been signed, codifying the method, scope, and volume of relations. The U.S. has signed agreements with Canada on numerous issues, including trade, international standards, safety, air travel, and aerospace defense and warning. The two nations share membership in at least sixty-one international agreements. A similar situation exists with Mexico, with whom the U.S. shares numerous bilateral, and over thirty-five international, agreements.

Disintegrative Factors: Differences in Governance

Some forces work against regional integration, mostly governance issues involving ethnic and sociological considerations. These factors are not just disintegrative, splitting the U.S. away from the region, but also corrosive individually to Mexico and Canada as well:

Potential Flashpoints

Potential flashpoints in North America are few and not likely to become more explosive soon, but their proximity to the U.S. makes them important. The potential flashpoints identified here are those that have implications for U.S. security, serve as push factors for migration, and generate concern among domestic U.S. interest groups.

Mexico: Governance under Stress

There is a significant possibility of a flashpoint in Mexico, if the government grossly mismanages the political and economic reforms needed to address the lack of credible governance throughout the nation. The increasing willingness in Mexico to resort to violence and assassination as a means of resolving political problems does not bode well, and the unwillingness or inability to bring to justice the perpetrators or participants in the rampant corruption simply reinforces this trend. The possibility exists that more revolts will erupt against Mexico's sixty-year-old governing party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), harking back to the era when Doroteo Arango (aka Pancho Villa), Venustiano Carranza, and Emiliano Zapata fought each other and the government in Mexico City.

The principal concern for the U.S. in Mexico is the inability of the government to reform itself and provide adequate political and economic stability. Deteriorating domestic conditions could affect the economic interdependence with the U.S., endangering U.S. access to Mexican oil, sparking widespread violence, and causing massive migration from Mexico, and creating pressure for the U.S. to act. Specific action could range from reducing economic or technical assistance to direct military presence reinforcing the border.

A more likely scenario is for rural conflict to continue at present levels, causing stress to the governing body, exacerbated by socioeconomic problems, drug trafficking, and accompanying corruption. Illegal migration, economic instability, and trade issues will dominate U.S.-Mexico relations for many years. Drug-related violence and corruption will probably increase in the late 1990s while the U.S. deals with internal debates within both countries over how best to manage the war on drugs.

Electoral Reform in Mexico

Any political party in power as long as the PRI becomes accustomed to the perquisites of power and privilege and the comfort of corruption, centuries-old habits and traditions at the core of Mexico's political system. Since 1994, there has been a seemingly endless cycle of violence, including assassinations at high levels of government and, increasingly, assassinations with possible connections to the drug mafias. It is apparent that the wave of power-sharing and anti-corruption politics throughout the hemisphere has not yet fully hit Mexico. Electoral and economic reform has been a priority issue for the administrations of Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, and though results have been less than expected, recent reforms have involved opposition parties and may achieve implementation. Both of these administrations represent a change for Mexican politics, a new generation of technocrats attempting to take over from the old, entrenched power brokers in the PRI. While neither administration has been completely willing or able to make a clean break, that such technocrats are gaining strength is a positive sign for Mexican governance.

The Rise of Participative Democracy

Democratization in Mexico means the enfranchisement of political parties other than the PRI. Traditionally minor opposition parties have made significant inroads throughout the country, as seen in their successes in state and mayoral elections, but on the national level, no one has been allowed to challenge the PRI. Despite the public demand for a pluralistic political system, it will take decades to remove the PRI from national power, unless massive mismanagement and corruption threaten the standard of living, as happened in 1983. Should significant popular unrest ensue, it is possible that the PRI will impose an authoritarian regime to remain in power.

The traditional disenfranchisement of fringe political parties, longstanding governmental neglect of rural needs, and the monopolistic grip of the PRI on political appointments are the main factors in the recent rise of insurgency movements in Mexico. Having no recourse for political action, disenfranchised people resort to violence. President Zedillo's recent proposals to liberalize participation--for example, instituting the election of mayors rather than their appointment--preempts many of these issues and bodes well for the future. Access to power by opposition parties, however, does not immediately translate to accession to power; so the tendency to violence among marginalized political movements will continue if the PRI machine wins many future elections, and especially so if there is evidence of corruption in the electoral process. Also, there is little evidence to suggest that the opposition parties are free from corruption, so a change in governing parties may not improve governance.

