The Next Decade: What the World Will Look Like - George Friedman (2011)
Chapter 11. A SECURE HEMISPHERE
Given that the United States shares a hemisphere and quite a bit of history with Latin America and Canada, some might assume that this region has a singular importance for the U.S. Indeed, many Latin Americans in particular see the United States as obsessed with dominating them, or at least obtaining their resources. But with few exceptions—primarily in the case of Mexico and Cuba—what happens in Latin America is of marginal importance to the United States, and the region has rarely held a significant place in American thinking. Part of this has to do with distance. Washington is about a thousand miles farther from Rio de Janeiro than it is from Paris. And unlike European and Asian powers, the United States has never had an extensive war with the Latin world south of Panama. This isn’t to say that there isn’t mutual distrust and occasional hostility. But in the end—and again excepting Mexico and Cuba—the fundamental interests of the United States simply don’t intersect with those of Latin America.
The United States has had limited concern with the region in part because of the fragmentation there, which has prevented the rise of a transcontinental power. South America looks like a single geographical entity, but in fact the continent is divided by significant topographic barriers. First, running north and south are the Andes, a chain of mountains much taller than the Rockies or the Alps and with few readily traversable passes. Then, in the center of the continent, the vast Amazonian jungle presents an equally impenetrable barrier.
There are actually three distinct regions in South America, each cut off from the others to the extent that basic overland commerce is difficult and political unity impossible. Brazil is an arc along the Atlantic Coast, with the inhospitable Amazon as its interior. A separate region lies to the south of Brazil along the Atlantic, and it consists of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, the latter not on the coast but part of this bloc of nations. To the west are the Andean nations of Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Off the mainland and not completely Latin are, of course, the Caribbean islands, important as platforms but without weight themselves.
The only connection between Brazil and the southern nations is a fairly narrow land bridge through Uruguay. The Andean nations are united only in the sense that they all share impenetrable geographies. The southern region along the Atlantic could become integrated, but there is really only one significant country there, Argentina. In addition, there is no passable land bridge between North and South America because of Central America’s jungle terrain, and even if there were a bridge, only Colombia and perhaps Venezuela could take advantage of it.
The key to American policy in Latin America has always been that for the United States to become concerned, two elements would have to converge: a strategically significant area (of which there are few in the region) would have to be in the hands of a power able to use it to pose a threat. The Monroe Doctrine was proclaimed in order to make it clear that just such an eventuality was the single unacceptable geopolitical development as far as the United States was concerned.
During World War II, the presence of German agents and sympathizers in South America became a serious issue among strategists in Washington, who envisioned German troops arriving in Brazil from Dakar, across the Atlantic. Similarly, during the Cold War, the United States became genuinely concerned about Soviet influence in the region and intervened on occasion to block it. But neither the Germans nor the Soviets made a serious strategic effort to dominate South America, because they understood that in most senses the continent was irrelevant to U.S. interests. Instead, their efforts were designed merely to irritate Washington and divert American resources.
Terrain Barriers in South America
The one place where outside involvement has been seen as a threat to be taken seriously is Cuba, and its singular importance is based on its singularly strategic location.
Cuba and the Caribbean
Early in the nineteenth century, American prosperity was founded on the river system that enabled farmers in the Louisiana and Ohio territories to ship their agricultural output to the East Coast and Europe. All of these goods first flowed to the city of New Orleans and were then transferred from barges to oceangoing vessels. The United States fought to keep New Orleans safe, first at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, and then during the Texan war of independence. New Orleans and nearby ports remain the largest by tonnage in the United States, enabling midwestern grain to be shipped out and steel and other industrial goods to be shipped in.
Because a naval force in Cuba could control the sea-lanes in and out of the Gulf of Mexico and thereby could control New Orleans, the United States has always been obsessed with the island. Andrew Jackson contemplated invading it, and in 1898 the United States intervened to drive out the Spaniards. A half century later, when a pro-Soviet government emerged there under Fidel Castro, Cuba became a centerpiece of U.S. strategy. An anti-American Cuba without the Soviets was a trivial matter. An anti-American Cuba with Soviet missiles was a mortal threat.
