President Obama will be hosting a North American summit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico on April 2. According to the Washington Post, the leaders will discuss:
economic growth and competitiveness, security, energy and climate change.
Regional dialogues like this one often go under-reported, and under-appreciated. As we have argued previously, in a world of transnational security challenges, regional fora and institutions can often be optimal. They offer the possibility of addressing threats and opportunities that cannot be managed by single nations alone, while also avoiding the problems of intractability that plague international institutions with a broader membership and less in common culturally, geographically and geostrategically. They also confer a greater degree of international legitimacy than bilateral deals or unilateral actions.
On a purely practical level, these three countries share similar climate challenges, making cooperation a matter of necessity. A melting Arctic demands joint efforts between the U.S. and Canada on everything from naval search and rescue (SAR) operations, to keeping an eye on the expansion of shipping lanes, and the impact of a warming ocean will affect fisheries along the coastlines of all three countries, as fish seek colder waters. Climatic pressures on freshwater in the U.S.-Mexican border region calls for trans-boundary cooperation between those two nations, but will also concern their partner to the north. For example, the state of water supplies in the American southwest will affect water management decisions in the American northwest, which in turn will be of concern to southwestern Canada.
There are also diplomatic benefits to cooperation, particularly in regards to international climate negotiations at the UNFCCC. Meaningful cooperation with Mexico, for example, a nation far more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than the U.S. or Canada, enhances U.S. and Canadian negotiating strength vis-a-vis emerging economies like China and Brazil, who sometimes assume the mantle of champion of the global poor and most climate-vulnerable (deservedly or not). In turn, Mexico’s leverage is enhanced through their association with key developed countries, who are necessarily critical to the development of global climate policies.
Lastly, such cooperation should be welcomed and encouraged by the international community. The U.S., Canada and Mexico working together is preferable to them working alone, and will likely enhance the probability that they will find common ground with the broader global community.
It is not clear if anything significant will be decided on April 2nd. But all three nations should use the opportunity to enhance their response to climate change, for the benefit of national, regional and global security. And hopefully, the various issues on the agenda – economic growth and competitiveness, security, energy and climate change – will not be discussed in silos.