U.S. Border Patrol on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Increasing Accountability Fights Corruption

A major obstacle to good governance is the entrenched lack of accountability within the government. The electorate's awareness of government corruption has increased the viability of opposition parties, forcing the PRI to reform the bureaucracy. Examples of governments (or at least individuals) being held accountable for personal corruption abound in the hemisphere, increasing the public's perception that it is a serious problem in Mexico, too. If accountability is not improved demonstrably in the short run, domestic confidence in the ruling party will continue to erode. Should this erosion coincide with decreasing economic performance and spreading violence and revolt, the possibility is quite high that the PRI will revert to its authoritarian tendencies, roll back the electoral reforms, and impose a one-party regime with tight control over politics and the economy by the central government.

Revolt and Banditry

The Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army for National Liberation, or EZLN) revolt of January 1994 caught Mexico by surprise, highlighted the rebels' complaints of neglect by the national government. The military's initial response was to invade and call for political talks. The EZLN still has not been eradicated, and its complaints have not yet been adequately addressed. Thus peace and stability have eluded the region of Chiapas, because there are many other ethnic, religious, and political groups with complaints not addressed by either the political reforms of the Zedillo administration or the peace negotiations with the EZLN. Land seizures, drug trafficking, and crime exacerbate the situation. Nevertheless, that Mexico City would seek a political (and not just a military) solution demonstrates how much politics has changed in Mexico.

The regions of Guerrero and Tabasco have long been hotbeds of discontent, with rumors of military or police activity against shadowy subversives, precipitating a recent military and police crack-down on dissidents. It is too early to know the exact nature of these movements, but the timing and coordination of the events suggests a sophisticated network of insurgents, though the numbers are probably still small and their ideology is unclear. However, the mere existence of such situations, coupled with the government's ability to control media releases on such events, is an indicator of just how far the political reforms have to go outside of Mexico City.

Drugs Subverting the Government

The U.S. shares a 2,000-mile border with Mexico, one that increasingly is becoming the world's largest drug-smuggling crossing point. Approximately 70 percent of cocaine, 50­80 percent of marijuana, 5­15 percent of heroin, and up to 80 percent of the methamphetamines consumed in the U.S. enter through Mexico. The Mexican drug mafias earn up to $10 billion a year, money they are not shy about using to subvert police and government officials at all levels. Government officials in Mexico have always accepted patronage and payoff as a way of life, creating an environment that compromises the integrity of the police forces and judicial system. The military has sought to prevent its personnel from becoming corrupted by drug money but may become so if it follows the example of other militaries in the region.

Two potential developments would significantly change the nature of Mexico's drug trafficking problem:

Quebec Language Distribution

Source: National Geographic Society, Canada in the Making, March 1991.

Quebec Separatism

Quebec is determined to control its political and economic future, and could very possibly succeed as a viable independent state. The 1995 referendum on secession resulted in an almost even split, with the vote decided by less than one percent of the total, only 50,000 votes. Polling since then has given conflicting data on which way support has swayed, though the federalists will probably win future referendums, barring any unforeseen event. A majority of the Francophone Quebecois live in the southern part of the province and the English-speaking Indians in the northern part have no desire to separate from Canada. Ottawa's "tough love" approach to the question as a Canadian (versus a Quebec) issue, raising the possibility of splitting Quebec into two sections (French and English) should independence succeed, is having a negative effect on the separatist movement. A follow-up referendum will take place after the next Quebequian provincial elections as early as 1997, so the issue has not yet been resolved. The Canadian Supreme Court may be called upon to decide if a provincial plebiscite is sufficient grounds for deciding an obviously constitutional issue. Should the results of the past or future Quebec plebiscites be ruled invalid, the response by separatists will raise emotions and the volume level of the debate. There is some potential for instability thereafter, depending upon the civility of the debate.