As we look toward the decade ahead, Cuba has no great power patron, so the president can craft his Cuban policy in response to American political opinion. But he must bear in mind that if the United States faces a global competitor, Cuba will be the geographic point at which that competitor can put the greatest pressure on the United States. This makes Cuba the prize it will aim for.
In the long run, bringing Cuba back under American influence is a rational, preemptive policy, and it is highly desirable to do so before a global competitor emerges to raise the stakes and the price. Fidel and Raúl Castro will die or retire during the decade we’re considering, and the political and intelligence elites who control the island are both younger and more cynical than the founding generation of the Castro regime. Rather than gambling on whether they can survive the deaths of the founders, they will be open to accommodation, amenable to deals that allow them to retain their position while granting America increasing power over their foreign policy. The transition will be the moment for the United States to try to deal. Before the Castros leave power they might be open to a deal that preserves their legacy while conceding to American influence. If that fails, the insecurity of the transition might be the moment to approach their heirs. The American interest is simple and has nothing to do with human rights or regime change. It is to have guarantees that regardless of future challenges, Cuba will not become a base for foreign powers. Having achieved that, the United States will have achieved much.
Venezuela is another Latin American country that has managed to attract attention by appearing to be a significant threat to the United States. It is not. First, the Venezuelan economy depends on exporting oil, and the realities of geography and logistics make it inevitable that Venezuela will export its oil to the United States. Second, Venezuela’s physical isolation—with the Amazon to the south, the Caribbean (dominated by the U.S. Navy) to the north, and a hostile and stable Colombia to the west, on the other side of mountains and jungle—renders the country otherwise irrelevant, even if Islamist terrorists, say, showed up and tried to exploit its current rift with the United States. Even if a new global challenger sought to align with Venezuela and use it as a launching pad for mischief, the country’s location does not allow for a significant air or naval base. Obviously, it would be desirable to have Venezuela shift its strategic outlook by the 2030s, but that is not essential to U.S. interests.
Venezuela is a case in which U.S. foreign policy should discipline itself to ignore ideology and annoyance and focus on strategy. In all likelihood, Hugo Chávez will lose power within the regime he created. Indeed, if the United States were to cut a deal with Cuba at the right time, part of that deal might be the withdrawal of Cuban support for Chávez. But even if he remains in power, he presents no threat to anyone but his own people.
BRAZIL AND THE ARGENTINE STRATEGY
There is only one Latin American country with the potential to emerge as a competitor to the United States in its own right, and that is Brazil. It is the first significant, independent economic and potentially global power to develop in the history of Latin America, and it has hedged its bets nicely.
Brazil is the world’s eighth largest economy and the fifth largest country both in size and in population. Like most developing countries, it is heavily oriented toward export, but its exports are well balanced. Two-thirds are primary commodities (agricultural and mineral) and the rest are manufactured products. The geographic distribution of its exports is impressive as well, with about equal amounts going to Latin America, the European Union, and Asia. A relatively small but not insignificant amount goes to the United States. This balanced export posture means that Brazil is less vulnerable to regional economic downturns than are more focused economies.
Right now Brazil is not a power that is particularly threatening or important to the United States, nor does the United States represent a challenge to Brazil. There is minimal economic friction, and geography prevents Brazil from easily challenging the United States. Brazilian expansion northward would be irrational, because the terrain to the north is extremely hard to traverse, and there is nothing to the north that Brazil needs. Venezuelan oil, for instance, cannot be easily shipped to Brazil because of the terrain, and Brazil has ample supplies of its own anyway.
Brazil’s Trade Relations
The only challenge that Brazil could pose to the United States would be if its economic expansion continued enough for it to develop sufficient air and naval power to dominate the Atlantic between its coast and West Africa, a region not heavily patrolled by the United States, unlike the Indian Ocean or South China Sea. This would not happen in the next decade, but as Brazilian wage rates rise, the geographical factors are such that Brazilian investments in Africa might carry lower transportation costs than investments in other parts of Latin America. Thus there would be advantages for Brazil in developing relations with sub-Saharan countries, particularly Angola, which, like Brazil, is Portuguese-speaking. This could lead to a South Atlantic not only dominated by Brazil but with Brazilian naval forces based on both the Brazilian and the African coasts.
