Watch: Former U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and former head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, discuss their vision for a more unified North America, first presented in a task force report.
OTTAWA — Canada, the United States and Mexico need to begin integrating policies with one another as the three focus on building an economically viable and secure North America, a recent report published by two high profile American leaders says.
While overall strengthening of the trilateral relationship is key, task force co-chairs Gen. (Ret’d) David Petraeus and former World Bank President Robert Zoellick highlighted four vital areas that need work: energy, economic competitiveness, security and community.
Successful integration on those fronts would, in essence, create a new North America; three separate countries, once competing against each other, joining forces.
READ MORE: From the Halifax security forum, Tom Clark ponders the idea of ‘Fortress North America’
“Let’s talk about the biggest of the big ideas in the task force report,” Petraeus said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. “It’s really about the United States paying more attention to its number one and two trading partners.”
The old “Fortress North America” worldview has been getting renewed attention as Canada and the U.S. both become targets of international terrorist threats.
The concept is a hangover from the Second World War and Cold War, a term used when imagining how the two countries might operate if the rest of the world succumbed to communism.
Today, the idea includes Mexico, and revolves around securing the continent and pushing out the perimeters of all three countries.
READ MORE: Defence and security officials discuss ups and downs of ‘Fortress North America’
But to accomplish that, the three would have to demonstrate more cooperation on immigration rules, and Canada and the U.S. would both have to help Mexico with its crime problems, Zoellick and Petraeus wrote.
Economically, the three would work together, as a block, pushing trade deals around the globe, they said.
On the energy front, the new North America would be fully integrated, including oil and gas. That means building something like the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and increasing electricity grids.
Mexico poses a unique challenge to that aspect on account of its internal issues with the rule of law, the report read.
WATCH: Last month, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and John McCain weighed in on the greatest threats to the continent’s security.
“With respect to security, certainly we would like to be trilateral where we can, but we will be bilateral where we must,” said Petraeus, who commanded forces on the ground in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. “But certainly envisioning a day where protection could start at the outer borders of out three countries, rather than that focus tat has always been on the borders between us.”
In the decade following the September 11 attacks in the United States, U.S. border management was not conducted at the “lowest reasonable cost,” the report read.
That, the authors wrote, caused harm and unnecessary losses for all three countries.
“The U.S. government and its Canadian and Mexican partners should pursue a process of continuous border innovation,” the authors wrote.
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Part of that innovation, as imagined by Petraeus and Zoellick, would include “broadening the borders” of each country and establishing an understanding that if someone crosses into one of the three countries, they are considered accepted into the other two as well.
“The key notion here is how we can operate more effectively as a continent,” Zoellick said in an interview. “How can we integrate to be more effective as a North America?”
Both Zoellick and Petraeus said they believe NAFTA, implemented 14 years ago, was critical in terms of putting rules and procedures in place, but now it’s time to take the agreement a step further.
Adding Mexico to the free trade agreement, Zoellick said, helped establish a “special connection” with Latin America.
“It’s the pivot, if you will, in terms of Latin American developments,” he said. “So when we think about security, I think it’s important to broaden it beyond the traditional notion. Mexico will be an important part of our future. Three democracies, 500 million people. Lots of capabilities.”