The issue of Quebec separatism is not likely to become a flashpoint, but it is an issue that bears watching because of its implications for relations with the U.S. The principal question for the United States is not whether Quebec will separate or remain in the confederation, but rather the possible deterioration of stability, leading to increased pressure on the United States to do something in order to maintain the traditionally high standard of stability and economic interdependence. In the event of Quebec separation, it is possible that some or all of the remaining provinces, especially the newly isolated maritime provinces and possibly the western provinces, will seek greater accommodation with the United States, even to the point of seeking statehood. A more likely scenario is that separation would spur a new Canadian nationalism, including a tinge of anti-Americanism, with Canada remaining as a viable nation without Quebec. The likelihood of violence during a process of separation is practically non-existent.

Quebec's secession would undoubtedly change Canada's defense establishment. At the very least, Quebec has 25 percent of the nation's manpower pool (the total population of the province is seven million), has a significant number of defense industries (as well as several military bases) and accounts for a quarter of the nation's GDP. Such a loss of assets would probably affect Canada's contributions to NATO, UN peacekeeping forces, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Should Canada split, the Canadian Defence Force (CDF) would withdraw from Quebec, forcing the latter to establish and direct its own defense force (though it is also possible that the CDF's assets would be divided, with some part going to an independent Quebec). Quebec's economy is fed via maritime trade routes, but there are no naval assets based in the province. Quebec would be forced to fund and establish naval forces to complement its maritime interests. A major question to be resolved would be the division of military assets such as planes, ships, and troops.

The most likely scenario in the event of a separation is one in which the armed forces of both new nations retain their existing focus on domestic and collective security, oriented within the traditional international framework of cooperation with the U.S. and NATO. Agreements in place with Canada would be renewed with both institutions, reducing to negligible the concern that missile- and submarine-detection networks and other intelligence agreements might endanger the data and equipment involved. However, all analysis on this topic is highly speculative. How the U.S. and Canada would adapt its current binational military-to-military arrangement to a third military power is uncertain at best.

Cuba: Betting on Castro's Mortality

As of 1996, Fidel Castro (though seventy years old) is in good health, and his family has a history of longevity. Consequently, there are only two credible scenarios under which Cuba could become a flashpoint for the U.S. during the 1990s. Yet, if either scenario occured, Cuba could become the bloodiest flashpoint in the region. The scenarios in question are: the assassination of Castro, or the decision by the U.S. to force him out of office. Apart from these, there are few foreseeable situations in which Cuba could present a threat to the U.S. greater than migration pressures. Barring Castro's accidental death, security and economic stability (albeit at low levels) are well within the regime's grasp for at least fifteen years. Yet even Castro's death by accident or illness will not cause a major crisis, given the inherent stability of the regime. Raul Castro would most likely assume office, and maintain order for several years.

During his tenure in power, Castro has not allowed the growth of democracy or an open economic system on the island. After his departure, the situation could lead to demands for an end to U.S. sanctions. Castro's death could lead to a violent struggle for power, provoking massive migration and involving Cuban exiles from the U.S., as well as demands for U.S. intervention. In the unlikely event of crisis, the emigré population in the U.S. and neighboring Caribbean nations will demand a U.S. response. The nature of the flashpoint, and U.S. involvement, would be determined by reactions to the method of Castro's departure from the scene. U.S. policy options will make the flashpoint situation better or worse, even if unintentionally.

The primary concern in any scenario involving Castro's abrupt departure would be dramatically increased instability. Specifically, deteriorating conditions would increase the poverty and misery on the island; increased repression or the start of a civil war would spark massive migration (most of it to the U.S.) as well as increased pressure on the U.S. to intervene. Any dramatic increase in instability is cause for concern, because it could lead to pressure from human rights groups demanding aid for refugees; anti-Castro groups demanding direct military intervention; and regional organizations and neighboring nations in general demanding intervention or non-intervention, depending on how close each is to the problem.

Who Will Succeed Castro?