Even though Brazil is not yet in any way a threat to American interests, the underlying American strategy of creating and maintaining balances of power in all areas requires that the United States begin working now to create a countervailing power. There is no rush in completing the strategy, but there is an interest in beginning it.
In the next decade, while maintaining friendly relations with Brazil, the United States should also do everything it can to strengthen Argentina, the one country that could serve as a counterweight. It should be remembered that early in the twentieth century Argentina was the major power in Latin America. Its current weakness is not inevitable. The United States should work toward developing a special relationship with Argentina in the context of a general Latin American development plan that also includes resources devoted to Uruguay and Paraguay.
This is a region where modest amounts of money now can yield substantial benefits later. Argentina’s geography is suited for development; it has an adequate population and room for still more people. It has a strong agricultural base and a workforce capable of developing an industrial base. It is protected from all military incursions except those from Brazil, which should give it an incentive to play the role that the United States wants it to play.
The challenge in Argentina is political. Historically, its central government has been focused on addressing social problems in ways that actually undermine economic development. In other words, politicians tend to gain popularity by spending money they don’t have. Argentina has also gone through periods of military and other dictatorship with imposed austerity, a cycle in which it does not differ fundamentally from other Latin American countries, including Brazil.
The Brazilians will see a long-term threat in U.S. support for Argentina, but ideally they will be preoccupied with their own development and the internal stresses it generates. Nevertheless, the United States should be prepared for the Brazilians to offer Argentina economic incentives that would tie its economy closer to their own. Still, two factors play in the Americans’ favor. First, Brazil still needs to preserve its investment capital for domestic use. Second, Argentina has long feared Brazilian dominance, so given a choice between Brazil and the United States, it will opt for the latter.
The American goal should be to slowly strengthen Argentina’s economic and political capabilities so that over the next twenty to thirty years, should Brazil begin to emerge as a potential threat to the United States, Argentina’s growth rivals Brazil’s. This will require the United States to provide incentives for American companies to invest in Argentina, particularly in areas outside of agricultural products, where there is already sufficient investment. The United States also should be prepared to draw the American military closer to the Argentine military, but through the civilian government, so as not to incite fears that the U.S. is favoring the Argentine military as a force in the country’s domestic politics.
The American president must be careful not to show his true intentions in this, and not to rush. A unique program for Argentina could generate a premature Brazilian response, so Brazil should be included in any American program, if it wishes to participate. If necessary, this entire goodwill effort can be presented as an attempt to contain Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. It will all cost money, but it will be much cheaper, in every sense, than confronting Brazil in the 2030s or 2040s over control of the South Atlantic.
Like Cuba, Mexico is a special case in U.S. relations, and the obvious reason is that it shares the long U.S. border stretching from Texas to California. And yet Mexico is a society at a very different stage of development from Canada, the neighbor to the north, and it therefore interacts with the United States very differently. Nowhere else do domestic politics and geopolitics intersect more directly and perhaps more violently than along the desert frontier south and west of El Paso.
These two countries have had a complex and violent relationship throughout their history. In 1800, if a reasonable person had asked which would be the dominant power in North America in two hundred years, the logical answer would have been Mexico. It was far more developed and sophisticated (and better armed) than the United States at the time. But after vastly expanding its territory through the Louisiana Purchase, the United States pushed Mexico to its current borders, first by seizing Texas and then by waging the Mexican-American War, which forced Mexico out of its holdings as far north as today’s Denver and San Francisco.
The reason for American success in appropriating those western lands was ultimately geographical. Compared to the area around Mexico City, the northern part of the country is underpopulated, and it was even more so in the nineteenth century. The reason is that the land running from the border both north into the United States and south into Mexico is intensely dry and desolate, and it is especially inhospitable on the Mexican side. That meant that the Mexicans found it difficult to settle and support populations north of the desert, and even harder to move armies northward. During the uprising of Anglo settlers in Texas, the Mexican president and military leader Santa Anna moved an army of peasants north through the desert to San Antonio. A period of cold weather then crippled many of his soldiers, who were from the jungles of the south and had no shoes. Santa Anna’s army was exhausted by the time it arrived, and while it defeated the defenders of the Alamo, it was itself defeated at San Jacinto, near the present city of Houston, by a force that had only two virtues: it was not exhausted and it was not shoeless.
The creation of a new border between the United States and Mexico created a new reality in which the populations on both sides are able to move freely back and forth, migrating with economic opportunities and engaging in smuggling whatever is illegal on the other side. These turbulent borderlands exist throughout the world, between any countries whose political boundaries and cultural boundaries don’t match up, usually because, as in this case, the border has moved. Sometimes, as in the case of Germany and France, the issue of the borderland generates war. At other times, as between the United States and Canada, the border is a matter of little importance. The situation of Mexico and the United States in the next decade will be somewhere between the two extremes.
Mexico is a country of 100 million people, most of whom live hundreds of miles away from the United States. It is now the world’s fourteenth largest economy—counting only legal commerce—with a GDP of over $1 trillion. It annually exports about $130 billion worth of goods to the United States and imports about $180 billion worth, making it the second largest trading partner with the U.S., after Canada. The United States obviously can’t afford to disengage from Mexico, certainly not in less than a generation. Nor does it want to.
But the United States faces two problems: Mexico’s illegal export of immigrant workers and Mexico’s illegal export of drugs. In both cases the underlying issue is the appetite of the American economic system for the commodities in question. Without the appetite, the exports would be pointless. Because of the appetite—and particularly in the case of drugs, because of their illegality—the export is advantageous to individual Mexicans and to Mexico as a whole.
It is important to understand that Mexican immigration is fundamentally different from immigration from distant countries such as China and Poland. In those cases, people are breaking their tie with a homeland that is thousands of miles away. Some degree of assimilation is inevitable, because the alternatives are isolation or a life within a culturally segregated community. Although immigrants have frightened Americans ever since the Scots-Irish arrived to unsettle the merchants and gentry of eighteenth-century America, there is a fundamentally geopolitical reason not to compare Mexican immigration with those precedents.
Not only is Mexico adjacent to the United States, but in many cases the land the migrants are moving into is land that once belonged to Mexico. When Mexicans move northward, they are not necessarily breaking ties with their homeland. Indeed, within the borderland, which can extend hundreds of miles into both countries, the movement north can require minimal cultural adjustment. When Mexicans move to distant cities, they react as traditional immigrants have done and assimilate. Within the borderland, they have the option of retaining their language and their national identity, distinct from whatever legal identity they adopt. This state of affairs can create serious tension between the legal border and the cultural border.
This is the root of the profound anxiety within the United States today about Mexican illegal immigration. Critics say that American concern is really an aversion to all Mexican immigration, and they are not altogether wrong, but this analysis does not fully appreciate the roots of the fear. Non-Mexicans within the borderland and even beyond are afraid of being overwhelmed by the migrants and finding themselves living culturally in Mexico. They are also afraid that the movement north is the precursor to Mexicans reclaiming formerly Mexican territories. The fears may be overwrought, but they are not irrational; nor can they be avoided.
The irony, of course, is that the American economy requires these migrants as low-wage workers. The only reason that individuals take the risk of coming to the United States illegally is the certainty that they will be able to get jobs. If migrants were not required in order to fill these jobs, the jobs would be filled already and the migrants would not come.
The counterargument—that migrants take jobs from others, or that their claims on social services outweigh whatever economic advantages they provide—is not entirely frivolous, but it has some weaknesses. First, 10 percent unemployment in the United States translates into about 15 million people out of work. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are about 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. If the replacement theory were correct, then getting rid of illegal immigrants would create 12 million job openings, leaving only 3 million unemployed and an unemployment rate of only about 2 percent. That such a replacement scenario seems intuitively illogical argues to the point that most of the low-cost, unskilled labor that is imported does not compete with the existing workforce. The American economy requires additional workers but doesn’t want to increase the pool of citizens dramatically. The Mexican economy has surplus labor it needs to export. The result is predictable.