Cuba's political stability has remained constant for decades, with small periods of unrest during times of economic stress (the 1980 Mariel boatlift, the 1994 migration crisis). But the stability is a strained one, backed up by the communist regime's willingness to use repression and force. Should Castro be removed from the equation, stability will be determined by the ability of a credible successor to take power and maintain institutional continuity. Should the communist regime disintegrate, the new leaders would most likely seek technical support from socialist parties in Mexico or Spain (but not from the U.S.) in order to regain stability and reform the government. The military would be the pivotal institution, providing a substantial stabilizing influence on any regime change, and other government institutions would most likely also survive initial reorganizations. Again, the degree of stability would depend in part on the reaction of the U.S. to events in Cuba. Distrust of U.S. and of Cuban exile intentions remains strong in Cuba, and Cuban perceptions of U.S. reaction--as being either hostile or constructive--will be particularly important. The position taken by countries considered friendly to Cuba, such as Canada and Mexico, could be especially influential in determining the level of post-Castro stability in Cuba.

Caribbean naval forces are ill-equipped to combat increasing drug trafficking.

There is little indication that Castro has groomed anyone as a successor, though it is generally assumed that his brother Raul would step in, in the event of his demise. Chances for change under Raul are slim, though a period of instability can be expected from his brother's departure, be it natural or violent. U.S. reaction (indifference, diplomatic engagement, or intervention) would dictate the level of crisis, because Cuba would react to U.S. action, rejecting any overtures and blaming instability on the U.S. Wild-card scenarios involve a peaceful (but unstable and unpredictable) transition to another communist party leader after a power struggle; peaceful transition to an opposition political party acceptable to all; and a less than peaceful transition with interference from the emigré community in Miami.

Castro's Economy is Muddling Through

The economy is key to Castro's endurance, and recent performance indicates continued longevity. Absent a U.S. blockade, Cuba's economy most likely will muddle through with Castro effecting minor changes to the privatization and liberalization reforms required to keep the population alive. Prosperity is a relative term in the Cuban economy, but under any definition it is not in Cuba's future under Castro.

Economic pressure has proved the only effective motivation for Castro to change policies in Cuba. The loss of Soviet aid forced a liberalization in the early 1990s, bringing temporary relief from the austerity imposed by the loss of income. When the black market and private businesses began to grow and expand, however, Castro rescinded many of the reforms, as he will continue to do in the future. Yet, absent a blockade, the economy will not provide a flashpoint triggering U.S. involvement in Cuba.
Cuba as a Divisive Regional Issue

Conflicting views about how to deal with Cuba are one of the principal differences in the foreign policies of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. U.S. attempts to pressure and isolate Castro have constantly been countered by Canadian and Mexican diplomatic and economic policies perceived by Washington as support for Havana. While all three countries have the same goal of democratic reform in Cuba, Canada and Mexico believe active engagement is a more effective means of achieving that goal than are sanctions and pressure. Their reaction to U.S. intervention in internal conflict in Cuba is difficult to gauge, but it would be met at the least by diplomatic silence and at the worst by linkage to trade issues and condemnation in international forums. Thus, what to do with Castro is possibly the most divisive regional issue affecting the three countries, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Narco-corruption in the Caribbean

The Caribbean basin is an area of strategic interest to the U.S. for many reasons, including strategic sea lines of communication, its use by the drug traffickers, and trade. The U.S. has been reducing its presence in the region, relocating SOUTHCOM from Panama, removing the Navy training center from the Guantanamo naval base, and consolidating its diplomatic presence throughout the region. But the Caribbean remains an area of potential crisis because of its diversity, geography, and the nature of the governments involved. Within the region, there are thirty-eight million people, twenty-six territories, sixteen independent states, and four official languages, in addition to many Creolized languages, making for an extremely diverse region, including many barely viable mini-states. The most obvious potential flashpoint is the instability caused by economic hardship, rampant corruption within the governments, and the increasing influence of the drug mafias, as well as the growing crime and piracy that threaten U.S. citizens. Governance could deteriorate to such an extent that the U.S. would see it necessary to intervene--as it has previously intervened in Grenada, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic--to restore order and the rule of law. In all three instances, U.S. intervention involved active participation of other friendly governments, which enabled less involvement by U.S. forces and greater international acceptance of the intervention. In contrast, the 1989 unilateral intervention in Panama was broadly condemned.