And this problem will only intensify, because the fertility of nonimmigrant women has fallen below the rate of replacement, and this at a time when life expectancy has expanded. This means that we will have an aging population with a shrinking workforce—a condition overtaking the advanced industrial world in general. That means that countries will be importing labor both to care for the aged and to expand the workforce. Rather than subsiding, the pressure to import workers will increase, and even while Mexico improves its domestic economy, it will continue to have an abundance of exportable labor.
Compounding the turbulence along the border are the law of supply and demand and the cost of goods applied to the American appetite for narcotics. Heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, the drugs of choice, originate as extremely low-cost agricultural products—weeds, essentially, that require almost no cultivation. Because the drugs are illegal in the United States, normal market forces don’t apply. The legal risk of selling drugs drives efficient competitors out of the market, enabling criminal organizations to create regional monopolies through violence that further suppresses competition, which further inflates the cost of the drugs.
Illegality means that merely moving a product a few hundred miles from Mexico to Los Angeles will increase the price to the user by extremely high multiples. Official estimates of the amount of money flowing into Mexico from the sales of narcotics run from $25 billion to $40 billion a year. Unofficial estimates place the amount much higher, but even assuming that the $40 billion figure is correct, the effective amount is staggeringly high. When you look at the revenue from a product, it is not the amount you sell it for that matters—it’s the profit margin. For a manufactured product, such as the electronic components that Mexico exports to the United States legally, a profit margin of 10 percent would be quite high. Let’s assume that this is the profit margin for all legal imports from Mexico into the United States. Mexico’s exports of $130 billion would then generate about $13 billion in profit.
The profit margin on drug sales is enormously higher than 10 percent, because the inherent cost of the commodity is extremely low. Marijuana needs no processing, and processing costs on heroin and cocaine are insignificant. A reasonable and even conservative estimate for the profit margin on narcotics is 90 percent, which means that the $40 billion from the illegal trade generates a profit of about $36 billion. Drugs generate free cash, then, at a level almost three times greater than all of Mexico’s $13 billion in legal exports.
Even if Mexico makes only $25 billion a year at an 80 percent margin, that still means a profit of $20 billion a year, which is still $7 billion more than the profit being made from all legal exports. Play with the numbers as much as you like—even demonstrate that drugs generate only half the profit of legal exports—and the fact still remains that drug money helps the liquidity of the Mexican financial system tremendously. Mexico is one of the few countries, for example, that continued to make loans for commercial real estate construction after the financial crisis of 2008.
It follows, therefore, that the Mexican government would be foolish to try to stop the trade. Certainly there is violence from the cartel wars, but it is generally concentrated along the border, not in the populated heartland of Mexico. On balance, the enormous amount of money pouring into the country—all of which finds its way into the banking system and the general economy in some way—benefits the country more than the violence and lawlessness harm it. As a consequence, the rational approach ought to be for the Mexican government to give the appearance of trying to stop the drug trade while making certain that all significant efforts fail. This would keep the United States mollified while making certain that the money continues to pour in.
AMERICA’S MEXICO STRATEGY
The American economy is too integrated with Mexico’s ever to allow a disruption of legal commerce, which means that large numbers of trucks will be moving between the United States and Mexico indefinitely. The volume of traffic is too high for agents at the border to inspect all cargoes, and therefore even if the border is walled off, both illegal aliens and drugs will continue to slip through at international crossings and elsewhere. Given the low cost of the narcotics before they reach the United States, the interception of cargoes has very little effect on trade. Cargoes are readily replaced with little impact on aggregate revenue.
It should be much easier to stop illegal immigrants than drugs, because it is easy to detect immigrants once they are in the country. The simplest means of doing this is to institute a national identity card with special paper and embedded codes that make it extremely difficult to forge. No one could be employed until his or her employer first cleared the card via the sort of system currently used for credit card transactions. Any alien without a card would be deported. Any employer who hired him or her would be arrested and charged with a felony.
But this simple method is highly unlikely to be employed, in part because many of the people most opposed to illegal immigration also have a deep mistrust of the federal government. The national identity card could be used to track the movement of money and people—to detect tax fraud and deadbeat dads as well as to monitor political organizations—which could easily lead to government abuse. Dissension within the anti-immigrant coalition on these issues will preclude support for such a system.
But there is a deeper reason this relatively easy step won’t be taken: the segment of society that benefits from large numbers of low-cost workers is greater and more influential than the segment harmed by it. Therefore, as with the Mexican government and drugs, the best U.S. strategy is to appear to be doing everything possible to stop the movement of immigrants while making certain that these efforts fail. This has been the American strategy on illegal immigrants for many years, creating a tension between short- and mid-term economic interests and long-term political interests. The long-term problem is the shift in demographics—and in potential loyalties—in the borderland. The president must choose between these options, and his only rational course is to allow the future to tend to itself. Given the forces interested in maintaining the status quo, any president who took the steps needed to stop illegal immigration would rapidly lose power. Therefore the best strategy for the president is to continue the current one: hypocrisy.
Similarly, the drug issue has a relatively simple solution that will not be implemented: legalization. If drugs were legalized and steps were taken to flood the country with narcotics, the street price would plunge, the economics of smuggling would collapse, and the violence along the border driven by all the money to be made would decline precipitously. Along with that there would be a decline in street violence among drug addicts seeking to steal enough money for a fix.
The downside of this strategy is that there would be an unknown increase in the amount of drug use and in the number of users. Existing users, no longer restricted by price, would increase their indulgence, and it is almost certain that some individuals who are unwilling to use drugs illegally would begin to use drugs once they were decriminalized.
The president—and in this case it is up to Congress as well, so it is not really a foreign policy decision—would have to calculate the benefits of stopping the flow of money to Mexico and limiting violence in the borderland against increased drug use and worse, and would have to appear to favor or at least be indifferent to that increase. No significant political coalition in the United States is prepared to embrace the principle of crushing the illegal drug trade by legalization. So, like national identity cards, legalization simply won’t fly, for internal ideological reasons.
Assuming that no magical solution will emerge to quell the national appetite for narcotics, the president must accept three realities: drugs will continue to flow into the United States, vast amounts of money will continue to flow into Mexico, and violence in Mexico will continue until the cartels achieve a stable peace, as has happened with organized crime in other countries, or until a single group wipes out all the others.
The only other strategy the United States could use to deal with the struggle is intervention. Whether a small incursion by the FBI or a large military occupation of northern Mexico, this is an extraordinarily bad idea. First, it is unlikely to succeed. The United States is unable to police narcotics at home, so the idea that it could police narcotics in a foreign country is far-fetched. As for a large military occupation, the United States has learned that its armed forces are superbly positioned to destroy enemy armies but far less adept at crushing guerrillas resisting occupation on their own terrain.
An American intervention would conflate the drug cartels with Mexican nationalism, an idea that is already present in some quarters in Mexico, and thus would pose a threat on both sides of the border. Suddenly attacks on U.S. forces, even in the United States, would be not mere banditry but patriotic acts. Given the complexities the United States faces in the rest of the world, the last thing it needs is an out-and-out war on the Mexican border.
The top priority of the president must be to make certain that the violence in northern Mexico and the corruption of law enforcement officials do not move into the United States. He must therefore commit substantial forces to the northern borderland in an effort to suppress violence, even though this is a defective strategy. Its flaws include fighting a war that allows the enemy sanctuary on the other side of a border, which, as we learned in Vietnam, is a very bad idea. It is also a purely defensive strategy that does not give the United States control over events in Mexico. But given that gaining control of events in Mexico is extremely unlikely, a defensive posture may be the best available.
The American strategy will continue to be inherently dishonest. It does not intend to stop immigration and it doesn’t expect to stop drugs, but it must pretend to be committed to both. To many Americans, these appear to be critical issues that affect their personal lives. They must not be told that in the greater scheme of things, their sense of what is important doesn’t matter, or that the United States is incapable of achieving goals they see as important.
It is far better for the president to appear to be absolutely committed to these goals, and when they aren’t met, to fall back on the failure of some underlings to act forcefully. On occasion, members of his staff or of the FBI, DEA, CIA, or military should be fired in disgrace, and major investigations should be held to identify the failures in the system that have permitted drugs and illegal aliens to continue crossing the border. Over the next ten years, the president will be engaged in constant investigations to provide the illusion of activity in a project that cannot succeed.