Patrolling and protecting this vast Caribbean area has proved an insurmountable task for the small and relatively weak regimes in the region. Economic and social pressures render the region vulnerable to the influence of drug mafias, who corrupt governments and law-enforcement and judicial entities. Drug scandals involving government officials have erupted continually during recent years, indicating the vulnerability of not just individuals but also whole governments. Traffickers are laundering money through the tourist industry so vital to the economy, through casinos, resorts, real estate, and through the porous and secretive banking system.

One serious problem is the shallowness of institutions. Because of low population levels, in most cases the bureaucracy throughout the Caribbean is one or two people deep. Furthermore, there is a low level of operational coordination between the ten defense forces, five police departments, and various coast guard forces. The capability is there on paper but professional capabilities vary widely, and coordination of policing efforts is almost absent. Vast patrol areas quickly absorb all the assets available, and the more remote regions suffer accordingly. It is not coincidental that the nations most corrupted by mafias (Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis) are the farthest from the closest U.S. presence, the embassy in Barbados. As the U.S. presence departed, the drug mafia presence increased. St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Suriname are also at risk of becoming narcostates because of their geographical isolation or convenience to the drug traffickers.

Drug corruption is making inroads in the region. Money laundering is a major problem, as is migration from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, especially through the Bahamas. The general trend for drug traffic through the Caribbean is for increasing diversification and sophistication of the routes and methods involved. Also, the smugglers are shipping more to Europe, where the market for drugs has been growing more rapidly than in the U.S. It is difficult to quantify the relationship between the drug mafias and the effectiveness of counterdrug operations. In 1993, the U.S. redirected its forces away from interdiction in favor of source country eradication. The lowered level of attention paid to the region has resulted in increased drug traffic through it. Any future effort will last into the late 1990s before regaining ground lost in the fight against the well-funded, well-equipped, and well-motivated forces of the drug mafias.

U.S. Interests and Approach

Net Assessment

Overall, the potential for a flashpoint in the North American region is quite low. Mexico will most likely experience a difficult transition to a more stable economy and improved governance through electoral and political reform, with the new generation of technocrats and opposition parties gradually wresting power away from the old guard PRI politicians, resolving some of the problems that spark revolts and allow the drug mafias to corrupt the system. Canada will most likely reach accommodation between the Quebecois and the federalists, maintaining the stability that has historically characterized U.S.-Canadian relations. Cuba will most likely remain a totalitarian, communist state under Fidel Castro's control, muddling through economically with occasional use of migration as foreign policy to relieve socioeconomic pressures on the system. The Caribbean nations, however, are a more difficult group for which to predict a positive scenario. The most likely scenario is for continued encroachment by the drug mafias, subverting individuals within the governments to work in their favor. The influx of drug dollars will negatively affect the tourism industry, increasing crime to the point of requiring U.S. assistance to regain rule of law.

U.S. Interests

Were there to be a security challenge (in the traditional sense) in North America, reversing that challenge that would quickly rise to the top of the list of U.S. interests. However, as of 1996, there was no such security threat to the U.S. and little prospect of one arising. Cuba, once a major disruptive force in the hemisphere, has been reduced by the demise of communism to a mere shell of its former power. Its government is a danger only to the Cuban people, except when it uses the threat of migration as foreign policy.

Democratic Neighbors

Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. has earned a reputation for placing an increased emphasis on linking foreign policy with respect for human rights. The change in emphasis helped lead the region out of a long period of military or authoritarian governments. The U.S. reputation as a human rights champion has increased, with a new interest in treating nations (not just individuals) as equals. Democratic governments now rule in all but one hemispheric nation, and it is in the U.S.'s interest to maintain that status quo.

Access to Markets

The U.S. has led a push toward lowering barriers to trade in North America, as described earlier in this chapter. Though access to the North American market can probably be taken for granted because of proximity and volume, recent moves to include other hemispheric actors indicate an interest in remaining an active participant in the trend to integrate markets. This interest complements the increased attention in democratic regimes, as these tend to liberalize economic as well as governance policies. Access to the NAFTA market is critical to the U.S. economy, and access to Mexican oil is of vital interest to the U.S. energy policy.

Control over U.S. borders

Control of U.S. borders is a rather obvious interest, but not necessarily the easiest to achieve, for two major reasons: the illegal drug trade and illegal migration. Both run afoul of domestic security interests, and both arouse public sentiment. The military is not, and in our judgment will not be, the main instrument by which the U.S. government responds to these problems, although the military is and will continue to be used in a supplementary role, especially during periods of crisis.

Cuba has used illegal migration as an instrument of foreign policy. It is in the United States' interest to ensure that Cuba is thwarted in any future efforts in this regard.

U.S. Approaches

Regarding the promotion of democracy, a key element is the support for increased democratic enfranchisement in Mexico through electoral reform, both reform within the PRI and regarding opposition parties. Such support, be it overt or behind-the-scenes, is designed to avoid any perception by the Mexican public that the U.S. is interfering in Mexico's domestic politics. The nationalism in Mexican society would reject strong overt U.S. efforts to improve or reform anything Mexicans consider a domestic issue, and such efforts would increase instability and hinder future relations.

A major U.S. initiative regarding its interest in democratic neighbors has been the policy to limit Castro's options to maintain himself in power. Long-range analysis of what motivates Castro has demonstrated the value of direct economic pressure. There have been few instances, economic or otherwise, of Castro responding to incentives to open his political system to tolerate dissent, criticism, or opposition interest groups. The few times the U.S. has succeeded in pressuring Castro in a desired direction were when, as in the Helms-Burton Act, severe budgetary constraints were threatened, such as limiting dollar remittances from the U.S. or enacting sanctions against third-parties who deal with both the U.S. and Cuba. Economic sanctions thus remain the primary means of pressuring Havana into changing to a more open, democratic system of governance.

To promote better U.S. access to markets, as well as other U.S. objectives, Washington supports continued economic reform in Mexico. The U.S. provided major loans as part of the December 1994 peso-crisis bailout. A High-Level Contact Group was established to defuse and resolve contentious differences between the two countries. U.S. policy has shifted to treating Mexico as an equal, which has proved to be a successful approach.

Also as part of the effort to secure U.S. access to markets, the U.S. approach is to keep cordial but correct relations with both sides of the debate about Quebec's future, with the aim of maintaining the existing trade and political cooperation with all parties in Canada, be they separated or unified. So far, that policy has succeeded in not alienating either side. Should Quebec succeed in separating, the most likely U.S. approach would be a continuation of the present set of policies. New security, trade, and customs agreements would have to be signed with the new nations.

Trade and cooperation have been at the center of U.S. policy towards the Caribbean in the mid-1990s. The primary constraints to smooth relations have been the disparate size of the partners and markets and their vulnerability to uncontrollable factors, such as the limited market for Caribbean agricultural products (bananas, sugar), and weather (damaging to the tourist industry). The Caribbean Basin Initiative, begun in the 1980s, has proven successful in increasing trade and job prospects.

Perhaps the most difficult U.S. goal is stemming the flow of illegal drugs. Criminals hold the advantage of initiative, and governments can only react, playing catch-up in an attempt to raise the risk to the drug traffickers. U.S. policy has focused on promoting regional cooperation in a coordinated multilateral counterdrug effort and on keeping the corrosive effects of drug smuggling out of the governmental structures of the hemisphere. The Caribbean drug-trafficking problem has been more difficult to address, in part because the trend toward disengaging U.S. forces has left a power vacuum in the region.

The intensification of counterdrug efforts with Mexico has been difficult to implement because of Mexico's great concern with sovereignty. The U.S. has provided some support for the increased profile of the Mexican military in the war on drugs because of the potential increased operational capability, but the policy has been controversial within the U.S. government because of the possibility that Mexican armed forces will become corrupted by the narco-dollars.

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