Stopping the violence from spreading north of the border is alone important enough to topple any president who fails to do so. Fortunately, not allowing violence to spread is in the interests of the cartels as well. They understand that significant violence in the United States would trigger a response that, while ineffective, would still hamper their business interests. In recognizing that the United States would neither move south nor effectively interfere with their trade otherwise, the drug cartels would be irrational to spread violence northward, and smugglers dealing in vast amounts of money are not irrational.
A final word must be included here about Canada, which of course shares the longest border with the United States and is America’s largest trading partner. Canada has been an afterthought to the United States since British interest in continental North America declined. It is not that Canada is not important to the United States; it is simply that Canada is locked into place by geography and American power.
Looking at a map, Canada appears to be a vast country, though in terms of populated territory it is actually quite small, with its population distributed in a band along the U.S. border. Many parts of Canada have a north-south orientation rather than an east-west one. In other words, their economic and social life is oriented toward the United States in contrast to Canada, which operates on an east-west basis.
The issue for Canada is that the United States is a giant market as well as source of goods. There is also a deep cultural affinity. This creates problems for Canadians, who see themselves as and want to be a distinct culture as well as country. But as with the rest of the world, Canada is under heavy pressure from American culture, and resistance is difficult.
For the Canadians, there are multiple fault lines in their confederation, the most important being the split between French-speaking Quebec and the rest of Canada, which is predominantly English-speaking. There was a serious separatist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which won major concessions on the use of language, but it never achieved independence. Today that movement has moderated and independence is not on the table, although expanded autonomy might be.
For the United States, Canada itself poses no threats. The greatest danger would come if Canada were to ally with a major global power. There is only one conceivable scenario for this, and that is if Canada were to fragment. Given the degree of economic and social integration, it would be hard to imagine a situation in which a Canadian province would be able to shift relationships without disaster, or one in which the United States would permit close relations to develop between a province and a hostile power while continuing economic relations. The only case in which this would be imaginable is an independent Quebec, which might forgo economic relations for cultural or ideological reasons.
In the next decade, of course, there are no global powers that can exploit an opening, and there are no openings likely to appear. That means that the relationship between the two countries will remain stable, with Canada increasing its position, as natural gas, concentrated in western Canada, becomes more important. The U.S.-Canadian relationship is of tremendous significance to both countries, with Canada far more vulnerable to the United States than the other way around, simply because of size and options. But as important as it is, it will not be one requiring great attention or decisions on the part of the United States in the next decade.
The American relation with the hemisphere divides into three parts: Brazil, Canada, and Mexico. Brazil is far away and isolated. The United States can shape a long-term strategy of containment, but it is not pressing. Canada is going nowhere. It is Mexico, with its twin problems of migration and drugs, that is the immediate issue for the United States. Outside of the legalization of drugs, which would force down the price, the only solution is to allow the drug wars to burn themselves out, as they inevitably will. Intervention would be disastrous. As for migration, it is a problem now, but as demography shifts, it will be the solution.
The United States has a secure position in the hemisphere. The sign of an empire is its security in its region, with conflicts occurring far away without threat to the homeland. The United States has, on the whole, achieved this.
In the end, the greatest threat in the hemisphere is the one that the Monroe Doctrine foresaw, which is that a major outside power should use the region as a base from which to threaten the United States. That means that the core American strategy should be focused on Eurasia, where such global powers arise, rather than on Latin America: first things first.
Above all else, hemispheric governments must not perceive the United States as meddling in their affairs, a perception that sets in motion anti-American sentiment, which can be troublesome. Of course the United States will be engaged in meddling in Latin American affairs, particularly in Argentina. But this must be embedded in an endless discussion of human rights and social progress. In fact, particularly in the case of Argentina, both will be promoted. It is the motive vis-à-vis Brazil that needs to be hidden. But then, all presidents must in all things hide their true motives and vigorously deny the truth when someone recognizes what they are up to.
Historically, the United States has neglected hemispheric issues unless a global power became involved, or the issues directly affected American interests, as circumstances with Mexico did in the nineteenth century. Other than that, Latin America was an arena for commercial relations. That basic scenario will not change in the next decade, save that Brazil must be worked with and long-term plans for containment must, if necessary, be laid.